On December 1st 1948 at 6:30 am on Somerton beach, Glenelg, just south of Adelaide, South Australia the body of a recently deceased man was discovered lying against the sea wall.
Of “Britisher” appearance and thought to be aged about 40–45; he was in “top physical condition”. He was “180 centimetres (5 ft 11 in) tall, with hazel eyes, fair to ginger-coloured hair,slightly grey around the temples,with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, hands and nails that showed no signs of manual labour, big and little toes that met in a wedge shape, like those of a dancer or someone who wore boots with pointed toes; and pronounced high calf muscles like those of a ballet dancer.”
Fully clothed and with no signs of trauma, the discovery of the body was to become one of the greatest mysteries of modern Australia.
Laid on his back with his ankles crossed and an unlit cigarette upon the lapel of his jacket, the deceased looked as though he had simply fallen asleep. Once it was determined that this was a slumber from which he would never awaken the man was searched; his pockets revealed an unused second-class rail ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach, a bus ticket from the city that may or may not have been used, an American comb, a half-empty packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, an Army Club cigarette packet containing 7 Kensitas cigarettes, and a quarter-full box of Bryant & May matches.
Although several people had seen the man propped against the sea wall the previous night with one even exclaiming they thought him dead due his stillness, he was presumed drunk and insensible and left to his fate.
The man had no identification on him, no wallet and no hat which in 1948 was extremely unusual indeed, his teeth were not found on dental records anywhere and all the labels had been cut out of his clothes. Despite circulating an image of the deceased’s face no body came forward to identify him and no one was reported missing.
An autopsy was undertaken with the pathologist Dr. Dwyer concluding: “I am quite convinced the death could not have been natural … the poison I suggested was a barbiturate or a soluble hypnotic”
He had been clean shaven across his entire body, his shoes were spotless and had recently been polished and his clothing was also pristine.
A short while later a scrap of paper was discovered in one of the man’s trouser pockets; torn from a book it said just Tamam Shud which, after a little investigation was determined to be from a book known as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam the words meaning Finished or Ended.
A photograph of the scrap of paper was sent to interstate police and released to the public, leading a man to reveal he had found a copy of The Rubaiyat, which was in the back seat of his unlocked car that had been parked in Jetty Road, Glenelg, around the time the body was found. He had known nothing of the book’s connection to the case until he saw an article in the previous day’s newspaper. This man’s identity and profession were withheld by the police, as he wished to remain anonymous. This man’s name was not made known, and was given as Mr ‘Francis’
An examination of the book found a damaged page which matched perfectly the scrap of paper found upon the body.
To add intrigue to mystery, in the back of the book was found an unlisted telephone number that belonged to a nurse who said she’d had a book of the same name but had passed it on to an army lieutenant named Alfred Boxall and faint pencil markings of five lines of capital letters with the second line struck out. The strike out is now considered significant with its similarity to the fourth line possibly indicating a mistake and thus, possible proof the letters are code:
In 1949, the body was buried in Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery, where The Salvation Army conducted the service. The South Australian Grandstand Bookmakers Association paid for the service to save the man from a pauper’s burial.
Continuing the mystery of the case, years after the burial, flowers began appearing on the grave. Police questioned a woman seen leaving the cemetery but she claimed she knew nothing of the man.
In the years since his death and despite efforts to decipher the code and have the dead man exhumed to take DNA samples, his identity and the reason for his death remain a mystery to this day.
If this really brief blog about the Somerton Man Mystery has piqued your interest, you can find out much more about it here: