Somerton Man

Tamam Shud

Found on the paper in the Somerton Man’s pocket

Discovery

The Somerton Man was discovered at 6:30 am on December 1st, 1948 by a couple of jockeys, Horrie Patching and Neil Day. The jockeys passed him once and thought he was sleeping, but when they passed again they noted he was in the same position. On their way to the beach they noted a man now called The Overcoat Man. They noted him because it would have been strange to wear an overcoat in such hot weather (December being the middle of summer in Australia).

He was found on Somerton beach (hence the name) to the left of the stairs leading to the corner of the Esplanade and Bickford Terrace. He was lying on his back against the sea wall with his legs crossed.

The jockeys dismounted and tried to wake the man by lifting up one of his legs, but discovered it was stiff as a board. The jockeys were noticed by John Lyons, who was swimming at the beach at the time. He told them that he had seen the man the previous night and to not touch the body. He then ran to his home nearby to call Constable Moss, who arrived at 6:45 am.

Four witnesses of SM On Nov. 30

Lyons and his wife Helen J. Lyons were walking along Somerton Beach on the previous evening November 30th, at around 7:15 pm. They saw SM lying in the same spot where he was found the next day. They were about 15-20 yards away. He was lying against the sea wall, his shoulders and head supported by it. As Lyons and his wife watched him, he extended his right arm upwards and then it fell limp. His feet were crossed. Lyons assumed the man was drunk and sleeping it off.

Gordon Strapps and Olive Neill arrived at Somerton beach between 7:20 pm and 7:30 pm. They walked down the steps to the landing and sat on a bench to the left of the stairs until 8 pm. Strapps could only see him from the waist down and his left arm was outstretched. He never saw him move but it seemed as if the man’s position changed. He claims his legs were straight and outstretched but then his left leg was drawn up when they left.

Constance Neill thought there was something “funny” about the position of the man’s hand, but can’t remember exactly how it looked. She saw no movement and got no impression SM’s position changed. She did not see Lyons there, but did in the morning. She noticed a man up on the road (the Hat Man) morning and a few people by the sea, though not many.

Postmortem examination by John Matthew Dwyer on Dec. 2 at 7:30 am

SM was a “Tallish man”, 45 years old, with greying hair. He was wearing “a grey and brown double-breasted coat, brown trousers, socks and shoes, and a brown knitted woollen pullover, white shirt and collar, and red-white-and-blue tie.” His clothes were dry and not disheveled. His eyes and mouth were closed as if he were asleep. There was no vomit visible and no disturbance of the sand.

He had a used bus ticket from the city in his pocket. This would have taken him to Glenelg, a few blocks north of where he was found. He also had an unused second-class rail ticket from the city to nearby Henley Beach, about 4 miles north of where he was found.  Both the bus and train would have departed between 11 am and 12 pm. This is one of the mysteries surrounding the case. Perhaps he simply bought the rail ticket in error, or bought it thinking it was the best route then discovered the bus to Glenelg.

Among his possessions was a narrow aluminium comb. It’s important to note this was an American comb; aluminum combs were not made in Australia.

He was in good physical condition and took good care of his body, as evidenced by trimmed fingernails (with scissors) and “looked after” feet. Heart was of man in “good physical training” because muscle was “tough and firm.” There were no “No exterior markings of note”, “Intense” rigidity, and lividity above ears and neck.

One defining physical feature were that several of his back teeth were missing; one would notice them missing if he laughed but not while talking. What is strange was that he didn’t habe a dental plate, so how would he chew his food? He also had hypodontia i.e. no lateral incisors (like Tom Cruise) which is important later. He also had large cymbas, which are the upper hollow in one’s ears, the lower being the cavum. For most people, it’s the other way around.

He also had small pupils, which can be caused by some drugs, including barbituates. Both kidneys were congested, and the liver contained a great excess of blood in its vessels. The heart was of normal size, and normal in every way.” The lungs, however, were dark with congestion. Spleen was three times normal size and firm. This indicates that SM had a pre-existing condition; no poison is going to cause this overnight.

The blood in stomach suggested “irritant poison.” Death not natural because of the juxtaposition of the healthy heart and the damaged organs. The immediate cause of death was heart failure, but cause of heart failure uncertain. Dr Cowan found no barbiturate or common poison. Probably not barbiturate related, though that is a possible, if unusual, explanation. THe best guess at cause: irritant poison.

Suitcase found 14 Jan 1949

A suitcase was discovered in the cloakroom of the Adelaide railway station which was checked in on 30 Nov 1948. Inside the case was a card of tan thread which was identical to the thread of the coat and trousers of SM. Further, “A linen handkerchief, jockey underpants, and a shirt found in the case were identical to the clothing worn by [SM]”.

All name tags removed, except ‘T. Keane’ on a grey tie, ‘Kean’ on a singlet, and ‘’KEAN’ on a white linen bag. It was checked in between 11 am and noon. “It is a possibility that the “e” on “Kean” might have been washed or rubbed out. There was also one singlet, with the name torn out, one shirt, name tag gone, six handkerchiefs, one piece of light board, 8 large and one small envelope, 2 coat hangers, one razor strop, one cigarette lighter, one razor, one shaving brush, one small screwdriver, six pencils, and 6d. in cash found in trousers pocket, one toothbrush and paste, one glass dish, one soap dish containing one hair pin, 3 safety pins, one front and one back collar stud, one brown button, one tea spoon, one broken scissors, one card of tan thread, one tin of tan boot polish, 2 air mail stickers, one scarf, one towel.”

According to local tailor Hugh Pozza, SM’s coat was made in America because it featured a feather type stitch which could only be made in America, where the only machines which would do that were. Such clothes are not imported. He had either been in America, or had bought the clothes off somebody who had been there.

Despite all his fancy clothes, one article was missing: socks!

The Inquest

City Coroner Thomas Erksine Cleland and opened an inquest a few days after SM was found. However, it was adjourned until June 17. Perhaps to find more evidence? A cast of SM’s bust was made on June 10th and he was buried on June 14th. His tombstone reads “Here lies the unknown man who was found at Somerton Beach, 1st Dec 1948.”

When the inquest reopened, pathologist John Burton Cleland re-examined the body. He notes SM’s hands were very smooth with no callouses. No evidence that he performed manual labor. SM had pronounced high calf muscles, broad shoulders, and enormous hands, and this is compared to a size 8 shoe. This all confirms the picture of SM as relatively well-to-do and extremely fit.

But most perplexing of all was the scrap of paper discovered in SM’s pants pocket which said simply: Tamam Shud.

The Book

“Tamam shud” means “finished” or “ended” in Persian. A journalist, Frank Kennedy, identified these words as ending Omar Khayyam’s book of poems The Rubaiyat.

It was first mentioned in the media on June 6th, but the inquest occurred on the 17th and 21st without any more information on it. Ironically, the end of the inquest led to larger articles about the Tamam Shud paper, which caught the eye of a local. On 22nd of July, a man turned in a copy of the Rubaiyat with the back page torn out to the police station. He said he found it in the back seat of his car near where SM was found on Jetty Road. It was a small pocket copy published in the 1940s.

The Code and the Numbers

Stranger still were letters written on the last blank page of the book. It appears to be a random assemblage of words and was believed to be a coded message.

The letters are:

W R G O A B A B DW T B I M P A N E T PM L I A B O A I A Q CI T T M T S A M S T G A B

More importantly, there were at least two phone numbers in the back of the book. This is also potentially important for interpreting the “code”. It shows that he was comfortable with using these pages as scrap paper. One number was for a local bank. Another was for “Jestyn”, the pseudonym for a local woman Jessica Thomson.

Thomson lived very close to where SM was found. She was visited by the police and asked if she’s seen the book and she said yes. When the police concluded she knew who SM was, she backtracked and said she had merely seen COPIES of the book before. Apparently she had difficulty convincing the cop of her backpedal.

She did admit to giving a copy of the book away to a man named Alf Boxall in 1945. She gave it to him in Sydney in 1945 while she was studying to become a nurse. It was meant to be a going away present as he had joined the army. Boxall himself was still very much alive and had his copy of the Rubaiyat that Thomson gave to him. His copy is inscribed by Jestyn. It is also not the same publication, being a larger, hardcover book. Further questions why she initially and immediately said “yes” when asked if she’d seen the book.

She saw the bust of SM on July 26, and reportedly denied knowing the identity but acted strange. She looked down at the floor and just said “no” or “don’t know”. It looked like she was about to faint.

For the rest of her life she refused to talk about the case. But starting around 2002 she did open up to her friends that she was “immersed” in this case but still didn’t know who the man was.

She died in 2007.

Spy!

One of the primary theories was that SM was a SPY! There are a few pieces of evidence pointing towards SM being a spy.

1. The code inside the Rubaiyat. A very spy thing to do.

2. The Tamam Shud paper itself, which seems a bizarre thing to do one’s self.

3. The inability of anyone to figure out how he died. Maybe some secret government poison?

4. Speculation that Alf Boxall was himself involved in military intelligence.

5. Kate Thomson, Jessica Thomson’s daughter, thought her mother was a spy. She claims her mother said she DID know who SM was and that his identity was also “known to a level higher than the police force.” Kate Thomson also notes that her other taught English to migrants, was interested in communism, and could speak Russian. Regarding the latter, Jessica would not tell her daughter where or why she learned Russian.

Skepticism

We still don’t know if this is a code. There are all sorts of smart people who crack codes. This smacks of the last Zodiac “unbreakable” cipher.

We know Thomson was deeply familiar with the Rubaiyat. If someone wanted a simple suicide note, it seems a perfectly reasonable choice.

There’s speculation around the poisons. There are perfectly normal poisons which would present the same way.

Boxall did NOT work in military intelligence. Rather, he worked for the Water Transport Company.

Kate Thomson’s testimony could be a result of “child of an unsolved case” syndrome. Think of all the people writing books that their dad is the Zodiac or Black Dahlia or whatever.

What Dylans think.

  • I don’t think SM is a spy or anything fancy like that. I think he was a foreigner, probably American, who fell in love with Thomson, maybe had an illegitimate kid with her, and committed suicide.
  • The case is very similar to a 21st-century case of “Peter Bergmann” in Ireland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Bergmann_case)
  • If a person can commit suicide in the 21st century and remain unidentified, why not a man in the 1940’s?
  • I think Robin is SM’s son, Jessica didn’t want him to ruin her marriage.
  • As mentioned, SM had an unusually large Cymba as well as hypodontia. Both alone are rare, comprising 1-2% of the population.
  • Jessica Thomson’s son, Robin, who was 16 months old when SM was found, had both large cymbas and hypodontia.

Lastly…Weird note: Derek Abbott married Rachel, who was Robin Thomson’s daughter.

You can listen to this episode on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and all other pod catchers.

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