|Christine Walker's PhD Thesis on the Somerton Man
|Jestyn's inscription in the copy of the
Rubaiyat she gave to Boxall.
|Post mortem plaster cast
of the Somerton Man.
even strophanthin, can be had from pharmacies, but never off the shelf—both poisons
are muscle relaxants used to treat heart disease. The apparently exotic nature of the
death suggests, to these theorists, that the Unknown Man was possibly a spy. Alfred
Boxall had worked in intelligence during the war, and the Unknown Man died, after all,
at the onset of the Cold War, and at a time when the British rocket testing facility at
Woomera, a few hundred miles from Adelaide, was one of the most secret bases in the
world. It has even been suggested that poison was administered to him via his tobacco.
Might this explain the mystery of why his Army Club pack contained seven Kensitas
Far-fetched as this seems, there are two more genuinely odd things about the mystery
of Tamám Shud that point away from anything so mundane as suicide.
The first is the apparent impossibility of locating an exact duplicate of the Rubaiyat
handed in to the police in July 1949. Exhaustive enquiries by Gerry Feltus at last
tracked down a near-identical version, with the same cover, published by a New
Zealand bookstore chain named Whitcombe & Tombs. But it was published in a squarer
Add to that one of Derek Abbott’s leads, and the puzzle gets yet more peculiar. Abbott
has discovered that at least one other man died in Australia after the war with a copy of
Khayyam’s poems close by him. This man’s name was George Marshall, he was a
Jewish immigrant from Singapore, and his copy of the Rubaiyat was published in
London by Methuen— a seventh edition.
So far, so not especially peculiar. But inquiries to the publisher, and to libraries around
discovery of the unknown body, he had gone for a drive with his brother-in-law in a
car he kept parked a few hundred yards from Somerton Beach. The brother-in-law had
found a copy of the Rubaiyat lying on the floor by the rear seats. Each man had silently
assumed it belonged to the other, and the book had sat in the glove compartment ever
since. Alerted by a newspaper article about the search, the two men had gone back to
take a closer look. They found that part of the final page had been torn out, together
with Khayyam’s final words. They went to the police.
Detective Sergeant Lionel Leane took a close look at the book. Almost at once he found
a telephone number penciled on the rear cover; using a magnifying glass, he dimly made
out the faint impression of some other letters, written in capitals underneath. Here, at
last, was a solid clue to go on.
The phone number was unlisted, but it proved to belong to a young nurse who lived
near Somerton Beach. Like the two Glenelg men, she has never been publicly
identified—the South Australia police of 1949 were disappointingly willing to protect
witnesses embarrassed to be linked to the case—and she is now known only by her
nickname, Jestyn. Reluctantly, it seemed (perhaps because she was living with the man
who would become her husband), the nurse admitted that she had indeed presented a
copy of the Rubaiyat to a man she had known during the war. She gave the detectives
his name: Alfred Boxall.
At last the police felt confident that they had solved the mystery. Boxall, surely, was the
Unknown Man. Within days they traced his home to Maroubra, New South Wales.
Somerton man's pockets.
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1. The last page torn from a copy of
a rare edition of the Rubaiyat by Omar Kayam.
2. The Taman Shud case, or the Mystery of the Somerton Man.
3. Refer to our readers' comments below.
|Answer to Quiz #355
June 10, 2012
|1. What was this code written on?
2. What enduring mystery is it associated with?
3. What's your best guess about what really happened?
|Comments from Our Readers
|It looks to be written on vellum. The article I read said that it was
paper. With the cost of vellum these days, you would've thought it
would have been put to better use, so I hope it is paper.
Its a part of an Internet horror site called 'Creepy Pasta'. Readers
send in stories/urban legends to frighten each other, so the mystery
might be why has this site endured if they can't think of a better last
name than Drinnid. On the other hand, the legend of the Mothman
popped up in that part of the country, so astute urban legend fans
might connect the two and be frightened.
My best guess about what happened is that Cole Drinnid left his life
of wealth, servants and 60,000 moths in the basement, changed his
name and ran for governor of Wisconsin, realizing too late that it
has a strong pro-moth tradition. The state slogan, 'forward' is
actually a moth directive.
Soon will he start to find small holes in his favorite cardigans, it is
only the beginning. The soft beating of wings at the window, the
feeling of something, something, at the back of his neck. A sudden
movement when he least expects it, and then there is the slow
undulating ripple in the blanket. Sweet dreams, sir. Sweet dreams.
It does fit that there could be some espionage connection. Other
people in the US government died of the same poison. But it seems
too dramatic at the same time. If he was a spy, why be so public,
why not just put him in the ocean and let the sharks have him. Why
use the Rubaiyat, too.
I think it might be either a very crazed man or a group of criminals,
people involved in something very nasty during the war. As for the
use of the Rubiayat, it keeps popping up, doesn't it.
And the way one found with the body is so so strange. I mean,
how would the killers know that there would be a copy of that
particular book left forgotten in a car. And there they are, with
murder on their minds, searching the backseats of autos for their
favorite book. And as luck would have it, they found one. That
seems so peculiar to me.
And one of the people involved is a nurse, who gives her copy of
the Rubyiat to another man, Alf Boxhall. The copy of the book
found with the dead man has her UNLISTED telephone number in
it. IT belonged to a doctor /chemist. Perhaps they knew each other.
Was it a coincidence that the body was found across from the
Crippled Children's Home? Was that a significant location? A
The code contains the initials of both the woman (Theresa Powell)
and Alf Boxhall. I think they may be mentioned in it if it were ever
decoded. Wikipedia mentions that Theresa Powell and Alf Boxhall
and or the Somerton man may have had a child together. Is it a love
triangle gone wrong? I do think that the doctor/book collector is far
more involved. And I think the Marshall case (yet another Rubyiat),
which occurred three years before might hold a large piece of the
puzzle. It had the first mention of the Rubyiat, didn't it. I don't
think it had to do with espionage, but with some criminal enterprise
that they either were a part of or knew about. Christine Walker
I hope its ok to post again. I had no idea that Tamam Shud existed
and it is very interesting. I found a Facebook page about George
Marshall, the first death. He wrote poems to and about nurses. The
boyfriend of the woman who died after giving evidence at George's
inquest quickly married a nurse. Then there was Jestyn, a nurse.
And the guy who found the book was described as a
doctor/chemist, (although who knows, police all ran around hiding
identities it seems.) And then there is the Crippled Childrens home.
Sure are a lot of medical connections. I am starting to think that it
might be something with the black market as child abuse. I'd really
like to know more about the first guy, the one who married a nurse
and who knew George Marshall. The one who the mother of the
woman who died described as 'evil'. His name was Hellmut Horace
Hendon. I think he played a role in this. I don't know what role, but
he was there in the midst of it all. This was his enlistment:
HENDON HELLMUT HORACE : Service Number - N463175: Date
of birth - 15 Dec 1909 : Place of birth - BERLIN GERMANY .
They could have been in the black market selling drugs or medicine.
You would think that they would WANT to dig Mr. X up and find
some answers. I would like to know, and as far as I can tell, every
other person on the internet who isn't Australian is curious too. I
could put this whole thing down as a complicated love affair gone
wrong, with the exception of the death of the woman who testified
in George Marshall's inquest. She came home with an unknown
man (unknown, again. he sure gets around) at about 11pm, went
into the bathroom, drew a bath, took off her clothes, got in, slit her
wrists and died of drowning. She had company. Company. He sat
around and waited. Apparently Australians are a very patient people.
I have a hard time believing this is what happened. Wouldn't you
think he'd be the least bit curious? Don't you think she would've
feared interruption and waited? Her boyfriend was Hellmut Hendon.
In 1964, he was convicted of smuggling gold into Australia. The
mother, in her daughter's 1945 inquest, described him as evil. And
for whatever reason, maybe because it was a mother's intuition, I
believe that. Were they all connected in some nasty little scheme? It
got out of hand, one of them panicked or got sick of it, and then
three years later another panicked or threatened....something.
Maybe it was then Tamam Shud. I am shutting things down, the
war is over, just be warned to keep quiet.
Its so tantalizing. And the use of the Rubaiyat is so, so theatrical. Its
like a radio drama, or a detective thriller. It seems just a little staged,
slightly over the top, doesn't it? And maybe that is it. Maybe it IS all
meaningless. Maybe this is a serial killer, who dressed up his
victims in a stage play that he wrote himself, and acted out in the
real world. Then he sat back and for the next however many years,
watched as he fooled everyone. The greatest playwright ever. That
would be evil.
Its like a kaleidoscope. You look at one way and it appears as one
thing, you look at it another and its completely different. All of them
more or less believable. People need to make patterns and meanings.
Its like when you look at a blot on a piece of paper and see
whatever picture you conjure up. Its a behavior that is hard wired
into all of us. I hope that they do decide to go the DNA route. It
would be the one sure concrete thing to go on and a plot twist that
he could have never predicted.
I think I'm out of theories, finally. It drives me crazy, too. Too
many inkblots, not enough DNA. Christine Walker
|Congratulations to Our Winners
Christine Walker Ben Hollister
Janice M. Sellers Justin Campoli
Nelsen Spickard Joshua Kreitzer
Eloise Hardman Marilyn Hamill
Margaret Paxton Claudio Trapote
Janice Kent-Mackenzie Debby Was
Harold Atchison Marcelle Comeau
Gina Hudson Janice M. Sellers
Bill Hurley Audrey Nicholson
Margaret Paxton Gus Marsh
Sally Garrison Don Draper
Daniel E. Jolley Nicole Blank
Robert Edward McKenna
Quiz Poet Laureate
I am currently sitting about 10 km from where the body was found.
Seriously?? This is Adelaide you're talking about. We are the weird murder capital of
the world. With the ID card that was found last year making it highly likely that at some
stage the person went by the name of H C Reynolds in WWI and that there is no other
trace of a British born H C Reynolds, it does seem to support the spy story that is very
popular. Personally I think he had gone to Glenelg, and was so overcome with the
boredom of Adelaide in December that he went to Somerton had a smoke and
spontaneously died! (Just kidding about Adelaide being boring - again, weird murder
capital - that in itself makes it an interesting place to live!!) Ben Hollister
An unknown man traveled to south Australia to commit suicide. Or to accomplish
something and/or commit suicide.
I suppose it is a boring theory. But it was just a gut reaction after reading just a few
articles. I had not heard of this mystery before, so discovering it was great fun. Thank
you for that. Maybe after letting the fact ruminate for a while would lead me to theorize
otherwise. I do love a good mystery. One of my favorite discoveries was finding some
accounts about the death of the "Beautiful Cigar Girl" Mary Rogers in 1840s NY. She
was one of the first tabloid sensations.
Thanks again! Justin Campoli
What's your best guess about what really happened? Best guess? I go along with the
idea this was an East-Bloc spy. Forensic evidence suggests digitalis poisoning, but
whether self-administered or not --perhaps by Alf Boxall, who is involved with the
mystery --is uncertain.
For a really far-fetched idea... Mr X was a ballet-dancer who had developed a liaison
both business and personal with Boxall. The two met when Boxall was on a spy
mission to Russia. Boxall promised to smuggle his lover out of Russia for government
secrets. They fled across Asia on the Orient Express and eventually by boat to
Australia. (There will be many near captures and escapes in the Hollywood version,
including an impromptu ballet performance along the lines of the end of "The Sound of
Music" where Mr X and Boxall must dance their way out of trouble.) But it turned out
that Boxall had faked his affections only for information, Boxall decided to kill Mr. X
before they reached Australia. Landing at night on Somerton Beach, Boxall proposed a
toast to their success and provided Mr. X with a digitalis laced cocktail. As it turned
out Boxall did love Mr X, but knew country came before love; as a token of his real
feelings, he sewed the Rubyat scroll into his lover's pocket.
...Just pulling Mr X's leg so to speak. Such an amazingly convoluted story. I can
imagine a film version ala THE RED VIOLIN with verses of the Rubiyat throughout.
No idea [what happened], all I know about is what I read in the Wikipedia article just
now. Joshua Kreitzer
N.B. Oh, c'mon. I didn't ask you what happened. I asked you what you thought
happened. Surely you have an opinion.
Coroner's report indicates death is consistent with poisoning, though no traces of
poison found...I presume it was a rare poison or one that would not appear in the
organs with the technology at that time. Code? That's the other big mystery and most
likely if broken could fill in the other blanks. Eloise Hardman
The man may have been the natural father of the son of a woman whose phone number
was also written in that copy of the Rubaiyat. He committed suicide with digitalis, a
common medication, when he was rebuffed. Or he may have been involved in the leak
of top secret materials from the United States' Signal Intelligence Service to the Soviet
embassy in Canberra in 1947. Margaret Paxton
Well this was a fascinating history, now I want to know who was this person !!!, But I’
ll stick with the spy theory, but I have more questions than answers, and look like for
the last sixty plus years I’m not the only one. Claudio Trapote
Such a pity that both Jestyn and her son have now died.
It was apparent on the YouTube doco that at least two people lied to the investigator...
one being the smirking man who denied that anyone recognised the body...and the other
being Mr B.... (can't remember his name at the moment) also now deceased.
Also did you notice a remark at the bottom of one of the youtube items asserting that
Jestyn was Jewish and that her family did not approve of our mystery man because he
was not. That does seem to make sense. I wonder if it would be worth trying to
follow-up the person who made that entry? Janice Kent-Mackenzie
Wow! This was a really interesting one! I found the reference right away by typing
the crossed out line into Google. I've spent the last several hours reading about this
really interesting case on Wikipedia and at The Smithsonian.com. The Smithsonian.
com site has a really interesting blog offering up all kinds of theories and possibilities.
Some a little far out there and some really make you wonder.
Not having access to the police records or having read any of the published material,
my guess is purely that - a guess. I doubt that he committed suicide - I do think he
was murdered. I suspect that there was a combination of personal and covert/illegal
events taking place. It does seem probable that Jestyn and Somerton Man had a
personal relationship at some point - maybe they were all spys (Jestyn, Somerton Man,
Boxall & Jestyn's husband).
Something obviously went wrong - I suspect jealousy was the real reason. That
Somerton Man had been trying to locate Jestyn & her son. That Jestyn's husband
found out and killed him out of jealousy or fear that he would 'blow' their cover. That
may have accounted for Jestyn's surprised reaction upon seeing the bust. It would also
explain her silence - either she was afraid of her husband , the people they worked for
or she loved him so much that she could not betray him. I do think that there was
likely some kind of cover up - that whoever Somerton Man (and the rest of them)
worked for knew who he was but 'buried' his identity. Whatever happened, I don't
think it is as 'cloak & dagger' as some of the bloggers who wrote into the Smithsonian
site. Debby Was
He had a personal/professional relationship with the nurse, but because the police failed
to press the issue we may never know the underlying facts. Harold Atchison
Haven't done a lot of research on this to see what the latest theories are but given the
state of the body /organs, if described accurately, I'm going with the untraceable
poison (glucosides?) theory, possible suicide if he was a spy. Marcelle Comeau
Wow, I am too overwhelmed to even hazard a guess. I may change this part of the
answer if I get the time to study it more. Great one. Gina Hudson
[Was it a suicide or a murder?] That remains the question. Since he was leaning up
against a rocky wall, I thought he could have been tossed over or climbed over (or slid
down for that matter). Then thought about him falling from the sky, but I ruled that
out as no fractures and no indications his body was in deeper ground than regular
sitting position (verus landing from the sky without a parachute). The person who
turned in the book ALLEGES he found it in the back of his car—if that is true, and
someone dumped it in there to dispose of it, who then? The deceased? Or the alleged
murderer? Or an unrelated party? All a puzzle…
Have a good week, and thanks for keeping my mind active! Eloise Hardman
I haven't a clue. One thing I have learned from watching far too many years of forensic
programs is that if I don't have all the original information at hand, I am not qualified to
make an educated guess. Janice M. Sellers
I'll go with espionage. Russians used poisons to kill defectors; codes and sewing things
into lining were similiar tradecraft used by them. Victim died near Wooera top secret
Aust. missile launching & intel gathering base; and Ass't US Treasury Sec. Harry
Dexter White, a proven Soviet spy/agent of influence died of poisoning (Aug 16, 1949)
after being confronted & interviewed about his connection to the Soviets through Top
Secret US VENONA project where he was positively identified. Bill Hurley
I think the woman involved (who says she didn't know him but reacted to identifying
the body as if she did know him) and the dead man were spies, possibly double agents
(perhaps even married), and an agency murdered one of them, mistaking that individual
for someone else, perhaps another spy. Either way, the woman did it or knows who did
and is keeping her mouth shut -- Which brings in this woman's husband... Maybe HE
did it. Audrey Nicholson
The man may have been the natural father of the son of a woman whose phone number
was also written in that copy of the Rubaiyat. He committed suicide with digitalis, a
common medication, when he was rebuffed. Or he may have been involved in the leak
of top secret materials from the United States Signal Intelligence Service to the Soviet
embassy in Canberra in 1947. Margaret Paxton
My guess is that it was a suicide, since all clothing labels had been removed and he had
no identification on him. Gus Marsh
This is the 50th anniversary of the Escape from Alcatraz. The mystery is what
happened to the three men who escaped? I think they must have drowned in the Bay
before reaching shore. Rebecca Bare
I believe that the mystery man had somehow secured (stolen) the copy of the original
Rabaiyat. It was his intent to sell the original text to some library or private collector at
a high price. Robert McKenna
Love affair gone wrong. The nurse 'Jestyn' didn't want her 'husband' to find out about
earlier dalliances or that her son may not have belonged to him. Therefore to hide her
past, she used a drug, which she would have had easy access to, and 'done him in'.
How she got the body to the beach and dumped in broad daylight without being noticed
is the real mystery. Sally Garrison
A search for “famous code mystery” on Google images gave me a replica of the code.
Probing the image resulted in an all over repeat pattern of the code. Each one led to a
link giving information about a mysterious death on Nov. 30, 1948 on Somerton Beach
near Adelaide Australia.
No doubt this has created much interest world-wide as many of the links were in a
foreign language. The code was pencilled on the rear cover of a book found in a car
from the area. It was a copy of The Rabaiyat, a translated collection of poems by Omar
Kahyamm. The last page had been torn out and it had been found earlier on the body of
a man found on Somerton Beach in 1948. It had the Persian words “Taman shud”
which apparently translates to “It is finished”.
Who this man was and how or why he died has been indeed an enduring mystery to
this day. The last page of the book had been found days after the body was found. It
was folded and placed in a hard to detect pocket in the dead man’s pants. I believe the
message of something being ended is significant and intended. All labels of clothing and
other personal identifiers had been removed from the body. It is either a case of the
man not wanting to disclose his identity or somebody doing this to him. I think the first
option is true and that the man took his own life.
Found with the code was a telephone number which traced to a woman living in the
area, nick-named Jetsyn. He was dressed up for a visit to the woman and found she
was now interested in another man who she planned to marry. There is some indication
that he had fathered a child with Jetsyn earlier. I wondered if he had been stationed in
Australia during WW2 or shortly thereafter and met Jetsyn, a nurse. He may have been
an intelligence agent and avoided any signs of personal identification. He may also have
been aware of how to end his life if found in a difficult situation – possibly by
poisoning. One theory was that the cigarette he had may have been a source of poison.
I was puzzled by the information that the Somerton man’s spleen was triple the normal
size. Was this the sign of a serious illness that could add to his misery? It was
interesting that another man, a Mr. Boxall, also had a copy of The Rabaiyat, given to
him by Jetsyn. I think the Somerton man had put the code in his copy. If he had been
involved in intelligence or spy work, he would know about such things. Did the man
Jetsyn married also get a copy? Don Draper
Loved this one - the crazy weird quizzes are awesome! Hope you have a great
weekend and talk to you soon! Nicole Blank
Makes a great story ... and I am taking a fiction writing class this summer. Hmmmm....
This may be the spark for which I have been looking. ;-) Audrey Nicholson
From his apparent death by poisoning, the fact that most of the labels from his clothes
had been removed, and the encoded Taman Shud note found deep in a fob pocket, I
would surmise that he was in the spy business and that he was eliminated by the
opposition. Daniel E. Jolley
|As Omar wrote
The Moving Finger writes: and having writ,
Moves on: Nor all the piety nor wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
And so the secret code is also written using words from the
Many seeking a simple answer will find that they are vexed,
Don't get discouraged; if the answer is not easily found,
Our Quizmaster will guide you to an answer that is most
Quiz Poet Laureate
A man once bought a rolltop desk
With many nooks and drawers
He found in one a crumpled note
From a 100 years before.
A note from yonder in the past
It spoke of life ago
Writ by a young contented lass
In an idle moment so.
And so he wrote a short reply
And put it in the drawer
Just to introduce himself
And tell her who he was
Surprisingly he had from her
An interesting reply
A new note found he in the box
And so he wrote once more
And thus they chatted over time
For him towards decades past
For her towards decades still to come
Tho' time were made of glass.
They fell in love as friends often do
So close and yet to far
Knowing that the day would come
When time would close its door.
How long would it be then until
The hole in time closed tight
And they would each be left alone
To carry on in life.
She told him that no matter what
He was her lifelong love
That if they were ever forced to part
That she would not forget.
So then one day he heard no more
His notes got no response
Only silence filled the drawer,
With end to their romance.
Perhaps, he thought, she moved away
Perhaps the desk was sold
Perhaps time sealed itself up tight
How could it be so cruel?
In his sorrow he went to find
Her final resting place
In the local cemetery
Her very simple grave.
After 100 years there was
Not too much to see
The stone was worn and almost bare
The plot filled up with weeds.
As he stooped to read her name
His heart filled with a sob
For she'd written on the stone:
"I never forgot".
Colleen Fitzpatrick PhD
Understudy to Quiz Poet Laureate
Robert Edward McKenna
Most murders aren’t that difficult to solve. The husband
did it. The wife did it. The boyfriend did it, or the ex-
boyfriend did. The crimes fit a pattern, the motives are
Of course, there are always a handful of cases that don’t
fit the template, where the killer is a stranger or the reason
for the killing is bizarre. It’s fair to say, however, that
nowadays the authorities usually have something to go on.
Thanks in part to advances such as DNA technology, the
police are seldom baffled anymore.
They certainly were baffled, though, in Adelaide, the
capital of South Australia, in December 1948. And the
only thing that seems to have changed since then is that a
story that began simply—with the discovery of a body on
the beach on the first day of that southern summer—has
bec0me ever more mysterious. In fact, this case (which
remains, theoretically at least, an active investigation) is so
opaque that we still do not know the victim’s identity,
have no real idea what killed him, and cannot even be
certain whether his death was murder or suicide.
What we can say is that the clues in the Somerton Beach
mystery (or the enigma of the “Unknown Man,” as it is
known Down Under) add up to one of the world’s most
perplexing cold cases. It may be the most mysterious of
Let’s start by sketching out the little that is known for
certain. At 7 o’clock on the warm evening of Tuesday, November 30, 1948, jeweler
John Bain Lyons and his wife went for a stroll on Somerton Beach, a seaside resort a
few miles south of Adelaide. As they walked toward Glenelg, they noticed a smartly
dressed man lying on the sand, his head propped against a sea wall. He was lolling
about 20 yards from them, legs outstretched, feet crossed. As the couple watched, the
man extended his right arm upward, then let it fall back to the ground. Lyons thought
he might be making a drunken attempt to smoke a cigarette.
Half an hour later, another couple noticed the same man lying in the same position.
Looking on him from above, the woman could see that he was immaculately dressed in
a suit, with smart new shoes polished to a mirror shine—odd clothing for the beach. He
was motionless, his left arm splayed out on the sand. The couple decided that he was
simply asleep, his face surrounded by mosquitoes. “He must be dead to the world not
to notice them,” the boyfriend joked.
It was not until next morning that it became obvious that the man was not so much
dead to the world as actually dead. John Lyons returned from a morning swim to find
some people clustered at the seawall where he had seen his “drunk” the previous
evening. Walking over, he saw a figure
slumped in much the same position, head
resting on the seawall, feet crossed. Now,
though, the body was cold. There were no
marks of any sort of violence. A half-
smoked cigarette was lying on the man’s
collar, as though it had fallen from his
The body reached the Royal Adelaide
Hospital three hours later. There Dr. John
Barkley Bennett put the time of death at no
earlier than 2 a.m., noted the likely case of
death as heart failure, and added that he
suspected poisoning. The contents of the
man’s pockets were spread out on a table:
tickets from Adelaide to the beach, a pack
of chewing gum, some matches, two
combs and a pack of Army Club cigarettes
containing seven cigarettes of another,
more expensive brand called Kensitas.
There was no wallet and no cash, and no
ID. None of the man’s clothes bore any
name tags- indeed, in all but one case the
maker's label had been carefully snipped
away. One trouser pocket had been neatly repaired with an unusual variety of orange
By the time a full autopsy was carried out a day later, the police had already exhausted
their best leads as to the dead man’s identity, and the results of the postmortem did little
to enlighten them. It revealed that the corpse’s pupils were “smaller” than normal and
“unusual,” that a dribble of spittle had run down the side of the man’s mouth as he lay,
and that “he was probably unable to swallow it.” His spleen, meanwhile, “was strikingly
large and firm, about three times normal size,” and the liver was distended with
In the man’s stomach, pathologist John Dwyer found the remains of his last meal—a
pasty—and a further quantity of blood. That too suggested poisoning, though there was
nothing to show that the poison had been in the food. Now the dead man’s peculiar
behavior on the beach—slumping in a suit, raising and dropping his right arm—seemed
less like drunkenness than it did a lethal dose of something taking slow effect. But
repeated tests on both blood and organs by an expert chemist failed to reveal the the
inquest. In fact, no cause of death was found.
The body displayed other peculiarities. The dead man’s calf muscles were high and
very well developed; although in his late 40s, he had the legs of an athlete. His toes,
meanwhile, were oddly wedge-shaped. One expert who gave evidence at the inquest
I have not seen the tendency of calf muscle so pronounced as in this case...His feet
were rather striking, suggesting--this is my own assumption--that he had been in the
habit of wearing high-heeled and pointed
Perhaps, another expert witness hazarded,
the dead man had been a ballet dancer?
All this left the Adelaide coroner, Thomas
Cleland, with a real puzzle on his hands.
The only practical solution, he was
informed by an eminent professor, Sir
Cedric Stanton Hicks, was that a very
rare poison had been used—one that
“decomposed very early after death,” leaving no trace. The only poisons capable of this
were so dangerous and deadly that Hicks would not say their names aloud in open
court. Instead, he passed Cleland a scrap of paper on which he had written the names
of two possible candidates: digitalis and strophanthin. Hicks suspected the latter.
Strophanthin is a rare glycoside derived from the seeds of some African plants.
Historically, it was used by a little-known Somali tribe to poison arrows.
More baffled than ever now, the police continued their investigation. A full set of
fingerprints was taken and circulated throughout Australia—and then throughout the
English-speaking world. No one could identify them. People from all over Adelaide
were escorted to the mortuary in the hope they could give the corpse a name. Some
thought they knew the man from photos published in the newspapers, others were the
distraught relatives of missing persons. Not one recognized the body.
By January 11, the South Australia police had investigated and dismissed pretty much
every lead they had. The investigation was now widened in an attempt to locate any
abandoned personal possessions, perhaps left luggage, that might suggest that the dead
man had come from out of state. This meant checking every hotel, dry cleaner, lost
property office and railway station for miles around. But it did produce results. On the
12th, detectives sent to the main railway station in Adelaide were shown a brown
suitcase that had been deposited in the cloakroom there on November 30.
The staff could remember nothing about the owner, and the case’s contents were not
much more revealing. The case did contain a reel of orange thread identical to that used
to repair the dead man’s trousers, but painstaking care had been applied to remove
practically every trace of the owner’s identity. The case bore no stickers or markings,
and a label had been torn off from one side. The tags were missing from all but three
|Somerton man's fingerprints
items of the clothing inside; these bore the name
“Kean” or “T. Keane,” but it proved impossible to
trace anyone of that name, and the police concluded–
an Adelaide newspaper reported–that someone “had
purposely left them on, knowing that the dead man’s
name was not ‘Kean’ or ‘Keane.’ ”
The remainder of the contents were equally
inscrutable. There was a stencil kit of the sort “used
by the Third Officer on merchant ships responsible
for the stenciling of cargo”; a table knife with the
haft cut down; and a coat stitched using a feather
stitch unknown in Australia. A tailor identified the
stitchwork as American in origin, suggesting that the
coat, and perhaps its wearer, had traveled during the
war years. But searches of shipping and immigration records from across the country
again produced no likely leads.
The police had brought in another expert, John Cleland, emeritus professor of
pathology at the University of Adelaide, to re-examine the corpse and the dead man’s
possessions. In April, four months after the discovery of the body, Cleland’s search
produced a final piece of evidence—one that would prove to be the most baffling of all.
Cleland discovered a small pocket sewn into the waistband of the dead man’s trousers.
Previous examiners had missed it, and several accounts of the case have referred to it
as a “secret pocket,” but it seems to have been intended to hold a fob watch. Inside,
tightly rolled, was a minute scrap of paper, which, opened up, proved to contain two
words, typeset in an elaborate printed script. The phrase read “Tamám Shud.”
Frank Kennedy, the police reporter for the Adelaide Advertiser, recognized the words as
Persian, and telephoned the police to suggest they obtain a copy of a book of poetry—
the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. This work, written in the twelfth century, had become
popular in Australia during the war years in a much-loved translation by Edward
FitzGerald. It existed in numerous editions, but the usual intricate police enquiries to
libraries, publishers and bookshops failed to find one that matched the fancy type. At
least it was possible, however, to say that the words “Tamám shud” (or “Taman shud,”
as several newspapers misprinted it—a mistake perpetuated ever since) did come from
Khayyam’s romantic reflections on life and mortality. They were, in fact, the last
words in most English translations— not surprisingly, because the phrase means “It is
Taken at face value, this new clue suggested that the death might be a case of suicide;
in fact, the South Australia police never did turn their “missing person” enquiries into a
full-blown murder investigation. But the discovery took them no closer to identifying
the dead man, and in the meantime his
body had begun to decompose.
Arrangements were made for a burial,
but—conscious that they were
disposing of one of the few pieces of
evidence they had—the police first had
the corpse embalmed, and a cast taken
of the head and upper torso. After that,
the body was buried, sealed under
concrete in a plot of dry ground
specifically chosen in case it became
necessary to exhume it. As late as 1978,
flowers would be found at odd intervals
on the grave, but no one could ascertain
who had left them there, or why.
In July, fully eight months after the
investigation had begun, the search for
the right Rubaiyat produced results. On
the 23rd, a Glenelg man walked into the
Detective Office in Adelaide with a copy
of the book and a strange story. Early
the previous December, just after the
(Top left) Tamam Shud note found in the Somerton man's pocket;
(Bottom left) Book from which the note was torn; (Right) How they fit
The problem was that Boxall turned out to be still
alive, and he still had the copy of the Rubaiyat Jestyn
had given him. It bore the nurse’s inscription, but
was completely intact. The scrap of paper hidden in
the dead man’s pocket must have come from
It might have helped if the South Australia police had
felt able to question Jestyn closely, but it is clear that
they did not. The gentle probing that the nurse
received did yield some intriguing bits of information;
interviewed again, she recalled that some time the
previous year—she could not be certain of the date—
she had come home to be told by neighbors than an
unknown man had called and asked for her. And,
confronted with the cast of the dead man’s face, Jestyn
seemed “completely taken aback, to the point of giving the
appearance she was about to faint,” Leane said. She seemed
to recognize the man, yet firmly denied that he was anyone
That left the faint impression Sergeant Leane had noticed in
the Glenelg Rubaiyat. Examined under ultraviolet light, five
lines of jumbled letters could be seen, the second of which
had been crossed out. The first three were separated from
the last two by a pair of straight lines with an ‘x’ written
over them. It seemed that they were some sort of code.
Breaking a code from only a small fragment of text is
exceedingly difficult, but the police did their best. They sent
the message to Naval Intelligence, home to the finest cipher
experts in Australia, and allowed the message to be published
in the press. This produced a frenzy of amateur
codebreaking, almost all of it worthless, and a message from
the Navy concluding that the code appeared unbreakable:
From the manner in which the lines have been represented as
being set out in the original, it is evident that the end of each
line indicates a break in sense.
There is an insufficient number of letters for definite
conclusions to be based on analysis, but the indications
together with the acceptance of the above breaks in sense
indicate, in so far as can be seen, that the letters do not
constitute any kind of simple cipher or code.
The frequency of the occurrence of letters, whilst
inconclusive, corresponds more favourably with the table of
frequencies of initial letters of words in English than with
any other table; accordingly a reasonable explanation would
be that the lines are the initial letters of words of a verse of
poetry or such like.
And there, to all intents and purposes, the mystery rested.
The Australian police never cracked the code or identified the unknown man. Jestyn
died a few years ago without revealing why she had seemed likely to faint when
confronted with a likeness of the dead man’s face. And when the South Australia
coroner published the final results of his investigation in 1958, his report concluded
with the admission:
"I am unable to say who the deceased was… I am unable to say how he died or what
was the cause of death."
In recent years, though, the Tamám Shud case has begun to attract new attention.
Amateur sleuths have probed at the loose ends left by the police, solving one or two
minor mysteries but often creating new ones in their stead. And two especially
persistent investigators—retired Australian policeman Gerry Feltus, author of the only
book yet published on the case, and Professor Derek Abbott of the University of
Adelaide—have made particularly useful progress. Both freely admit they have not
solved mystery—but let’s close by looking briefly at the remaining puzzles and leading
First, the man’s identity remains unknown. It is generally presumed that he was known
to Jestyn, and may well have been the man who called at her apartment, but even if he
was not, the nurse’s shocked response when confronted with the body cast was
telling. Might the solution be found in her activities during World War II? Was she in
the habit of presenting men friends with copies of the Rubaiyat, and, if so, might the
dead man have been a former boyfriend, or more, whom she did not wish to confess to
knowing? Abbott’s researches certainly suggest as much, for he has traced Jestyn’s
identity and discovered that she had a son.
Minute analysis of the surviving photos of
the Unknown Man and Jestyn’s child
reveals intriguing similarities. Might the
dead man have been the father of the son?
If so, could he have killed himself when
told he could not see them?
Those who argue against this theory point
to the cause of the man’s death. How
credible is it, they say, that someone
would commit suicide by dosing himself
with a poison of real rarity? Digitalis, and
the world, suggest that there were never
more than five editions of Methuen’s
Rubaiyat—which means that Marshall’s
seventh edition was as nonexistent as the
Unknown Man’s Whitcombe & Tombs
appears to be. Might the books not have
been books at all, but disguised spy gear
of some sort—say one-time code pads?
Which brings us to the final mystery.
Going through the police file on the case,
Gerry Feltus stumbled across a neglected
piece of evidence: a statement, given in
1959, by a man who had been on
Somerton Beach. There, on the evening
that the Unknown Man expired, and
walking toward the spot where his body
was found, the witness (a police report
(Right) Copy of Rubaiyat associated
with the Tamam Shud mystery; (Left)
Copy of similar Rubaiyat published by
Whitcombe & Tombs.
stated) “saw a man carrying another on his shoulder, near the water’s edge. He could
not describe the man.”
At the time, this did not seem that mysterious; the witness assumed he’d seen
somebody carrying a drunken friend. Looked at in the cold light of day, though, it
raises questions. After all, none of the people who saw a man lying on the seafront
earlier had noticed his face. Might he not have been the Unknown Man at all? Might the
body found next morning have been the one seen on the stranger’s shoulder? And, if
so, might this conceivably suggest this really was a case involving spies—and murder?