The Mystery and Death of the Somerton Man

The Mystery and Death of the Somerton Man

The Somerton Man

At 6.30 am on December 1st, 1948 the body of a man was discovered on Somerton Park Beach, South Australia. To this day the man remains unidentified, with his case commonly referred to as that of the Somerton Man or the Tamam Shud case. The peculiar circumstances surrounding this death thrust the case into the spotlight, intriguing many and gaining worldwide attention.

Somerton Man post mortem pictures.
Post-mortem photographs of the Somerton Man.

After the discovery of the man’s body, police were notified and arrived at the scene. They noted it appeared as if the man could have died in his sleep, laying on his back with his head propped up against a sea wall, with his legs extended out and crossed over. A number of items were found on the body, including cigarettes from numerous brands (one of which was laying unlit on the man’s right jacket collar), an unused train ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach, a bus ticket from the city, a hair comb and a half-empty packet of gum. Unfortunately, the man possessed no wallet and hence no form of identification.

Place where the Tamam Shud body was found.
An X denoting the exact location where the body of the Somerton Man was discovered.

The man was fairly well dressed, despite not wearing a hat which was common in the day. His jacket appeared to be tailored in an American style and curiously, all the tags had been removed from each piece of clothing.

Somerton Park Beach South Australia.
Somerton Park Beach as it appears today.

The unidentified person appeared to be a white male aged between 40-45 years of age and was in great physical shape. It was noted that his toes had been morphed into points, as if he spent a lot of time wearing pointed shoes, and it was also apparent that his calf muscles were abnormally large and sculpted, as seen in the legs of ballet dancers of cyclists. An autopsy was also performed on the body revealing that the man’s last meal was a pasty and it was most likely he died from poisoning, despite no traces of poison being found in the body.

Since the man was found without identification and no one ever came forward to reveal who the man was, his upper body and face were cast creating a death mask in the hopes of one day identifying him. This cast remains on display in the South Australian Police Historical Society Museum.

New Clues Revealed

A new discovery providing more evidence towards the Somerton Man case was found on the 14th of January, 1949. At this time, staff at the Adelaide Railway Station discovered a brown suitcase with its labels removed that had been checked into the cloakroom the day before the Somerton Man’s body was discovered. The find was connected to the body as it contained some thread within it, which was quite rare within Australia, that matched some thread used to seal a pocket on the man’s clothing. Also, contained within the case was a dressing gown, pair of slippers, four pairs of underwear, pajamas, shaving items, brown trousers that had sand particles in them, a screwdriver, scissors and a modified table knife.

Suitcase evidence from Tamam Shud case.
The contents of the suitcase discovered at the Adelaide Railway Station.

It was also found that all of the clothing within this suitcase had had its tags removed, similar to those worn on the actual body. However, some clues as to whom the man may have been being present in the form of laundry tags, reading “T.Keane,” “Keane,” and “Kean.” Unfortunately, these tags did not provide any successful leads.

The Tamam Shud Discovery

Around the time that an inquest was being undertaken into the Somerton Man’s death, another new piece of evidence was found. This was to unfold many new layers of mystery and intrigue in the case. Hidden within a sealed pocket on the mysterious man’s trousers was a tiny rolled up piece of paper with the words “Tamam Shud” printed across it. This translates into “finished” or “ended” and was apparently the final words to be written within a popular book known as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Tamam Shud case evidence.
The small piece of paper discovered on the mysterious man’s body.

This new lead prompted Police to put these details out into the public. Their campaign proved successful as a man came forward claiming to have found a Rubaiyat in the back seat of his car with this phrase ripped from its last page. Amazingly, this book matched with the torn piece of paper found on the Somerton Man. The man claims that the book was found in the back seat of his car, which was parked and left unlocked along Jetty Road.

Rubaiyat Somerton Man.
The Rubaiyat where the Tamam Shud writing was ripped out of.

The discovery of this book added an unexpected dynamic to this case that captured the public’s interest like never before. Found sketched within the Rubaiyat linked to the Somerton Man, were signs of a handwritten apparent secret code. To this day, the code remains unsolved and no one truly knows its meaning, or whether it even has one. Also discovered alongside this code was a phone number for a young nurse, Jessica Thomson. It tuned out that Miss Thomson lived along Mosely Street, just a few hundred meters from where the body had been found.

Code found in relation to Somerton Man case.
The strange code that remains unsolved to this day.

Police chased up this lead and spoke to Jessica Thomson who claimed to know nothing about his man, who he was, why he was in her area when he died or why her phone number had been written in a book directly linked to him. She was also taken to sight the Somerton Man’s bust. Witnesses to this claimed she had acted in an unusual fashion upon sighting this bust, almost appearing to faint and constantly looking away. They speculated she may have known the man as she acted in such a fashion.

Moseley Street, Glenelg.
Moseley Street where Jessica Thomson lived.

The Jessica Thomson Theory

Numerous theories about this case have swirled through the decades and one of the more recent to come to light heavily involves Jessica Thomson. Researcher and professor of the University of Adelaide, Derek Abbott, has speculated heavily about the relationship Miss Thomson may have had with the Somerton Man. He found that Jessica’s son and the Somerton Man shared a very similar ear structure and a rare genetic disorder that affects the teeth. Supposedly, it is a one in ten million chance that two people would share these same traits. Could it be that Jessica’s son was also that of the Somerton Man’s? Did they have a romantic relationship that was never confessed to the police? Some work to have the man’s body exhumed to perform DNA analysis to add weight to this theory has already been undertaken, though at this point in time it remains unproven.

Somerton Man case of interest.
Jessica Thomson and her son.

Spy Theories

Another popular theory that is often linked to this case is that the Somerton Man was actually a spy. This is both a popular and exciting theory that seems fitting to this case given its many layers of mystery. Adding weight to this theory is that the man’s clothing tags had been removed (possibly to cover his tracks), he died in such a mysterious way with untraceable poison and of course, the strange code found linked to his body.

Adding further weight to this spy theory was a special edition of the television show 60 Minutes, which conducted an interview with Jessica Thomson’s daughter. She stated that she believed both her mother and the Somerton man not only knew each other but were both spies. She even revealed that her mother spoke Russian, though she had no idea where she would have picked up this skill.

At Rest

Today the case of the Somerton Man remains unsolved and as mysterious as ever. The unknown man is laid to rest within the West Terrace Cemetery in the heart of Adelaide. Here, his body is marked by a simple headstone and a historical marker displaying his post mortem photograph.

West Terrace Cemetery has the Somerton Man's grave.
The final resting place for the Somerton Man, located in West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide.

If you enjoyed this article you might also like to learn about the Old Adelaide Gaol.

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