Somerton Man case raises Cold War espionage theory in Australia’s most baffling mystery

A Cold War spy. A ballet dancer. A black market trader in disguise. Perhaps, a sailor.

They are just some of the theories about the kind of work that may have brought an unnamed man to Somerton Beach in the South Australian city of Adelaide, where his body – in a suit and tie – was found. on a breakwater on December 1, 1948.

It’s a case that has baffled investigators and has attracted amateur racers from around the world for decades and even saw the remains of the mysterious man unearthed last year. to undergo advanced DNA testing. But the identity of the so-called Somerton Man remains unclear more than 70 years later. No one knew who he was, what he was doing in the area, where he came from, or even how he died. But many intriguing clues were left behind.

The man sticks a partially smoked cigarette on his collar with no visible burn marks, his hair is styled elaborately and his double-breasted jacket is pressed up. The tags on his clothes were cut off. In his pocket were chewing gum, a box of matches, a pack of cigarettes, unused train and bus tickets, and an aluminum comb not sold in Australia.

The Somerton Man was found wearing a suit and tie and leaning against a breakwater.

Luis G. Rendon / The Daily Beast / Getty / South Australia State Records

In January 1949, a suitcase was found at Adelaide train station and linked to the man via a thread matching repair work in his pocket. It contains a bunch of weird items including clothing that has also had its labels removed. But still no identification or anything to connect the dots to identify the man.

The clothes have all been checked by experts, according to Tamam Shud: The Mystery of the Somerton Man by Kerry Greenwood. Police called a tailor, Hugh Possa of Gawler Place, who explained that the careful crafting of the jacket, with the machine stitching of the feathers, was certainly American, for there was only industry. American apparel uses feather sewing machines, writes Greenwood.

Several months later, Pathologist Professor John Burton Cleland found a small scroll hidden deep in the fob pocket of the man’s pants with the Farsi words “Tamam Shud”—translated as “it’s over” or “it’s over.” end” —printed on it.

This torn sheet of paper was later derived from an ancient book of Persian poetry, Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, was left in the back seat of a car near where the body was found. Some believe this is proof he was a spy or executed double agent. On the back of the book with that missing page was an encrypted message that neither the Federal Bureau of Investigation nor the Scotland Yard codebreakers were able to decipher. It reads:





The clues left in the man’s pocket in the suitcase seem to only confuse investigators further.

Luis G. Rendon / The Daily Beast / Getty / South Australia State Records

A phone number is also scrawled in pencil on the back page of Somerton Man’s Rubaiyat. It belonged to a local nurse named Teresa Powell or Johnson, who was interviewed by police and said she did not know who the unidentified man was before she died in 2007, according to police. Tamam Shud: The Mystery of the Somerton Man.

The Somerton man was fit, about 40-50 years old, 5 feet, 11 inches tall, with gray-blue eyes and gray-brown hair on either side, according to authorities. He has what the pathologist calls a “beautiful Britisher face”.

Mr. Cleland also noted that: “Many people go to the morgue with dirty and unattended toenails. He was clean. “

There has been some speculation among internet users that Somerton Man may have been poisoned by an infected lover. Autopsy revealed an enlarged spleen and poor liver but did not determine the cause of death, factors leading to the speculation of poisoning; although no trace of any poison was found, it cannot be ruled out either. The examiners also found that the man had unusually strong calf muscles, a detail that raised the idea that he had ballet training and may have been a professional dancer. Other theories about him include that he was simply an American sailor who came to Adelaide to visit a child he raised during the war and died of natural causes or that he was a boat person Trader has overstayed his visit to Australia.

The man’s body was embalmed to give police more time to identify him, and a plaster face – or death mask – was made of his face, as a saying goes. physical reminder of who he was before he was laid to rest in an Adelaide cemetery under a headstone. read only “unnamed man”.

Somerton Man’s body was exhumed last year as part of Operation Persevere, which seeks to name all the unidentified remains in South Australia, but forensic experts have yet to identify them. his identity.

“For more than 70 years, people have speculated who this man was and how he died,” Vickie Chapman, South Australia’s attorney general, said in a statement last year.

“It’s a story that captures the imaginations of people across the state and around the world — but I believe we may eventually discover some of the answers.”

The story of the “unknown man” made headlines across Australia and New Zealand, his fingerprints and photos were sent around the world, including the UK, US, and English-speaking countries in Africa, His coronation investigation has heard. A letter dated January 1949, signed by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, confirmed that the United States did not find his fingerprints in its records to match.

“I think the immediate cause of death was heart failure, but I can’t say what caused it,” said Robert Cowan, a government chemical analyst who has examined samples taken from the body. out heart failure.

South Australian Police Detective Superintendent Des Bray previously said many theories had been advanced over the years, but “what the truth of it is, no one knows”.

“There was talk about whether he was a Russian spy, whether he was involved in the black market, whether he was a sailor,” he said.

“Everybody did their best in the past, everyone did everything they could to solve the case, but they couldn’t.”

Speaking at the grave site before last year’s excavation, Det. Supt Bray said it was important that “people remember Somerton Man as more than just curiosity or a mystery to be solved.”

“It’s somebody’s father, son, be it grandfather, uncle or brother, and that’s why we’re doing this and trying to identify him,” he continued.

“There are people we know who live in Adelaide who believe they might be related,” he said.

“And they deserve a definitive answer.”


The Somerton man was mummified to give investigators more time to figure out who he was.

Luis G. Rendon / The Daily Beast / Getty / South Australia State Records

SA Assistant Director of Forensic Science Anne Coxon said a range of different DNA techniques would be used, but cautioned that “we may or may not succeed”.

“The fact that the remains were also embalmed [72 years ago] Dr. Coxon spoke before the excavation.

“At this stage, it is difficult to set a timeframe for it.

“Even if we do find DNA present, we may not actually find a match. It will depend on who is on the database we are looking at and what information can be extracted from the comparison being made.”

Professor Derek Abbott recently commissioned Canadian virtual reality artist Daniel Voshart to recreate what Somerton Man looked like when he was alive.

Professor Abbott, an expert in biomedical engineering at the University of Adelaide, was contacted by Dr Colleen Fitzpatrick, a pioneer in forensic genealogy in the US, using the artificial intelligence software, Voshart. combined physical descriptions of Somerton Man with autopsy photographs and photographs of a plaster bust.

Striking images bring to life the face of a man whose name is unknown and whose life and death remains one of Australia’s most intriguing mysteries — and an open police investigation. .

The revelation of the Somerton Man’s true identity has also become personal for Professor Abbott, who has spent years researching the case and believes there may be a family link.

During his investigation, Professor Abbott met Rachel Egan, his current wife, after sending her a letter explaining why he thought she might be Somerton Man’s niece. . After a single dinner dominated by talk of death and DNA, the couple decided to get married and go on to have three children, CNN reported. “Whether he’s related to any of us or not, we’ve adopted him into our family, because it was he who brought us together,” Professor Abbott said. Abbott said.

A portrait of Somerton Man – whom the children know as Mr S or Mr Somerton – now hangs above their playroom door.

“The cause of his death really is no longer a concern. That’s him and can we get his name back? “ Somerton Man case raises Cold War espionage theory in Australia’s most baffling mystery

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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