Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Somerton Man

A while ago I reported on the mysterious death of a man in Oxford, see here from 35.48: I've come across a very similar incident from Australia that has been far more widely publicized and researched, the case of the Somerton Man or the Taman Shud Case. It took place some years before in 1948, but as with "Oxford Man" the victim was well dressed and had some unusual articles in his possession. The body was first reported at 6.30 AM on Wednesday the 1st of December 1948 by an early morning rambler. It was that of a man lying on the beach at Adelaide, Australia. His head was resting on the sea wall facing the sea as if he'd fallen asleep there; indeed some witnesses reported seeing him during the night and went on their way assuming he was a drunk who had taken a nap. He was wearing a brand new clean suit of which all the labels had been removed. He had also shaved a few hours before his death. He carried on him a number of ordinary items you'd expect a man to have- cigarettes and matches, train and bus tickets for local services, some chewing gum, a comb; but strangely no money at all. He carried no identification and nobody was able to confirm seeing him in the area alive, even though the evidence suggests that he had a used local transport. His post-mortem reported that he was aged about forty to forty-five. He had hazel eyes and light ginger hair. He was 5 feet 11 in height and was very fit, like an athlete or dancer; his hands were soft-skinned and therefore not those of a manual worker. His internal organs showed signs that he had been poisoned yet no toxins could be traced in his system. His last meal had been a Cornish pasty that he'd eaten about four hours before yet this was definitely not the source of the poison. It was only more than thirty years later in 1980 that a review of the pathology report led to speculation that the man had maybe been poisoned by an overdose of digitalis and ouabain; the problem is that in 1948 those drugs were still under trial and not available from clinical pharmacies, another connection with "Oxford Man" in 1975. The mystery deepened as the police discovered that his fingerprints and dental records didn't match any known person in Australia. A photograph of his face was widely published yet nobody came forward to say that they recognized him. The investigators were stumped, but six weeks later, on the 14th of January 1949, it was revealed that somebody had deposited a suitcase in the luggage lockers at Adelaide's central railway station and had never come back to retrieve it. It contained more clothing, some underwear and toiletries, but also some strange sharp tools that had been adapted from eating utensils. Again, all identifying marks had been carefully removed from the items and from the suitcase itself. Some of the items were of a strange or foreign type not available anywhere in Australia. There was a jacket known to be made only in the United States of America, but the makes of the other objects were never traced even though the police contacted other forces all over the world to help them; this is highly unusual. There were no further leads and there was nothing more to be done except hold a coroner's inquest which took place on the 17th of June 1949. However, in the meantime there had been a couple more strange developments. One was that the man was wearing shoes that were completely clean with no sand or dust on them at all; which is strange if he'd been travelling round the city on a bus and walking along the beach. It was as if they'd been taken off the shelf of Clarks and put on his feet by somebody else after his death. Secondly, there was a new discovery that threw the mystery up into a whole new league. Somerton Man's trousers had been searched again and it turned out that somebody had sewn a small pouch into the lining of one of the pockets, and inside that was a small scrap of paper with the words Taman Shud printed on them in the normal Latin Script but using a very unusual font. The words are actually mediaeval Persian and mean "finished" or "the end". They are the concluding line to a poem in a book called The Rubaiyat by the 10th century poet Omar Khayyam. This was a vital clue. The unusual font made it possible to work out exactly where that scrap of paper had come from. As the police suspected and hoped, it was torn from the page of a book and they found out exactly what book. They expected it to be a modern book in print of Omar Khayyam's poems, but to their astonishment the scrap of paper had come from an original 1859 first edition translation of The Rubaiyat, a very valuable antique from New Zealand that costs a lot of money. There are only a few copies of this book left in the world so it wasn't hard to find out which copy of the edition the paper scrap had come from. When they did though, the already impenetrable mystery deepened even more; the copy of the book from which the scrap had been torn had been discovered lying on the back seat of a car in Adelaide two weeks before the body was found. The car had been parked on Jetty Road in Glenelg, about a mile from where the man turned up dead. The owner of the car had no idea why the book had been put in his car; he had left the car unlocked so somebody must have opened the door and dropped it onto the back seat; again no witnesses to this action ever came forward, even though Jetty Road is a busy shopping street. There were some pencil markings on the verso of the last page; these turned out to be letters written by somebody recently. They read as follow:


These are not words in any known language and are therefore assumed to be either random or some kind of code. The second line is struck through possibly because it was a mistake; it's similarity to the third line supports that notion, and also therefore the code hypothesis. The initial W's on the first and third lines might be M's; the handwriting style doesn't distinguish the two letters very well. There is a double line or tight chevron between the third and fourth line with an X close to its apex; however the X could also be an accent above the O in the fourth line. The theme of Khayyam's The Rubaiyat is that life is there to be enjoyed and lived to the full and one should have no regrets on their deathbed; it is from where the commonly-used metaphor of a glass being half-full or half-empty, representative of optimism and pessimism, comes. This led to the idea that the Somerton Man had left a clue to say that he'd committed suicide. There was a vague connection between the book and a local woman who called herself "Jestyn", but who refused to formally identify herself to the police or the media. A theory emerged that the dead man was an ex-lover of Jestyn who had killed himself near where she lived due to a broken heart after she was marrying another man; this became a semi-accepted explanation for a few months until Jestyn's alleged ex-boyfriend was traced and found to be alive and well. It was suspected that Jestyn's real name might be the key to cracking the code written in the book, but there was no way to force her by law to cooperate. The Australian Department of Defence brought in their best cryptographers including men who had broken Japanese military ciphers in World War II, but they could do nothing. Today the best modern computers still cannot break the dead man's code in the book, if it even is a code, see:
The Somerton Man was buried in Adelaide's West Terrace Cemetery; the service was conducted by the Salvation Army and attended by members of the local police who had investigated the event. A bookmakers firm paid for the funeral, although it's not known if any bets were made relating to the incident. The epitaph reads: "Here lies the unknown man who was found at Somerton Beach- 1st of December 1948". There have been attempts to reopen the investigation in recent years, including a legal request to exhume the body for DNA tests, something which was impossible at the time of the original investigation. Unconfirmed reports claim that "Jestyn's" son, who was born in 1948, might be a love-child of hers by the Somerton Man because they have the same shaped ears, but this has yet to be proven; the woman who might be his granddaughter is supporting the bid. So far the courts have not ruled in favour; the verdict is that there is no public interest at stake and that the rights of sepulchre cannot be overturned to satisfy personal curiosity. Flowers appear on the grave at odd intervals and the police approached a woman seen leaving the cemetery who refused to answer any questions, but she was suspected of being Jestyn. Why is Jestyn being so coy? Does she really hold the key to solving this mystery or is she just a red herring? Her motives for her interest in the case could be irrelevant or even purely trivial. If so then who was this man and why did he live and die in such enigmatic circumstances? Weirdly, there were several other incidents that were similar in Australia in the post-war period, including a man who was found dead in a park in Sydney in 1945 holding a copy of The Rubaiyat, a modern edition this time. Was all this related to some kind of secret intelligence operation? If so by which agency? Domestic or foreign? Ally or enemy? And on what mission? What strikes me about the Somerton Man is the tantalizing similarities to an incident that took place in Oxford, England many years later in 1975. This man was found dead on the ground below the West Botley flyover; he had been killed by the trauma of falling from the flyover above. Like Somerton Man he had on him no driving licence, passport or other identity papers of any kind and all the labels had been cut from his clothes. He was also well-dressed in a new pinstriped suit and had a written clue in his pockets- five handkerchiefs with the letter M embroidered on them. He had in his possession tablets of Vivalan, an experimental medication, in a similar way that Somerton Man's death was also linked to an experimental new drug. However, unlike Somerton Man, the mystery of the "Oxford Man" was not so widely publicized. Do the similarities between the two incidents indicate that they are connected? If these are both spies up to some kind of furtive espionage then is it a skulduggery that spanned the world and lasted for twenty-seven years? Or is there an esoteric element to these events? Were these symbolic Illuminati sacrifices, perhaps representing the death of medicine and the triumph of the pharmaceutical sickness industry? Or does it get even more grotesque than that; did Somerton Man, the 1945 man in Sydney and "Oxford Man" all emerge into our world through some interdimensional intrusion, a stargate or portal? In this case we delve into the strange world of researchers like John Keel who investigated the men-in-black and the Point Pleasant Mothman? Either way, the legacy lives on. When Stanley Kubick made his last film Eyes Wide Shut he set one of the scenes in a stately home in which an outsider gatecrashes a bizarre ritual Illuminati orgy. It is not divulged in the film's content, but the name of this fictional country mansion is Somerton. Was that a coincidence or deliberate; maybe it was a subconscious choice? I don't know if we'll ever find out the answer, but you'll be sure to read it first on HPANWO if we do.


Xylomet said...

Fascinating stuff. I shall look into your previous research Ben!.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Cheers, X. Glad you find this as interesting as I do.

Marcel said...

Loved this.

I'll now proceed to do what experts and robots have failed to do, and decode the message ;)

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Good luck, Marcel!