We could soon have answers to the Tamám Shud or "Somerton Man" case, as authorities have approved an exhumation of the body in order to solve the 70-year-old mystery.
On November 30, 1948, several couples at the Somerton Park beach in Adelaide, Australia, saw an unknown man wearing a suit slumped against a wall in an unusual position. His movements appeared drunk to one couple who witnessed him, while another couple believed him to be sleeping.
The following morning one of the witnesses returned to the beach, where they found him still slouched in the same position. This time, witness John Lyons took a closer look and found him to be dead. The police determined that he had died that morning, some time after 2 am.
Finding a body on a beach isn't that unusual. Hell, finding numerous human feet washing up on the shore over decades can even have a logical explanation. But as more details became apparent, the more strange the case was to become.
For starters, the man – thought to be in his forties – showed signs of poisoning. His spleen was enlarged, and his liver swollen with blood. In his stomach, the pathologist found yet more blood, suggesting that he had been poisoned. However, tests repeated several times found no evidence of any known poisons. Blood pooling in the back of his head suggested his corpse had been lying down on its back for some time, before being propped up as he was found, with a cigarette found on his collar as if it had fallen from his mouth.
Stranger still were his clothes. All the labels had been cut away, and nothing identifying the man could be found on his person. The labels had been cut off neatly – except for one in his trouser pocket, which had been neatly repaired with unusual orange thread.
With no leads, an extensive search for his possessions took place in January the following month, eventually finding a suitcase thought to belong to the man. Inside was clothing, labeled Kean and T. Keane (no missing people of this name would ever be traced), as well as a few other miscellaneous items and orange thread that matched the thread used to repair the unknown man's trousers. The only extra clue they gained from the suitcase was that he had a coat that had been stitched in a feather stitch used in America, but not Australia, though this too led to dead ends when they attempted to identify him using immigration records.
Next came a re-examination of his body, which remained unclaimed. Pathologist John Cleland soon discovered a small pocket sewn into his waistband, containing a small piece of paper with the words “Tamám Shud" – Persian for "it is ended" – printed on it in unusually fancy script.
The phrase was identified as being the final words of a popular book at the time, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. With no other leads, the police now searched for the book these two words were torn from.
Somewhat against the odds, the matching book did show up in July that year. A local man had found the copy in his car the previous December, which had been parked near the Somerton beach. When he heard about the campaign to find the book and checked the final page – and sure enough, the words were missing.
On the book was written an unlisted number, which belonged to a local nurse, identified at the time only by the name of Jestyn. Though she claimed not to know anything of the unknown man, when she was shown a cast of his face she is said to have been “completely taken aback, to the point of giving the appearance she was about to faint". She also claimed to have given away a copy of the book in 1944 to a man named Alfred Boxall, though he turned out to be alive, well, and still in possession of the gifted book.
For one final twist, found in faint markings on the page as though someone had used it as a rest, was a cipher. It has not been cracked to this day, and not for lack of trying.
Now, after years of efforts from amateur and professional investigators, we could finally get some answers. South Australia Police have approved an exhumation of the body in order to find answers.
"Finally this case, which has been studied, investigated and followed for more than 70 years, will be re-examined, and, hopefully, many of questions surrounding his enigmatic life will be answered," Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, who approved the exhumation, told ABC News.
The body will have DNA compared to potential living relatives and genealogical databases, though the team conducting the tests will face the extra challenge that the corpse is over 70 years old and has been embalmed, which can damage DNA.
No date is set for the exhumation, though it is slated to be conducted in the near future. The body was sealed under concrete in case of the need for exhumation, where it will be returned after tests have been conducted. All the way up until 1978, flowers were left at the grave at odd intervals, though nobody knows who they were left by or whether they had a personal connection to the unknown man.