The Mysterious Man of Somerton Beach
A Cold Case Straight Out of a Horror Movie
The sickly sweet ocean air is heavy, waves crashing against banks of sand in a soundless buzz. It's early, too early for a body to wash up against the shore, the neon sun barely peaking above the choppy sea water. The man is dressed nicely, a suit around his shoulders. He looks as if he's sleeping, but investigators know all too well that the mystery man who appeared from nowhere has a story behind him.
On December 1, 1948 the body of a stranger was found on Somerton Beach in South Australia at 6:30 AM. His back rested against the stone wall behind him, his legs crossed in front of him while an unlit cigarette rested between his grasp. Multiple witnesses came forward the following day, claiming to have seen him at different points during the night of November 31.
The accounts vary, but most have one consistent line; They thought the man was asleep or drunk, not investigating the instance further.
The Mystery man looked to be between 40-45 years old, according to pathologist John Burton Cleland. He was in peak physical condition when he was found. His eyes are a dark slate, and hair a subtle ginger. His clothes were "American Made," and his double-breasted jacket has become a topic of conversation in the case.
His pockets contained:
- An unused train ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach (Second Class)
- A bus ticket from the city
- An aluminum American Comb
- A half-empty packet of gum
- An Army club pack of cigarettes that didn't match the brand found in the mystery mans hand.
- A quarter-full case of matches.
Shortly after the case investigation was put into place, the train station in Adelaide found a leather brown suitcase that didn't contain any type of marking to identify it to a passenger. It had been checked into the station at 11:00 on November 30, 1948.
The suitcase contained multiple items of clothing, and an odd length of orange fabric that was unknown to that part of Austrailia. The same material was used to patch up the pants the Mystery man had been found wearing.
All labels had been removed from the clothing, but the name "T. Keane" was printed on a laundry bag and the iteration "Kean" on two different dry cleaning receipts. The name was checked and rechecked along the English border, and there was no sign of a missing person with the name.
In the pants pocket of the found man, a small rolled up paper the words "Tamam Shud" was written. It was connected to a book called Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam written by Edward Fitzgerald. The words are roughly translated to "The End," and the small piece of paper prompted police to search for a copy with the last page torn.
In 1914 a man produced a version of the book that was torn. The man went under a pseudonym. He didn't connect the book to the case until a lone newspaper article was presented to him. It was a new lead in the case and the back cover of the book had indentations from writing, an unidentified phone number, and a coded message (pictured above).
The number found in the book led to a nurse by the name of Jessica Ellen Thompson or "Jo." The man happened to be found in the suburb where she grew up—but she claimed to have no knowledge of why he would have her number written in the book, or how she would know him at all. She reported later that around the same time, a man had been at her neighbor's house searching for her, but she dismissed it.
Though she claimed not to know the man, upon seeing a plaster bust of his head, she was described as "completely taken aback, to the point of giving the appearance that she was about to faint."
Jo owned a copy of the book in question, but she had given it to a soldier by the name of Alf Boxwell, while employed at Royal North Shore Hospital. For a long time Boxwell was assumed to be the dead man of Somerton—but he was later found alive and well in 1949. His copy of the book was intact.
The unknown man was finally laid to rest in 1949 in West Terrance Cemetery. The grave sat undisturbed for years until random flowers were placed at the headstone. They were placed by a worker at the hotel across the street from the rail station—Ina Harvey.
The police finally stopped her, and she spoke about how the strange man stayed at the hotel in room 21 or 23. She claimed he checked out on November 30. He was said to carry a small black case, speaking in an English accent.
Later that year a prison inmate, E.B. Collins, claimed that he knew who the mysterious man was, but it became another dead end, just like the book written with the secret codes, and the young nurse who's number was sprawled against parchment.
Since his disappearance in the late 40s, multiple people have claimed to know the identity of the man found on the shores of Somerton Beach. There have been claims of spies and espionage, and even the personification of death himself stopped just before a doorstep.
Sadly, despite the efforts of many, the Tamam Shud case remains unclosed.
[Below is an excerpt that 60 Minutes Australia conducted on the Somerton Man and why his body should be exhumed after all this time.]