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The Taman Shud Case

Photo of the dead man found on Somerton Beach, Adelaide, on the morning of 1 December 1948

The Taman Shud Case, otherwise known as the Case of the Somerton Man, is the case of an unidentified dead body found on Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia at 6:30 a.m. on December 1, 1948. It is unclear whether the man was murdered, committed suicide or died of natural causes. This, on top of a number of mysterious clues in the case, has made it one of the most lasting mysteries in Australia’s history. In fact, the case is so popular that Stephen King makes mention of it in “The Colorado Kid” and part of the “Haven” series is based on the case.

On the night of November 30, 1948, at least two groups of passersby saw a man who looked like the man found the following morning sitting on the edge of the beach. He sat in the same place that the Somerton Man was found. The witnesses say that they did not get a very good look at him, but it was the same man from what they could tell. He sat barely moving when he was seen around 7 p.m. By 7:30-8:00 p.m., there was no discernible movement. One witness said he had wondered if the man was alive, but assumed he was drunk.

A man sitting in that very spot was found early the next morning — dead. He wore a nice suit, pointing to at least a marginal amount of prosperity. There was an expensive British cigarette behind his ear, not sold in Austrialia.  Another half-smoked cigarette of the same brand nestled between his cheek and collar. An interesting find was a pack of those cigarettes in his pockets, placed in the case of a cheaper brand. Also in the man’s pockets was a book of matches, a used bus ticket to Glenelg and an unused train ticket to Henley Beach.

All of the tags on the man’s clothing were removed, making identification difficult. He was not wearing a hat and his shoes were reportedly suspiciously clean. Another, very mysterious, piece of evidence was found much later, in a hidden pocket in the man’s pants. This piece of evidence was a scrap of paper cut from a book that said “Taman Shud.” The backside of the piece of paper was blank, but police traced it to the poetry book “The Rubaiyat” by Omar Khayyam.

After some searching, police were able to find the very book from whence the words had been taken. A man had found the book discarded in the backseat of his car, with apparently no explanation as to how it had come to be there. At the back of the book was the following sequence in pencil. Police believed it to be a code, but it has yet to be cracked. The strikethrough on the second series makes it look like a list, as well.

WRGOABABD
MLIAOI
WTBIMPANETP
X
MLIABOAIAQC
ITTMTSAMSTGAB

Also found written in the back of the book was the phone number of a woman who allegedly lived and worked near the place where the Somerton Man was found. Her identity has been protected and her name given only as Jestyn. Jestyn once had a copy of “The Rubaiyat” and police tracked it to a man she had given it to years before. He still had the book and it was not unusual in anyway. Police dismissed the woman and man as possible witnesses and dismissed the book, given that there was no evidence that it had anything to do with the case.

During the time that police were investigating the scant few leads, numerous people claimed that the Somerton Man was missing persons that they knew of. In every case, police were able to ascertain that the man was not the missing man in question. In some instances, missing people showed up at the police station to show that they were not the Somerton Man.

The autopsy on the Somerton Man showed something quite interesting — there was no evidence of the cause of death. The man was 5′ 11″ with green eyes and blondish red hair. He seemed in excellent health, save for congestion and bleeding in several organs. He was athletic, possibly a dancer or a runner, but not a laborer, as evidenced by the pristine condition of his hands. The doctor who performed the autopsy said that it looked like a particularly dangerous poison that was extremely difficult to identify in an autopsy. He also said that it could have been a natural death, though he did not find the underlying cause. Either way, there was no way of knowing whether the man was suicidal or not, so even if they had found poison in his system, it did not make it a murder. In the end, no cause of death was determined.

Police did suggest that they found his lack of i.d. to be evidence of a suicide. Frankly, this writer finds that to be shoddy evidence, at best. Lack of identification on his person could have meant anything from the dramatic, such as he was a spy who didn’t want to be found — corroborated by his cigarettes, — to the mundane, such as he left his identification at home. He had very little money on him and no wallet, which would be a better indication of suicide, but he could just as easily have brought little money with him on a day trip. That idea was squashed when evidence that he was certainly not on a local jaunt came in a month and two weeks after his body was found.

About Shelly Barclay

Shelly Barclay writes on a variety of topics from animal facts to mysteries in history. Her main focus is military and political history. She is a writer for the Boston History Examiner, Military History Examiner and the Boston American Revolution History Examiner. She also writes for a local historical society newsletter. Shelly was a professional cook for 10 years and still has a passion for food. She cooks and writes about cooking nearly every day. She produces a wide variety of content, on top of her niches. Shelly is a stepmother, a former military, current veteran wife, sister of four and aunt of seven (so far).
  • claireshana

    great article. Jestyn is definitely the key to this whole case. She gave a copy of the Rubaiyat to a man who was a spy, later tracked down and interviewed by Australian barrister and reporter, Stuart Littlemore. As well, she most probably gave the copy to the Somerton man. Giving a copy of this book to her lovers makes sense.

    She gave birth to a child who had suspiciously the same unusual ear patterns as the somerton man had, as well as a genetic condition where the adult teeth do not grow properly. Was this the case of a love triangle gone wrong? A suicide over a failed romance, or something more sinister? There is a group of Adelaide university students doing an honours thesis on the case currently. Search youtube for updates.