The mystery of the Somerton Man, an unidentified man was found dead on 1st December, 1948 at 6.60 am on Somerton beach in Adelaide, South Australia. In the man’s pockets was a scrap of paper with two words from The Rubaiyat, Taman Shud which in Persian means ‘ended’ or ‘unfinished’.
His death came at the time of heightened Cold War tension. He was carrying what might have been a secret code on the paper. There was no use of an identifiable poison, no identity to be garnered and then somewhere along the lines came the speculation of unrequited love.
Police were called to the man’s body that was lying on the sand, heads to the wall and his legs crossed pointing out to the sea. An unlit cigarette was behind his ear, and a half-smoked one that was on the right collar. The was a used bus ticket, unused train ticket and other small objects.
Witnesses had previously seen him, some saw him moving and the body had been left in place as some thought he was a drunken man that had passed out on the beach. He was taken back by the pathologist who assessed him, dressed in quality clothing but with no ID it was possibly a suicide. His teeth also did not match any dental records of someone from Australia.
The body of the mystery man was embalmed on 10th December 1948, The Advertiser newspaper at the time reported he might be a man named E C Johnson. E C Johnson however thwarted the plan by walking into a police station, quite obviously alive. Further suggestions have yet to have this mystery resolved. The body was buried at the West Terrace Cemetery, and the service conducted by The Salvation Army, some years after flowers began to appear at the grave.
Tamam Shud, the phrase, was written on a piece of paper torn from the back of the Rubaiyat. A search was conducted and the book was originally located, a man that wished to remain anonymous came forwards to say it had turned up in the back of his unlocked car. The missing paper did indeed come from that book.
So was he a spy? A suicide victim or was he murdered? More clues have since been added and speculation and investigation continues. The receptionist from the Strathmore Hotel said that a strange man has stayed in Room 21 around the time of the man’s death. He left 30th November 1948, in the room the cleaner found a black medical case and a hypodermic syringe.
In March 2009 Professor Derek Abbott of the University of Adelaide, and his team, began an attempt to solve the case, trying to crack the code and proposed and exhumation to test for DNA. So far this has been opposed by involved parties. The case continues to this day.