2-01. The Somerton Man

Manage episode 150624180 series 1001219
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An alarming number of people disappear every year, and a number of them leave very few clues as to their current whereabouts. But in 1948, a man was found on a beach in Somerton, Victoria, Australia. In this case his whereabouts were certainly known, but who he was remains a mystery nearly seventy years later.

He did leave a lot of clues though.

His body was found on December 1, 1948 leaning up against the sea wall on a public beach. Witnesses said they had seen the man earlier that evening raising his arm, but apparently no one tried to talk to him. When he was taken to the morgue, there seemed little doubt that he had been poisoned by some undetected substance. As to how the poison entered his system, the medical examiner could not say.

His stomach contents indicated that he has eaten a meat pie the evening before, but that didn’t seem to be the source of the poison. In the meantime, investigators focussed on other odd facts: he appeared to be English, but was wearing American clothes. The clothes were well-made, and his shoes were shined. He had unusually muscular legs that suggested he may have been a ballet dancer. His teeth and fingerprints matched no records in Australia.

At the time of his death, he had a cigarette behind his ear and another was found on his collar, half smoked. Unfortunately, neither was tested for poison. The cigarettes themselves were odd… they were an expensive brand, but the others in his pocket were stored inside the pack of a much cheaper brand. Also on his person was an unused train ticket.

He was identified as several different people, only to have those people stroll into the police station proving they were still alive. Over 250 identifications were offered, but none were conclusive.

And then things got strange.

Months after his death, investigators found a hidden watch pocket in his pants. Inside was a small scrap of paper with the words Tamám Shud printed on it. Tamám Shud means “It’s Over” in Persian, and they are the last words of the The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a Persian book of poetry. By an amazing stroke of luck, the book from which it had been removed was located by someone who found it tossed into their unlocked car. The torn bit matched the missing part of the last page of the book.

One solved mystery lead to another unsolved mystery, as secret codes were found in the back of the book. Though they seemed similar to the quatrains of the Rubiyat, no one has yet deciphered them.

There was also a phone number—the unlisted number of a woman who had given a copy of the book as a gift to a former lover. Bizarrely, that man was able to produce his copy, and the woman claimed to have no knowledge of who the dead man was.

There are even more odd facts to this case, and I encourage you to look them up for yourself. But in the interest of time, we’ll get to the important part: it seems there’s a good explanation for some of the story.

The woman who was known by the pseudonym Jetsyn has been identified. Her son Robin had a couple of unusual genetic traits: he was missing teeth from birth and had an unusual ear shape. The chances of someone having both of these conditions was less than 1%, and guess who else had them? That’s right, the Somerton Man.

It seems quite probable that Jetsyn was in the habit of giving out copies of the Rubiyat to lovers, and that the Somerton Man was one of these and the father of her son. Her reticence to reveal this information is understandable, and it’s quite possible that our mystery man committed suicide after being rejected by her one final time. Finally, we may have reached Tamám Shud.

Next time we’ll explore the possibility of birds that flew like biplanes.

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