Australia Exhumes the Somerton Man, and His 70-Year Mystery

No one is aware of how the so-called Somerton man, discovered well-dressed and lifeless with a half-smoked cigarette on his lapel, wound up on the seaside in South Australia the place he was discovered. No one is aware of what he was doing there, and even how he died.

This week, after he had spent many years puzzling investigators in Australia and beginner sleuths round the world, his stays had been exhumed for what could be the greatest probability of figuring out the man in 72 years.

Called the Somerton man after the seaside the place he was present in December 1948, the man has proved to be considered one of Australia’s strangest and most famous cold cases. Should the authorities be capable to extract usable DNA from his stays, they may probably put to relaxation many years of hypothesis about whether or not he was a poisoned spy, a disguised black marketer, a former ballet dancer, a spurned lover or just the sufferer of a pure however public demise.

“For more than 70 years people have speculated who this man was and how he died,” Vickie Chapman, the attorney general of South Australia, stated in a statement this week. “It’s a story that has captured the imagination of people across the state, and, indeed, across the world — but I believe that, finally, we may uncover some answers.”

Detective Superintendent Des Bray, chatting with reporters on Wednesday at the cemetery the place the man had been buried since 1949, stated the exhumation was a part of a police operation to place names to all the unidentified stays in South Australia.

“It’s important for everybody to remember that the Somerton man’s not just a curiosity or a mystery to be solved: It’s somebody’s father, son, perhaps grandfather or uncle or brother,” he stated. “There are people we know who live in Adelaide who believe they may be related, and they deserve a definitive answer.”

Like a handful of different strange mysteries of the 20th century, the case of the Somerton man has baffled investigators and drawn greater than its fair proportion of web sleuths, attracted by each the evident unknowns — the cause of death, for one — and the uncanny assortment of clues that investigators did flip up.

“What makes this kind of go viral is, I think, just all the strange things,” stated Derek Abbott, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Adelaide who has spent over a decade finding out the case. “It kind of just gives you that creepy shiver down your spine.”

The man’s physique was discovered slumped up in opposition to a sea wall close to Adelaide, his legs crossed and his posture such that he was at first mistaken for a sleeping drunk. He wore a jacket and tie and had a partly smoked cigarette resting on his collar, with no obvious burn mark.

The tags on the clothes he wore had been lower off. His pockets held chewing gum, a field of matches, a pack of cigarettes, two combs, unused prepare and bus tickets, and a scrap of paper with a line of kind studying “tamám shud” — “finished” in Persian.

An post-mortem discovered an enlarged spleen and a liver in poor situation however couldn’t decide a reason behind demise, components that led to hypothesis of poisoning, although no hint of any poison was discovered. Examiners additionally discovered that the man had unusually sturdy calf muscular tissues, a element that fed theories that he had ballet coaching. The man additionally had two distinctive options: canines subsequent to center enamel and ears with giant higher hollows.

At a prepare station, investigators discovered a suitcase they traced to the man because of a spool of thread that matched a restore in the man’s pockets. But the possessions they discovered there and on his physique had been of little assist (a few of his garments seem to have been of American origin).

Months later, after information studies about the case emerged, a person gave the police a poetry e book, “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam,” that he stated he had present in his automotive with its final web page torn out.

The man instructed the police he had no concept how the e book had ended up in his automotive. On the e book’s again cowl, they discovered a listing of apparently random letters. To some investigators, these letters steered a code — particularly in the wake of World War II and alongside rising tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Dr. Abbott, intrigued by the chance of a code that nobody had cracked, carried out a statistical evaluation of the letters with college students to find out whether or not the writing even was a code. They concluded that it didn’t have the sophistication of a code and that the letters had been extra seemingly the first letters of phrases in English.

Others thought the clipped labels steered that the man had been concerned in the black market that sprouted up throughout and after World War II. If the man had been concerned in criminal activity, the concept went, that would clarify why nobody had stepped ahead to establish him and why somebody may need tried to obscure his identification.

“It’s a little bit tenuous, but it’s better than the spy theory,” Dr. Abbott stated.

The e book additionally had a cellphone quantity in it, which throughout the authentic investigation led the police to a 27-year-old lady named Jo Thomson. Her residence was not removed from the seaside, however she denied any data of the man. The police discovered her evasive, and her identify was not recognized publicly till many years later.

After inspecting the mysterious letters in the late 2000s, Dr. Abbott stated, “I kind of fell down the rabbit hole.” In 2009 he tried to trace down Mrs. Thomson for an interview however discovered that she had died two years earlier. She had a son who had been an expert ballet dancer, Dr. Abbott realized, and images confirmed he had distinctive enamel and ears much like the Somerton man’s.

But he died in 2009, months earlier than Dr. Abbott might attain him. He had a daughter, named Rachel Egan, and Dr. Abbott was in a position to schedule an interview along with her.

To their shock, they fell for one another, and married in 2010. (“He begged me,” she stated, which Dr. Abbott disputed.)

Ms. Egan had by no means heard of the Somerton man, however she agreed to assist Dr. Abbott in his effort to call the man who could be her grandfather.

Dr. Abbott laid out that situation: “The Somerton man had Jo Thomson’s number. He was dead five minutes’ walk from her house. Rachel’s dad was only 1 year old at the time, with no father. So you kind of put two and two together — but until it’s absolutely confirmed, you never know.”

And Dr. Abbott acknowledged that, if usable DNA was obtained from the exhumed stays, it’d the truth is present his spouse had no hyperlink to the Somerton man. “All I can say is there’s lots of twists and turns in this case, and every turn is pretty weird,” he stated.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogist who has labored with Dr. Abbott however just isn’t concerned in the exhumation, stated the evaluation of his stays might reply some questions on the man, corresponding to the place he was born and whether or not he died by poison, unintentional suffocation or another trigger.

And she was optimistic about scientists’ capacity to reconstruct his household tree, even with DNA degraded by many years and solely distant relations to start out.

“It’s kind of on the older side of some of the cases we’ve worked on,” she stated. “But I’m working on one from the early 1950s and we’re making a lot of headway on it, so 1949, 1950 is still within range.”

Several years in the past, Ms. Egan had her DNA analyzed, and hyperlinks had been discovered to folks in the United States (together with relatives of Thomas Jefferson). More lately, hyperlinks had been additionally discovered to the grandparents of the man that Jo Thomson finally married.

“So my head is spinning,” Dr. Abbott stated. “Does that prove she’s not connected now to the Somerton man? Or does that prove that somehow the Somerton man is related to her assumed grandfather? It’s getting all complicated, so complicated that I’m just going to shut up now and let the DNA from the Somerton man speak for itself.”

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