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

This week, police dismembered a body found on a beach in 1948, which surprised investigators for decades. “There are a lot of twists and turns in this case, and every turn is very strange,” one said.

No one knows how the so-called Somerton man, well-dressed and found dead on his lapel with a half-baked cigarette, was wounded on a beach in South Australia, where he was found. Nobody knows what he was doing there, or even how he died.

This week, while he spent decades harassing investigators in Australia and amateur explorers around the world, his remains were exhumed for what may be the best chance to identify the man in 72 years.

After the beach called the Somerton man, where he was found in December 1948, the man has proved to be one of Australia’s strangest and. Most famous cold cases. Should the authorities be able to extract usable DNA from his remains, they could potentially end decades of speculation about whether he was a poisoned detective, a disguised black marketer, a former ballet dancer, a turned down Hua Lover or was simply a natural hunting prey. But public death.

“For over 70 years people have speculated about who this man was and how he died,” Vicky Chapman, Attorney General Of south australia, said in a Statement This week. “This is a story that has captured the imagination of people across the state, and indeed, around the world – but I believe that, in the end, we can uncover some answers.”

Detective Superintendent Des Brey, speaking to reporters at the cemetery on Wednesday, said the man had been buried since 1949, saying it was part of a police operation in South Australia to name all the unknown remains.

“It is important for everyone to remember that the Somerton man is not just a curiosity or mystery that has to be solved: it is someone’s father, son, perhaps grandfather or uncle or brother,” he said. “There are people we know who live in Adelaide who believe they can relate, and they deserve a definitive answer.”

Like a handful of others strange The mysteries of the 20th century, the case of the Somerton man, have astounded investigators and attracted more than their fair share of Internet explorers, both attracted by the dazzling unknowns – Cause of death, For one – and a unique assortment of clues made by investigators.

Derek Abbott, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Adelaide, said, “What happens from being viral like this is, I think, just all the weird things.” “It just gives you that creepy shiver in your spine.”

The man’s body was found to have fallen against a sea wall near Adelaide, his legs crossed and his posture was such that he was at first thought to be a sleeping drunkard. He was wearing a jacket and tie and a partially smoked cigarette on his collar with no visible signs of burning.

The tags of the clothes he wore were cut off. In his pocket was a scrap of paper with chewing gum, a box of matches, a packet of cigarettes, two combs, unused stamps of train and bus, and a line reading “tamam shud” – “finished” in Persian.

An autopsy found an enlarged spleen and a liver in poor condition, but the cause of death could not be determined, factors that led to speculation of the poison, although no trace of any venom was found. Testers also found that the man had unusually strong calf muscles, a description that fed theories that he had ballet training. The man also had two distinctive features: the dog next to the middle teeth and the large upper hollowed ears.

At a train station, investigators found a suitcase they found in exchange for a thread of a spool for the man, which matched the repair in the man’s pocket. But the property he found there and on his body helped little (some of his clothes appear to be of American origin).

Months later, after news about the case surfaced, a man gave the police a poetry book, “Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat,” which he said he had found in his car whose last page was torn.

The man told the police that he did not know how the book arrived in his car. On the back cover of the book, he found a list of apparently random letters. For some investigators, those papers suggested a code – especially in the wake of World War II and with increasing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Dr. Abbott, keen on the possibility of a code that nobody had cracked, did a statistical analysis of the letters with the students to determine if writing was also a code. They concluded That it did not have the sophistication of a code and that the letter was more likely to be the first letter of the words in English.

Others thought the clipped label suggested that the man was involved in the black market that had sprung up during and after World War II. If the man was involved in illegal activity, the theory went, which could explain why no one took further steps to identify him and why someone might have tried to obscure his identity.

“It’s a bit tough, but it’s better than espionage theory,” Dr. Abbott said.

The book also had a phone number that during the original investigation led police to a 27-year-old woman named Joe Thomson. His house was not far from the beach, but he denied any information about the man. Police found him evasive, and his name was not publicly known until decades later.

After examining the mysterious letters in the late 2000s, Dr. Abbott said, “I kind of fell Rabbit hole. “In 2009 she tried to locate Mrs. Thomson for an interview but found that she had died two years earlier. She had a son who was a professional ballet dancer, Dr. Abbott learned, and knew from the photos It shows that he had distinctive teeth and ears similar to the Somerton man.

But in 2009, Dr. Abbott died a few months before he arrived. They had a daughter, Rachel Egan, and Dr. Abbott was able to schedule an interview with her.

To their surprise, they fell for each other, and Married in 2010. (“He begged me,” he said, which Dr. Abbott disputed.)

Ms. Egan had never heard of the Somerton man, but she agreed to help Dr. Abbott in an effort to name the man who might be his grandfather.

Dr. Abbott put that scenario: “The Somerton man had Joe Thomson’s number. He was dead five minutes’ walk from his home. Rachel’s father was only 1 at the time, not his father. So You keep two and two together – but you can never know until it is fully confirmed. “

And Dr. Abbott admitted that, if usable DNA was obtained from the dug up remains, it might actually show that his wife had no connection with the Somerton man. “I can only say that there are a lot of twists and turns in this case, and every turn is very strange,” he said.

Coleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogist who worked with Dr. Abbott, but is not involved in the excavation, said that the analysis of his remains could answer some questions about the person, such as where he was born. Had happened and had he died of poison, inadvertently from suffocation. Or any other reason.

And she was optimistic about the ability of scientists to rebuild her family tree, even for decades of declining DNA and only introducing distant relatives.

“It’s like the old side of some of the cases we’ve worked on,” she said. “But I have been working on one since the early 1950s and we are moving a lot on it, so 1949, 1950 is still within range.”

Several years ago, Ms. Egan analyzed her DNA, and found links with people in the United States (including Relative of thomas jefferson) As well as the great-grandparents of the person whom Joe Thomson eventually married.

“So my head is spinning,” Dr. Abbott said. “Does this prove that she is no longer attached to the Somerton man? Or does it prove that the Somerton man is somehow related to her imagined grandfather? It is all getting complicated, so complicated that I’m just going to shut up. And let Somerton’s DNA speak for itself. “

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