No One Has Ever Figured Out Who He Was
Some Australians noticed a man lying on the beach. Assuming he was drunk, they joked that he must be dead and moved on. The next morning he was still there. They called the police. The police found the clean, well-dressed body of a man in his 40s, in excellent physical condition, with no signs of struggle or convulsions … or even sand on his clothes. And no identification either.
He was found seventy years ago, on December 1, 1948, on Somerton Beach near Adelaide. No one has ever figured out who he was. He may have been a spy. Or killed by a spy. Or a man who fell in love with the wrong woman. He may have killed himself. The story of “Somerton Man” is one of the last century’s enduring mysteries.
But now, finally, the case of Somerton Man may soon be solved.
Who Was He and Why Was He Dead?
All the tags had been removed from his clothes, and he had no wallet. No missing person could be linked to the body. And he couldn’t have been a drifter who died of heart failure. Autopsy determined he didn’t have any of the usual diseases that could strike you down in middle age. The man didn’t die of a heart attack. He appeared healthy inside and out, except that he had an enlarged spleen, and blood was congealed around his internal organs.
The congealed blood made the medical examiner think poison — but no poison could be detected. Still, the examiner said poison was his conclusion, just an undetectable poison. What else could it be, given what the autopsy uncovered?
On January 14, 1949, a suitcase was found at a nearby railroad station. with a spool of unusual thread that had been used to mend the man’s pants. It was a disappointment. The tags had been removed from everything in the suitcase except three articles of clothing labeled “T. Keane,” “Keane,” and “Kean.” The police and detectives from 1948 to this day haven’t been able to find a T. Kean(e) who could have been the Somerton Man.
Since the man had been stripped of all identification, police scoured the area and searched for anything on the man’s person that could tie him to anything. He had nothing more noteworthy in his pockets than chewing gum, until another look revealed a hidden pocket in his waistband. Inside that pocket was a scrap of paper that read, “Tamam shud.”
Tamam shud is Persian for It is finished. The police set to tracking down the book that phrase was torn from.
A lead finally opened: someone came forward on July 22 with the book from which the mysterious phrase (Tamam Shud) had been torn: a copy of the 11th century poem Rubaiyat in a rare edition. The man who turned it in to the police said it had been left in his unlocked car. In the book were several lines of what looked like a code, and an unlisted phone number.
The police found a woman who owned the phone number. Jessica Thompson, nicknamed Jestyn, was evasive when questioned. When shown a plaster bust of the Somerton Man, she looked like she was about to faint, but she claimed she didn’t know him.
She, too, was involved with Rubaiyat. She’d given a copy to a male companion who had been in WWII in an intelligence unit: Alf Boxall.
Jestyn herself may have been involved in intelligence. According to her daughter she spoke Russian, but refused to say how she learned it, she worked with refugees, and she was interested in Communism. Her daughter suspected she was a spy, and she was afraid her mother was involved in the mystery man’s death. Jestyn’s daughter, in fact, claimed her mother admitted that she knew the man, and claimed that her mother said she thought the case was above state police level.
A Possible Answer
The Somerton Man died wearing an American-tailored suit, uncircumcised, with a pasty in his stomach. Such things become relevant when nothing relevant can be found. Curiously, he had soft, smooth hands but strong muscles and high, unusually powerful calves. What did he do to get a body like that? Ballet? Martial arts?
Jessica Thompson, aka Jestyn, had a son named Robin, born a year and a half before the mystery man died. He and the Somerton Man both lacked front incisors and had the same rare ear structure. The odds of that being a coincidence are estimated at 1 in 10,000,000 to 20,000,000. A man named Derek Abbott became fascinated with the case and has researched it for years. He met with Robin Thompson’s daughter, and in a happy twist, they married and have 3 children.
Abbott thinks the man should be exhumed for DNA testing to determine if Abbott’s wife and children are his descendants. The government rejected his requests for exhumation, and he has been reduced to trying to have DNA testing done to old hairs. At least the hair tells him the man’s mother was of European heritage!
But a new attorney general took office in March. She offered to let the body be exhumed for testing if the process can be privately funded and properly supervised. If Derek Abbott can raise about $20,000, the mystery may be solved.
Some Possible Explanations
Some possible explanations for the Somerton Man:
- He had a child by the (randomly shady) Jessica Thompson/Jestyn, who cut him off when he tried to create a family with them. He killed himself by some strange poison, carrying a note from a favorite poem. No identification could be found because he just happened to have forgotten it and he hated having tags in his clothes. Nobody missed him.
- He was a spy for the US or the allies, and Jestyn was a spy for the Soviets. The Rubaiyat was used as a code book. Jestyn or one of her compatriots poisoned him. The Australian government would not let the truth out because it would damage intelligence.
- He was a Communist spy. Of course the Australian intelligence authorities wouldn’t admit they’d poisoned him. The cops weren’t in on the secret and they couldn’t access public records from behind the Iron Curtain, so they could find no trace of his birth or anything. Also, he had a love affair with another Communist spy and they had a child.
- He was a spy for the US or the allies who tried to get close to Jestyn because he knew or wanted to prove that she was a traitor and spy. He perhaps got too close and fathered a child by her. She or one of her compatriots found out he was spying on them and had him poisoned. She was horrified, of course, but couldn’t exactly admit to the cops what was happening.
I hope one day Derek Abbott gets his way and the Somerton Man’s killers are exposed. The man should be united with his family, at least in death. Not to be mourned and known is not a humane fate.
This article is based on the writer’s popular answer to a question on Quora.com.