The Case of the Somerton Man

Photo of the deceased
The Taman Shud Case, otherwise known as the Case of the Somerton Man, is the case of an unidentified dead body found on Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia at 6:30 a.m. on December 1, 1948. It is unclear whether the man was murdered, committed suicide or died of natural causes. This, on top of a number of mysterious clues in the case, has made it one of the most lasting mysteries in Australia's history. In fact, the case is so popular that Stephen King makes mention of it in "The Colorado Kid" and part of the "Haven" series is based on that tale.

On the night of November 30, 1948, at least two groups of passersby saw a man who looked like the man found the following morning sitting on the edge of the beach. He sat in the same place that the Somerton Man was found the next morning. The witnesses say that they did not get a very good look at him, but it was the same man from what they could tell. He sat barely moving when he was seen around 7 p.m. By 7:30-8:00 p.m., there was barely any discernible movement. One witness said he had wondered if the man was alive, but assumed he was drunk.

A man sitting in that very spot was found early the next morning -- dead. He wore a nice suit, pointing to at least a marginal amount of prosperity. He also had an expensive British cigarette in his mouth that was not sold in Australia. There was also a half-smoked cigarette of the same brand between his cheek and collar. An interesting find was a pack of those cigarettes in his pockets, placed in the case of a cheaper brand. Also in the man's pockets was a book of matches, a used bus ticket to Glenelg and an unused train ticket to Henley Beach.

All of the tags on the man's clothing were removed, making identification difficult. He was not wearing a hat and his shoes were reportedly suspiciously clean. Another, very mysterious, piece of evidence was found much later, in a hidden pocket in the man's pants. This piece of evidence was a scrap of paper cut from a book that said "Taman Shud." The backside of the piece of paper was blank, but police traced it to the poetry book "The Rubaiyat" by Omar Khayyam.

After some searching, police were able to find the very book from whence the words had been taken. A man had found the book discarded in the backseat of his car, with apparently no explanation as to how it had come to be there. At the back of the book was the following sequence in pencil. Police believed it to be a code, but it has yet to be cracked. The strikethrough on the second series makes it look like a list, as well.


Also found written in the back of the book was the phone number of a woman who allegedly lived and worked near the place where the Somerton Man was found. Her identity has been protected and her name given only as Jestyn. Jestyn once had a copy of "The Rubaiyat" and police tracked it to a man she had given it to years before. He still had the book and it was not unusual in anyway. Police dismissed the woman and man as possible witnesses and dismissed the book, given that there was no evidence that it had anything to do with the case.

During the time that police were investigating the scant few leads, numerous people claimed that the Somerton Man was missing persons that they knew of. In every case, police were able to ascertain that the man was not the missing man in question. In some instances, missing people showed up at the police station to show that they were not the Somerton Man.

The autopsy on the Somerton Man showed something quite interesting -- there was no evidence of the cause of death. The man was 5' 11" with green eyes and blondish red hair. He seemed in excellent health, save for congestion and bleeding in several organs. He was athletic, possibly a dancer or a runner, but not a laborer, as evidenced by the pristine condition of his hands. The doctor who performed the autopsy said that it looked like a particularly dangerous poison that was extremely difficult to identify in an autopsy. He also said that it could have been a natural death, though he did not find the underlying cause. Either way, there was no way of knowing whether the man was suicidal or not, so even if they had found poison in his system, it did not make it a murder.

Police did suggest that they found his lack of i.d. to be evidence of a suicide. Frankly, this writer finds that to be shoddy evidence, at best. Lack of identification on his person could have meant anything from the dramatic, such as he was a spy who didn't want to be found -- corroborated by his cigarettes, -- to the mundane, such as he left his identification at home. He had very little money on him and no wallet, which would be a better indication of suicide, but he could just as easily have brought little money with him on a day trip. That idea was squashed when evidence that he was certainly not on a local jaunt came in a month and two weeks after his body was found.

The Adelaide train station gave a suitcase to the police that the man had left in their coatroom the day before he died. (It should be mentioned that the time of death was given as 2 a.m.) In the suitcase was a suit jacket, stenciling brush, pants with sand in the cuff, screwdriver, scissors with sharpened points, thread, pajamas, underwear, dressing gown, shaving utensils, slippers, knife and laundry bag. The only labels on the clothing were the name T. Keane -- spelled Kean in one instance -- and dry cleaning numbers. A thorough investigation turned up no Keane's or Kean's in the area with a connection to the case. The jacket, however, led straight to America. British cigarettes and an American jacket made this man look more and more like a murdered James Bond. Unfortunately, they were unable to trace Somerton Bond's jacket to an exact location in the United States.

In the end, the Taman Shud Case boils down to two things -- a ton of evidence that leads nowhere and a lack of evidence that borders on suspicious (missing clothes tags). Even the place of death is uncertain because some feel that if the Somerset Man had died there, there would be vomit on him and in the vicinity of his body. Everything that came up about this case made it more mysterious. If you put all of the hypotheses together, you get the following: The Somerton Man was a dancer and a spy who traveled all over the world. He was murdered or killed himself because of something to do with his spying. Seventy-four years later and it still does not make sense.


The Body on Somerton Beach, retrieved 11/5/11,

University of Adelaide, List of facts on the Taman Shud Case that are often misreported, retrieved 11/4/11,