The case of the Somerton Man has baffled detectives and amateur sleuths for decades.
Now it’s your chance to ask the experts just how one of Australia’s most enduring mysteries has been solved — and why the story has attracted so much attention.
University of Adelaide professor Derek Abbottwho spent decades researching the case and helped to uncover the man’s identity, will join us from 12pm (AEST) to tackle all your curly questions.
Colleen Fitzpatricka renowned forensic genealogist who lent her expertise to the case, and ABC journalist and host of Radio National podcast The Somerton Man Mystery, Fiona Ellis Joneshave also slow their time to respond to your top questions from our audience call-out.
The live feed will begin at midday but, in the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the case:
A man is found dead on the beach — but no-one knows who he is
On December 1, 1948, a man’s body was found slumped against a wall under the esplanade at Somerton Beach in Adelaide. But there were few clues to determine his identity.
He had a half-smoked cigarette on his lapel and a few personal items in his possession: two combs, a box of matches, a used bus ticket to the area, an unused second-class train ticket, a packet of chewing gum and cigarettes .
A post-mortem revealed the man had a “stinkingly” enlarged spleen and internal bleeding in the stomach and liver, and it was concluded the death resulted from poison.
Then the paper was found: ‘Tamam Shud’
In the months following the mystery man’s death, the case took a strange turn.
A suitcase believed to belong to him was found at Adelaide Railway Station. It contained an assortment of his belongings including a shaving brush, a knife in a sheath and boot polish.
Some of his clothes had the tags removed and others, including his tie, had T Keane printed on them.
Then, a tiny rolled-up piece of paper inscribed with the words “Tamam Shud” was found hidden deep in the fob pocket of the man’s trousers.
The torn paper was later traced back to a book of ancient Persian poetry, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which had been left in the back seat of a car near where the body was found.
The words roughly translate to “the end” or “the finish”, and the poems touch on themes including the need to live life to the fullest and having no regrets when it ends.
Was the Somerton Man a spy?
In July 1949, a copy of The Rubaiyat with the page containing “Tamam Shud” torn out was handed in to police.
The man who contacted the authorities said he found it in the back of his car in November 1948 — a month before the man’s body was discovered.
The book contained a sequence of letters and a couple of telephone numbers, but they didn’t lead investigators any closer to uncovering the Somerton Man’s identity.
The strange sequence and the fact labels had been removed from the man’s clothes fueled speculation he might have been a spy.
ABC Radio Adelaide’s Daniel Keane spoke to University of Adelaide professor Derek Abbott last month, prior to the Somerton Man’s identity being uncovered, about the theories.
“I don’t think there’s compelling evidence — just these scattered circumstantial things that can be explained in different ways,” Professor Abbott said.
Last week, after decades of searching for answers, Professor Abbott and forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick made a breakthrough.
The previously unidentified man was named as Melbourne electrical engineer Carl “Charles” Webb — far from the answer some were expecting.
By Bridget Judd
You’re a little early, but check back at 12:00pm (AEST)
Over the next couple of hours, we’ll put your questions to Derek Abbottwho helped uncover the Somerton Man’s identity.
You can make a submission by clicking the blue ‘leave a comment’ button above.
The live stream will begin at 12:00 p.m. (AEST)so come and join the conversation then!
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