In July 1994, a male body was found by a police boat in the North Sea, west of the German Island of Heligoland.
- The Gentleman’s body showed signs of trauma and had been weighed down with cast iron cobbler’s feet
- His expensive shoes and distinctive green, yellow and blue-striped tie could be clues to his identity
- Analysis by Murdoch University students has found he lived most of his life in Australia
The body showed signs of trauma and intriguingly, had been weighed down with cast iron cobbler’s feet, a shoemaker’s tool.
It was brought to the city of Wilhelmshaven in Germany for a post-mortem examination and later buried, but the man’s identity remained a mystery.
He became known as The Gentleman due to his apparent middle-class clothing: a wool tie, British-made shoes, French-made trousers and a long-sleeve blue dress shirt.
Now, 28 years later, a new piece of the puzzle has been uncovered thanks to criminology and forensic students in Perth.
You are what you eat
Criminologists and forensic scientists from Murdoch University may have helped to unravel the mystery after they ran new tests, which suggested the man spent most of his life in Australia.
In the 1990s, Investigators determined he was between 45 and 50 years old.
The discovery marks the last day of National Missing Persons Week, which aims to profile and raise awareness about long-term missing persons in Australia.
Scientists made the discovery by following the principle of “you are what you eat”, performing an isotope ratio analysis of The Gentleman’s bones.
Differences in climate, soil and human activity across the globe change the isotopic compositions of food, water and even dust — reflected in the isotopic compositions of human tissue.
Analysis showed the man likely spent most of his life in Australia.
Researchers from overseas universities were also able to obtain a DNA profile of the man.
There is hope it could match DNA being collected as part of Missing Persons Week, which has raised Australians to come forward for testing to help solve some of the nation’s cold cases.
Brendan Chapman, one of the directors of Murdoch University’s Cold Case Review team, said it was an unbelievable discovery.
“What are the chances that from this small collection of universities working on this case, one would be from the country where the man originated?” he said.
He said police had not previously looked in that direction.
“Without that they didn’t know where to direct their inquiries and in fact they were probably looking mostly around Europe because that’s obviously where he went missing,” he said.
“What can now allow the German investigators to do is to focus their further efforts on Australia and they’re able to now use their international networks to work with Australian law enforcement.”
Investigators have been slowly piecing together The Gentleman’s past for years.
The iron tools he was weighed down with were only recently disclosed by police.
Investigators have speculated whether his distinctive green, yellow and blue-striped tie could signal he belonged to a specific organization.