The Somerton Man has been named. What do we know about Carl ‘Charles’ Webb? – Michmutters

The Somerton Man has been named. What do we know about Carl ‘Charles’ Webb?

A breakthrough in one of Australia’s most enduring mysteries — the case of the Somerton Man — last week saw the previously unidentified man named as Melbourne electrical engineer Carl “Charles” Webb.

The case had baffled detectives and amateur sleuths since the 43-year-old’s body was found slumped on Adelaide’s Somerton Beach in 1948.

University of Adelaide professor Derek Abbott made the breakthrough while working in conjunction with US investigator Colleen Fitzpatrick, after decades of independently researching the case.

This week is your chance to ask the experts how they cracked the Somerton Man case — and why it has attracted so much attention. Join our live Q&A blog from 12pm AEST on Thursday.

What do we know about Carl “Charles” Webb so far?

November 1905

Carl Webb is born on November 16, 1905, in Footscray to Richard August Webb (1866-1939) and Eliza Amelia Morris Grace (1871-1946).

Documents show his father was born in Hamburg, Germany, to Johannes Fredk Webb and Eliz Buck and his profession was a baker.

According to his birth certificate, his mother was born in Percydale, Victoria, and Carl was the couple’s sixth child.

His siblings are listed as Russell, 12, Freda, nine, Gladys, eight, Doris, four, and Roy, one.

October 1941

Carl Webb marries Dorothy Jean Robertson on October 4, 1941, at St Matthews church in Prahran, Victoria.

Their marriage certificate lists Carl Webb as a 35-year-old instrument maker and Dorothy Robertson as a 21-year-old foot specialist.

The couple live on Domain Road in South Yarra.

luggage tag
A suitcase with this luggage tag was left at Adelaide Station in 1948 and was connected to the Somerton Man mystery.(Supplied: Caroline Billsborrow)

November 1948

On November 30, 1948 — the day before his body was found — the Somerton Man bought a bus ticket and caught a bus from the railway station to Somerton Beach.

According to the coronial inquiry, a number of people saw him on the beach that day.

December 1948

On December 1, 1948, a man’s body is found slumped against a wall under the esplanade at Somerton Beach.

He was wearing a brown suit, had a clean-shaven face and appeared to be about 40 years old.

He had a half-smoked cigarette on his lapel and, according to a newspaper report, his legs were crossed.

He is found with a few personal items including 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 finds the man had a “stinkingly” enlarged spleen and internal bleeding in the stomach and liver.

The coroner concludes the death resulted from poison.

Somerton Man
The personal items found inside a suitcase believed to belong to the mysterious Somerton Man. (Supplied)

January 1949

A suitcase believed to belong to the mystery man is found at Adelaide Railway Station.

It contains an assortment of his belongings including a shaving brush, a knife in a sheath and boot polish.

Some of his clothes have the tags removed and others, including his tie, had T Keane printed on them.

The scrap of paper found in the Somerton Man's fob pocket.
The scrap of paper found in the Somerton Man’s fob pocket with the Persian words “Tamam Shud”.(Supplied: Professor Derek Abbott)

May 1949

A tiny rolled-up piece of paper inscribed with the words “Tamam Shud” is found hidden deep in the fob pocket of the man’s trousers.

The torn paper is 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.

June 1949

Coroner Thomas Erskine Cleland begins the inquest into the Somerton Man’s death on June 17, 1949.

The inquest is added four days later with no answers to who the mystery man is or what caused his death.

A black and white photo of a book with a section torn out.
The torn final page of a copy of Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyám, a 12th-century poet. (Supplied: Carolyn Billsborrow )

July 1949

A copy of The Rubaiyat with the page containing “Tamam Shud” torn out is handed in to the police on July 22, 1949, by a man who says he found it in the back of his car in November 1948.

The book contains a sequence of letters and a couple of telephone numbers.

Jessie 'Jo' Thomson is a key player in the Somerton Man mystery.
Jessie ‘Jo’ Thomson was interviewed by police in July 1949.(Supplied: Professor Derek Abbott)

One of the telephone numbers belongs to a nurse called Jessie Thomson, who lives just hundreds of meters from where the body was found.

In July 1949, police interview Jessie Thomson but she denies knowing the Somerton Man.

October 1951

On October 5, 1951, Dorothy Webb puts a public notice in The Age newspaper in Melbourne, publicizing that she had started divorce proceedings against her husband on the ground of “desertion”.

“Unless you enter an appearance in the Prothonotary’s Office of the Supreme Court of Melbourne on or before the 29th day of October, 1951 the case may proceed in your absence and you may be ordered to pay costs,” the ad states.

Typed writing in a column on a newspaper page
The public notice published in The Age newspaper on October 5, 1951.(Source: Trove)

During this time, Dorothy Webb relocated to Bute on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula.

It is not clear what led her to the country town or how long she lived there.

Descendants of her sister have told Professor Abbott she remarried and died in the late 1990s in New South Wales.

November 2013

Jessie Thomson’s daughter, Kate Thomson, reveals her mother told her she knew the identity of the Somerton Man.

“She said to me she knew who he was, but she wasn’t going to let that out of the bag,” Kate Thomson tells current affairs program 60 Minutes.

Stone slab on a grave with flowers around it
The Somerton Man was buried in Adelaide’s West Terrace cemetery. (Australian Story: Ben Cheshire)

November 2020

An artist’s impression of what the Somerton Man would have looked like is released by Canadian cinematographer Daniel Voshart.

The only images previously available were unflattering black-and-white post-mortem photographs and a death mask of his face and upper torso.

The virtual-reality specialist worked with researcher Derek Abbott and genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick to create the impression.

Somerton Man image
Canadian special effects artist Daniel Voshart recreates the Somerton Man’s face. (Image: Daniel Voshart)

May 2021

South Australian police exhume the Somerton Man’s remains from Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery in the hope that DNA samples will solve the case.

Previous police investigations and a coronial inquest left the matter unresolved, with hundreds of candidates being identified and then ruled out over the years.

May 2022

University of Adelaide researcher Derek Abbott and American genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick announce that they believe the Somerton Man’s name is Carl “Charles” Webb.

They arrived at the result by comparing DNA from hair stuck in a plaster bust of the man’s head with samples uploaded by millions of people around the world in online databases used to create family trees.

The match is yet to be formally confirmed by South Australia’s coroner, but Professor Abbott says he is 99.9 per cent confident they have correctly identified the Somerton Man.


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