Author Salman Rushdie said of Adelaide, “Adelaide seems more eerie by the minute… Adelaide is an ideal setting for a Stephen King novel, or horror film… Sleepy conservative towns are where those things happen… and things here go bump in the night.” Perhaps the most quintessentially Adelaide mystery is that of The Somerton Man (TSM). Within this mystery, an anonymous man was found deceased on an Adelaidean beach in 1948. TSM mystery is like a mosaic. Each idiosyncrasy of the case is a tile that must somehow stubbornly tessellate with its adjacent pieces. Although in TSM mystery it’s even challenging using one’s imagination to describe the finished mosaic; an elusive portrait that accommodates the disjointed evidence.
Although this unparalleled mystery has murky, overlapping cogs, I will be analysing the case in parts within this article. These will cover:
Part 1- The Death of the Somerton Man
“Do you think that I count the days? There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
The arrival of the 1948 Australian summer was marked by a man’s body being found on Somerton beach, Adelaide. At 6:30AM, the police were notified and appeared on the scene to find the deceased man lying on his back in the sand with his head and shoulders propped up against the seawall. The man was neatly dressed and appeared to be aged in his forties. He had one unsmoked cigarette tucked behind his ear and another more-than-half smoked cigarette nuzzled between his cheek and his coat’s collar. Due to the Somerton location of the man’s body, he henceforth became known as The Somerton Man (TSM).
Within the enigma that is TSM, there lies another mystery- how did he die? After examining the problems within each proposed mode of death, you would swear TSM should still be alive; yet we know he died. The technology of the era made determining the precise cause of TSM’s death problematic and this difficulty was compounded by the bizarre circumstances surrounding his death.
There were some peculiar physical abnormalities discovered when TSM’s deceased body was analysed. The pathologist Sir John Cleland speculated that the severe congestion of multiple organs, although most significantly the spleen and liver was consistent with poisoning. Despite Cleland’s assertion, the poison would have unlikely made the TSM’s spleen three times its normal size and this suggests TSM may have had prior health issues. TSM also had liver issues detected in the autopsy and this may have been related to the spleen enlargement. It is plausible that some form of disease killed him or at least caused him to be in a weaker state. There has been ample recent speculation regarding the precise illness TSM had. Regardless of the methodology of death, TSM seems to have been in ill health. This is despite his fit façade and indeed Dr. John Dwyer at the inquest commented that “it was the heart of a man in good physical training.”
Dr. Dwyer noted that there was a pooling of blood most notably near TSM’s ears and neck. Cleland mentioned that he was surprised at the pooling of blood considering the position TSM was found in although he elaborated on this and believed that the degree that the head was supported could explain this finding. This point is contentious as it would perhaps be expected that if TSM died from poisoning on the beach in his position, then the blood might have, thanks to gravity, flowed towards his feet. It’s also possible that TSM was poisoned elsewhere and died in a different bodily position hence the specific blood pooling that was noted.
The Poison Rationale
Dr. Dwyer deemed “The death could not have been natural…the poison I suggested was a barbiturate or a soluble hypnotic.” The poison hypothesis seemed to be the main theory attracting authorities although no specific poison could be detected. Some obvious poisons were tested for but the results came back negative.
At the inquest, Sir Cedric Hicks, a professor of pharmacology and physiology suggested that two publically available drugs: digitalis and ouabain could both individually kill someone if taken in a certain dose and they would not be detectable in an autopsy at the time. Within the inquest, the pathologist Cleland said “I would be prepared to find that he died from poison, that the poison was probably a glucoside (digitalis and ouabain belong to this class) and that it was not accidentally administered.”
In 1994, the Chief Justice of Victoria, John Harber Phillips analysed the evidence in TSM case. His conclusion regarding the cause of death was that “There seems little doubt it was digitalis.” In order to support this conclusion, Phillips cited the engorged organs that he deemed were consistent with the digitalis poison hypothesis. Several months prior to the death of TSM, the death of US Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White occurred. He was poisoned with digitalis. The later release of declassified FBI documents confirmed White’s identity as a Soviet spy.
At the inquest, Dwyer said “His pupils were smaller and unusual, uneven in outline and about the same size. Certain drugs may be associated with a contraction in the pupils. Even barbiturates may do it, but it is by no means a distinguishing point.” Digitalis has also been known to cause pupil constriction. Interestingly, it has been speculated that artist Van Gogh’s ‘yellow period’ was caused by his consumption of digitalis to treat his seizures. Digitalis can cause a number of visual abnormalities including perceived visual disturbances and physical eye changes.
There are only a small number of poisons that can cause the heart to be paralysed, which is the state TSM’s heart was found in. This is part of the reason that the drug digitalis has been repeatedly speculated to be the poison that killed TSM. The other physical signs noted of TSM’s body conform to the digitalis hypothesis. According to the autopsy report, “There was blood mixed with the food in the stomach” and this is another consistency with poisoning. Studies have found that the ratio of therapeutic dose to deadly dosage of digitalis can be as low as 4. The overwhelming evidence on the surface points to TSM being poisoned with the most proposed drug being digitalis.
The Vanishing Vomit
Despite the ample evidence that TSM was poisoned, there are several key factors that point against the death being caused by poison. These include the lack of vomit in the vicinity, the absence of evidence of convulsions and notably the nonexistence of a poison receptacle.
The lack of vomit in the vicinity of TSM was repeatedly raised throughout the inquest. This was exemplified by Hicks who said “The only missing fact which would have made me confident (that digitalis killed TSM) is the absence of signs of vomiting, but there is sufficient variation between individuals to account for it or he may have vomited before he took up his position by the seawall, but I confess that I would have been more confident in drawing a frank conclusion had there been signs of vomit somewhere about him.”
Although fairly rare, the main TSM poison candidate of digitalis has killed people without causing vomiting, although a simpler explanation is that TSM did vomit- just away from his final seawall location. The autopsy determined that TSM had tiny pieces of potato in his stomach that were recently consumed. Considering the time and location, a pasty is a common theory as to what the potato source was. It would be expected that a poison would induce vomiting and thus there shouldn’t have been potato in TSM’s stomach. Another possibility is that TSM vomited next to his body at his final location however this was covered with sand.
The final state of TSM’s figure- neatly lying down, perpendicular to the seawall and with two cigarette’s resting against his body would also seem to be unlikely if poison was the culprit. It might be expected that his body would be positioned more similarly to the classic police chalk sketch although the final position of TSM did include one of his arms freely bent and away from his body in an unnatural position.
At the inquest, it was suggested by Detective Sergeant Lionel Leane that “There would have been convulsions with poisoning in the group mentioned. I understand there was no sign of disturbance in the sand, and I can only assume that so many people had walked in the sand that there was no evidence that there had not been convulsions. I am only going by what I was told, that there had been a lot of people and the body, and sand being what it is it would be impossible to draw my conclusions.” John Lyons, a witness who saw the body on the evening of the 30th noticed the man raising his right arm and dropping it and it has been suggested that this may have been a convulsion. Hicks noted this lack of convulsion drawback of the digitalis poison theory although mentions that the convulsions could have been minor. It seems that there are no definitive conclusions regarding whether there were convulsions although TSM’s final body position and lack of observed sand disturbance raise further questions regarding the poison mode of death theory.
The Riddling Receptacle
Another pitfall of the poison theory is the lack of receptacle found to house the poison within the vicinity of TSM. If TSM had taken the poison on the beach, one would expect the poison receptacle to be proximate to him. There is the clever possibility that he buried the poison vessel in the sand next to him although one wonders if authorities dug around him or over time a windswept beach would eventually expose the poison bottle. Although a random person who found such a container subsequently would likely think nothing of it. There also appeared to be shrubbery overgrowth behind TSM’s beachside location and it’s plausible that he threw the poison container behind himself into this. The question is also raised- why go to such lengths to hide the poison bottle? Perhaps the poison receptacle could be traced to a pharmacy that would lead to TSM being identified.
TSM may have consumed tablets as the form of poison. Tablets wouldn’t necessarily require a receptacle as they could be placed in his pocket. This procedure might require some liquid to swallow the tablets and there was no such liquid reported near TSM’s body. Alternately, some individuals seem to have the ability to swallow tablets without liquid but this seems like quite a cumbersome suicide methodology. An argument against this theory is that the dust within the pockets of TSM was analysed and no chemical was detected.
If TSM had consumed the poison at some previous time before meandering down to the beach, it raises the question as to how he indeed was feeling well enough to walk down 25 steps plus the added route post poison consumption. It is difficult to ascertain how long TSM could have walked for, after taking the poison. It would largely depend on the dosage taken and type of poison. It is plausible that TSM consumed the poison at some period prior to walking down the beach steps although if the final resting place he had in mind was along the beach, it would be an added obstacle to take the poison at some place before arriving there. Cleland echoes these sentiments, “I think if he did commit suicide whatever he took commenced to have a soporific effect on him before he had made his way as far along the beach as he had intended; that he had only time to descend the steps, found he was becoming drowsy and lay down with his head and shoulders resting against the seawall, in position which is within a yard of steps, on a summer evening, which would be frequented by several people at least.”
Further Problems with Poisoning
There are some further problems with the poisoning theory. There were no faecal stains in TSM’s underwear which is something poison might cause. Also the whereabouts the body was found in is a curious location for someone to consume poison; at the base of a busy staircase, whilst privacy awaited further along the beach.
TSM’s agility post poison is also an argument against this mode of death. If TSM had been smoking, as the half-lit cigarette and box of matches in his pocket suggests, then he must have been agile and well enough to smoke and put the matches back, which had he recently consumed poison would appear unlikely or at the least, difficult. Police constable, John Moss who was one of the first people on the scene said (of the lapel situated cigarette) at the inquest, “It is my opinion that it may have been in his mouth, he was smoking it, with his head sideways in the positioning which I found the head.” This scenario that the cigarette had simply fallen out of TSM’s mouth onto his lapel whilst being smoked seems the most probable scenario. If TSM had convulsions, it seems peculiar that the cigarette didn’t fall further onto the ground.
The pathologists of the era tended to err on the side of labelling something as poisoning when they couldn’t determine another cause of death. Collectively, this together with the lack of poisoning receptacle, absence of vomiting signs, no clear signs of convulsions, absence of soiled underwear, specific blood pooling, potato still in his stomach and his ability to light a cigarette, cast shade on the poisoning hypothesis.
Perhaps a plausible poisoning scenario is that TSM took digitalis whilst smoking and sitting on The Esplanade and then he vomited. His public position caused him to seek anonymity on the beach however the weakening effect of the poison ensured that he could only travel a metre or two past the base of the steps.
If the collective evidence appears to douse the poisoning theory then how did TSM die? Prolific researcher of this case, Professor Derek Abbott has proposed an alternative theory as to what caused TSM’s death. His hypothesis involves the unique position TSM was lying; with his head propped up against the seawall at an awkward angle. Abbott suggests accidental, positional asphyxiation. The near right-angle head to body connection would have caused TSM to suffocate according to Abbott. The specific blood pooling on TSM could have been caused by this theory as TSM’s bodily position blocked off the blood flow and caused the blood to pool. There is no single autopsy feature that would be present if the positional asphyxiation theory was correct. The positional asphyxiation determination is typically done on circumstantial evidence.
The alternative theory of accidental, positional asphyxiation also has its problems regarding likelihood of validity. This is quite a rare occurrence that would require TSM to not notice that he was suffocating and thus not moving his body. My primary criticism of this theory is the context of the rest of TSM case. When this is taken into account, which will be discussed later in this article, an accidental death seems even more farfetched than the poisoning hypothesis. Another potential criticism that can be levelled against the positional asphyxiation theory involves what Cleland noted: “If he had given himself an injection of tuberine, which is curare, he should have died a death from asphyxia. It does not seem that there is sufficient evidence from the post-mortem to suggest that.” Although a different cause of the asphyxiation has been mentioned in this quote, Cleland seems to refute the outcome of asphyxia here, although his statement is ambiguous. The physiological findings as a result of examining TSM’s body all seem to be quintessentially poison signs and it is difficult to think that positional asphyxiation could mimic the poisoning effects so perfectly.
Another pertinent question is when did TSM arrive on Somerton Beach? A man was sighted on the evening of the 30th of November lying in a similar position to where TSM was found the next morning. If this person wasn’t TSM it raises the possibility that TSM was dumped at the beachside location during the night. It is therefore critical to comb through the eyewitness reports of those who saw this evening man- was this the same person found deceased the following day; was it TSM?
At around 7pm on the 30th of November, John Lyons and his wife on their return walk came within 14-18 metres of a man slumped against a sea wall only 1 metre from the base of the staircase. In the inquest Mr. Lyons recalled “There is a seawall up there, and he was leaning up against that, supporting his shoulders and head.” On the evening in question, Mrs. Lyons commented “Look at the way the man is slumped” and the couple discussed his bodily position. The couple noticed that his legs were crossed and pointed in the direction of the sea. As Mr. Lyons joked to his wife that he would report the lounging man to police, the man raised an arm upwards then it fell to the ground. The Lyons’s didn’t see the man’s face that evening due to their distance to the man. The sun would soon set; at 7:13pm that night. The next day, Mr. Lyons took a morning swim and he would be one of the first people on the scene later that morning when TSM was found deceased. At the inquest, Lyons commented “I would however (say) that it was definitely the same person.”
Between 7:30pm and 8pm on the evening of the 30th of November, Olive Neill and Gordon Strapps sat on a bench just south of a man’s body. Their positioning meant that they could only see the man’s legs. The couple reported the location of the person to be about 2 metres north of the base of the steps. Olive reported to authorities that she thought the man’s legs were crossed and that he had brown trousers on. At the inquest, Olive reported “The position of his legs did not alter while I was there that I know of. I did not see his legs move. I saw no difference in his position from the time we arrived until the time when we left.” At the inquest, Olive also said “I did think something was wrong with this man, but I had no foundation for it. It was because he was lying still. I have seen people lying still on the beach before, I saw this man’s hand, and it seemed to be in a funny position, although I cannot remember actually how it was. I did in fact think this at the time, and made the remark to my companion that perhaps the man was dead.”
Gordon Strapps was sitting with Olive on the evening of the 30th of November as they discussed the man lying against the seawall. Gordon suggested to investigators that the man’s legs were extended, not crossed and that he wore brown, striped pants. At the inquest, Gordon recollected “I did not see him move once. However, I thought I noticed a difference in his position. That night I did make a remark to my girlfriend that as there were mosquitoes there he must have been dead to the world in not noticing them. It attracted my attention that he was lying there still notwithstanding that there were a lot of mosquitoes there, and I thought he must have been asleep.” Both Gordon and Olive could only see the man from the waist down and sat at an inappropriate angle to observe his face. Gordon and Olive left at around 8pm; around the same time that the street lights came on.
Was the man seen on the previous evening the same person found deceased against the seawall the next morning? There is no definitive way to determine this however the various eyewitness accounts seem to support this. The separate people noticing and commenting on the positioning of the man’s body, the well-dressed clothes matching at both evening and morning, the distance to the steps, the head and shoulders lying peculiarly against a seawall and the drunk/dead to the world comments about the man all combine to support the fact that this was indeed the same person.
If you go to the beach, you are unlikely to comment on someone’s lying position and consciousness and for the person to be a different man in the morning in the exact same location taking into account all the information, seems quite unlikely. Some people have suggested that it wasn’t the same man on the beach the previous evening. Their rationale is that Gordon recalled the trousers to be striped brown instead of their actual appearance: light brown. The fact that Olive reported the trousers as brown, his general comments supporting the notion that the man seemed “dead to the world” in combination with the other factors listed above, the likeliest scenario is that in accordance with the fallibility of human memory, Gordon misremembered the trousers as being striped.
The details regarding the time the man arrived on the beach are key now that we examine how the man arrived on the beach. The most likely scenario is that he simply walked down the steps. Some people have suggested that he was carried down the steps and it’s conceivable that some combination of a carry and him walking occurred such as TSM being held by two people around the shoulders; think of a drunk person stumbling around with help. The close proximity of TSM’s body to the base of the steps: around 1-2 metres can probably indicate one of two things: either, he had already taken the poison and would thus struggle to walk further along the beach or he had been carried and the person/people holding him couldn’t carry him much further. Voluntarily choosing to sit so close to the public steps before taking poison seems unlikely.
Due to the relatively high degree of light at the time, it seems unlikely that other people would have carried TSM down to the beach. If you have recently poisoned someone, you almost certainly wouldn’t in daylight hours take them to a public location, then conspicuously carry them down a flight of stairs, leaving them to die. This would firstly jeopardise being caught and secondly in regards to TSM, would have drawn attention and reports of this occurring at such a busy location with people teeming around and buildings overseeing the locale. If one was to dispose of a body, waiting until darkness has fallen would presumably be the first step. Also, the fact that TSM was found with cigarettes in positions around his body adds to the ‘he walked there’ theory. If TSM was dumped in his location by other people, you would think loitering around the body and delicately placing cigarettes wouldn’t serve any tangible purpose.
Suspicious Behaviour around TSM’s Body
There are three anecdotal reports of other people acting somewhat suspiciously around the time TSM was lying on the beach.
The Overlooking Man
The first report of strange behaviour emerged from the aforementioned Olive who reported a man of around 50 years old who was wearing a suit and a hat. Olive recalls that the man stood at the top entrance to the stairway and that he looked over the man lying against the seawall for about 5 minutes. This person may have in someway been involved with TSM however it’s fairly common for people at the beach to loiter on The Esplanade footpath and stare out towards the sand and beyond into the ocean. What’s even more telling: if you had been involved with the death of TSM, you would probably want to keep as far away as possible from his location to avoid being recognised. If you wanted to discreetly look at how TSM was acting, you would likely act casually and incidentally walk past along the beach, not overtly stand above his lying down position in such a way to draw attention. The main factor that rules out this man standing at the top of the steps supposedly staring down at TSM is the angle the man would be at in relation to TSM. If the couple sitting on the bench could only see the legs of TSM, then the man who would have been at a more acute angle, further away, with the seawall acting to obscure wouldn’t have been able to see any part of TSM. The purpose for him being there is therefore presumably unnecessary.
The Mysterious Man Carrying Someone
Within Gerry Feltus’s book, The Unknown Man, he writes of a witness seeing a man carrying another man over his shoulders at around 10pm on the 30th of November. This occurred near the colloquial ‘dugouts.’ Feltus writes of the ambiguity regarding the location of the dugouts. There is some reference online to these being located 700 metres north of TSM’s body near The Broadway. When Feltus drove the witness in later years around the area, they also indicated the area near The Broadway as where they saw the man being carried. In Feltus’s book, he cites an elderly local man recalling the location of the dugouts as near Bickford Terrace, the location where TSM was found.
The mysterious man carrying someone was apparently walking south (the direction TSM was found) and was near the edge of the water. The eyewitness reported the incident to police around a decade later and was adamant that it occurred on the evening before TSM’s body was found. Despite the man’s recall of the date, it is hard to classify this decade late report as solid evidence. If the witness had come out the next day and reported it to authorities the validity of the story would increase however think about something you saw 10 years ago; it would be nigh on impossible to now recall the exact date.
The main counter-argument against this would be that the discovery of TSM’s body was a significant event and the witness upon hearing of the death recalled the specific date because of the body being found. Assuming that the witness was accurate in his date and event recall, then one man carrying another on the sand from at least one set of stairs to the base of another seems superfluous. Why wouldn’t he just dump the body somewhere closer, not at the foot of a secondary set of stairs? A more probable and innocuous scenario explaining the event would be that the man that was being carried was drunk and returning home from a Glenelg pub. As discussed previously, the precariously placed cigarettes, reliable bevy of eye-witnesses and proximity to the staircase, all point to the same conclusion. Occam’s razor would point to the fact that the one witness, a decade later was mistaken or that there was a likely innocent explanation for what he witnessed.
The Warm Weather Overcoat Wearer
There was a final suspicious man reported as being seen this time on the 1st of December, at 5:30am in the morning, about an hour before TSM was found dead. This mysterious man was walking north, in a direction away from the body. This man was wearing an overcoat which was described as being out of context. Despite time of death autopsy reports being wildly inaccurate in the era (the estimated time of death was given as 2AM), it seems clear that TSM had been dead for some hours prior to this 5:30AM overcoat man walking north of the body. It’s not clear what this man was supposed to have done to TSM (perhaps dumping his body) considering he was likely already deceased. Acting suspiciously near the body would only raise the possibility of getting identified for no real purpose.
The most likely scenario is that this overcoat wearing man, the man carrying another man on his shoulders and the man overlooking TSM’s body are innocent people who post hoc became suspicious. The Texas sharpshooter fallacy can be described as someone shooting a gun randomly at a wall and after this action drawing a target around the positions that the majority of bullets have hit. Akin to this, the suspicious people seem only to be suspicious after the fact which in itself isn’t too damning however there are a glut of eyewitness reports likely placing TSM up against the seawall on the evening prior to his death. This combined with the lack of reason for people to risk getting caught by loitering near the body after TSM had died or drawing attention by means of wearing an overcoat, suggests that the three ‘suspicious’ men were just innocent passers-by or in the case of the decade late police report, likely a misremembered date that as time passed became more cemented as TSM’s disappearance date.
TSM’s journey to his final position on Somerton beach involved a bus journey that travelled past the West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide. On June the 14th 1949 his body was buried at this very cemetery. The S.A. Grandstand Bookmakers Association paid for his modestly attended service that was largely kept secret to avoid curious onlookers. TSM’s body was positioned as the top of three burials within the cemetery plot. A wooden cross bearing the words ‘Unknown Somerton Body’ originally adorned the grave. This was later changed to the tombstone that currently sits above his body.
Part 2- The Rubaiyat Connection
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.” –Quatrain 71 from The Rubaiyat.
Tamam Shud Discovery
During April of 1949, some four and a half months after TSM was found deceased, pathologist Sir. John Cleland re-examined the man’s body and made a number of new observations. The most notable discovery by Cleland was that of a piece of rolled up paper inside the fob pocket of the trousers TSM was wearing on the beach. The fob pocket is now known as an anachronistic small pocket found near the waist of trousers that historically was used for housing pocket watches. The rolled up paper was immersed deep down into TSM’s pocket, so much so that it required removal with a pair of tweezers. After removing the paper and then placing it back in the fob pocket, Cleland took a great deal of time finding the pocket a second time, despite knowing its location; such was the clandestine nature of this fob pocket. The pocket was located slightly to the right of TSM’s fly.
The rolled up piece of paper contained the words ‘Tamam Shud’ printed on it, which would later provide an alternative name to ‘The Somerton Man case’- ‘The Tamam Shud case.’ It was eventually determined that the words ‘Tamam Shud’ were Persian and translated loosely as “finished” or “ended.” It was deducted that a specific book of poetry also ended with the words Tamam Shud and that the scrap of paper likely came from this poetry book. The name of this poetry book was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and it contained a translation of poems from Persian into English by Edward FitzGerald. The themes permeating the poetry book involve life, death and love with an undercurrent message of living life to the fullest. The poems are framed in the quatrain format that feature four lines with the first, second and fourth lines rhyming. The Rubaiyat was very much in vogue during this era. The search was now afoot for the precise copy of The Rubaiyat this scrap of paper with the words Tamam Shud originated from.
The Rubaiyat Discovery
In July 1949, a chemist by the name of John Freeman read about the search for this elusive book. He remembered that his brother-in-law had left a copy of The Rubaiyat some months ago in the glovebox of his car: a small Hillman Minx. Freeman found that the book was still in the glovebox and noticed that the last page of the book had a quasi-rectangular tear where the words Tamam Shud should have been. The brother-in-law had some months ago found The Rubaiyat on the floor in front of the back seat of the car and assumed in belonged to Freeman. The car at the time was parked on Jetty Road, Glenelg, near the Pier Hotel. Freeman and his brother-in-law recalled that the date they initially found the book coincided approximately with the Parafield air display. This was a large event held on the outskirts of Adelaide on the 20th of November, 1948: some 11 days prior to TSM being found dead.
Upon receiving Freeman’s copy of The Rubaiyat, the authorities forensically analysed the paper and tear and thus determined the book as the exact source of the torn out Tamam Shud paper found in TSM’s fob pocket. Upon examining the book, an officer noticed the back page containing faint writing. This writing has been labelled as both indentations and faint pencil marks; which one of these the writing was composed of remains unclear. Using ultra-violet light, an array of seemingly nonsensical letters were seen on this back page of the book. There was also a phone number written on this back page in small font, ‘X3239.’ There are reports of a local bank’s phone number also scribed according to police officer Ron Thomas and additional conjecture about other phone numbers however this remains contentious.
The X3239 phone number belonged to Jessica Thomson, a former nursing student who lived on Moseley Street at Glenelg; around an 800 metre walk from where TSM’s body was found. Jessica claimed she knew nothing of TSM. When asked about The Rubaiyat, she did mention that she knew of the book and had given a copy to an Alf Boxall, a former army lieutenant in 1945 in Sydney. Alf Boxall was tracked down and found to be alive and he still possessed his copy of The Rubaiyat given to him by Jessica.
The supposed code found on the back page of The Rubaiyat has spawned countless theories and 70 years after TSM’s death it remains uncracked. I recently wrote an article about TSM code and this can be found here. Within my analysis I discussed the nature of the supposed code, examined general theories of the makeup of the code, analysed specific claims of the code being cracked and detailed the idiosyncrasies of the code. My overall conclusion cited the Abbott team analysis which determined that the ‘code’ is most likely an English initialism with each letter standing for the first letter of certain words. I also concluded that it is unlikely these words will ever be determined. I finally theorised that as both the ‘code’ has 4 lines and the quatrains within The Rubaiyat also have 4 lines, it is plausible that the ‘code’ writer attempted to write or recall their own quatrain poem using the initials of the words. They were perhaps inspired by reading the quatrains within The Rubaiyat.
The specific letters within the code are far more ambiguous than people realise. I have written another article analysing what each letter within the code is. I concluded that the code contains the following letters (based on the likelihood for each letter position within the code):
W R G O A B A B D
W T B I M P A N E T P
M L I A B O A I A Q C
I T T M T S A M S T G A B
I determined that the most ambiguous letters within the code are those surrounded by red rectangles below:
All attempts to crack the code to date have failed and many types of code have been ruled out as definitively not the Tamam Shud code or statistically unlikely to be the code. A search by John Rehling of over 20,000 books, to see if the code letters represent the first letters of words within the literature realm yielded no matches. Another feature of the code that should be noted is that it doesn’t resemble the structure of any known WWII code. The second line of the code (the one that has been crossed out) has a close resemblance to the fourth line. This seems to indicate that the person writing the code made a mistake and corrected themselves whilst writing the fourth line.
The Date of The Rubaiyat Finding
The date that the chemist, John Freeman and his brother-in-law recall finding The Rubaiyat is curious. They recollect the book being found at the same time as the Parafield air display which was on the 20th of November 1948; some 11 days before TSM was found dead. The most likely scenario is that this was an approximate date of something happening 7 months earlier, thus the not quite accurate timing. For instance, the brother-in-law may have recalled meeting someone around the time of the Parafield air display and remembered being in their company when originally finding The Rubaiyat. He may have pieced these events together and concluded he found the book around the time of the Parafield air show. Another curious scenario involves the implications if the book was indeed found 11 days prior to TSM’s death. Did TSM visit Jessica and she wasn’t home and therefore he returned 11 days later? Did TSM meet up with Jessica 11 days earlier and things were discussed that resulted in a revisit on the 30th of November?
The Location of The Rubaiyat Finding
Another peculiar element to this case involves the location that The Rubaiyat was found: in the car on Jetty Road, near the Pier Hotel. The chemist John Freeman had a premises situated at 24a Jetty Road and close to the Pier Hotel. Both of these locations are on the southern side of Jetty Road and on the beach side of Moseley Street. This area was and continues to be a hotspot for foot traffic. The car’s bitumen location was surprisingly close to the sand, with the Pier Hotel being the last building before the beach. The position is also near a corner. It is only metres from the Glenelg Jetty entrance and it is on the busy Moseley Square. The place TSM was found deceased was 1.6 km south of this The Rubaiyat location; a direct easy access walk adjacent to the sea. It is thought that on the 30th of November, TSM caught the bus from near the Adelaide Railway Station to the suburb of St. Leonards, (present day Glenelg North). As seen on the map below, the location The Rubaiyat was found was in close proximity to where TSM is thought to have departed the bus, where Jessica lived and where his body was ultimately discovered.
Piecing the events of the day into sequential order is analogous to solving those cartoon picture puzzles that require the order of events to be placed from start to finish. I find it troubling that The Rubaiyat was found so far from TSM’s body. If he had disposed of it, then why wasn’t it found on some route between Jessica’s house and where his body was found? The Rubaiyat was found about a 20 minute walk away from his body. Did TSM visit Jessica’s house then return to Jetty Road and dispose of The Rubaiyat while perhaps eating a pasty then walk 20 minutes south again to where he was found deceased?
It is conceivable that the Hillman Minx wasn’t parked in front of The Pier Hotel when The Rubaiyat was thrown into it. How could the chemist so precisely determine the location the car had been in 6 months prior on a seemingly arbitrary day for the totality of the day? Perhaps he regularly parked in the same location due to the proximate nature to his premises and perhaps the police pieced the Glenelg links together. This does spawn another question; how did the chemist know The Rubaiyat was thrown into his car whilst it was parked on Jetty Road and not when his car was parked somewhere else such as a friend’s house? The chemist’s brother-in-law had picked the book up whilst he was sitting on the back seat of the car but we can’t be certain that The Rubaiyat hadn’t been there for several days and this was the first time someone had sat on the back seat or indeed noticed The Rubaiyat on the ground. A plausible scenario is that around 6pm John Freeman drove down to The Esplanade and parked near where TSM body was found. It’s plausible that many of TSM’s items could have been found in separate cars along The Esplanade.
How Did The Rubaiyat Arrive In the Car?
Let us assume the book was found next to the Pier Hotel as the conventional story goes. There were no shortage of places to purchase alcohol in the vicinity of Jetty Road. The book flung into the back of a car resembles the actions of a drunk person. Did someone drink alcohol on Jetty Road, or elsewhere, and thanks to their lower inhibitions throw the book into the car? Alternately, TSM may have left the book in a pub (accidentally or not) and some other strangers may have found it and thought it humorous to throw it into the back of a nearby car. The dimension of this copy of The Rubaiyat were deceptively tiny. The book would have fit snuggly inside TSM’s jacket pocket. The book was just the right size for TSM to carry around. Below are two images, depending on the orientation of the code, of the size of the book (the outline) and code relative to an A4 sheet of paper.
It is often quipped that The Rubaiyat was ‘flung’ into the back of the chemist’s car. This does seem like a peculiar way to get rid of it- in such a busy thoroughfare as Jetty Road, it would be risky that someone else would see this action. There were rubbish bins around and disposing of the book into one of these would seemingly make more sense. This question keeps occurring to me: why not get rid of the book in a bin?
There are many plausible scenarios explaining how the book came to be in the back of the car; not involving it being thrown in. The book may have been on the ground adjacent to the car and a passer-by thought it had fallen out of the car and thus threw it into the car. TSM or someone else could have been hiding in/lying down in/travelling in the chemist’s car and the book could have been left behind or fallen out of someone’s pocket. The book could have been open next to TSM’s body on the beach with a poem on display and someone may have taken it and thrown it into the back of the car. Jessica’s husband sold cars as a vocation and it is plausible that is some abstract way The Rubaiyat was connected to a car he had sold.
Cars in the era of the 1940s commonly had their windows open and this may provide the mechanism as to how the book arrived in John Freeman’s car. The precise model of the Hillman Minx that Freeman drove is not public knowledge however the car has been described as “small.” There were also convertible models of the Hillman Minx and indeed Freeman may have owned one of these models lacking a roof. A book thrown into a car in this modern era shouldn’t be compared to the era of TSM’s death- a time of relaxed security and with vehicles commonly unlocked with their windows open.
Why Dispose Of The Rubaiyat Into A Car?
Why was The Rubaiyat thrown (or arriving by other means) into the back of chemist John Freeman’s car? This is a pertinent question. Everything else in TSM case details some level of meticulous concealment. From the mode of death, the identification of TSM, any links to Glenelg or the rest of the world, the purposeful removal of identifiable labels (which will be discussed later) and the mystique cloaking this case. The Rubaiyat carelessly perhaps ‘flung’ into the back of a seemingly random car seems out of context. Especially when a phone number is written in The Rubaiyat that threatens to expose the whole case. If the phone number was more visible or The Rubaiyat was more easily linked to TSM, then an element of intentionality would emerge; however, this is not the case. It was quite plausible that no-one would have come forward with The Rubaiyat and also quite plausible that the Tamam Shud paper was never discovered. The Rubaiyat in the back of the car reeks of a game of chance whereas everything else in this case seemingly has precision and reason.
One theory is that the book was purposefully thrown into the back of the car as a signal, in order to let somebody know something. For instance, when person ‘A’ walks past the car and sees the book, they know TSM has been poisoned. It is also possible that it was thrown into the back of the wrong car. The chemist, John Freeman whose car The Rubaiyat was thrown into may have been somehow involved in this case although this seems a long shot. Why would he purposefully hand the book over to authorities and risk incriminating himself if he was involved?
Perhaps the most logical reason, in terms of motive, explaining the book in the random car finding is that TSM was being followed. If someone sought the book and TSM was intent on depriving the book from this follower, then throwing it into a car in a busy street makes sense. Although this scenario makes logical sense, it may belong more suitably within the pages of a spy book.
The Rarity of The Rubaiyat
There have been worldwide and extensive searches for an identical copy of the 1941 edition of The Rubaiyat linked to TSM case. These have so far proved fruitless. Why has it been so hard to conjure up a copy of a book? There may be several reasons for this. There were many editions of the Whitcombe and Tombs ‘The Rubaiyat’. The specific copy in TSM’s case has now been lost but a duplicate copy is elusive. In the era of TSM case, there were a glut of ‘false imprints’ of books. There were many people creating fake copies of books and selling them. Books of the era were the DVDs of the 2000s or the $10 fake Rolex watches sold overseas. In all likelihood, it seems that The Rubaiyat in TSM case was a false imprint. Finding a copy is imperative as the precise words contained within it may be a one-time pad to decode the possible cipher found at the back of the book. Alternatively, some other clue may lie within the precise combination of words in TSM’s The Rubaiyat that may hold the key to cracking TSM code.
Another Copy of The Rubaiyat?
There may have been another copy of The Rubaiyat found around the same time as chemist John Freeman discovered the torn version in his car. Bus conductor Leslie Francis Wytkin who lived at Glenelg found a copy of the Rubaiyat most likely on a bus (the newspaper article implies it was a bus). Wytkin handed in the copy of The Rubaiyat to the lost property section of the Tramway Trust. Wytkin believed that he found the book around the time that TSM was found deceased. Most likely the find was a coincidence and another unrelated person had left the book on the bus however if the bus in question was the one travelled on by TSM, then it adds another level of intrigue to the case. Although presumably detectives investigating the case would have determined this.
Jessica and The Rubaiyat
Jessica, the former nursing student whose phone number was in back of The Rubaiyat had some prior knowledge of The Rubaiyat. In 1945, she met army lieutenant, Alf Boxall at the Clifton Gardens Hotel in Sydney. Alf would be on active service soon after this meeting thus on Boxall and Jessica’s second (and last) meeting, she presented Boxall with a copy of The Rubaiyat. She had transcribed verse 70 in her own handwriting inside the cover which read:
“Indeed, indeed. Repentance I oft bore
I swore- but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.
The name ‘JEstyn’ refers to Jessica and may have been a nickname for Jessica. What this gift tells us is that Jessica was well versed with The Rubaiyat and may have had a habit of giving them to lovers. When Jessica was asked what she considered The Rubaiyat to be a book about, she responded “love poetry.” The fact that TSM appeared in her suburb, with Tamam Shud in his pocket and The Rubaiyat lends support to the Jessica-TSM former lover theory. An argument against this theory is that The Rubaiyat presented to Boxall had a personalised inscription from Jessica and TSM’s copy had no such writing. Despite this, it is still plausible that Jessica gave TSM The Rubaiyat without transcribing a quatrain.
If you hear the words “phone number in the cover of a book” you would perhaps think the person who owned the book had written their own phone number down in case the book was lost and it could thus be returned. The phone number written in The Rubaiyat was different, it was in tiny writing. Some people have speculated that it was in micro writing (only 1mm or so high) however this seems unlikely to me. If the authorities had noticed the writing being that significantly small (and likely the smallest writing they had come across in their life), they would have mentioned this. Nonetheless, the tiny and faint phone number writing indicates that the person who wrote it may have been wanting to keep the number somewhat secretive or alternately, they didn’t want to tarnish their book so wrote it softly and in small lettering. It is often assumed that the phone number listed in The Rubaiyat was of Jessica but TSM may have only been interested in seeing Prosper, the man Jessica was in some form of relationship with. What if Jessica was the owner of The Rubaiyat that was later found in John Freeman’s car? An argument against this: why write your own phone number in tiny writing inside your own book and then throw it away into a nearby car (unless TSM was the person who threw their book away)?
Matching The Rubaiyat and Tamam Shud Paper
The torn out ‘Tamam Shud’ words didn’t match the hole in the back of The Rubaiyat found in John Freeman’s car. The hole in the book was larger. The authorities were able to match the two items based on colour and texture. The question is then raised: why didn’t the two items match in shape? The most likely scenario is that the ‘Tamam Shud’ paper was too large to fit inside a tiny fob pocket and thus it was torn again. This secondary tear seemed to be much neater and is reflected in the photo of the words ‘Tamam Shud.’ It is unclear whether the widely disseminated photo of the tear marks on the final page of The Rubaiyat is an image of the actual copy of the book.
Who Placed Tamam Shud into TSM’s Pocket?
The placement of the words Tamam Shud, deep down within the pocket of TSM may support the possibility that TSM himself placed the paper there. The pathologist Cleland had to use tweezers to retrieve the paper from TSM’s pocket, such was its difficulty of access. If you try and place something deep into your own fob pocket, the angle of the arm and hand pushing down seem to make it easier to push the item further into the pocket. If you try and place it into someone else’s pocket it is harder to push the item down as you may become restricted by the length of your fingers.
Another piece of evidence to support the idea that TSM placed the words in his own pocket is the clandestine nature of the fob pocket. If the clothes TSM was wearing were his own (and they fit well hence they probably were) he would be more familiar with the idiosyncrasies of his pockets. The fact that the pathologist, Cleland struggled to find the fob pocket a second time suggests that someone other than TSM wanting to place the paper into his pocket might struggle to find its location. It has also been suggested that as the pocket was so difficult to find, the pocket may have been sewn into the trousers and the trousers weren’t originally made with such a uniquely secretive pocket.
Why Place Tamam Shud into The Pocket?
Another intriguing question within the whole scenario is why was the piece of Tamam Shud paper placed within the fob pocket of TSM; by himself or somebody else? The fact that it took 4 and a half months for the paper to be discovered raises questions about the purpose of the concealment. Was the paper intended to be discovered by authorities? In a similar ilk to The Rubaiyat being thrown into the back of the car, we have another item that could have just as easily went undiscovered. It has been suggested that the words ‘Tamam Shud’ were placed in the pocket by some higher-level spy as a calling card type signal. A meeting may have occurred and it could have been prearranged that person ‘A’ would identify themselves with The Rubaiyat and they would provide person ‘B’ with the words ‘Tamam Shud.’ It is difficult to conjure other practical reasons for the words being placed in the pocket, leading to the possibility that it was for a symbolic purpose.
The meaning of Tamam Shud in Persian is “finished” or “ended” and these connotations can gain meaning when presented next to the rest of TSM case. When a dead person is found with the words “finished” in their pocket; there is a degree of intentionality involved. Whether that is suicide or murder is difficult to determine. The base rates of suicide being more common than murders are a tick in the suicide possibility column. The word “finished” could also refer to other elements within the framework of life such as a relationship. Did TSM place the “Tamam Shud” paper in his pocket symbolically as to refer to the end of a relationship? Alternatively, did TSM plan on giving the paper to someone else such as Jessica to indicate to them an end of their relationship or the impending end of his own life? There is no guarantee that TSM wasn’t planning to give someone else the piece of paper.
My main criticism with the Abbott theory of accidental, positional asphyxiation being the cause of death of TSM is that he had the words Tamam Shud (finished) in his pocket. This doesn’t seem to correlate with an accidental death. There is a macabre magic trick that could account for the words “Tamam Shud” being in TSM’s pocket. The trick involves writing on a card “I will die today” and placing this card in your pocket/wallet/purse. When the authorities find the card, be it 10 years later, they will be confounded as to how a person predicted their own sudden death. The argument against this being the case in TSM’s instance is The Rubaiyat having been found with the paper hole within the same timeframe as TSM’s body.
Part 3- The Somerton Man’s Belongings
“In this maze of antiques, she says, are the ghosts of everyone who has ever owned this furniture. Everyone rich and successful enough to prove it. All of their talent and intelligence and beauty outlived by decorative junk. All the success and accomplishments this furniture was supposed to represent, it’s all vanished.” – Chuck Palahniuk
Items on TSM’s Body
When the enigmatic man was found deceased on the Somerton beach, he had a curious collection of items on his body. He had one unsmoked cigarette tucked behind his ear and another partially smoked cigarette nuzzled between his cheek and his coat’s collar. TSM also had a quarter-full box of matches on him that were particularly difficult for the authorities to find and some Kensitas brand cigarettes in an Army Club brand packet. He also had:
- A bus ticket to St. Leonards
- A train ticket to Henley Beach
- Two combs
- A handkerchief
- A pullover (despite the relatively warm weather)
- A half-full pack of chewing gum
- A jacket
- A shirt
- A tie
- A pair of trousers
- A singlet
- A pair of jockey underpants
- A pair of socks
- A pair of shoes (these looked new)
The labels on the clothes he was wearing had curiously been removed. The aforementioned ‘Tamam Shud’ piece of paper was within the fob pocket of his trousers. The shoes TSM wore were surprisingly clean and polished. The lack of certain items on TSM was also conspicuous. He had no wallet, money or identification on his body.
A Possible Breakthrough in the Case
Approximately 6 weeks after TSM was found deceased, the authorities checked with staff at the Adelaide Railway Station to determine if any items in the Cloak Room had been unclaimed. It just so happened that there was a fairly new suitcase that had remained in the Cloak Room since the 30th of November, 1948. When authorities examined it, it was unlocked. It was checked in between 11am and midday of that day. Within the suitcase was a brown cord thread and needle. It matched the stitching on the coat that TSM had been wearing. There was also a match between the thread found in the suitcase and items that had been repaired that he was wearing. There were similarities between many clothes within the suitcase and clothes worn by the deceased TSM. The underwear was of the same brand, the shirts of a similar style, the handkerchief’s matched up and most of the clothing was of a similar size, besides the coat within the suitcase being slightly smaller than the one he had been wearing. The items in the suitcase had also mainly had their labels removed. The exceptions were a tie with the name “T. Keane”, a singlet with the name “Kean” and a laundry bag that was marked “Keane.” There was more than sufficient evidence that this was TSM’s suitcase. There were three dry-cleaning laundry marks found on the clothing in the suitcase.
Within TSM’s Suitcase
There were many items found within the suitcase.
The clothing related items included:
- A pair of slippers
- Several pairs of jockey style underpants
- A dressing gown
- A pair of pyjamas
- 4 ties
- 2 singlets,
- A laundry bag
- A pair of Marco brand trousers
- 6 handkerchiefs
- A tartan design scarf
- A sports coat
- 2 coat shirts
- A shirt
- 2 coat hangers
- A button
- 3 safety pins
- A card of tan coloured thread
- A tin of tan coloured boot polish
- A front collar stud
- A back collar stud
- A brown button
TSM’s suitcase also contained:
- A knife in sheath
- A pair of scissors in sheath
- A broken pair of scissors
- A stencil brush
- An electrician’s screwdriver
- A piece of zinc
- A loupe (a tiny circular object)
- A razor strop
- A razor
- A shaving brush
- A green soap dish
- A hairpin (this resembled the hairpins typically worn by females. It was found inside the soap dish)
- A piece of light coloured cord
- A toothbrush and toothpaste
- An eraser
- 6 pencils
- 2 airmail stickers
- 9 envelopes, 8 of which were large and 1 which was small. These included squarish shaped envelopes
- A glass dish
- A 6d coin found in the pocket of the trousers
- A cigarette lighter
- A teaspoon
The above list provides a superficial insight into TSM’s belongings but by delving deeper, further deductions can be made about some of these items and perhaps about TSM himself.
Determining Where TSM Is From
The coat TSM was wearing had a type of feather stitching within it that was only done in America. This alone suggests that the TSM had either purchased the coat in America or bought it second hand off someone who had been to America. TSM had carried two combs on his body and one of these was an aluminium comb that would have been typically carried by Americans, not Australians. The tie TSM was wearing had stripes running from the wearer’s top right shoulder to left hip. America ties post 1920s were made the opposite way to British ties and thus the stripes run in different directions. The tie TSM was wearing had stripes running in the typical ‘American direction.’ Contrastingly, out of the four ties in the suitcase, two were striped and both in the British direction. TSM also has a curious tie that seemed to be white in colour. This was labelled ‘T Keane’ and was therefore probably second-hand. Seeing people wear a white tie is fairly rare and it has thus been speculated that TSM was a member of an organisation of some sort despite the tie likely being second-hand.
On TSM’s body was Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit flavoured chewing gum. This flavour would have normally been chewed by American adults. A chewing gum habit was also more quintessentially an American adult convention, not an Australian adult habit.
The razor strop found in TSM’s suitcase had the label of “Kent Street, Sydney” on it. It has been written that this is where a factory manufactured the strop, not where the strop was necessarily purchased from. It is strange that this item didn’t have the specific location “Kent Street, Sydney” removed or at least obscured. Was this an oversight or did the person who removed the labels know that this address was a red-herring? The Stamina brand trousers worn by TSM were manufactured in Victoria although this brand also shipped to N.S.W. and W.A.
The pants within TSM’s suitcase strangely had sand in their cuffs. Did this suggest TSM had come from a beachside location? Another possible scenario is that he had been in Adelaide longer than the conventionally agreed upon 30th of November arrival date and perhaps he had visited Glenelg or Henley Beach earlier in the week. Contrasting the sand, the pullover on TSM’s body and tartan scarf in his suitcase suggest TSM may have been accustomed to cooler weather. Another possibility for these items is that TSM was sick and felt the cold. Perhaps the most likely scenario explaining TSM wearing a pullover in Adelaide during the Australian summer is his foresight that he would be lying on the exposed beach that evening and night and the pullover was simply preparation for this.
There were three laundry marks found on TSM’s clothing: 305.3/1, 4393/7 and 1171/7. The precise numbers written are ambiguous. Detectives initially thought these marks may have come from Melbourne however this was later ruled out and no Australian dry-cleaners were associated with the marks. An intriguing aspect of the laundry marks is the length of them. Each mark consisting of 5 digits indicates that they came from a large city in which distinguishing between dry-cleaners requires the use of 5 numbers. American laundry marks may be consistent with having so many digits. This clue may prove fruitful in order to trace TSM back to a location he lived although a previous owner of the clothes may be the person who got the clothes dry-cleaned and thus this exercise may prove fruitless in establishing TSM’s origins.
The airmail stickers found in the suitcase were accompanied by 9 envelopes, including squarish shaped envelopes. Cleland speculated that the airmail stickers meant TSM was corresponding with someone at a distance. He reasoned that this would more likely be interstate than Britain. Cleland further suggested that the square shaped envelopes may have been Christmas cards that TSM had recently sent overseas. The November date may have been too early for the cards to be sent interstate hence the overseas sending theory. Alternately, if TSM had known he was going to die soon, the cards may have been sent early for this reason to an interstate destination. A photo of TSM’s belongings shows a letter card: an item akin to a postcard that has two sides for writing on. TSM’s letter card has the Australian coat of arms symbol on it. There was ample letter writing material found within the suitcase and an abundance of pencils and conspicuous lack of pens. All of this communication material points to the fact that TSM wasn’t a completely isolated person and that he had at least some social links with the outside world. Amongst the assortment of TSM’s items, there were some British based items including the cigarettes and matches found on his body.
The Puzzling Mismatched Cigarettes
TSM was quite the avid smoker as illustrated by his nicotine stained hands. There was something unusual about the cigarettes found on TSM. This oddity it that the packet of cigarettes were of the Army Club brand and they contained 7 cigarettes of the Kensitas brand. This was a more expensive brand of cigarette inside the cheaper Army Club brand packet, although only marginally. Kensitas cost around 2s and 10d whilst the Army Club brand were about 2s and 6d. It is difficult to ascertain if this practice of having more expensive cigarettes in a cheaper packet had some clandestine motive. The people in the era of the 1940s found this cigarette packet switching fashionable although the public would normally place the cheaper brand of cigarettes in a more expensive packet; the opposite of what TSM did. Perhaps TSM wanted to appear as working-class or didn’t want to draw too much attention to himself which is something he succeeded in doing until his death. The most innocuous explanation may be that TSM was running low on Army Club brand cigarettes and a passenger on the train or subsequent bus ride sold TSM some of their loose Kensitas brand cigarettes. The switched cigarette conundrum has also spawned theories positing that the poison that ultimately killed TSM was administered through a cigarette.
The Shiny Shoes Conundrum
The shoes TSM was wearing when found deceased had the interesting property of appearing to have been recently polished. Cleland commented that the shoes were unexpectedly clean and weren’t in the condition one would expect someone’s shoes would be in had they spent the day wandering around Glenelg. There was a small amount of sand on the shoe’s toe marks. Leane supported Cleland’s shoe observation and added “They look as though they had been polished that morning, or later.”
One possibility to explain the shiny shoes was that TSM had wanted to impress Jessica and thus polished his shoes before seeing her. Additionally he may have spent the majority of the day in her house. Another more sinister scenario revolves around TSM being killed and fitted with polished shoes or having had his shoes polished after dying. I think the most likely scenario was that TSM hadn’t spent the day on the beach and had only walked a metre or two from the base of the beach steps to his final location. On a still day (like the 30th of November was), there would be little sand or debris landing on the shoes if you were walking in the suburbs of Glenelg for 30 minutes or so total. The tan coloured shoe polish in TSM’s suitcase indicates that it was most likely him who had polished his shoes and that he had done so that morning. The shoes were described as looking “practically new.” Did TSM buy them just for the purpose of visiting Glenelg or did he buy them to replace other shoes he owned that could be traced to his identity? Also, what happened to the implement, most likely a cloth or brush, that TSM used in tandem with the polish to shine his shoes?
Another trait of TSM that may be deduced is that he was a crafty person. He had a homemade sheath in his suitcase and it appeared that he used thread in his suitcase to fix his clothes. Several tools that would potentially fit into the crafty category were also found inside TSM’s suitcase. There was also a stencilling brush in the suitcase with an unidentified black substance on the end of it. This type of brush was commonly used on merchant ships by those in the position of ‘third mate’ for the purpose of stencilling cargo. This nautical occupation hypothesis, appears with the limited evidence to be one of the most plausible theories as to TSM’s job.
An Extra Comb
TSM was found with two combs on his body. Was he overly conscientious about seeing Jessica and hence had two combs? Did he comb his hair in a peculiar manner in which two combs were required? In the modern hipster world, people may carry a specific comb for their beard however TSM was clean-shaven. Did he previously have a beard and was therefore incognito in Glenelg? Another theory is that TSM may have purchased a second comb with the plan of throwing out the first comb as he believed his primary comb could be traced back to his country of origin or identity. TSM may have subsequently forgotten to thrown away the American linked aluminium comb. Alternately, he may have realised post purchase that the aluminium comb couldn’t be traced to him and therefore he kept both combs.
There was also a normal hairpin typically worn by females found in TSM’s suitcase- within the soap dish. Was this an irrelevant item that just found its way into the suitcase as these items sometimes do or did it have some other purpose such as enabling TSM to disguise his hair? Did the hairpin have some toiletries related use hence the location it was found or did TSM keep it in the soap dish to prevent it getting lost amongst his belongings? Did TSM use this item as a tool? Some people use such items to pick locks. Another scenario for why TSM had a hairpin typically worn by females is that he lived with a female. Whether this be a daughter, partner or sister. The item was possibly a remnant of them using the suitcase previously or it may have simply been caught up in an item he packed. TSM may have found it in his suitcase and placed it inside the soap dish with the hopes of returning it.
Coat Hanger Clues
It’s not clear whether the two coat hangers within TSM’s suitcase had clothes attached to them or if they were loose. The existence of loose coat hangers indicates that TSM either stopped somewhere on his journey to Adelaide and thus required a place to hang clothes or that he planned on hanging the clothes once he arrived in Adelaide and didn’t necessarily expect to die and not return to his suitcase. The two coat hangers if loose could have also been originally attached to the clothes he was wearing on the 30th of November indicating that he was keen to be well-presented that day.
A Lack of Labels
A fascinating and further mysterious aspect in TSM case revolves around the clothing and item labels. All of the clothing labels on the clothes TSM had been wearing had been removed as were most of the labels on the clothing within the suitcase and even a label had been removed from the suitcase itself. The labels on many items within the suitcase had also been removed. A newspaper article from 11 days after TSM was found deceased wrote “All name tags had been cut from the clothing. This appeared to have been done recently.” The label removal process seemed to involve clipping or cutting the labels. There appear to be two primary options regarding the label removal motive. The first theory is that TSM may not have wanted to be identified and therefore removed all the labels that he thought could lead back to his identity being unearthed. The second theory involves other people removing the labels so as to obscure TSM’s identity. This second theory can be broken down into two possibilities: either TSM was killed by someone or someone else was helping TSM conceal his identity.
There are several arguments against a person other than TSM removing the labels. If someone had obtained TSM’s luggage receipt and was thus granted access to the suitcase, then why would the person carefully remove the labels and then return the suitcase. It seems like a superfluous step to return the suitcase and an increase in the risk of getting caught as opposed to just throwing the suitcase away. Another argument against someone else removing the labels involves the selectiveness over which labels remained and which labels were removed. Only TSM himself would have known which labels would potentially lead back to his identity and another person would be required to remove all labels. The fact that the “T. Keane”, “Kean” and “Keane” labels remained supports the notion that TSM removed the labels. Only TSM would have known that the Kean/Keane name couldn’t be traced back to him. Another person may have thought that this was a friend of TSM or some relative and thus would be required to remove these name labels. Incidentally, the “Kean” writing on TSM’s singlet may have originally been a “Keane.” Within the inquest is was speculated that the “e” was washed or rubbed out from the singlet.
The clothes in the suitcase were neatly packed and nicely ironed: If someone else had gone through the case, then rummaging through the clothes and removing the tags may have creased the clothes: you likely wouldn’t iron them again. The number of items in the suitcase seemed perfectly packed together; like a game of Tetris yet certain items were missing; were these never packed or thrown out at a later date? If they were thrown out at some later stage, these items might not have fit into the suitcase.
A further question involves whether TSM always travelled with clothes that had the labels removed or whether he had just done this process for the Somerton beach journey? The fact that all of the clothes he was found in had their labels removed while only some of the clothes in the suitcase had their labels removed indicates that the label removal process was just for this journey. Having said this, the person that removed the labels would have somewhat expected the suitcase to be found or the label removal process would have been pointless. The newspaper article indicating that the labels had likely only recently been removed is difficult to dissect. Was there a lack of fraying on the labels; something that time might cause?
Another question is why would TSM check the suitcase in to the Cloak Room as opposed to throwing it away if he was so concerned about his identity being uncovered? Perhaps TSM may have planned on committing suicide however wasn’t 100% certain on this process. If he didn’t end up committing suicide, then he would have the suitcase and items he could collect again. Alternately, if he did commit suicide, he could ensure that his identity would remain unknown.
TSM’s suitcase had enough materials contained within it for a person to survive for approximately one week. Did this mean he had planned on returning back to his home or did it take several days of travelling for TSM to arrive in Adelaide? Having five ties alone indicates that it was unlikely that TSM caught a train straight from Melbourne to Adelaide and planned on abandoning his suitcase as soon as he arrived in Adelaide. The unlocked nature of the suitcase raises further questions. Did TSM not worry about locking the case as he knew he would not return to it? Was TSM in a rush and running late so felt like he didn’t have time to lock it? Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the era being one of more trusting times and consequentially locks were rarely used. Despite its fairly new façade, the suitcase had the remnants of a sticker on it, like one that airports now stick on bags however this sticker had been peeled off. Did this indicate that TSM had recently come from overseas? Did the newish nature of the suitcase indicate that it was bought primarily for the Adelaide journey, perhaps because it was untraceable? The sticker that had been peeled may have been one of those irksome new product brand stickers that require peeling off.
Similarly to the Tamam Shud paper and The Rubaiyat, the suitcase was another item that could have easily went undiscovered by authorities. This ambiguity over whether the suitcase was intended to be found potentially clouds any deductions. TSM could have easily been found with his travel suitcase next to his body, with it 100% certain that authorities would find it. Alternately, the suitcase could have simply been thrown away, with the certainty that no-one would go through it. Removing the labels off of something that may or may not be found seems like a game of chance.
The label removal notion has similar elements to another unidentified person mystery; that of the 1970 case of the Isdal woman. In short, a woman was found dead in Isdal Valley, Norway, her body burnt, bruised and having consumed over 50 sleeping pills. Two of the Isdal woman’s suitcases had been found at a railway station and all identifying labels had been removed. In the Isdal woman case, the evidence strongly points to her being a spy partly due to the number of different identities she assumed. An excellent podcast called ‘Death In Ice Valley’ attempts to identify the Isdal woman and solve the case. TSM case does have parallels to the Isdal woman and the label removal could have been due to TSM’s job as a spy or other secretive profession. Another possibility is that Kean/Keane may have been a false identity of TSM akin to the Isdal woman although this theory seems less likely as surely even the authorities finding even a false identity would provide them with some information to trace the true person.
An Absence of Items
The lack of certain items on TSM’s deceased body or in the suitcase raises many questions. In these locations there was no: identification, hat, wallet, pens or medication. There was also no money on the body of TSM and only 6d in a trousers pocket in his suitcase. TSM had a pair of dark coloured socks on his feet when he was found but strangely there were no socks found in his suitcase. The lack of identification on TSM comes as no real surprise considering the efforts he or others went to in order to hide his identity, by removing clothing tags and the fact that no-one came forth to identify him. TSM wasn’t wearing a hat when he was found on Somerton Beach which seemed slightly out-of-place for the era and strange considering how well-dressed he otherwise was. Indeed, witness John Lyons even noted the lack of the hat on the man in the evening saying, “I was on the sea side of the man. I do not think he was wearing a hat.” It is possible TSM’s hat blew off his head while lying on the beach yet this seems unlikely due to the serene weather conditions. It’s also plausible that he took his hat off while visiting Jessica and accidentally left it at her house. Another theory is that TSM’s hat was lost if he was bending over and vomiting e.g. on The Esplanade. Every aspect of TSM points towards him trying to fit in and not wearing a hat counters this desire. Alternately, every aspect of the case points towards TSM’s identity being concealed and perhaps this is the true reason for his missing hat.
TSM not having pens is another oddity, yet he had up to 6 pencils. The fact that he had plentiful letter writing material and several forms of paper indicates to me that he perhaps had pens and disposed of them. Receiving letters written in pencil is atypical. Some people have their initials on pens so this may have been a reason for disposing of them. Perhaps having an abundance of pencils and dearth of pens is a combination that a spy might possess. The code written in what may have been pencil matches this item being in his possession. This might point to the code having been written whilst on the train to Adelaide. No pencil was found on TSM’s body hence unless it was later disposed of, it seems unlikely that he wrote the code on his bus journey to Glenelg.
The state of TSM’s spleen being 3 times enlarged suggests some underlying illness. Did he regularly take medication? Had TSM given up on treatment or was the absence of medication found in accordance with the ‘not being identifiable’ mantra. There was no dental plate found in TSM’s mouth despite missing 18 teeth. It’s possible that he never had a dental plate, it was removed due to potentially helping identify him or TSM could have vomited and therefore it had fallen out. The glass saucer found within the suitcase may have been a resting place for the dental plate whilst he travelled.
TSM not having any money at all on his body despite not necessarily knowing if he needed to buy something or travel somewhere else is intriguing. It seems unlikely that TSM calculated to the exact cent how much money he would need on the 30th of November and bought transportation tickets and food/drink for the day precisely. The unused Henley Beach train ticket backs up this notion. If TSM was planning on returning to his suitcase, then why only the 6d in there which as it was placed in a trousers pocket seems almost incidental or forgotten about. Although a possible answer to this is that TSM may have thought that leaving large amounts of money in the suitcase was too risky as someone might take it. Most of the items within the suitcase were not expensive or cheap for their specific type. This may provide some insight into TSM’s wealth; a potentially average financial situation.
If the rumours of a bank’s phone number in The Rubaiyat are to be believed then TSM may have taken out his entire wealth and deposited it with Jessica purposefully. Alternately, Jessica may have stolen the wallet although with her unimposing physique, especially in comparison with TSM, she may have required assistance with this task. If TSM had committed suicide, perhaps not having any money on his body would be expected if he wanted to remain unidentified and the money couldn’t be channelled to anyone. Any funds found would be superfluous and wasted; he may have already deposited the money with who he wished inherited it. Another scenario that has been proposed is that TSM’s wallet and money was stolen while he was on the beach. I think this would be unlikely as people wouldn’t necessarily have realised TSM was dead and someone feeling around in his pockets would be risking that he wouldn’t just wake up and they would be caught. How often has someone stolen a wallet from the pocket of someone lying down at the beach? In my opinion this would be a rare occurrence, especially in Adelaide in the 1940s. If the person lying down on a beach resembles a drunk person, people tend to stay away.
A Scarcity of Socks
When TSM was found, he was wearing a pair of socks, with one sock repaired at the heel. It is strange that there were no socks found in his suitcase. Based on the number of other items in the suitcase, it would be expected that 4 or 5 pairs of socks would be found. Did his socks have his initials on them or other traceable features? If so, then was the pair of socks he was wearing the only untraceable pair? Did the sock he wore have some sort of identification mark removed at the heel hence the repair job?
Did the authorities somehow lose the socks in TSM suitcase as they seem like a rather arbitrary and unimportant part of the suitcase, at least on the surface? Most of the other items surrounding TSM suggest he cared about his appearance and hygiene somewhat so it seems odd that he would wear the same pair of socks for his entire trip. Another possibility is that TSM removed the labels of his clothes and placed them in his socks so he could throw them away a bit more discreetly. A scenario that I tend to favour is that TSM kept his money hidden in his socks or travelled on the bus to Glenelg with money in his socks which in turn were in his jacket. Another possibility is that TSM was planning to withdraw money from the bank (there were rumours of a local bank’s phone number in the rear of The Rubaiyat) and he used his socks to transport this money. A general explanation for many of the items that weren’t found on TSM is that they may have led to identifying him
Part 4- Jessica Thomson
“Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?” – Haruki Murakami
Whilst TSM had no determinable name, the person whose phone number was scribed into the back of The Rubaiyat has several pseudonyms. Born as Jessie Ellen Harkness in 1921, she also at times went by, Jess, Jessie, Jessica, Jestyn and Jo. Jessica changed her surname in the early part of 1947 from Harkness to Thomson; this was the surname of the man she would later marry- Prosper.
In 1912, Prosper (George) McTaggart Thomson was born in the central region of Queensland and 9 years later in 1921, Jessica was born in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville. Both Prosper and Jessica would move to the Melbourne beachside suburb of Mentone and they spent a chunk of their youth here. It was during this time that Prosper and Jessica first met. Jessica then went on to work as an orderly in a Victorian hospital. At a subsequent stage, Jessica moved back to Sydney and became a nursing student and worked at the Royal North Shore Hospital during WW2. In August of 1945, Jessica would give Alf Boxall a copy of The Rubaiyat at the Clifton Gardens Hotel in Sydney before he went overseas on active service.
Jessica became pregnant around October, 1946. She never took her final nursing exam with the reason for missing it listed as ‘vomiting.’ In this era, nurses had to depart the nursing quarters if they were pregnant. After becoming pregnant but before the end of 1946, Jessica moved to the Melbourne suburb of Mentone; her childhood home and the same suburb that Prosper lived in. Whilst living in Mentone, Prosper was in charge of the taxi ranks. He was well known in the suburb as someone that could acquire anything you wanted. This had somewhat carried over from the WWII years in which he dealt on the black market. Prosper’s taxi rank job also meant that he travelled significantly and could pick items up. Jessica provisionally lived with her parents whilst in Mentone. Jessica and Prosper again crossed paths in Mentone when it is alleged that Jessica was about to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff. Prosper was serendipitously passing by and managed to save Jessica’s life. After only a brief period in Mentone, Jessica moved with Proper to Adelaide, in the early part of 1947. In Adelaide, Prosper’s occupation was primarily a car salesman.
In Adelaide, Jessica and Proper seemed to feign being a married couple and it was at this time Jessica adopted Prosper’s surname of Thomson. This was despite Prosper still technically being married to someone else. Jessica and Prosper lived on Moseley Street, Glenelg. In July of 1947, Jessica gave birth to Robin McMahon Thomson. As Jessica had changed her surname to Thomson earlier in the year, she managed to evade putting Harkness on the birth certificate. The birth certificate listed Prosper as the father of Robin despite both Jessica and Prosper being well aware that he wasn’t. Almost a year and half after Robin was born, TSM was found deceased on Somerton Beach and Jessica’s phone number was listed in the back of The Rubaiyat- a book whose final words “Tamam Shud” were found rolled up in TSM’s fob pocket.
Prosper allegedly saw other women post 1948. He also had a house in Adelaide, separate to the Somerton Park location. It’s not clear where Prosper was living at the time TSM’s body was found. It has been alleged that Jessica and Proper weren’t physically intimate and indeed they lived very different lives. Proper’s raison d’être was second-hand cars and Jessica had more intellectual pursuits and preferred likeminded people. Prosper went through the procedure of getting a divorce from his first wife in 1949 and this was completed by the start of 1950. During May of 1950, Jessica and Prosper were officially married. Jessica and Proper would later have a child together named Kate. In the early 1950s, Prosper and Jessica would move to the nearby Partridge Street, Glenelg. During 1957, Jessica wrote a letter containing the words “but how to make life interesting when one has two demanding children who have to be fed and clothed?”
During the latter part of the 1960s, Jessica worked at St. Corantyn which was a mental health services hospital. She continued working here until the second half of the 1970s, at which time she retired. Prosper passed away in 1995 and Jessica died in 2007. In 2009, Jessica’s son, Robin died.
TSM and Robin’s Similar Ears and Teeth
In 2009/2010, Somerton Man researcher Professor Derek Abbott presented a theory that Robin was the son of TSM. The background and rationale for this theory will be discussed. After examining photos of TSM, Abbott consulted Maciej Henneberg, a professor of anatomy. He indicated that TSM had a unique ear feature; his upper ear hollow (cymba) was larger than his lower ear hollow (cavum). This characteristic is possessed by 1-2% of Caucasians. Photographic evidence of Jessica’s son, Robin, also shows that he had this rare trait of having a larger cymba than cavum. TSM and Robin also seem to share a similar pointed helix of the ear.
Professor Abbott also discussed TSM’s teeth with dentistry experts. It was determined that TSM was missing both of his upper lateral incisors (the teeth on either side of the two upper central teeth). It is thought that TSM had his canine teeth directly next to his front middle teeth, as opposed to a gap due to lacking the upper lateral incisors. It is posited that TSM didn’t only lack upper lateral incisors but he likely had a rare genetic disorder in which these teeth never grew. Incidentally, actor Tom Cruise lacks an upper lateral incisor. This trait of developmentally missing teeth is an inherited genetic condition known as hypodontia. Upon examining a photograph of Robin, it was confirmed that he too had hypodontia and was born without the exact same two teeth: the upper lateral incisors. Having hypodontia is a rare condition in itself but picking two people at random that are born without the exact two teeth is an extreme rarity.
There is no photograph of TSM’s teeth hence Abbott’s determination of TSM’s hypodontia is based on two primary factors. Dr. Dwyer said of TSM’s teeth “…there were more of the central teeth remaining. Those remaining were the central teeth of each jaw. Anyone looking at him in the ordinary way, if he were to laugh, would notice the teeth missing. If he were speaking, the missing teeth were not noticeable.” The tooth chart that was produced noted the lack of TSM’s upper lateral incisors. It is possible that TSM had gaps where these teeth were meant to be however Abbott has combined the tooth chart information with the Dwyer comment about people not noticing the missing teeth of TSM when he was speaking to make his determination of hypodontia.
Professor Abbott has estimated that the odds of TSM and Robin independently having a larger cymba than cavum and having the precise nature of hypodontia is somewhere between one in ten million and one in twenty million. This Sherlockesque development has major implications for TSM case. The genetic evidence suggests that TSM and Jessica had a child together- Robin.
There has been some criticism levelled at Abbott’s theory that TSM fathered Robin. Amongst those bloggers who regularly post about TSM, there is little acceptance of the theory. Practically speaking, there are some potentially minor holes in TSM-Robin connection logic. Dr Dwyer who analysed TSM’s teeth said “If he were speaking, the missing teeth were not noticeable.” This statement is ambiguous. When speaking, the front upper central incisors (the upper middle two teeth) are commonly seen and depending on the person, sometimes the upper lateral incisors. The main teeth seen when speaking are the bottom row of teeth. Dr. Dwyer’s statement doesn’t specifically clarify what he considered the normal number of upper visible teeth when speaking. It’s possible that TSM had gaps where his upper lateral incisors belonged as opposed to his upper canine’s filling in this space. Dwyer’s statement lacks detailed certainty.
Another potential criticism that can be levelled at TSM-Robin physiological similarities theory involves the ears. The photos below first appeared in 2009 and are purported to be of
A. Jessica’s daughter’s child. The daughter was born after TSM period and hence TSM cannot be related.
B. Prosper Thomson
C. Thomas Harkness (Jessica’s brother)
When these photos are compared to the ear images of TSM and Robin, as a layperson, it’s not necessarily clear which photos match up more closely to Robins. The photo of Jessica’s brother’s ear seems to show a larger cymba than cavum- the same rare feature that TSM and Robin possess. It’s plausible that this inherited feature of Robin’s came from Jessica’s side. Despite these minor criticisms, it seems fairly likely that Robin shared these unique traits with TSM.
Further Evidence Supporting TSM Being Robin’s Father
Although the precise number is contentious, a study found that around 4% of males may be raising a child they think belongs to them yet has a different father. This scenario isn’t rare although the speculation is that in Prosper’s case he knew Robin wasn’t his. There are some additional pieces of evidence that support the Jessica-TSM having a child together hypothesis. Based on the timing of Jessica dropping out of her nursing school exams and returning to live with her parents in Mentone, it seems that she fell pregnant whilst in Sydney. This information is doubly valuable as it potentially places TSM in a location at a specific time: around October of 1946 in Sydney. The fact that Jessica tried to change her name to Thomson and convince the outside world that Prosper was Robin’s father compounds TSM father theory. It seems that Jessica didn’t want others to believe that firstly she had a child out of wedlock and secondly that someone other than Prosper was the father. In the years following Robin being raised, Jessica confided in a friend that it was good of Prosper to raise Robin as if he was his own child. The possibility also arises that TSM was paying child support for Robin and this may somehow be linked to the bank phone number in The Rubaiyat.
The Ballet Connection
Another potential insight into TSM’s life involves his calf muscles. The pathologist John Cleland described TSM as having high calf muscles that were also pronounced. He also noted a slight wedge shaped nature to his toes. Cleland continued on to speculate that TSM may have been a ballet dancer who wore shoes that pointed the toes and that his unique calf muscles were caused by ballet dancing. Cleland also hypothesised that TSM could have been a distance runner. Calf muscles can become pronounced thanks to repetitively raising and lowering your toes such as calf raises. This process is a key feature of ballet dancing. The estimated age range of TSM was between 40 and 45 and this would typically be around a decade too old to be an active, professional ballet dancer. If TSM was indeed a ballet dancer, he may have maintained his calf muscles and overall fit body by having good genetics, practising his ballet dancing or he could have even been a dance teacher who demonstrated to others how to dance.
Taxidermist Paul Lawson noted TSM’s feet were rather “striking features.” He elaborated on this and suggested that perhaps he had worn high-heeled or pointed shoes. TSM’s high calf muscles also led to Lawson’s judgement. Lawson also described TSM as having “wedge shaped” toes. Although TSM didn’t have bunions on his feet, his big toes were leaning in slightly. Lawson’s appraisal of TSM’s feet and calves supports the notion that TSM may have been a ballet dancer. This hypothesis may account for his feet, calves and fitness. Another physical observation of TSM was his lack of calluses on his hands or feet, indicating that he wasn’t a labourer. Also, his hands were described as “enormous” despite his 5 foot 11 inch height and smallish sized 8 feet.
When Robin was still young, Jessica one day, seemingly arbitrarily took Robin to ballet lessons. This was doubly unusual as male dancers in the era were a rare commodity. Robin would flourish in the ballet dancing scene and his career trajectory would result in him becoming a professional ballet dancer with the Australian Ballet. If TSM was indeed the father of Robin, the out of the blue ballet lessons that Jessica took Robin to as a child may have an explanation. Other explanations for Jessica taking Robin to ballet lessons and Robin flourishing are difficult to conjure. Perhaps as Jessica had an abundance of more high-brow interest such as the theatre and poetry, she had always wished for her child to be a dancer. Although this theory on the surface seems less plausible than TSM being a dancer and fathering Robin.
The McMahon Clue
Robin was given the middle name of ‘McMahon’ which may provide some insight into TSM. When Robin was given his middle name, TSM was well and truly alive and thus perhaps Jessica was less wary of revealing TSM’s identity and therefore provided a subtle nod to Robin’s actual father in this naming process. The given name ‘McMahon’ is so rare that according to historical naming websites it is unheard of. As a surname, it is also rare and has Irish ancestry roots. There was an Australia Prime Minister called Sir William McMahon although he became P.M. in the 1970s and was only elected to parliament in 1949, a few years after the birth of Robin. There is an affluent Sydney suburb called McMahons Point that is located only several kilometres from where Jessica resided whilst in Sydney. It’s adjacent to the Sydney Opera House and provides sweeping harbourside views. McMahons Point is just across the Sydney Harbour Bridge from Kent Street, which is what TSM’s razor strop was labelled. The possibility is raised that TSM lived in McMahon’s Point, met Jessica here or that Robin was conceived here. An alternate scenario is that the name McMahon is someone linked to Prosper’s middle name of McTaggart- both names have the rare ‘Mc’ prefix. Below is a map detailing the location of McMahons Point in relation to Kent Street, Sydney.
The Beaumont Children Link
Jessica’s brother, Thomas Lawson Harkness Junior married Clarice Victoria whose mother was Evelyn Beaumont. Evelyn was first cousins with Grant Beaumont- the father of the Beaumont children. The family tree linking the families can be viewed here. I have written more extensively about the disappearance of the three Beaumont children (Grant’s children) here. This disappearance occurred in 1966 at Glenelg Beach and the three children have never been seen since; the case remains unsolved to this day. On the day the Beaumont children vanished at Glenelg, they got off the bus on Moseley Street; the same street that Jessica had lived on. The Beaumont children lived only 1 kilometre from where Jessica had lived. Prosper was a taxi driver at the same time that Grant (the Beaumont children’s father) and Maxwell (the Beaumont children’s uncle) were also taxi drivers in the Glenelg region. It is unclear whether the Thomson’s knew Grant and his children. Although Jessica and Prosper had no substantial links other than some tenuous connections to the Beaumont disappearance, it is a coincidence that the two most lingering South Australian and perhaps Australian mysteries have this familial connection, taxi driver similarity and added link to Glenelg.
As the evidence seems to suggest that Robin was the son of TSM, researchers have attempted to trace Robin’s DNA with the hope that it may show some insights into the heritage of TSM. When researchers attempted this task, Robin was already deceased hence they had to use a new technique. In essence, the DNA of Robin’s partner, Roma Egan, was subtracted from the DNA of another relative of Robin’s. The autosomal DNA results indicated that Robin’s father’s DNA line had ancestral links to the U.S.A. The data indicated that a small amount of the DNA that Robin gained from his father contained American Indian heritage. The results also found that Robin was a direct relative of someone called Isham Randolph- The grandfather of former President of the U.S.A. Thomas Jefferson. Forty of the closest individual people genetically matched to Robin had origins in the U.S.A. state of Virginia, on the east coast of the country. In totality, this evidence further supports the notion that TSM, if he was the father of Robin, may have come from America or at the least, had a glut of relatives who lived in America.
When the authorities were handed The Rubaiyat from chemist John Freeman, they detected a phone number in small writing in the rear of the book. This number was that of Jessica who lived an 800 metre walk from where TSM was found and naturally, the police questioned her. It has been discussed in Part 2 of this article- ‘The Rubaiyat Connection’ the conversation the authorities had with Jessica about the poetry book and the link to Alf Boxall. The police also asked more probing questions such as why TSM had her phone number in his book (assuming it belonged to him) however she responded that she was clueless as to why.
There is a curious maelstrom of truth and lies in what Jessica disclosed to police. She did voluntarily tell of the copy of The Rubaiyat that she had given Alf Boxall several years prior when she could have feigned not knowing anything about the book. In all likelihood, she volunteered this information to police as it was a red-herring; information that portrayed her as truth-telling yet she knew it was irrelevant. Jessica also told police that an unknown man had tried knocking on her door in 1948 (she was being interviewed in 1949). She elaborated on this stating that the man had spoken to someone in the flats next door to her house and asked about a nurse living in Jessica’s house. The man had said that he had once known her. Jessica didn’t relay the month of this event to investigators but thought it occurred in the latter part of 1948. As TSM arrived in Glenelg on the 30th of November 1948, was Jessica not home when he knocked on her door?
Jessica’s rationale for divulging the information pertaining to the mysterious man asking about her is curious. Perhaps Jessica was concerned that police would question her neighbours and she knew that the neighbour who spoke to the man asking about her would divulge this information to authorities, thus she told them. On the other hand, Jessica may have known that it wasn’t TSM who knocked on her door and spoke to her neighbour therefore she could tell the police this information. The specific part of the story that Jessica relayed to police about a man asking for a “nurse” relates to her time in Sydney in which she was a nursing student and she may have told people around her that she was a nurse, or would be as soon as she completed her exams. This fits in with the timeline of when she may have become pregnant with TSM’s child.
There were several instances in her conversation with police that Jessica lied. She told police that she didn’t know TSM, which based on all of the evidence appears to be a lie. Many years after TSM situation, Kate- the daughter of Jessica, said that Jessica told her that she did in fact lie to the police. Kate recalled Jessica saying “It is a mystery that was only known to a level higher than the police force.” Kate has spoken additionally of what Jessica had told her, “She said to me she knew who he was but she wasn’t going to let that out of the bag so to speak. There’s always that fear that I’ve thought that maybe she was responsible for his death.” Jessica also informed police that she was currently married despite this not being true. The authorities found her to be generally evasive. Jessica convinced the police not to release her name publically in relation to the case and this likely impeded progress in the investigation.
A technician, Paul Lawson, made a plaster cast bust of TSM. Detective Sergeant Leane showed Jessica the bust, in the hopes that Jessica may recognise the man whilst Lawson was also present for this showing. A cloak lay draped over the bust before a crescendo building removal of the cloak. When the bust was visible Jessica glanced at it briefly before diverting her eyes. For the remainder of the duration of the interview Jessica’s eyes stared transfixed onto the floor; her eyes avoiding the general proximity of the bust. Lawson described Jessica’s body as swaying and he worried that she may faint. In Lawson’s opinion, she was aware of TSM’s identity.
Assuming that Jessica knew of TSM’s identity, then why did she lie to police? TSM may have specifically asked her that he not be identified and she may have merely been following his orders. If TSM was the father of Robin, Jessica may have wanted to maintain this lie that Prosper was the father and identifying TSM may have shattered this possibility. If Jessica had no part in his death, then she may have worried that she would be falsely implicated in killing him if she admitting knowing his identity. A more cynical scenario is that Jessica was involved in the death of TSM in some way, whether he had asked her to be or not thus in the hope of avoiding being caught, she may have lied to police.
The Alf Boxall Connection
Jessica was 27 years old when TSM was found deceased. The two confirmed people that Jessica had some form of relationship with were Prosper and Alf Boxall. Prosper was 9 years older than Jessica and Alf Boxall was 15 years older. If Jessica had an interest in older men, then TSM being an estimated 18 years older than Jessica is consistent with this. When Jessica met Alf Boxall, she was aware that he was married and that he was the father to two children; his second, Lesley, had recently been born. This seemed to be an affair of sorts. Jessica signed the copy of the Rubaiyat that she gave Boxall ‘JEstyn.’ There is much rampant speculation regarding the precise meaning of this name. Was it a nickname, a personal joke between Alf and Jessica or a poorly written lower case ‘e’ that has been corrected to a capital ‘E’? Perhaps a pseudonym was used as it provided an alias on a book that Boxall’s wife might discover. Another more farfetched scenario is that The Rubaiyat was signed ‘J E Styn’ with the ‘J’ denoting Jessica, the ‘E’ referencing her middle name: Ellen and the Styn being her surname. Was Jessica married or in a relationship with someone called Styn? When Boxall indicated to Jessica that he was married, Jessica may have been in a relationship and told Boxall she was married thus she referred to herself as ‘Styn.’
There were many curiosities within the person that was Jessica. Some which may in a vicarious way relate to TSM and his death, while others may be purely incidental. Jessica had a pro-euthanasia viewpoint which provides us with a glimpse into her progressive leanings, especially so for the era. She also had a keen interest in pharmacology which may have stemmed from her years as a nursing student. These aspects of Jessica raise the possibility that she helped TSM by euthanizing him or at least aiding in his suicide. Her pharmacological interest can also be viewed in a darker light, considering TSM’s befuddling death.
Kate has suggested that her mother was able to speak Russian, something that Jessica had kept hidden from her children in their younger years. Jessica had mentioned that she had taught English to a small number of Russian migrants and casually said “I’m surprised that I can still quite understand Russian.” Jessica didn’t elaborate to Kate as to why, where and when she learnt Russian.
Jessica also had a lifelong endeavour to master the French language but failed to grasp its intricacies. A friend of Jessica’s commented that Jessica lacked the self-discipline to learn Russian and treated her supposed acquisition of this language as dubious. Jessica also spent a period of her life teaching English to immigrants that had come to Australia. She also had a keen fascination with communism. Some of these insights into Jessica’s life have caused people to speculate that she was caught up in a spy landscape. Indeed, Kate has raised the possibility that her mother was a Soviet Union spy and that she was in some way involved in the murder of TSM who could have been a Russian agent. Kate has elaborated on her mother by stating that she had a “very strong dark side.”
Jessica’s favourite novel was E. M. Forster’s Howards End. Later adapted into a miniseries and movie. Although the plot is somewhat winding with various themes popping up, a key characteristic of the book involves Helen who gets pregnant to Leonard without being married to him. A family member, Charles Wilcox tries to scare Leonard by hitting him with the flattened part of a sword however through the means of an accident, a bookcase falls on Leonard and he suffers a heart attack and dies. When did Howards End become Jessica’s favourite novel? If it was pre 1948 then any potential parallels between the book and TSM case is likely spurious. If Jessica became interested in Howards End post 1948, then perhaps she could relate somewhat to accidentally killing a man who had made her pregnant. Alternately, Howards End could have been her fantasy and preferred version of events regarding TSM’s death.
Part 5- Miscellaneous
“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” – Azar Nafisi
There are many facets to TSM case. This section will detail information that doesn’t neatly fit into one of the previous 4 parts.
Arriving By Train
What did TSM supposedly do on the 30th of November? Whilst no definitive actions can be ascertained, there is circumstantial evidence of differing degrees suggesting how his day may have panned out. TSM is thought to have arrived by train during the morning of the 30th of November. The most commonly suggested places he arrived from are Sydney (via Broken Hill) and Melbourne. The trains arriving at Adelaide Railways Station on the morning in question came from: Bowmans, Robertstown, Willunga, Angaston, Melbourne, Broken Hill, Mount Pleasant and the South East. Other than Melbourne and Broken Hill, the remainder of these locations are small rural towns or areas in South Australia. It was a straight railway route from Sydney to Adelaide via Broken Hill.
The Unused Henley Beach Ticket
On TSM’s body was a one-way train ticket to Henley Beach. This is a beachside suburb of Adelaide about 10km west of the CBD. It is about 8km north of Glenelg. The Henley Beach train ticket was not validated and hence was not used. The ticket was for a train departing Adelaide Railway Station. Trains departed for Henley Beach at 10:50 AM and 11:51 AM of the morning in question. TSM had a one-way ticket that cost 7 pence whilst a return ticket that he chose not to purchase would have cost him 12 pence.
Another bamboozling question in TSM case is why didn’t he catch the Henley Beach train if he had bought a ticket for it? It may be that TSM was unfamiliar with the area and asked for a ticket to the beach. There was a Jetty Street in Grange (the suburb adjacent to Henley Beach) in 1948. This historical street directory of Adelaide for the year 1936 shows train stop number 8 is on (or next to) Jetty Street at Grange. The same train line then travels south and comes to a halt at Henley Beach. Did TSM confuse Jetty Road Glenelg and Jetty Street Grange hence he bought the wrong and unused ticket?
Train stop number 9 at Henley Beach, the penultimate stop on the line is next to Marlborough Street. There is some linkage albeit slightly tenuous between Prosper Thomson and Marlborough Street at Henley Beach. Propser placed ads in the newspaper frequently often using the address of 200 Hindley Street, located in the CBD of Adelaide. This Hindley Street address also featured an evening phone number in this 1948 ad. This phone number was located at Marlborough Street Henley Beach. The most likely scenario is that one of many workers at the Hindley Street address lived at Henley Beach and it probably didn’t have any relation to TSM but it does create a tenuous linkage between Proper and Henley Beach.
There was a more substantial link between Prosper and Henley Beach. A spate of ads were placed in the newspaper in 1947 by Prosper. His address listed in these ads was 7 Main Street, Henley Beach. This house was just metres from the last train stop on the Henley Beach line.
According to Gerry Feltus in his book ‘The Unknown Man’, in 1948 there were unconfirmed reports of maps in the Adelaide Railway Station showing a proposed extended train line from Henley Beach to Glenelg. If this information is true, then TSM may have naively bought the Henley Beach train ticket thinking that the train travelled past this stop to Glenelg. Another plausible scenario explaining the unused Henley Beach train ticket is the possibility that TSM was worried about being followed so he may have tried to throw someone off the scent. This process may have been for the ends of attempting to ascertain if anyone else bought both a Henley Beach train ticket and a Glenelg bus ticket to gauge if he was being followed. It seems most likely that some event occurred shortly after purchasing the Henley Beach ticket that made him not use it. Was this a phone call, a planned meet up at Henley Beach that was changed or simply a local correcting his mistaken Adelaide geographic nous?
Following the purchase of the forever unused train ticket to Henley Beach, it has been speculated that TSM used the City Baths, outside the Adelaide Railway Station. There were no areas in the railway station itself for people to shower or shave. The cleanliness and lack of bearded stubble on TSM suggests that he may have shaved on the 30th of November. This location may also have been where TSM polished his shoes.
The Cloak Room
After possibly using the City Baths, TSM checked his suitcase into the Cloak Room of the Adelaide Railway Station. The top part of the Cloak Room ticket was attached to the stored suitcase whilst the remainder of the ticket would be given to TSM. When TSM’s body was found there was no trace of this bottom portion of the ticket. The suitcase was checked in between 11 AM and midday although based on the bus TSM likely caught, he would have had deposited his suitcase between 11 AM and 11:15 AM.
The motive for TSM checking his suitcase into the Cloak Room may be for the purposes of later picking it up, like most people. Alternately, TSM may have left the suitcase in the railway station precinct in order to give authorities the impression he had come by train on a certain date. Depositing the suitcase in a Cloak Room does seem slightly odd if you have just arrived by train and you haven’t arranged accommodation. When people travel away from their homes, they typically organise where they are staying and deposit luggage here as a first duty. Does this suggest that TSM planned to die or did he know he didn’t require accommodation for the night? Just prior to the evening when he was most likely seen lying on the beach, he would presumably have started to get tired from his possible overnight train journey and would have thought about where he was going to stay at night. Lying down on the beach voluntarily seems strange considering the journey back to the city and accommodation that required organising. Does this suggest he planned to die or was killed?
A Bus Journey
A bus ticket found on TSM’s body is an indication of his mode of transport to the Glenelg vicinity. The ticket was purchased most likely in the area of the Adelaide Railway Station on North Terrace. Theoretically the 7d tickets could have been purchased between North Terrace and the West Terrace/South Terrace intersection. The bus left outside the Adelaide Railway Station at 11:15 AM and was the first bus post 10:50 AM to travel to the St. Leonards area (present day Glenelg North). Coincidentally, the suburb that TSM likely disembarked the bus- St Leonards, Adelaide was the same suburb name as the location that Jessica worked in at the Royal North Shore Hospital- St Leonards, Sydney. A total of 40 passengers caught TSM’s bus for at least some stretch of the journey. The bus would reach the closest point to Jetty Road at the ANZAC Highway- Osmond Street (now Old Tapleys Hill Road) intersection then travel slightly north before its terminus (see the map). It’s not known what stop TSM departed the bus.
Why the Lack of Identification?
Why has TSM’s identity remained a mystery for some 70 years? There seem to be several aspects conspiring together to deprive us of his true identity. Firstly, he or someone else actively went out of their way to remove his ID, many clothing labels and other identifiers. This has made the task of identification challenging from the outset. Couple this factor with his likely non-South Australian heritage and abode and we have an outsider that will likely be unbeknownst to those most exposed to the case; Adelaideans. TSM photograph that has become iconic with the case was dispersed but hardly made its way across waters to the international arena. If the front page of the NY Times and other major publications featured the photo in 1948/1949 then I suspect TSM would have been identified.
Another factor that may have led to the lack of identification is the nature of autopsy photographs. Professor Derek Abbott points out that the autopsy photographs of J.F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe make them unrecognisable due to changes to the body after death. The photograph of TSM was taken one day after his autopsy. As we don’t know what he really looked like, we can’t categorically determine how much semblance he had in the flesh to his autopsy photo. It’s conceivable that someone that knew TSM has seen his photo and not recognised him. The era TSM was found in- post WWII when people were unsure of their friends and relative location due to the recent war is another factor conspiring against determining TSM’s identity.
The Two Blades of Grass
There are several further odd pieces of evidence within TSM case that haven’t been mentioned yet. A single blade of barley grass was found on one of the socks TSM was wearing as he lay deceased on the beach. There was another single blade of barley grass discovered within his suitcase. This second blade was specifically situated on the lower section of a trouser leg. It seems most likely that both of these single blades were picked up by TSM at the same time. Did he take his shoes off and walk around in the grass at some time prior to arriving in Adelaide? Is this suggestive of a stopover on some point of TSM’s pilgrimage to Somerton beach? Perhaps the train he caught stopped off somewhere?
Barley grass is found extensively across Australia and the blades couldn’t be pinpointed to an exact origin point. It would seem strange to pack clothes that had grass on them and weren’t properly washed. Also, if TSM had picked up this grass on the way to Adelaide that hints at him wearing the same socks as the day he wore the trousers that caught the barley grass blade. This potentially points at him traveling with only one pair of socks.
A Strange Stain
Another slight curiosity is the stain on the pair of trousers TSM was wearing. It was determined that the stain wasn’t vomit however its cause and composition remains unknown. The stain could have been caused by the poison being spilt, a bodily fluid other than vomit or something innocuous that may have spilt such as food. The stain seems out of place considering how neatly dressed and groomed TSM presented as. It would seem strange to obsessively polish your shoes if there was a stain on your pants. This suggests that the stain may have been picked up after TSM left the railway station.
The body of TSM was found with abrasions in two of his right knuckle hollows and another further down the back of his right hand. The abrasions seemed to look relatively recent. There are some small clues pointing at TSM being right handed. Did he engage in a fist fight or was there another more mundane reason for his abrasions? Knuckle abrasions tend to occur on the knuckles, not in their hollows which is an added curiosity. Did TSM have a job that caused the uniquely positioned abrasions?
A Clue in The Newspaper Advertisements
An ad was placed in the local newspaper by the Thomson’s, 3 days before TSM was thought to be in Glenelg. The November 27th 1948 ad reads: “Wanted bungalow, pay cash to L1,500. Can give tenancy maisonette, all mod convs, rent 22 6. Glenelg. Phone Thomson X3239.” The background to this ad is likely innocuous in conjunction with the fact that it only appeared in The Adelaide Advertiser, not interstate newspapers. The timing of the ad is curious though. If TSM had come to visit the Thomson’s regarding the ad, the timing of him arriving 3 days after the ad seems to fit quite neatly. Also, the ad did feature the phone number ‘X3239.’ The same number which appeared in the back of The Rubaiyat. Had TSM written down the phone number for this purpose?
A Missing Gold Watch
Less than 3 weeks after TSM’s death, on the 18th of December, another ad appeared in the local newspaper. It was written by Prosper. The ad asked readers if they had seen a gold, Tudor watch. The ad generalises that it may have been lost in the city or the suburbs. The address and phone number listed were for Jessica and Prosper’s Glenelg house. The possibility arises that TSM somehow stole a watch from the Thomson’s house. Alternately, the watch may have somehow been caught up in the whole TSM case. The watch is listed as “nearly new.” Did TSM give this watch to Jessica as a present? The most likely scenario would be that the watch was genuinely lost and had no relation to TSM. At the time the ad was written, the Thomson’s weren’t linked to TSM and it would be risky to declare a lost watch if there was a chance it was found on TSM thus implicating Jessica and Prosper. If the Thomson’s had searched TSM’s body and clothes and no gold watch was found then another potential avenue leading to the ad is provided. Prosper was quite prolific in terms of the number of ads he placed in the newspaper and this was likely an innocent one.
The Abbott- Robin link
Whilst researching TSM case, Professor Abbott contacted Robin’s daughter, Rachel Egan. Abbott and Rachel spent a few days discussing the case and looking at photos. By the end of the weekend, Abbott had proposed to Rachel. The pair married some four months later and they now have three children together. In a remarkable twist, Abbott’s theory that Robin was the son of TSM, if true, would mean that Abbott’s children now share TSM’s DNA and would be TSM’s great-grandchildren.
Analysing TSM’s Hair Isotopes
Almost the entirety of evidence in TSM case emerged in 1949 or the previous year. There are however some more recent developments and one of these involves the plaster cast of TSM made by Paul Lawson in 1949. It just so happens that a few stray hairs were left behind by TSM when this cast was being created. The hair has been burnt using a laser and the isotopes within the burnt hair have been analysed. High levels of lead, arsenic and strontium-88 were detected. The precise meaning of these results is contentious.
Higher environmental arsenic levels were more prevalent in the era of the 1940s thus this reading may not provide much further information. In the narrowly measured timeframe, the elevated lead levels of TSM were found to be very high around a month prior to his death. As time progressed towards his death, the lead levels dropped. It is difficult to ascertain the environmental lead levels of different cities of the era thus knowing what ‘normal’ is may be challenging. The lead result may be indicative of a job that involves exposure to lead. The elevated strontium-88 levels detected involved a significant deviation around 10 days before the death of TSM. Professor Abbott has suggested that this may be due to a change in TSM’s environment involving a possible journey. It has been suggested that during this period TSM may have travelled from Sydney to Melbourne in search of Jessica and then he potentially journeyed to Adelaide.
During February 2018, further hairs of TSM were analysed, this time for their mitochondrial DNA. It was determined that TSM and his mother originated from the haplogroup known as H4a1a1a. This haplogroup seems to have origins in northern Europe including Scandinavia and Great Britain and Ireland. The more general group of the TSM of H4 is rare with a prevalence of about 1% for Europeans. More genetic information may be forthcoming and if TSM is eventually exhumed then a large amount of information about him may be potentially derived.
On the 70th anniversary of the death of TSM on December 1st 2018, Attorney-General of South Australia, Vickie Chapman, agreed that the state government would give their “conditional support” for an exhumation of TSM. This previously hadn’t been the case and the government had blocked exhumation requests. There are some caveats. The public are required to finance the cost; something that has been estimated at $20,000. Also, “sufficient supervision” of the exhumation process is required. An exhumation would be the gold standard of genetic testing in this case. Consequential of an exhumation, a bone isotope test would yield information about a country of birth of TSM. A surprising number of other inklings into TSM’s life may also be generated. For instance, a tooth and bone analysis may provide habit and lifestyle clues.
Part 6- Cases That Are Potentially Related
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Death of George Marshall
A man named George Marshall (born as Joseph Marshal) was found deceased in Ashton Park, Mosman- a suburb of Sydney on the 3rd of June 1945. His body was situated on a rock ledge which overlooked the adjacent Taylors Bay. He was found near the water’s edge. What was peculiar about the death of George Marshall was that a copy of The Rubaiyat lay open on his chest. Quatrain 23 was underlined in pencil, which read:
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie.
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and-sans End!
Marshall’s head was laying on a newspaper dated the 20th of May 1945 and it was estimated that he died on the 21st of May. A glass was found next to him as well as barbituric acid powder and liquid in a lemonade bottle. Marshall had tried to commit suicide twice previously and his death was attributed to suicide. On the day of his disappearance, Marshall had eaten with someone called Gwenneth Dorothy Graham and he had sent her a 200 pound cheque. Graham provided evidence at the inquest into Marshall’s death. She was found 13 days later naked, in a bath with her body face down and her wrists slit. Graham’s death was considered to be another suicide.
If you delve into the details of the deaths of Marshall and Graham, they both seem to be clear suicides- so how does this potentially relate to TSM? The location of the body of George Marshall was close to the Clifton Gardens Hotel where Jessica would give a copy of The Rubaiyat to Alf Boxall a few months later. The death of Marshall was reported in the newspaper and Jessica was living in Sydney at the time this occurred. It seems probable, considering the proximity to where Jessica lived and visited that she was aware of Marshall’s suicide through the media or local gossip. If TSM was also living in Sydney at this time, he may have also read of the finer details of Marshall’s death.
The similarities between TSM’s death and Marshall’s death are striking. Men found next to the water, lying down with The Rubaiyat related paraphernalia on their bodies, 3 years apart. These are perhaps the only two The Rubaiyat documented deaths that have occurred in Australian history. It seems like more than a coincidence that Jessica was living near both of them at the time. The most likely scenario in my mind is that TSM or Jessica were aware of Marshall’s death circumstances and thus this concept of combining the words Tamam Shud with death was born.
The Mangnoson Mystery
Another case that has been linked to TSM is that of the Mangnoson family. 7 months after the death of TSM, on the 6th of June 1949, a two year old boy by the name of Clive Mangnoson was found deceased in a sack amongst sand hills in Largs Bay. Largs Bay is a beachside suburb situated around a 22km drive north of where TSM was found. Keith Mangnoson (Clive’s father) was found alive but in a weak state next to Clive’s body. Keith ended up being housed in a mental institution. The pair had been found in the sand hills by someone who said they had a dream of where the father and son were the previous night.
Clive’s mother, Roma, was later threatened by a man wearing a handkerchief over his face. He told her to stay away from the police with the added warning of “or else.” Local officials were phoned and threatened and told they shouldn’t investigate the Mangnoson case. Roma believed that the whole situation was related to Keith’s efforts to identify TSM. Apparently Keith believed TSM to be Carl Thompsen who he had worked with in Renmark a decade earlier. Looking holistically at the Mangnoson case, it seems likely that Keith’s mental illness played a part in the death of his son. The subsequent person terrorising Roma and the authorities was thought to be the same man who had frightened another woman who lost her husband in a tragic situation. Alas, it didn’t seem to relate to TSM case in any way. The identity of Carl Thompsen as TSM didn’t pan out and it seems that Keith was like the hundreds of people who thought that they may be able to identify TSM, to no avail.
The Strathmore Hotel
Another potentially related case to TSM involves someone called Ina Harvey. She was a receptionist at the Strathmore Hotel and believed that TSM stayed there on the few days preceding his body being found on December 1st 1948. The hotel was situated across the road from the Adelaide Railway Station where TSM’s suitcase had been checked in. The bus to St. Leonards that TSM is thought to have caught departed on the doorstep of the Strathmore Hotel. Harvey described the man who stayed at the hotel as middle aged and fairly strong and fit. Harvey also commented that he looked distraught and spoke in a quiet voice as if he were tired. She apparently grew suspicious of the mysterious man and thus told a fellow employee to search his room. The employee supposedly reported back to Harvey that the only item in the room was a small, black case. Within the case was a single item- a needle. At the end of the unknown man’s stay, he apparently gave Harvey a box of powder as a gift in tandem with the haunting parting words “I won’t be seeing you again.” When Harvey was later shown a picture of TSM, she was struck by the similarity between him and the enigmatic hotel guest.
On first glance, the account by Harvey seems plausible. Upon deeper examination, there are several problematic aspects to Harvey’s recollection. Harvey’s story only came out in a newspaper article in 1982. If Harvey was so confident of TSM identity, she or the other workers at the hotel would have reported it to the police at the time. All the information in Harvey’s story lacks the ability to be verified such as her forgetting the name of TSM, the records of who stayed at the hotel being lost and her lack of recollection of the employee’s name who supposedly searched the mysterious man’s room. The needle mode of death hypothesis also seems unlikely with pathologist Dr. Dwyer stating that he didn’t see any evidence on TSM’s body that a needle had been used. Harvey’s story sounds quixotic as she recalls the man thanking her for the compassion she had shown him and presenting her with a parting gift. Harvey’s story was examined by police and nothing transpired from it. Harvey’s family labelled her as strange and attention seeking and indeed this seems to best account for her story given the available evidence.
The Perplexing Motorbike Theft
A further potential case that is linked to TSM occurred on the days leading up to his death. On Friday the 26th of November 1948, a 17 year old boy from Broken Hill stole a motorbike from outside the Broken Hill Power Station. He rode the motorbike to Adelaide and on Saturday the 27th of November abandoned it within the sand hills at Glenelg. The boy then dumped a suitcase containing a man’s three piece suit, a shoe, an overcoat, sports trousers, several pairs of socks and a rifle stock missing a barrel at Somerton beach. When these items were found they were waterlogged and at the water’s edge. The items were dumped 3 days before TSM arrived at Glenelg and 4 days before he was found dead at Somerton beach. The next day, Sunday the 28th of November, the boy arrived at Port Noarlunga after walking the significant 20km distance there. That same day, the eclectic belongings was found at the Somerton beach location. Curiously, the suitcase wasn’t found. The boy stole a car that day from Port Noarlunga and was later arrested whilst driving back to Adelaide. Incidentally almost 7 months later on the 18th of June 1949, Prosper left a ‘wanting to buy’ note in the newspaper asking for a specific model of an automatic Winchester rifle.
A boy dumping a suitcase containing an abundance of socks and a rifle stock on Somerton beach 4 days before TSM was found dead on Somerton beach sure is a coincidence. Indeed, Somerton beach is only 1.2 kilometres in length- a tiny fraction of Adelaide’s beach coastline. The lack of socks within TSM’s suitcase is a peculiar facet of the case and the disproportionate number of socks in the suitcase dumped on the beach is also strange. Also the fact that the suitcase was never found is interesting; especially considering that a suitcase was one of the key items of TSM’s.
Also of note is that Prosper wanted to buy a rifle. Did he want to originally buy the rifle that was left on the beach however couldn’t hence was seeking another rifle? Alternately, did an event happen to the Thomson family involving TSM that made Prosper want to protect his family thus the request for a rifle purchase? On the day TSM is thought to have arrived at the Adelaide Railway Station, a train arrived from Broken Hill at 9:17am. This adds another potential connection between the two cases.
The names of the boy (Frederick William Pruszinksi), the person whose car was stolen and the person whose motorbike was stolen were released and don’t seem to have any link to TSM on the surface. The boy was a member of the Broken Hill rifle club. Researching the details of this story some 70 years later results in few tangible leads to follow. In all likelihood, the links between the suitcase dumping and TSM are coincidental but if connected, they provide another perplexing twist on TSM case.
Part 7- Theories
“So many things are possible as long as you don’t know they are impossible.” – Mildred D. Taylor
Within the above six sections, I have written about various possibilities regarding details within TSM case. This section will look at some big picture scenarios. I should stipulate that there is no direct evidence that Jessica, Prosper or TSM committed any crimes and the following theories are simply conjecture.
The Spy Theory
The spy theory has numerous permutations. The central premise is that TSM was a spy and in most scenarios, he died due to the very nature of him being a spy. There is some circumstantial evidence that TSM was a spy. He most likely carried with him a book containing what appears to be a code. The writing within the book was faint which indicates that it was intended to be hidden. The Rubaiyat thrown into the car may have been a message to someone informing them that TSM was dead or instructing someone to kill him. An alternative is that The Rubaiyat was thrown into the car by TSM as he was being followed by another spy and he had to hurriedly dispose of the book. The Tamam Shud paper found on TSM may have been a message to someone from TSM or from another person who left the paper as a calling card; showing that they had personally killed TSM. The hidden nature of the fob pocket could also have potentially been spy related.
The physical attributes of TSM including his physique, neatness and ability within Adelaide to be unnoticed by the public are spy traits. He also had any traceable labelling removed from the clothes he was wearing, clothes in his suitcase and other items in his suitcase. This is consistent with the Isdal Woman who died mysteriously in Norway with labels removed from items in her suitcase. The Isdal Woman was thought to be a spy and this case has many parallels with TSM case including a strange death, unidentified victim and suitcase deposited in a railway station.
The Henley Beach ticket that TSM bought and didn’t use may have been to throw someone following him of his trail. The ticket could have been purchased by TSM to see if anyone was following him before buying the ticket for the St. Leonards bus.
There are some other spy-related cases of the era that share similarities with TSM case. Captain Ulrich von der Osten was hit by a taxi in 1941 and ultimately died. His clothes had the labels removed and he turned out to be a spy. TSM spy theory doesn’t necessarily involve TSM himself removing the labels of his clothes. The murderer or an ally of TSM may have removed these items to thwart his identification.
The death of TSM also remains mysterious to this day and it has been theorised that he was killed in a separate location to where his body was found. The primary theory that TSM was poisoned is consistent with how a spy might be killed. The most commonly named poison: digitalis was what killed Harry Dexter White in August of 1948, just months before TSM was found deceased. It was later made public that White was a spy and involved in Operation Venona. This case involved a USA counterintelligence program that ran from 1943-1980 and involved decrypting Soviet Union intelligence messages. The poison in TSM case was undetected and this may have been the modus operandi of a spy.
The late 1940s involved a high degree of spying relating to the Cold War and some of this occurred in Australia. Two years prior to TSM’s death, the Woomera rocket range was announced as a project. This range was also located in the state of South Australia and involved military testing in conjunction with the United Kingdom.
Jessica was a communist and informed her child that she knew Russian. This may be why TSM had her phone number written down within The Rubaiyat. Jessica had also given The Rubaiyat to Alf Boxall in 1945 and he was involved in a special operations military unit and would be promoted to Lieutenant. When asked if TSM could have been a spy, Boxall responded with a carefully constructed and non-definitive answer, “It’s quite a melodramatic thesis isn’t it.”
Jessica’s own daughter, Kate, has proposed that TSM and Jessica were both spies. Jessica also said that TSM was “Known to a level higher than the police force.” This comment verges on a confession from Jessica that TSM was likely a spy or somehow involved in the intelligence community. For Jessica to use the term “higher than the police force” and to have known this fact, she too may have been a spy.
There are several key arguments against the spy hypothesis. Adelaide was a provincial backwater in 1948 with a population of around only 400,000. The Woomera rocket range was around 500km away from Adelaide and it’s difficult to imagine an espionage homicide trail playing out on the streets of humble Adelaide. The ASIO records from TSM era are now public and there are no mentions of Jessica Thomson within these. The background of Jessica is largely accounted for and there don’t seem to be any spaces to insert the occupation of ‘spy.’ The Rubaiyat had already been linked to Jessica through Alf Boxall in terms of romantic connotations and thus this second TSM linkage is also most likely love related. This is doubly likely when the love meanings within the book are examined. Boxall’s refusal to directly douse the spy hypothesis was, his family claims, due to his enjoyment of the spotlight and his nature as an exhibitionist. The supposed code within the back of The Rubaiyat doesn’t resemble any WWII codes and an analysis suggest that it’s likely an English initialism not a cipher.
There are alternative explanation for the lack of TSM’s labels, other than the spy hypothesis. These include him not wanting to be identified or Jessica not wanting her baby’s father’s identity known. If Robin was TSM’s child as the evidence may suggest then it is difficult to reconcile this factor with the spy hypothesis.
The Suicide Theory
The suicide theory obviously has as its central pillar TSM killing himself although there are many possible peripheral details to his suicide. The Tamam Shud (meaning finished) note in TSM’s pocket can be viewed as a suicide note of sorts. The links between the death of TSM and George Marshall are indisputable. Both had The Rubaiyat paraphernalia on their bodies and both were found near the water’s edge. The close proximity between Marshall’s death and Jessica within Sydney (and perhaps TSM) may indicate that TSM was aware of Marshall’s death through the media or local gossip. The fact that Marshall’s death was a clear case of suicide may indicate that TSM’s death was also suicide and a copycat version.
If Robin was TSM’s child then it would be make sense for TSM to see his child one last time and this would involve saying goodbye before killing himself. TSM was well dressed and this is sometimes a feature of suicides. The method of death of being poisoned seems to be the most likely manner in which TSM died and this is a common suicide routine. The labels may have been removed from TSM’s items because TSM had planned to kill himself and didn’t want his family or friends to find out.
The phone number in The Rubaiyat linked to Jessica may suggest that Jessica rejected TSM’s proposed relationship and this could have been part of the rationale for the suicide. The final possible meeting between Jessica and TSM on the 30th of November may have been TSM saying goodbye to Jessica or asking for her love. Jessica may have rejected this and hence TSM suicided. TSM may have brought The Rubaiyat with him to show Jessica or try and woo her with the love poetry to no avail and the tearing out of the words ‘Tamam Shud’ are then fittingly symbolic of the end of TSM’s life and the end of the relationship. TSM also may have asked Jessica if he could raise Robin or live with her and she said no thus prompting the suicide. The carelessly thrown out The Rubaiyat into a car may have been a sign of TSM’s anger at rejection.
The last quatrain of The Rubaiyat, above the torn words can be construed as a suicide note. Suicides are a common occurrence and if one views TSM’s death based on likelihood of events then the frequent nature of suicides is a much more plausible scenario than the other possibilities. The authorities widely viewed the case as a suicide and this is perhaps the simplest theory. Essentially, if you have a suicidal man who wants to see his son one last time before dying and he doesn’t want to be identified, then most of the events played out how one would expect.
There are several arguments against the suicide hypothesis. There was no poison or receptacle of any kind found near TSM’s body. If TSM did kill himself you would think he would have consumed the poison whilst lying on the beach in his final resting spot. Taking it earlier wouldn’t guarantee that he would be able to physically reach the beach. The exact type of poison wasn’t detected and a suicide in 1948 wouldn’t typically involve something like undetectable poison. There was no clear note found on TSM and the Tamam Shud paper was hidden making it hard to find. Normally a suicide note wouldn’t be as obscured because the person who had suicided would want it to be clearly found. A public beach, near some steps in the early evening in a new city does seem like a strange choice for a suicide. Indeed witness Olive Neill said of the man she spotted in the evening, “Where he was lying was a fairly public place, not the sort of place a man would be likely to choose if he wanted to go somewhere and die quietly.”
The Murder Theory
This theory excludes all remnants of the spy hypothesis. What TSM case is on the surface is a man who has died through a non-natural cause. His body is found an 800 metre walk away from someone he has the phone number of. TSM has likely come from interstate or overseas and knows only one person in the vicinity. These factors conspire to point the finger at Jessica as being the potential killer of TSM. If TSM was (as widely thought) inside Jessica’s house just before he died and then is found dead nearby, the timing and location do make things look suspicious for Jessica.
Kate, Jessica’s own daughter, did say that her mother had a “very strong dark side.” Kate also elaborated on this by stating that her mother told her that she lied to the police and did indeed know the identity of TSM.
One possible scenario involves TSM visiting Jessica and his child, Robin. TSM may have been upset that Jessica was claiming Prosper to be the father of the boy whilst TSM knew that he was the father. TSM may have wanted more time with Robin, to be allowed to raise him, to live with Jessica or he may have been threatening to expose Jessica’s situation of a false marriage and child out of wedlock. There are an abundance of potential reasons that Jessica may have felt cornered by TSM’s visit. Jessica was known to have a proclivity for pharmacology and she could have easily poisoned him. If she knew TSM was visiting in advance (as suggested by TSM having Jessica’s phone number), she would have had ample time to find a formulation that could kill him. This is where the murder theory diverges into three possible paths:
- A. TSM has been poisoned and Jessica asks him to leave the house so he walks down to the beach to lie down as he isn’t feeling well and dies there.
- B. TSM is brought to the beach deceased or close to deceased like the ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’ movie and placed onto the sand with a cigarette added to provide the illusion of life.
- C. TSM dies at Jessica’s house. She goes through the clothes he is wearing and removes the tags, wallet and hat as well as the Cloak Room receipt. TSM’s shoes are polished while the clothes are being examined. Being an avid fan of The Rubaiyat, Jessica can’t help but place the words ‘Tamam Shud’ into TSM’s fob pocket, perhaps to bolster the case for suicide or maybe she is angry with him and this is an extra touch of vengeance. When night-time arrives, Jessica enlists Prosper to drive or carry TSM down to the beach to dispose of his body. A random man with striped brown trousers was lying down and enjoying the beach the previous evening in the vicinity of where Prosper dumps TSM’s body. This is fortuitous for Jessica and Prosper as witnesses would come forward and falsely identify TSM as the same man seen alive the previous evening. Prosper adds the final touch of a cigarette on TSM’s lapel to give the illusion that he was alive and smoking in the beach location. Prosper notices a book in TSM’s jacket pocket and throws is into a car on Jetty Road. Prosper or Jessica travel to the Adelaide Railway Station and find TSM’s suitcase. They remove all identifiable and traceable labels from it and then return it.
The murder theory accounts for the lack of poison receptacle found at the scene. It also explains why there is not vomit in the vicinity of TSM and no clear signs of convulsions, these events occurred at Jessica’s house. The missing labels are simply to cover the Thomson’s tracks so TSM isn’t identified and the close proximity that TSM is found near the beach steps is due to Prosper struggling to carry him further. Jessica’s own daughter, Kate has even feared that Jessica may have killed TSM, “She said to me she, she knew who he was but she wasn’t going to let that out of the bag so to speak. There’s always that fear that I’ve thought that maybe she was responsible for his death.”
The murder theory runs into a litany of potential criticisms. ‘A’ suggesting that TSM was poisoned at Jessica’s house then walked down to the beach fails to take into account the typically immediate effects of poison. An 800 metre walk would be a Hurculean effort for someone who had been poisoned and would soon die. Also, the path from Jessica’s house to TSM’s final resting spot was largely south, parallel to the beach, surely this is a superfluous route for someone who had been poisoned and simply wanted to reach the seaside.
This theory also doesn’t explain when TSM’s clothing tags were removed unless they were done so at the beach. Doing so at the beach would seem to have a higher risk of getting caught near a body outweighing the benefits of removing the potentially traceable labels. The evidence around TSM on the beach also doesn’t suggest that the tags were removed at this location. There was only a trace of sand on TSM’s shoes and in his hair (presumably from the wind or seawall). If the labels had been removed from his body on the beach, this would involve TSM being forcibly rolled onto his face and other strange orientations in order to remove all of the labels. To be 100% sure that all labels were removed, he would have been covered in sand. The lack of sand on TSM’s body suggests that this beach label removal simply didn’t happen.
Also, if TSM was aware that he had been poisoned, he could have simply stopped someone on his route to the beach and asked for an ambulance and implicated Jessica. Jessica letting him out of the house would be risky in itself from her perspective.
The ‘B’ theory that TSM was taken to the beach in daylight hours has the problematic aspect of carrying a body and not being seen. Taking a body to a public area with houses overlooking the vicinity whilst people are milling around means that at least someone would have identified the suspicious behaviour and likely the culprits.
The ‘C’ theory overcomes this obstacle by suggesting that TSM was placed on the beach overnight. This theory does however neglect the plethora of sightings of a man lying in the same position TSM was the previous evening. The man from the previous night not only had such a “dead to the world” demeanour but also an awkward lying style at a very specific location. It was almost certainly TSM who was found deceased the next morning.
Theory ‘C’ also posits that the labels of the items within TSM’s suitcase and the clothing he was wearing were removed. This doesn’t seem like a priority if you have a deceased body. Also, it would be risky removing the labels from within the suitcase at a later time as the police could well be waiting for someone to claim the suitcase. The question also arises as to why return the suitcase after removing the labels, this seems like a superfluous and added risky act. Leaving the ‘Keane’ labels would also be a perilous strategy as this name could have been a friend or relative of TSM and his clothes were passed on to TSM; the clothes could perhaps be traced back to unmask TSM’s identity. Finally, adding a cigarette after placing the body doesn’t seem particularly useful. Surely getting a distance away from the body as fast as possible would be the main concern of the culprit. When people are typically murdered, the body isn’t moved several hundreds of metres away to a public location; instead, the murderer tends to bury the body in order to hide any trace of the person. It has to be queried why this didn’t happen with the possible murder scenario of TSM.
TSM Came To See Prosper Theory
The police were handed The Rubaiyat with the phone number ‘X3239’ written faintly in the back. There were two people who lived at the address of this phone number, Jessica who seemingly had few connections and Prosper who may have been involved in black market dealings, buying and selling items with an abundance of people and performing potentially shady dealings. TSM may have travelled to Adelaide to buy something from Prosper or sell an item to Prosper. Prosper had frequently left the phone number ‘X3239’ in newspaper advertisements and TSM may have written this down in The Rubaiyat. If a dealing went badly then it may have been in Prosper’s interest for TSM to be killed. TSM may have been a contact of Prospers from when Prosper lived interstate. TSM may have been in Adelaide to exact revenge or he may have been upset about something Prosper had done. The bank’s phone number in the rear of The Rubaiyat could have been for TSM to pay Prosper for a purchase or for Prosper to deposit money into TSM’s account. The lack of labels on TSM’s clothing could have been due to TSM’s work on the black market and criminal activity.
There are some potential problems with the Prosper- TSM connection theory. It is difficult to foresee a specific suicide scenario resulting from TSM seeing Prosper unless TSM was some relation or Prospers. This leaves the murder possibility which has been critiqued in the section above. TSM likely brought The Rubaiyat with him to Adelaide and this book had strong connections with Jessica indicating that TSM was in Adelaide to see her, not Prosper. If TSM was connected to Prosper’s business dealings, he would have likely told people he was travelling to Adelaide and the person would have been identified immediately when they didn’t return and TSM was found.
The Rape Theory
Although it is difficult to imagine TSM as malevolent, there is no evidence that he was virtuous. If TSM raped Jessica whilst she was in Sydney, a mechanism would be provided as to why she left Sydney hurriedly and fled to her parents’ house in Melbourne. Rapes are often done by someone close to the victim and TSM may have known Jessica by name and thus been able to track her down in Adelaide. It seems that Jessica was keen to hide the identity of the real father of Robin and the rape hypothesis provides a valid mechanism as to why. The rape would also provide an added explanation as to why she tried to commit suicide whilst in Melbourne. The situation would have been horrific for Jessica.
TSM may have wanted to track Jessica down for a number of reasons. These include him just finding out that he was a father, wanting to know if Jessica’s baby was his, to pursue a relationship with Jessica, to apologise for his actions or even to rape her again. The rape hypothesis not only explains Jessica concealing the baby’s father’s identity but also explains why she lied to police and why she attempted to cover up the situation. Jessica may have sought revenge on TSM for his actions and hardship caused and the visit would provide the perfect setting for her to poison him.
The rape scenario criticisms can be levelled into two areas. Firstly if TSM raped Jessica then came to visit her and committed suicide and secondly if the rape resulted in a visit and TSM was murdered. Both of these scenarios have been critiqued in the above sections. There are however some unique problems with the rape theory. The Rubaiyat was thought of by Jessica as a book of love poetry and this implies some sort of romantic connection between her and TSM who brought this book to Adelaide. TSM would have likely informed people he was travelling to Adelaide and therefore his disappearance would have been noted and thus he would have been identified. The story that a rapist would travel interstate to track the person they had raped 2 years earlier who now had a husband and child doesn’t necessarily correlate with the real world and seems quite outlandish.
The Accidental Death Theory
TSM had a spleen three times enlarged and liver problems that may have been pre-existing. The sizeable spleen would likely have been a pre-existing condition and TSM may have been in a weakened state. The accidental death theory splits down two paths:
- A. TSM was at Jessica’s house and an event occurred that resulted in the death of TSM. This may have entailed Jessica providing TSM with some painkillers and an accidental overdose ensued. Alternately, TSM may have experienced some form of allergic reaction to something Jessica provided him with. Another scenario is that Jessica and/or Prosper wanted to scare TSM and maybe wanted to sedate him but TSM reacted badly resulting in his death. The accidental death hypothesis fits in with Jessica’s favourite novel of Howards End. Within the text, an unplanned pregnancy occurs and the soon to be father is hit with the flattened part of a sword in order to scare him however his death results.
- B. TSM died on the beach due to the unique positioning of his body and head. The death was thus caused by positional asphyxiation and ultimately, TSM suffocated. This theory removes the need for a poison receptacle on the scene and takes into account the curious and somewhat unnatural body positioning TSM was found in. The weakened state of TSM with an enlarged spleen and liver problems may have predisposed TSM to positional asphyxiation. Taking certain drugs may also contribute to positional asphyxiation and it is plausible that TSM was on medication for his health problems. The lack of vomit in the vicinity of TSM is accounted for with this theory and this hypothesis also suggests that the eyewitness reports of a man lying on the beach on the evening of the 30th of November were accurate descriptions of TSM.
There are several potential criticisms of theory ‘A’: the death occurring accidentally at Jessica’s house. Many of the criticisms have been mentioned above due to the overlapping nature of the theories. Hypothesis ‘A’ likely means that the body seen the night before TSM was found dead was not TSM and this seems unlikely based on the eyewitness reports. The necessity to remove the labels from TSM’s clothes and suitcase is also questionable. Also the careful positioning of a cigarette on TSM’s lapel seems to involve a high degree of risk in terms of getting caught near a deceased body with no real purpose.
Theory ‘B’ involving accidental positional asphyxiation raises major questions as to why and who removed TSM’s labels and traceable identification from his clothes and within his suitcase. It’s possible that TSM always wore clothes and had items without labels for some reason, yet this seems unlikely. The major critique that can be levelled against this theory is that the words ‘Tamam Shud’ (meaning finished) were found in his hidden fob pocket. It is likely these words were placed there recently due to The Rubaiyat with the tear being found in a Jetty Road car probably on the evening of the 30th of November. The purposeful placing of these words on TSM indicates a level of intentionality pertaining to the death of TSM. The accidental positional asphyxiation theory doesn’t explain this aspect. The physiological findings of the autopsy of TSM seemed to convince all of the experts that TSM had died from poison. It seems unlikely that a positional asphyxiation death could so carefully mimic the effects of poison and thus fool all of the medical experts.
There are several further theories that may explain TSM case.
- A. It has been suggested that Jessica was a serial killer and TSM was one of her victims. Her interest in The Rubaiyat may have led her to place ‘Tamam Shud’ in her victim’s pockets. Occasionally in the news, an item appears discussing a nurse who euthanises a large number of patients- could Jessica have been such a nurse?
- B. TSM may have arrived in Adelaide with another person such as a brother. This person may have helped TSM commit suicide or indeed played a part in murdering him. This theory provides a rationale as to why there was no poison receptacle found near TSM’s body; the other person removed it. This secondary person may have also thrown The Rubaiyat into the back of the car. The mismatched cigarettes of TSM may have been provided by this secondary person. Also TSM’s could have been possessing this person’s comb hence why TSM was found with two combs. The hairpin found in TSM’s suitcase could have made its way there as he was travelling with a female and this item became mixed up amongst his possessions.
- C. TSM may have had some form of psychiatric condition. Trying to make sense of the bizarre elements of this case is therefore futile.
- D. TSM could have been the biological father of Jessica. If TSM was about 46 years old at death, he would have had Jessica as an 18 year old. This may also explain the genetic similarities between TSM and Robin as this would make him the grandfather. TSM going to an extra effort to present himself well on the 30th of November also correlates with something a father might do when seeing their daughter.
Theory ‘A’ that Jessica was a serial killer only provides a partial motive as to why TSM died but not an explanation of who he was and why has wasn’t identified. There is also no evidence that Jessica was in any way linked to other deaths. The euthanising nurse scenario lacks the evidence of Jessica doing this to any of her patients.
The ‘B’ hypothesis that TSM arrived in Adelaide with someone seems plausible. If the person assisted with TSM’s suicide or contributed to his murder then the previous objections of these categories largely remain relevant. If a second person travelled with TSM and was involved with his death, it raises the question as to why Jessica likely lied to police about not knowing TSM.
The ‘C’ explanation of a person having a psychiatric illness can be applied to any mysterious case with unusual happenings. There is nothing unique in TSM case to indicate that TSM had a psychiatric illness. The code written on the back of The Rubaiyat based on statistical analysis seems to reflect the first letters of English words and thus have some meaning. The words ‘Tamam Shud’ in the pocket of TSM suggest some knowledge of their meaning: finished. The case doesn’t seem to involve arbitrary actions but things that are linked together and make sense on some level.
The ‘D’ theory that TSM was Jessica’s biological father doesn’t have any evidence to support it. The romantic connotations of The Rubaiyat and unknown father of Robin dictate that it seems far more likely that TSM was the father of Robin as opposed to Jessica’s father. Pathologist, John Cleland estimated TSM’s age to be between 40 and 45 and Jessica’s age was 27 at the time of TSM’s death. This probably makes TSM too young to be Jessica’s father.
Part 8- My Theory
“Circumstances rule men, men do not rule circumstances” – Herodotus
In the shadow of WWII, Jessica Harkness worked as a student nurse within the confines of Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital. She shuffled from one room to the next on her usually tedious morning duties. She entered room 112 and provided the patient with the mandatory “Hello” before skim reading through his paperwork.
-Admitted July 27th 1946
-First name: Robert
-Disease status: Terminal
“How are you today?” a foreign voice chirped. The tone seemed incongruent with a person who had a terminal illness. Jessica hadn’t heard enough words to decipher a country of origin for the accent.
“Good thanks Robert” Jessica politely responded.
“Haha, most Aussies call me Rob” he chuckled.
The man had been lying flat on the hospital bed with his head resting against the back of the bed at a peculiar angle. He sat up, revealing broad shoulders that underlined his sharp jawline, grey eyes and light coloured hair.
“What part of America are you from?” Jessica probed, hoping she had correctly identified the accent.
“The North-East part” Robert replied before adding “I’ve been in Sydney for a couple of years for work.”
The conversation progressed from small talk and provided a refreshing escape from the job for Jessica and reciprocally provided Robert with a fleeting distraction from his health. Although the powerful accent drew Jessica’s attention initially, the man’s erudite background is what provided the spark. Before trudging on to the next hospital room, Robert gave his phone number to Jessica.
Jessica had memorised the hospital rules for nurses verbatim. Rule 7.1- Relationships with patients are strictly forbidden. It was as if these words only encouraged her. They provided a foundation for the rebellion. It was akin to someone writing ‘Do not open’ on a box thus transforming it into a box that begged to be opened. Just a year earlier Jessica had a flirty rendezvous with a married Mr. Boxall. Robert exemplified the forbidden facet of lust.
Consequential of several pub meetings, the pair’s attraction grew. They shared a common interest in the arts, had a shared penchant for progressive political views such as voluntary euthanasia and enjoyed a passion for the classics of literature. The couple often recited poems from The Rubaiyat to one another, providing a verbal outlet to cement their pent-up feelings. Jessica was obliged to keep this relationship clandestine. Her future career was at stake.
After several public meetings, Robert invited Jessica to his humble house located within the harbourside suburb of McMahons Point. Soon after this get together, Jessica discovered that she was pregnant. On rare occasions in life, an event occurs that dictates to you that your world will never be the same again. This was Jessica’s event.
The pregnancy consequences were immediately evident to Jessica: 1. She wouldn’t be permitted to become a nurse. 2. The father of the baby couldn’t help raise it due to a terminal illness. 3. She couldn’t disclose the relationship to anyone, firstly because the baby would be born out of wedlock and secondly as it belonged to one of her hospital patients. Another side effect of the unintended pregnancy dawned on Jessica: She wouldn’t be allowed to stay living in the nurse’s quarters of the hospital and would need a new abode. A sardonic underlining of the situation was Jessica’s morning sickness forcing her to miss her final nursing student exams. Jessica deeply considered her options regarding the trying situation. She finally decided to move in with her parents who lived in her childhood suburb of Mentone, Melbourne.
Within Mentone, Jessica constantly dwelled on her situation. A wasted period of time studying, a lack of a husband, a world void of stability and an impending child that she would have to raise alone and out of wedlock. She feared this last aspect particularly and the consequence of being shunned by society. The grievances accumulated and soon crescendoed with Jessica standing atop a cliff, intent on ending her life. She stood perched in this Schrodinger’s cat like state on the cusp of death and life.
Prosper Thomson navigated the corner. He noticed a silhouette resembling the Christ the Redeemer statue, immobile on the edge of the rock face. Prosper first recognised the vocal cries, then the petite body the voice belonged to and finally the face confirmed the person’s identity. The girl was a memory of his childhood- Jessica Harkness. The serendipity of Prosper’s timing and the meaning of his name, Prosper: to flourish, indicated to Jessica that this was a sign. Prosper talked Jessica down from the cliff, into his arms and listened to her travails. He also provided much more than this- solutions to her problems. “We move to Adelaide, away from the judging eyes of those who know us. Next, we get married and tell the world that the baby is ours.”
Jessica’s life had been on life-support. This was the resurrection she so desperately craved but couldn’t articulate. Although this was a skewed quid pro quo, in return, Jessica vowed to support the new image ‘family-man’ that Prosper wished portrayed. For Prosper this was for the ends of settling down and becoming a car salesman. At this stage, Jessica kept in vicarious touch with Robert who was in deteriorating health.
Prosper and Jessica settled down within the beachside area of Glenelg, a suburb that flanks Adelaide. This location appealed to Jessica who had always had a fondness for the seaside. A baby boy was born in July of 1947 and Jessica who had a tendency for wordplay named him in honour of ‘Robert of McMahons Point.’ Thus the given names, ‘Rob-in McMahon.’ Despite only the façade of the traditional family unit, the stresses of Jessica’s life diminished. Contrastingly, in Sydney, Robert was told at the Royal North Shore Hospital that he didn’t have much longer to live. He had a spleen approaching being three times enlarged, liver problems and a scattering of unpleasant symptoms that comprised his illness.
A lingering memory of a poetic suicide of sorts niggled at Robert. He recalled a proximate George Marshall having poisoned himself whilst lying down, overlooking the water. The Rubaiyat was opened on his chest and a quatrain was underlined pertaining to his life and death. George had given a friend a sum of money prior to the suicide however the friend later killed herself. This was perhaps due to the stress of testifying at the inquest into George’s death. Robert wanted to rebel against his illness. He didn’t fancy being killed by his disease and he wanted to control his destiny. Robert also wanted to avoid making the mistake of George’s suicide and not harm those around him. He concocted a plan and phoned Jessica to discuss the logistics of implementing it. A sympathetic Jessica reluctantly agreed to help.
Robert falsely informed his local friends that he was leaving Sydney and returning to his home country of America. They never knew of his illness with Robert reasoning that his disease was less realistic if people weren’t aware of it. He removed the identifiable and traceable labels from his clothing and belongings before catching the train from Sydney to the interim outback mining town of Broken Hill. During the journey, Robert wrote prolifically to his friends and family in America; people he had hidden his illness from. He told them a semi-truth, a white lie that people have a tendency of justifying the telling of to themselves. Robert wrote that he was married in Australia and had fathered a one year old boy. He expanded on this, with padding details he thought consolidated a lie. His elaboration stated he was living a happy life and would reside in Australia permanently although he would live in a remote town that didn’t receive the post. Upon arrival in Broken Hill, Robert stretched his legs and posted his letters, knowing the Broken Hill stamp mark would be visible to those receiving the letters. He then relaxed by skimming his feet along a rare patch of Broken Hill grass. It was the small things in life that you appreciate when facing death.
On-board the Adelaide bound train, Robert lit one of his last remaining Army Club brand cigarettes. Smoking it reminded him of the train ejecting smoke. He was like a Russian nesting doll inside the train. Robert replenished his supply by purchasing some loose Kensitas brand cigarettes from a fellow traveller on the train however their unfamiliar flavour tarnished their appeal. Robert then read poems from The Rubaiyat to himself; a lonely contrast to the halcyon days of sharing the poetry with Jessica. This thought encouraged him to pen his own quatrain to Jessica. He tried to memorise the poem by pencilling in the first letters of the words on the worn back cover of his copy of The Rubaiyat.
Robert awoke from what he imagined was a few hours seep as the train tottered to a stop. He made inquiries that led to a shower and shave at the adjacent City Baths. Robert laid out and dressed himself in his final attire. He then drenched his shoes in brown shoe polish as the final touch to his appearance. Robert was dressed smartly for Jessica although wore excess layers to account for his illness symptoms. His next duty in Adelaide was to deposit his travelling suitcase inside the railway’s Cloak Room. Robert then asked the ticket seller at the Adelaide Railway Station which train travelled closest to Glenelg.
“The Henley Beach train is what you’re after” the man insisted “Although you’ve still got yourself a bit of a walk.”
“Okay, I’ll take a ticket” Robert replied.
“One-way or return?” The man queried.
“Just one-way” Robert said mournfully as it dawned on him what he was doing.
Robert then reflected on the conversation and asked a local how long it would take to get from Henley Beach to Glenelg. The local informed Robert that the walk was indeed too far and his most efficient route would be the bus that travelled to St. Leonards. On the bus, Robert pulled out his copy of The Rubaiyat and reflected on his memories this book had brought him in life as well as the lessons imparted. He flipped to the back cover and used the letters to recite the quatrain he had written.
As the bus reached its destination, Robert disembarked and proceeded to withdraw his life’s saving from a local bank. His forethought meant that he could store the money in the 4 pairs of socks he had brought with him that he in turn stored in his pockets. Robert arrived at Jessica’s house and embraced her. He was then guided to Robin’s room and his eyes connected with the child. The baby’s resemblance to him was uncanny. From the grin, to the same twinkling eyes and ear shape. Seeing Robin in the flesh was a key motivator for the journey. This was his legacy for the world. Robin spent the afternoon sitting on Robert’s lap. As children have a supernatural knack of doing, Robin’s sticky hand left a mark on his father’s trousers. In a way this was emblematic of the impression Robin left on Robert.
Robert handed Jessica his socks, filled to the brim with money. Jessica was moved to tears; she hadn’t expected this. Robert insisted that his savings be spent on raising Robin and providing him with the best childhood imaginable. He stipulated that ballet lessons would be suited to Robin. For several hours, the two adults and Robin wove together poignant memories; reminiscent of what life could have been like if not for Robert’s illness. Robert recalled the poem he had specifically written for Jessica.
The last piece of the plan orchestrated by Jessica and Robert was to be put in place. Jessica grabbed The Rubaiyat of Robert’s and drew two lines.
“These are the stairs leading down to the beach. This cross here is where you will lie down relative to the stairs.” Jessica added more specifics, “Walk straight down to the Esplanade and turn left. You will go down to this lot of steps at Bickford Terrace. It is away from the house, the first group of stairs are just too close and suspicious. 6 PM is the time.” Jessica handed Robert two bottles.
Robert emotionally left Jessica and Robin and walked north to Jetty Road to appreciate a final supper of sorts. He enjoyed a pasty. On Jetty Road he reiterated his plan to himself. Robert’s body would be unidentifiable to save Jessica from any inquiries or criminal convictions. He also knew Jessica didn’t want Robert to be known as Robin’s father. He patted his jacket pocket and felt the outline of The Rubaiyat. Robert had thought obsessively about this. He had considered an open The Rubaiyat on his body but thought this was too derivative of George Marshall. Instead Robert ripped out the parting words of the book, ‘Tamam Shud.’ They appeared above his favourite quatrain. The poem that he hoped people would celebrate his life by:
And when like her, oh Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One- turn down an empty Glass!
He pulled out his watch from his trousers fob pocket. It showed 5:30 PM. He placed the words ‘Tamam Shud’ into this pocket as a final epitaph. He threw his watch into a bin. Robert considered throwing The Rubaiyat into the bin also but second guessed himself. He reasoned that the book may change someone else’s life like it did his. He tossed it into a Hillman Minx car parked on Jetty Road- the last car on the road before the corner.
Robert ventured south. He walked along The Esplanade road that hugged the contours of the sand. As instructed, at Bickford Terrace, he spotted the steps he was to descend. Robert sniffed the air. A salty-seaweed amalgam filled his nostrils. As Robert descended the 25 steps he noticed the parted clouds framing the sun which in turn illuminated the sand. The scene was heavenly. Robert lay against the seawall in order to prop his head up and take in the ambiance. He swallowed the digitalis tablets with a drink and placed the receptacle and bottle into his hat, sitting it down next to his body. Robert lit a cigarette and began to smoke it. This was short-lived hedonism. Jessica had been watching from a distance. She cautiously navigated the stairs and subtly grabbed Robert’s hat containing the contents. Jessica rubbed his cheek with the back of her hand and then left, leaving only her footsteps in the sand. Robert’s footprints had stopped forever at his body yet his journey would not be finished. It would be continued by Robin.
“It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” – Winston Churchill
Once each mosaic piece of TSM case has been examined, the mystery makes less sense. There seems to be no likely and consistent theory accounting for how TSM died; yet we know he died. The identity of this perplexing person remains a mystery yet it seems probable that he fathered Robin. The idiosyncratic removed labels, lack of socks, mismatched cigarettes and unused train ticket are proverbially hors d’oeuvre mysteries preceding the crux of the case- how does one explain The Rubaiyat code and ‘Tamam Shud’ slip of paper? This article has attempted to provide theories and possible answer for every question. Despite the widespread ardent conjecture, many of the answers to the case likely went to the grave with TSM. An exhumation of TSM could unearth some much sought after answers. The words ‘Here lies the unknown man’ currently ornament TSM’s West Terrace grave. The sands of time will hopefully one day trace out a name on the plaque for the Somerton Man.