Why The Deeply Weird ‘Somerton Man’ Case Is Australia’s Most Famous Mystery

Somerton Man Tamam Shud Case carl webb

An unidentified dead man on a beach, an uncrackable code, a mysterious book and a message hidden on the body — nope, it’s not the plot of Tom Cruise‘s next Mission: Impossible film (but probably should be, I’d watch that). It is in fact the actual, real-life head-scratcher that has baffled Australian detectives for over 70 years: the mystery of The Somerton Man, also known as the Tamam Shud case.

I deep dived into this case for the fifth episode of PEDESTRIAN.TV‘s podcast, All Aussie Mystery Hour, which you can find below. But in the meantime, here’s a little primer.

On the 1st of December, 1948, a couple of locals walking on Adelaide’s Somerton Beach came across a man lying in the sand as if asleep. But, of course, he wasn’t asleep: the man (who looked to be in his 40s and in prime physical condition) was dead, with no apparent cause and no identification.

Upon examining the body during the investigation, a tiny, rolled up piece of paper was found in a small pocket in the Somerton Man’s trousers. The scrap of paper, eventually found to be torn from a rare edition of a book of poetry called the Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam, read Tamam Shud, which translates to English (from Persian) as “ended” or “finished”.

Once the book was tracked down, what appeared to be a code was imprinted onto the back page, as well as the phone number of a local woman named Jessica Thomson. She denied knowing the Somerton Man, but those present when she was shown a plaster cast of the man’s face said she looked as if she was about to faint once she saw it. The “code” has never been deciphered.

The timing of the body’s discovery at the beginning of the Cold War when tensions between different countries was at a high, the apparent secret code and the idea that an untraceable poison may have been the method of murder has led many to believe that the Somerton Man — who wasn’t able to be identified by international law enforcement agencies either — was a spy.

Of course, there’s plenty of other theories too, but for that you’ll have to tune into the episode, sorry!

You can subscribe on iTunes HERE, or on Spotify HERE. Or, you can just listen / download below. Enjoy the yarn, and if you have any of your own theories, hit us up over at the All Aussie Mystery Hour group on our Facebook page.