History is full of strange, unsolved mysteries that have puzzled people for years. Some famous mysteries, such as who constructed Stonehenge and how exactly they did it, are fascinating but not particularly disturbing. Others are far more gruesome, like the mystery of the Zodiac Killer, the true identity of Jack the Ripper, what really happened to Elisa Lam, or what the hell that horrifically fuzzy, green thing in the back corner of my fridge actually is.
But nothing is as strange as the Tamam Shud Case. Seriously. This one is about as strange, mysterious, and mind-bogglingly unsolvable as you could possibly imagine. The Tamam Shud Case, also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, began on a beach just south of Adelaide, Australia on December 1st, 1948, when an unidentified dead body was discovered resting peacefully in the sand. And while we are of the opinion that the photo of the corpse that was circulated by law enforcement bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Harvey Keitel, that is far from the most bizarre thing about this anonymous cadaver— there are secret codes, suspicious witnesses, multiple other deaths related to the case, destroyed evidence, a super rare book, and a whole slew of other unexplained oddities. Keep reading and you will quickly find out just how insanely weird the Tamam Shud case gets (and why the hell it’s called that).
15. No One Has Any Idea Who This Guy Is
A lot of people have claimed to know the true identity of the Somerton Man, including a New Zealand inmate in 1959, three people in 1949 who believed he was a wood cutter named Robert Walsh, and a man who claimed to have a drink with the Somerton Man at a hotel in Glenelg a few weeks before his body was found.
But none of these have proven true. So we are still stuck with a big ol’ question mark when it comes to the identity of the dead dude. In 2011 an Australian woman found an identification card among her father’s possessions for a man named H.C. Reynolds. The photo on the card was strikingly similar to that of the Tamam Shud body. But even if they are the same person and the dead man’s name is H.C. Reynolds, no one can figure out who H.C. Reynolds was, so that doesn’t really help us much.
14. No One Knows How He Died
He was found lying facing up on the beach without any apparent trauma. He wasn’t stabbed or shot or strangled or beaten. The autopsy showed no signs of heart or stroke or any death by the standard, natural causes. No toxins or poisons were found in his system, but a prominent theory suggests that an untraceable poison, such as digitalis or ouabain might have been the culprit. However, there was no evidence of vomiting or convulsions, which are the two primary effects of poisoning. At one point, due to the cleanliness of his shoes and the lack of vomit, a theory was put forth that the Somerton Man had died elsewhere and been dumped on the beach. But several eyewitnesses claim to have seen the man, alive and moving, the night before in the exact same place and position he was found dead the next morning, negating the possibility of his body being dumped there. While poison seems to be the likeliest cause of death, no one can confirm that for sure, and no one knows whether he took it himself or if it was administered by someone else.
13. He Had A Secret Pocket
Due to the mysterious (read: super weird) circumstances of the case, a coroner’s inquest was conducted into the case. During the inquest, a secret fob pocket sewn into the Somerton Man’s pants pocket was discovered. Inside the pocket was a rolled up piece of paper with the words “Tamam Shud” printed on it— hence the name of the case. The piece of paper appeared to be torn out of a larger work and the reverse side was blank. It turns out that “Tamam Shud” is a Persian phrase which, translated to English, means “finished” and was the phrase that ended a book of ancient Persian poetry known as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The book is an English translation of a selection of poems written by Omar Khayyam and translated by Edward FitzGerald.
12. There Is An Unbreakable Code
The police released a photograph of the piece of paper, hoping to locate the book it was torn from. A man, known only by his pseudonym, Ronald Francis, came forward with a 1941 edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which he had allegedly found in the footwell of his car. Inside the book, police found evidence of handwriting indented on the back cover, which included a phone number, some other seemingly meaningless numbers, and five lines of text that looked an awful lot like a coded message. The second line was crossed out and all five lines were made up of a jumble of letters. And for the past seven decades everyone ranging from military experts to amateur codebreakers have attempted to figure out what the hell these lines mean and no one has come up with anything at all.
11. The Police Found A Mystery Suitcase
About a month and a half after the Somerton Man’s body was found, a brown suitcase was found by the staff of the Adelaide railway station in the cloakroom. On its own, that doesn’t seem very special, but the label of the suitcase had been removed, you know, kind of like all the tags on the dead dude’s clothing. And it was checked in at 11:00 am on the day before he died, which is an interesting coincidence. But again, nothing super out of the ordinary. It contained a bunch of clothes and a few odds and ends, like a screwdriver, scissors, and a stencilling brush.
10. People Close To The Case Kept Dying
Up until now, the strangeness of the Tamam Shud case might be a little unsettling, but this is the point where it gets downright sinister. Of course, since a whole bunch of people have speculated that there was some crazy Cold War spy business going on here, it makes sense that things would take a nasty turn at some point. Reportedly, several people close to the case, specifically witnesses attempting to identify the body, have been convinced to back away from the case, thanks to the kind of threats that make you decide to keep your mouth shut. Others were harder to convince and so they ended up dead.
Most notably, just before Keith Mangnoson was supposed to meet with police to identify the Somerton Man’s body, he and his two-year-old son, Clive, were kidnapped and dumped in the Largs Bay sand hills. Clive was found dead in a sack next to his unconscious father, who was eventually transferred to a mental hospital.
9. A Suspicious Nurse Is Somehow Involved
Being good at the whole policing thing, investigators tracked down the phone number that was found on the back cover of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It was unlisted number that was discovered to belong to a nurse named Jessica Ellen Thomson, who lived less than a quarter mile from where the Somerton Man’s corpse was discovered. Thomson was adamant that she didn’t know the dead man, but claimed to have had a copy of the Rubaiyat, but that she had given it to a man named Alf Boxall back in 1945. This led police to suspect that Boxall was the mysterious cadaver, but good ol’ Alf was found alive and well a few months later— and his copy of the book was fully intact, Tamam Shud and all.
During her interviews, Thomson reportedly acted strangely, and nearly fainted when shown the bust of the dead man. After she died, Thomson’s daughter stated that she believed her mother knew the Somerton Man. Still, no one can figure out how the two are linked.
8. The Book Is One-Of-A-Kind
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam definitely seems be the key to this mystery, doesn’t it? The code, the connection to Jessica Thomson and Alf Boxall, the secret pocket— everything is connected to it! To make things even weirder, the copy of the book that Ronald Francis brought to the police— the one that the scrap of paper found in the dead man’s pocket belonged to— is a ridiculously rare edition of the Rubaiyat. As in it might be the only one like it. Some have speculated that something in the Rubaiyat is the key to the code, but no one has managed to find a copy that exactly matches Francis’ first edition copy allegedly published by Whitcombe & Tombs, making that theory nearly impossible to verify.
7. Someone Has Been Laying Flowers At His Grave
In June of 1949, our mysterious man was finally laid to rest in Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery. If you head to the section of that cemetery called “Plan 3” and head down to grave site number 106 in row 12, you can still find his burial site today— if you have that kind of morbid curiosity. If you do choose to pay the Somerton Man a visit, keep your eyes open because you might not be the only one. Years after he was buried, flowers began showing up at the grave site. A woman who was seen exiting the cemetery was questioned by police, but she claimed to be completely ignorant of anything involving the Somerton Man. So if it wasn’t her, then who has felt the sentimental need to leave flowers for the unidentified man? Could it be Jessica Thomson, the mysterious nurse? Or someone else?
6. His Organs Were All Messed Up
While the autopsy of the Somerton Man’s body came up short of identifying exactly what killed him, a few interesting details did emerge, including some rare genetic traits, present in only 1-2% of the human population. You’d think that having rare physical characteristics would make him easier to identify, but 1% of the earth’s population is still millions upon millions of people, so that doesn’t narrow it down a whole hell of a lot.
The coroner also found that this guy’s spleen was crazy big— about three times bigger than your average spleen— and that his liver had been extensively damaged. It is thought that this might be a result of poisoning, specifically an overdose of sleeping pills, but as with everything else in this case, no one can say for sure.
5. He Was Embalmed
It is pretty easy to imagine how frustrating this case must have been for the Australian police who were unlucky enough to be investigating it. There are way more questions than answers. In fact, it seems like there are only questions and almost no answers at all. No one was able to identify him in any way. No one was able to figure out how he died. No one could figure out where he had been leading up to his death. So on December 10, 1948, ten days after he was discovered, the decision was made to have him embalmed in order preserve his body in hopes of getting a positive identification down the road. At the time, the police said it was the first instance that they had needed to take such action in a case.
4. He Had The Traits Of A Ballet Dancer
The Somerton Man was described as being in his early forties, roughly 180 centimeters tall (about 5 foot 11 inches), and in extremely good shape. He had big, broad shoulders and a narrow waist, indicating that this guy worked out in some way or another. It was also notable that his big and little toes met in a wedge shape, which is common trait for both dancers and people who tend to wear boots with pointed toes. At one point it was hypothesized that he was a wood cutter, but he had baby soft hands. There was no indication on his fingers that he did manual labor of any sort. Also, his calf muscles were high and well-defined like those of a ballet dancer.
3. Most Of The Evidence Has Been Destroyed
Even though the case has never been solved, very little evidence surrounding it exists anymore. The copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam provided to police by the man called Ronald Francis no longer exists. And in 1986 the brown suitcase that was found at the Adelaide rail station along with its contents were destroyed because some genius deemed them to be no longer necessary. How does that even happen? You have one of the greatest unsolved cases of all time on your hands and you chuck out a bunch of the evidence as unnecessary? WTF!
On top of that, some of the hard-nosed amateur detectives still attempting to solve the case have tried to get the body of the Somerton Man exhumed so that DNA samples can be taken and other modern tests can be run, but their requests have thus far been denied. Hmm. Is someone trying to hide something?
2. His Clothes Were… Unusual
At first glance you might not think the Somerton Man’s outfit was anything out of the ordinary. He was well dressed, wearing a suit and tie with polished dress shoes, although he was not wearing a hat, which was notably unusual for the era. Even stranger was the fact that most of the labels had been expertly removed from his clothing— so expertly that the removal process did not damage the clothing at all. The only tags that remained had either “Keane” or “T. Keane” written on them, initially leading investigators to think that the man’s last name was Keane. It wasn’t. Or maybe it was. We really have no idea.
Additionally, he had an unlit cigarette in the collar of his jacket, and in his pockets he had an unused train ticket from Adelaide to Henley beach, as well as a bus ticket that no one could prove to have been used. It seems that our mysterious man had plans to travel before making his transition into a cadaver, making his death even more suspicious.
1. He Might Not Be The Only One
This is a truly bizarre case. There are just too many coincidences and connections to ignore and an aggravating number of unanswered questions. But if you want a few more layers of mystery thrown on top of it all, here you go:
In 1945, three years before the Somerton Man was found near Adelaide, a man from Singapore named George Marshall was found dead in Sydney, Australia… with an open copy of the Rubaiyat on his chest, and it was reported that he died by poisoning. It is generally accepted that Marshall’s death was suicide, but homicide isn’t out of the question. Especially considering that he died extremely close to the location that Jessica Thomson claimed to have given Alf Boxall her copy of the Rubaiyat, and only two months before that exchange.
Does anyone else smell a conspiracy?