On an Australian beach, on December 1st of 1948, a body was found. This incident would turn out to be one of the biggest mysteries the world has ever seen. Who was this man? How did he die? Why was he on the beach? None of these questions have been answered, although many have tried. The body that was found is now known only as “The Somerton Man,” based on Somerton beach, where his corpse was found.
The Somerton Man was found by a man known as John Lyons. According to Lyons, The Somerton Man had been on the beach on the last night of November as well, his body propped in an awkward angle. When Lyons approached, however, the man raised his arm, alerting Lyons to the fact that the man was still breathing. The next morning, when Lyons went for a swim, the man was still there, in the same odd position. This time though, when Lyons went to the check on the man, there was no reaction. He was dead. The authorities were quickly alerted.
An autopsy was done, and it was quickly decided that the Somerton Man had been poisoned. There was blood in the stomach and the liver, his kidneys and brain were congested, and his spleen was three times the normal size. The type of poison used was never discovered, the medical equipment not being advanced enough to recover the answer. However, more interesting than the way the man died, was how he had been found. Or, more specifically, what the man was found with.
A singular unused cigarette lay upon his chest. He was wearing a rather expensive American suit, and his hair was still nicely groomed from the night before. Upon checking his pockets, an aluminum comb was found, something that was not sold in Australia, which, when combined with the suit, told authorities that The Somerton Man had recently been in America. Along with the comb, a cheap pack of cigarettes were contained in his suit jacket. This wouldn’t be unusual, except that the cigarettes contained in the pack were of an expensive brand, which didn’t match the packaging. This suggested that the man had been trying to seem poorer than he was in actuality.
The most interesting possession found on the man has yet to be mentioned. In a hidden pocket within The Somerton Man’s waistband, there was a tightly rolled slip of paper residing within a small fob pocket watch. Upon this paper, it read “Tamam Shud” which means “finished” or “it is the end” in the Farsi language. It was the last words in the popular book “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”. The piece of paper was recognised to be of a 1941 edition, and calls were put forth by the police for any information on the book.
To their surprise, a man came forth with the book the page had been stolen from, claiming that the book had been thrown into his back window at around the time that The Somerton Man had been found. On the back of the book was phone number and five lines of random letters that many claim is a cipher or an acrostic.
Upon calling the phone number, it was revealed that it belonged to a woman who lived on Somerton Beach, one Jessica Thompson. She was a nurse who worked at the Royal Shore North Hospital. Her house was about 400 meters from where the Somerton Man had been found. When authorities went to her home, she denied any knowledge of the Somerton Man. The police did not believe her, and claimed that upon showing her a plaster cast made of the Somerton Man’s head, she seemed taken aback. This could be explained however, by being shown a cast made from a dead man’s head.
Shortly before authorities went over to Thompson’s, a briefcase was recovered at the nearest train station that had never been claimed. Authorities decided that the case had likely belonged to the Somerton Man and confiscated it. Upon the shirts, the tags were all cut off except for a couple which read “Keane”. The police thought that this was probably not the Somerton Man’s name as there was no one in the missing people reports who went by that name.
All of the information that was uncovered was leading the police to one conclusion: they believed that the Somerton Man had been a spy for the Soviets. This was the beginning of the Cold War, and despite Australia being mostly removed from the situation, paranoia was running rampant in the streets.
Nothing was uncovered on the Somerton Man after that for around 70 years. However, shortly after Jessica Thompson died in 2007, her daughter Kate Thompson stepped forward with information. Ms. Thompson believed that her mother had also been a Russian spy. She claimed that she had overheard her mother speaking Russian, and that her mother had told her that she had known who the Somerton Man was, but she would never tell. Kate Thompson claimed that her mother said that it was mystery for those higher up than the police.
Kate Thompson was not Jessica Thompson’s only child though. She also had a son, Robin Thompson, who bore a rather striking resemblance to the Somerton Man. He had been born the year before the man’s death, and shared genetic traits. If that wasn’t enough, Robin’s father was never known to the rest of the family. Unfortunately, Robin died in 2009, leaving only a daughter behind.
Physicist Derek Abbott was obsessed with proving the connection between Robin and the Somerton Man, and has made several appeals to exhume the Somerton Man to compare his DNA with Robin’s daughter, Rachel. Within three days of meeting Rachel, the man had proposed to her. So far, his attempts to compare his wife’s DNA with the Somerton Man have not come to fruition, due to the denial of his three petitions to dig up the body.
So why was the Somerton Man on the beach to begin with? Was he a Russian spy? Was it an attempt to visit his son gone wrong? Or was he there for some other reason, one that hasn’t been considered? The world may never know, as everyone who could have said for certain is already six feet beneath the ground.