Cold Case: Somerton Man Mystery

On the morning of December 1st 1948, a deceased man was found on Somerton Beach, south west of the city. The discovery of the body barely made the local press in the days that followed. Such things, though not particularly pleasant, had happened before.

However as the identity of the man and the cause of his death continued to baffle police in the months that followed, it soon became clear that this was anything but a straightforward case. An extensive investigation was launched and despite a huge response from not only South Australians, but people from across the country, the case remained unsolved. Even a Coronial Inquest found that the man’s identity and the manner of his death was “inconclusive”. With no known name, the man began to be referred to as the ‘Somerton Man’.

Speculation grew over who the identity of the Somerton Man- was he a Displaced Person who had migrated to Australia following the Second World War? A trained dancer with an impeccable physique? A Soviet spy sent to uncover Cold War secrets?

Although the body had been found at Somerton Beach, it soon became clear to South Australian police that the mystery man had also spent time in the heart of the city in the hours leading up to his death.

Use this self guided trail to explore the evidence from the Somerton Man’s final day and draw your own conclusions about Adelaide’s most famous cold case.

Somerton Man Mystery: Beck's Bookstore

After the discovery of the piece of paper in the man’s trousers, Detective Brown scoured the city to find a version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that the paper could be matched to. He visited several libraries and bookshops including Beck’s…

Somerton Man Mystery: South Australian Museum

With no promising leads and the burial date rapidly approaching, by June 1949 it was decided that a plaster cast should be made of the body in the hope that it would help identify the man in the future. Taxidermist Paul Lawson from the South…

Somerton Man Mystery: Adelaide Railway Station

Among the items that had been found on the man’s body was an unused railway ticket from the city to Henley Beach. Detectives Lionel Leane and Len Brown made enquiries at the Adelaide Railway Station in January 1949 to see if the man had left…

Somerton Man Mystery: St Leonards Bus Stop

One of the items found in the man’s possession was a used bus ticket from the city to Somerton Beach. Detectives assumed that the man must have caught a double-decker bus from the bus stop located across from the railway station to St Leonards (now…

Somerton Man Mystery: Elephant and Castle Hotel

As the months passed in 1949, the mystery of the Somerton Man continued to captivate the South Australian public. With more questions than answers, preparations were made for his burial at West Terrace Cemetery. The Elephant and Castle Hotel, a…

Somerton Man Mystery" West Terrace Cemetery

Six months after his body as discovered at Somerton Beach, the funeral of the Somerton Man took place on 14 June 1949 at West Terrace Cemetery. The service was arranged with some secrecy to ensure that the curious public would be kept away. Captain…