Somerton Man Mystery: University of Adelaide's Medical School North

In the weeks and months following the discovery of the body, the identity of the man continued to elude South Australian police. Initially identified by The Advertiser newspaper as local man E.C. Johnson, the appearance of a very much alive Mr Johnson quickly put an end to that idea. And although a number of items were found on the man’s body, no form of identification was recovered. With the hope that someone from the public may recognise him, the body was photographed and fingerprinted.

The deceased man was described as approximately 45 years in age, 5 feet 11 inches in height (180 cm), with greying hair and grey eyes. It was also noted that he had a strong physical build, particularly for a middle-aged man. Many from the public came forward believing they knew the man, and several even ‘positively’ identified him after viewing the body; however, each lead proved unsuccessful. Details were also sent to authorities in several other countries, including the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI; however, despite a wide- scale public campaign, it seemed no one knew the man.

The police detectives assigned to the case, Lionel Leane and Len Brown, gave the man’s clothing to Professor John Burton Cleland to examine in April 1949. Professor Cleland, from the Department of Pathology at the University of Adelaide, made a remarkable discovery during the course of his investigation.

In June, in a small pocket in the waistband of the man’s trousers, he found a small rolled up piece of torn paper with the words “Tamam Shud” printed on one side. Research revealed that these words were from the final verse of a popular collection of poetry known as The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Written in the 11th Century by Persian philosopher Omar Khayyam, the poem had been translated by Englishman Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. Translated into English, the words “Tamam Shud” mean ‘it is finished’ or ‘ended’.

This new clue mystified authorities- some, including Professor Cleland, believed that the words indicated a man intending to commit suicide. But what was the connection between the deceased man and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam? Were the words ‘Tamam Shud’ taken from a copy of the book for a specific purpose or to represent a particular meaning? And how did the piece of paper end up in the man’s pocket? Did the man place it there or was it someone else?


Somerton Man Mystery
Professor Derek Abbott from the University of Adelaide looks at the clues found in the months that followed the Somerton Man's mysterious death. ~ Source: National Trust of South Australia
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