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 Bookstore, once located on Pulteney Street. It was here that he found a version of the book of poetry published by Collins Press in England that matched the font and size of the words found on the piece of paper.

Police asked for the public’s help in locating the copy of the book that the piece of paper had been torn from. In July 1949, a local man came forward with the book. The man claimed he had discovered the book in the back of his car on 30 November 1948, the day before the body was reported to police.

The car had been parked in Glenelg with a window open, and it was assumed that at some point the book must have been tossed onto the floor. Not realising its significance, the man had forgotten about the book until police had put the call out in the local press. Based on the texture of the piece of paper discovered in the Somerton man’s trousers, it was determined that it had come from the book that had been turned in to police.

With the matching copy now in hand, detectives were presented with two new clues. The first was a faintly written telephone number on the book’s back cover. The number was traced to a woman living in Glenelg close to where the body had been discovered. Wishing to remain anonymous, the woman, known as ‘Jestyn’, told detectives that while training as a nurse in Sydney she had given a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam to a man named Alfred Boxall. The police tracked down Boxall who confirmed Jestyn’s story and produced his own copy for police. The inside cover of Boxall’s copy had been inscribed by Jestyn and read:

“Indeed, indeed. Repentance oft before
I swore – but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.”

Along with Jestyn’s telephone number, detectives also found handwritten letters printed across five lines on the back cover of the book turned in to police. They were:


The apparently nonsensical series of letters led many to speculate that they must be some kind of code and in the Cold War atmosphere of the time, it was suggested that the man was perhaps a Soviet spy. Despite ongoing attempts by professional and amateur code breakers to decipher the lines, the supposed code was never cracked.

Was Jestyn the reason the man had travelled to Glenelg on 30 November 1948? What did the letters on the back cover mean? Were they just random or perhaps a secret message meant for the man, Jestyn, or someone else?


Somerton Man Mystery
Professor Derek Abbott from the University of Adelaide discusses the discovery of the 'Tamam Shud' paper on the Somerton Man and the efforts to locate the book it came from. ~ Source: National Trust of South Australia
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