On December 1, 1948, a pair of joggers on Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia, noticed a man lying on the sand. The man was well-dressed and appeared to be relaxing under the warm summer sun.
They paid the figure no mind and continued on their morning jog. When they returned to their cars, they noticed the individual was still lying in the same position and contacted the police.
The authorities determined that the man was dead, but they were unable to determine his cause of death. He bore no external injuries and an autopsy failed to uncover any poisons or illnesses in his system.
Further, the man had no identifying documents on his person. Even the tags of his clothes had been removed prior to his death.
Who was the Somerton Man, and how did his body come to rest on the sands of Somerton Beach one summer morning?
The authorities investigated the man’s bizarre death and found more questions than answers. On January 14, 1949, investigators discovered a suitcase that belonged to the Somerton Man. Staff at the Adelaide Railway Station confirmed that a man matching the Somerton John Doe’s description checked the suitcase there on November 30, 1948.
The luggage had no tag–like the man’s clothing, the tag had been removed. While most of the tags on the clothing in the suitcase had also been removed, the name “T. Keane” was visible on a tie and a laundry bag. No one by that name was missing from any English-speaking country, so investigators concluded that the name was a red herring.
The case took another odd turn when investigators discovered a piece of paper in a hidden pocket of the dead man’s trousers in June of 1949. The paper bore the inscription “Tamam Shud,” a phrase from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The phrase translates roughly to “ended,” or “it is finished.” It appears at the end of the Rubaiyat, a collection of Persian poems that mainly meditate on the transience of life and the human condition.
By a stroke of luck, the authorities tracked down the exact copy of the Rubaiyat from which the scrap was taken. A passerby who happened to leave their car window open near Somerton Beach on December 1 told police they’d found the book in the back seat of their car.
The Tamam Shud case remains unsolved. Some investigators believe that the unidentified man was a spy, perhaps a member of MI5 or the CIA. He may have been poisoned by a rival intelligence agency. In the end, the public may never know the identity of the Somerton Man.