Probably the definitive starting point for any discussion about the sad affair of Keith Mangnoson is the inquest report into the death of his young son Clive. It’s on the Internet courtesy of the consistently intriguing blog The Marshall Files, though reading comments there tutting at the moderator of a certain other blog (*cough* Cipher Mysteries *cough*) for letting trolls get so badly out of hand did feel a tad surreal. 😐
But I digress. Let’s try to build up a picture of Keith Mangnoson’s early life…
Born on 9th May 1914 in Adelaide, Keith Waldemar Mangnoson at the age of 14 then…
“…left home and worked on farms in the country until early in 1940, when he got lost in heavy scrub country at near Nadda where he was engaged in wood cutting. After the lapse of several days he was found lying unconscious and suffering from severe sunburn in an empty horse trough. After spending several weeks in the Loxton Public Hospital under the care of the late Doctor Tanko, he was removed to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and later to the Convalescent Hospital at Magill. The doctor who was attending him at the latter informed Mangnoson’s mother that her son was not responding to treatment and advised her to have him placed in the Enfield Receiving Home. He was taken to the Home where he remained for three months, and then his mother took him to a farm at Alma Plains where he stayed for a few weeks.
On May 11, 1941, Mangnoson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces and served as a Private with the 2/48th Australian Infantry Battalion in the Middle East and later on in the Pacific Area, where he contracted malaria and suffered with war neurosis. On his return to Australia he was admitted to the Military Hospital at Northfield and remained there until he was discharged from the Services on February 7, 1945. He then returned to his mother’s home at 12, Magarey Terrace, Largs Bay and remained there until he was married in the following May.“
Remembering Mangnoson’s claim that he worked with a “Carl Thompsen” in Renmark (250km ENE of Adelaide, not too far from the SA/Victoria state border) in “1939”, we can see that this could only have been in the period before his near-death experience in Nadda (60km South of Renmark, and similarly close to the state border), and while this may conceivably have been in very early 1940, it certainly could not have been any later than that.
Renmark is surrounded by mallee scrubland (fairly arid, with lots of eucalypts): circa 1940, I presume much of this was being cleared (by woodcutters such as Mangnoson) for large-scale farming, as it has now developed a very significant grape, citrus-fruit and nut farming industry. The local papers at the time have columns talking about removing the green tinge from sultanas and whether there would be a market for flax… you get the basic idea.
Trove can also give us (thanks to the Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record, as well as the Adelaide Advertiser and the Adelaide Chronicle) several other brief glimpses into Keith Mangnoson’s early life. In March 1940, he was living in Alma and got engaged to a certain Winifred L. Williams from Renmark:-
WILLIAMS—MANGNOSON — The engagement is announced of WINIFRED L., eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. S. Williams of Renmark, to KEITH, W., second son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Mangnoson of Alma.
On August 1 1940, Mangnoson’s name appears as one of those volunteers for National Service from Renmark whose applications had been rejected.
We also know (according to the front page of the 28th March 1940 Murray Pioneer) that this had been the “Hottest March on Record – Thirteen Centuries at Renmark… all previous records for March heat have been smashed.” (p.16: “Wanted – Wood cutters and stump splitters, Moorook district”.)
However – as normal with just about everything to do with the Mangnoson family and the Somerton Man – throughout all this I find myself playing archival catch-up with the very splendid Barry Traish, who has been raking over (and indeed generously correcting) these Trove scans for some time now. But all the same, I have my own take on what these pieces of evidence could well mean if you put them all together…
If these fragments are all separately correct, then “early in 1940” must surely have been after Mangnoson’s engagement to Winifred Williams (announced in the 7th March 1940 editions of the various newspapers) and probably more than four months before 1st August 1940 (when his application was rejected), for surely he can’t have volunteered to join the AIF while still recovering in the Enfield Receiving Home? All of which seems to me to point to the incident happening some time in mid-to-late March 1940, just after his engagement… yet there is no mention of it in any of the newspapers in Trove.
Of course, the logical question for those Australian genealogist researcher readers who have managed to hold on this far into such a TL;DR post is surely this: whatever happened to Winifred L. Williams of Renmark? Did anyone ever think to ask her about Keith Mangnoson and his 1939 Renmark workmate “Carl Thompsen”? I’m guessing that she would be in her 90s now: I know I’m jinxing it by even asking, but might she even possibly still be alive?