While responding to Cipher Mysteries comments from the ever-interesting Byron Deveson and others today, it struck me that what we are broadly iterating towards is a kind of “open source autopsy” of the Tamam Shud / Unknown / Somerton Man. And so, my reasoning went, why not take this basic idea and really do it properly?

In short, I propose that we carry out an open source autopsy on the Unknown Man. The point of the exercise would not be to do with whether you think, believe or suspect he was a spy, a paramour, a horse doper, a car thief or whatever, but with the unassailable basic factuality his physical body tells us about what happened to him (pre- and post-mortem) in the period up to the morning of 1st December 1948.

For me, a grain of fact outweighs a ton of speculation: and I believe that by collaborating to dig out all the grains of fact we can here, we will be able to reach a position where we can build up a powerful and convincing story about what happened. Not only that, but by collecting, exposing, and validating all the physical evidence, any conclusions or inferences will be openly accessible and verifiable by all manner of modern forensic professionals.

The first step in this journey of a thousand miles, though, is evidence collection. Frankly, I’m getting a bit tired of re-reading abbreviated summaries in 60-year-old Australian newspapers about the various autopsies, coronial inquests, and pathology reports. For example, Kerry Greenwood’s recent book (I’m waiting for my copy to arrive, any day now, *sigh*) quotes John Dwyer’s pathology notes, but having direct access to these notes is surely a better place to start.

I surely can’t be the only researcher who wants to go through these reports first-hand!

So, my current list of evidence sources we would need to begin with would look something like this:-

* Dr John Berkely Bennett’s autopsy report [examined the body at 9.30am on 1st December 1948]
* Dr John Matthew Dwyer’s pathology report [carried out the post-mortem at 7:30am on 2nd December 1948]
* Dr Robert Cowan’s report [stomach, stomach contents, a liver section, a muscle section, blood and urine]
* Dr Kenneth A. Brown’s forensic odontology report [he surely wrote and submitted a report, right?]
* The coronial inquest transcript / report [“Inquest Into the Death of a Body Located at Somerton on 1st December 1948, State Records of South Australia, GX/0A/0000/1016/0B, 17th & 21st June 1949”]
* The raw data collected from what is believed to be the Unknown Man’s hair by Professor Derek Abbott’s group.

Note that I’m not interested in the police reports or in any individual claims or narratives at this stage, but only in raw physical evidence. Is there anything missing from this list? Please leave a comment if there is!

Of course, there may be particular reasons why some or all of these can’t be openly published on the Internet. But all the same, I think we should be able to publish detailed summaries of all of the physical evidence and conclusions, not just the edited highlights that prove useful to reinforce some speculative or moral narrative.

To stand any chance of making any headway, I think we need to start with the whole physical story in all its confusing, contradictory detail – because the body itself can’t speculate or lie. Is that too much to ask for?

9 thoughts on “Proposal: “Open Source Autopsy on the Unknown Man”…

  1. T Anderson on November 11, 2013 at 3:13 am said:

    Abbott has a wiki, but he left it up to grad students to put up the mass spectrometry findings. I don’t think they put up the raw data, but i fetched and cleaned up what they did post for archival purposes. Converting it to a PDF added bad page breaks, the spam filter is rejecting the links so i put them on pastebin http://pastebin.com/MjkzgYtB

    The wiki link is

    An online transcript of the 1949 inquest on the same site

    Which includes a link to the 1958 inquest at the bottom

  2. Šuruppag on November 11, 2013 at 11:04 pm said:

    Hello Mr. Pelling, I would like to say I have stumbled upon your blog recently and I have found it very interesting. Everything from the meticulously accurate archival research to the highly speculative and colourful comments (My favourite being “the Somerton man was a Russian spy, those are the eyes of a man who has clearly worn the Tatar yoke”).

    I hope you continue to pursue this case and I will be sure to recommend anyone interested in cryptography to your site (selectively to weed out trolls of course).

  3. This is a great idea.
    One of my favourite pass times is to learn about the human body and medical conditions. If I can be of any help in researching I will.

  4. B Deveson on March 21, 2015 at 2:37 pm said:

    I have found some data concerning the prevalence of hypodontia in various countries, and it suggests that SM is more likely (judging purely on hypodontia prevalences) to have been born in Australia than in England, Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia or the United States. The full breakdown of the hypodontia categories wasn’t given in the following papers, so the degree of increased prevalence in Australia can only be roughly judged, but it looks to be about a factor of four times greater than in the previously mentioned countries.

    “Hypodontia – A retrospective review of prevalence and aetiology. Part 1
    Colin J. Larmour. Peter A. Mossey. Bikram S. Thind. Andrew H. Forgie. David R. Stirrups.
    http:// www. ncbi. nlm. nih. gov/pubmed/15835422

    Lynham, A. Panoramic radiographic survey of hypodontia in Australian Defence Force recruits. Aust. Dent. J. 1990; 35: pp.19-22.

    I noted that, judging from the data presented in the paper by Larmour et. al., Australia appears to have a much higher incidence of hypodontia of the maxillary lateral incisors than any of the other countries survey (all of the countries of interest to us were included; Four Scandinavian countries, Australia, England, Ireland and the United States). Unfortunately, the break down of the percentages for each form of hypodontia are not given, but Australia had a predominance of missing
    maxillary lateral incisors (only one other country had this feature – Malaysia) as well as having a high overall total incidence of uncategorised hypodontia (6.3% according to Lynham).

  5. Gordon on March 22, 2015 at 5:30 am said:

    Nice work Byron. Somewhere there is a cast of SM’s teeth or at least an image, I wopuld not consider myself competent in this area but from what I understand the condition means that specific teeth are missing as in they had never grown into place the first instance. Wouldn’t that mean that there would be no space where they should have been and that the teeth simply ‘close up’ naturally thereby covering the gap? Is that what SM’s dental information tells us or where there in fact gaps where teeth used to be? Sorry if I haven’t explained it well 🙂

  6. B Deveson on March 22, 2015 at 10:16 am said:

    Hi Gordon. The teeth were missing from the start and there was no gap. Check out Google maxillary lateral incisors hypodontia for some good photos. It has been said that many people would not have noticed that SM was missing these teeth, and you will see that this was probably the case when you check the Google images.

  7. B Deveson on March 22, 2015 at 11:03 am said:

    I just looked at Google, and things are not as they were when I last looked at those images – maybe two years ago? OK. OK. Which is a lifetime ago. The images now seem to be selected from dentists horror files. But there still is the occasional image that shows a nice smile lacking the incisors.

  8. Gordon on March 23, 2015 at 10:23 pm said:

    Hi Byron, There is a list or autopsy document somewhere that provides a dental ‘map’ of SMs teeth and I think it actually states the number and location of teeth that were ‘missing’ as opposed to being not there in the first place. If I recall correctly amongst the autopsy documents there is also a reference to ‘people would certainly notice his teeth missing if he smiled’ or similar. Would you be able to check that out? If the memory is correct then that would appear to rule out hypodontia wouldn’t it? I am on a very low bandwidth here and access to the internet is abysmal at the moment.

  9. B Deveson on March 24, 2015 at 10:49 pm said:

    Hi Gordon, your comments have caused me to go back to my notes, and I have found that I can not find any primary evidence where hypodontia was mentioned. I thought that Paul Lawson had mentioned hypodontia, but this does not appear to be the case, and the question of hypodontia seems to have only cropped up relatively recently. In the absence of primary evidence we can not assume hypodontia. I previously quizzed my dentist about hypodontia and SM’s dental chart, and modern practice is that teeth missing due to any cause are just marked as missing. My dentist said that hypodontia in her practice is fairly common and unremarkable.
    I remember the comment you mention as saying the opposite, that is, that one would not notice SM’s missing incisors. But my memory might be playing tricks. At present I can’t find who made the statement, and I had assumed it was Paul Lawson (which would make it primary evidence).

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