A piece in the Adelaide ‘Tiser a few days ago lays out retired policeman Gordon Cramer’s sensational-sounding Somerton Man claims – that the mysterious cipher-like Rubaiyat note linked to the Somerton Man contains “Prosigns” (a set of abbreviations when using Morse Code); that it also contains microwriting; and that some of this microwriting in fact refers to a top secret post-war British plane – the de Havilland Venom.


Gordon has been doggedly pursuing the Somerton Man’s trail for several years now… so might his diligent nose have sniffed out a whole set of truffles that everyone else has been walking past in the rotting forest of evidence?

The immediate thing to note is that there are so very many cipher history / mystery elements in play here that it’s going to take me more than a single blog post to cover them all. But I’ll start briskly with what I think is the fundamental forensic question – What happened to the Rubaiyat note to leave it the way we see it in the scans? – because Gordon’s take on this has both interesting similarities to and differences from my own.

A smooth writing surface?

First things first: Gordon and I agree (I think) that what we’re looking at is quite different from the state the page was in when it was passed to the SA police. Looking close-up at the letters (as Gordon has spent so much time doing), it is very clear (I think) that there is a ‘slide’ to the way many of them were formed, as if they had been written on a shiny / smooth / glossy surface… and hence not on the roughly-textured post-war paper of the Rubaiyat.


In particular, I think it is hard to see the “A” of the “PANETP” (above) as having been written on anything but a slippery surface: and if this holds true for the ‘A’, then it must also be true of all the other letters written in the same codicological ‘layer’.

A laundry pen?

Secondly, he and I also agree (I think) that in 1949 these marks must almost certainly have been made by an early indelible marker pen, such as a laundry pen. I’m not a laundry pen historian (there can’t be that many of them in the world, surely?), but I am reasonably sure that they would have had fairly stiff wicks / tips drawing ink from their ink reservoir. I also don’t think they would have been much fun to write with: by way of contrast, the (later) felt tip pins had tips that were much more pliable.

I further suspect that we have enough evidence to make a reasonable estimate of the physical size of the pen’s tip. Given that the size of the Whitcomb and Tombs Rubaiyat edition upon which the writing was found is 110mm x 140mm, (which Gordon describes (fairly reasonably) as a “pocket version”) and that the width of the downstroke on the A is about 13 pixels on the 1802×1440 image, I believe we can infer a line width of between 0.75mm and 0.80mm. All of which is pretty much consistent with the pen being something similar to a laundry pen of the time (note that the first Sharpie was launched fifteen years later in 1964).


Furthermore, if you look at the ‘feet’ of many of the vertical lines (as above), you can – I think – see ‘pooling’ where the ink has collected at the end of a downstroke: so my suspicion here is that the ink would seem to have been made to a ‘wetter’ formulation than the kind used in modern marker pens.

The Jestyn ‘R’?

Gordon has also recently pointed out a similarity between the (only) R in the Rubaiyat note and the first R in Jestyn’s note in Alf Boxall’s Rubaiyat.


I agree that it’s an intriguing suggestion, but I’d caution that Jestyn’s overall ‘hand’ is slightly forward slanting and curved, while all the ‘laundry pen letters’ are distinctly upright and linear. All in all, if there is a match there, I’d say it’s a pretty thin one… but I thought I ought to say.

The first letter.

So far, so good. But it is broadly at this point that our paths diverge, so I’ll go on to consider a number of possible scenarios in the next post.

Yet there is another issue here: the “M” that is apparently visible beneath the first letter. (And yes, I know that the first letter is also an “M”: I’m talking about something that looks like a pencil “M” beneath a laundry pen “M”). A picture is well worth a thousand words here:-


If you can’t see what I’m talking about, here’s another version with the M-like lines roughly highlighted in green:-


What was used to mark out this single under-letter? Not laundry pen, nor iodine vapour, nor even UV light: to my eye, it resembles faint pencil, or perhaps pencil marks that have been partially erased and then contrast enhanced in the photographer’s dark room. Might it be that these faint lines were what all the text originally looked like, before having the marker pen layer added on top?

What I find most interesting is that this ‘under-M’ doesn’t yet square well with anybody’s ideas about this page (not even my own): and is therefore perhaps a sign that we’re all misreading this in one or more significant ways. We don’t yet know the real history of how this page was made – every account seems to be closer to hearsay than to evidence – so it’s all up for grabs. Anyway, scenarios next…

34 thoughts on “Gordon Cramer and the Somerton Man’s Rubaiyat…

  1. Don Latham on July 12, 2014 at 5:24 am said:

    1) where is the original now?
    2)anyone lookeed for more faint pencil under/near the ink?
    3)is there a way to see if there are compressed fibers (pencil) under the smooth ink if the original were available?
    4) who did the emphasizing?

  2. Shurupag on July 12, 2014 at 6:25 am said:

    If that faint marking was indeed an M, it would have been a very distinctive one. Perhaps it could be compared to Jestyn’s writing.

  3. pete on July 12, 2014 at 8:13 am said:

    I see a W turned into a M with the two near vertical strokes .. And I smell a rat, somebody being clever perhaps, back in the day.

  4. Gordon on July 12, 2014 at 9:56 am said:

    Nice job Nick, Good overview and whilst we may not agree on all things, I do think that your work in this post is quality.

  5. Gordon on July 12, 2014 at 10:15 am said:

    On the letter R Nick, my thoughts were that on the code page and in my view, each of the letters were done in outline and caps. In the Verse 70 example, the letters were all in cursive and therefore there would be a forward slant.

  6. I see a different set of prosigns .. and I disagree with what Nick is putting up here – that the “M” that is apparently visible beneath the first letter.”
    I have a theory … and it don’t mean no one no good (thank you Bob Dylan)

  7. Pete: I haven’t got to Prosigns yet! I suspect that the first letter was initially (laundry pen) overwritten as “W”, before it was (laundry pen) corrected to be a “M”…

  8. I’m off mate, see you at the finish line ..

  9. Pete: ah, that’s really thoughtful of you – it’s always nice when people wave you on. 😉

  10. bdid1dr on July 12, 2014 at 3:30 pm said:

    Nick, is it possible for you to ‘flip’ the page (bottom edge upward) and enhance the writing which appears to be ‘bleed-through’ on the left margin?

  11. bdid1dr: I’ve had a careful look and I can’t see anything reliable. But I’ll be moving on to the topic of microwriting very shortly, which covers that kind of thing much more closely.

  12. misca on July 13, 2014 at 1:51 am said:

    So…If one were writing all of this micro-writing within a secret (larger) code, how would one know how to read the micro-code. Writing normally reads left to right (or right to left) but if a code is hidden in letters that run 360 degrees/up-down etc…Where is the beginning and the end? Is there an indication of which direction to follow in the micro-writen code as well?

  13. misca on July 13, 2014 at 1:52 am said:

    Sorry about the sics.

  14. misca on July 13, 2014 at 2:26 am said:

    They built a freekin’ cast of this man six months after he died but they didn’t finger print anything but his dead fingers? What a bunch of “yahoos”! We have 4,5 maybe 6 photographs of this dead man with exceptionally large hands and strange feet but not a single photograph of either the hands or feet? Respectable or not, they failed miserably in every aspect of investigation. I’m a little more than angry tonight – geez; what were all of these “experts” and “respectable” people doing? They did NOTHING that was most obviously required to investigate this man’s death but they were “stealth” deciphering micro-writing within a code that was found in a book of a chemist/doctor/pharmacist’s car by the brother-in-law, children of such person? Ummm…Getting down to brass tacks, I don’t think that anyone involved was remotely capable of finding anything remotely close to micro-writing.
    Given the way the whole case was (not) handled, I’m starting to doubt what “they” even tried to prescribe to originally ascertained code.

  15. misca: fingerprinting is something I’ve also been looking into recently with regard to Gordon Cramer’s research, and – all being well – it should feature in the next “scenarios” Tamam Shud post here. 🙂

  16. misca: just so you know, the post after that is planned to cover prosigns, and then microwriting. Who’d be me, eh? 😐

  17. spreading yeself a little thin are ye dome ..

  18. Clive on July 13, 2014 at 10:57 am said:

    Hi Nick, The first letter “M”-is that really another faint letter “M” underneath? The letter underneath looks like a “P”?

  19. Pete: at a thousand words a post, I’d say I’m doing the precise opposite. 🙂

  20. Clive: could be, could be – I only said what it looked like to me, your mileage may vary. 🙂

  21. A thousand words isn’t difficult, finding something is …

  22. Pete: writing even a hundred good words is hard, but writing a thousand good words is more than 10x harder… 🙂

  23. pete on July 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm said:

    Nick: look at that image .. Is it a W, or M ? … Or is it a W turned into a M ?
    How else would you explain the shape … It’s your image, what is it?

  24. Gordon on July 13, 2014 at 5:50 pm said:

    Misca, Whoever wrote the microwriting/code appears to have used the letter ‘X’ as a separator between strings, in this way you can follow the direction of the writing. For example 2 consecutive strings would look like this:
    X36758X4914 and so on.
    Micro wiriting around curves is a little more complex and requires more experience/skill to achieve. If you compare the micro writing in Jestyns poem to Alf, there are few examples of curved writing whilst the opposite applies to the code page with numerous examples of curves. You might want to follow up on James W Zaharee who in the 1930s wrote Lincolns Gettysburg Address on a 3 inch strand of human hair. Amazing stuff.

  25. How about this for a scenario, the code writer, prior to exercising his skills as a miniaturist, writes guiding lines / letters. Not unlike a sign writer who marks up his available space before he commits to paint.

  26. Gordon on July 13, 2014 at 11:09 pm said:

    Nick, With regard to the laundry pen issue, you will notice that some letters have a stippled effect, much smaller markings and in my view that was an attempt to cover individual letters and numbers. The letter R in line 1 is one prime example of that effect. It wouldn’t be beyond the bounds of possibilities that SOCO or whoever else may have been involved in the task may have had specific tools to do this kind of work.

    Worth also bearing in mind that the Police, Intelligence agencies and security services would have been well versed and experienced in matters pertaining to espionage/spying having just emerged from WW2. The job of conducting a search of the body and belongings would have been a specialist task not just for Mr.Plod on the beat to conduct.

  27. “I suspect that the first letter was initially (laundry pen) overwritten as “W”, before it was (laundry pen) corrected to be a “M”…”
    Nick: If you accept this, and examine the page again, then you must accept that the first letter of another two lines was similarly corrected.
    Because three have been changed.

  28. Gordon on July 17, 2014 at 7:00 am said:

    Pete, I think that marking up was the way it was done, look to the marked up version of Jestyn’s poem to Alf Boxall on the blog. All aligned and with some unusually straight edges.

  29. pete on July 17, 2014 at 8:39 am said:

    GC: Why just those three?

  30. Gordon on July 17, 2014 at 9:30 am said:

    Pete, It could be down to procedure. Leo Marks had noticed that some agents messages coming from Holland, I think, were perfect, no mistakes; in reality agents were generally always under severe pressure and they would make mistakes. He suspected that the Germans had captured the agents and were using their call signs.

    Amusingly he decided to test his theory and responded to one Abwehr generated message by signing it of HH. This was common practice by German signals people, it stood for ‘Heil Hitler’. A reply came back from the ‘agent’ similarly signed and point proven.

    The point is that sometimes agents were taught to make deliberate mistakes so that the message looked authentic. Now would be a good time to go back and look again at Jestyn’s poem to Alf, her handritten letters that I’ve seen are word perfect but Verse 70 has a number of ‘mistakes’.

  31. I think I’ll stick with this GC, three accidents on the one page, in the one place, is two too many … you and Nick carry on.

  32. misca on July 18, 2014 at 1:14 am said:

    Furphy – Where did you go with your interconnectivity-chart? Come back!

  33. Pingback: Somerton Man Part Two: Police Photography revisited... -Cipher Mysteries

  34. It looks like a transparency was used to trace over the original.

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