In Part One I looked afresh at the ink of the Somerton Man’s Rubaiyat letters, trying to get some kind of handle on what it is that we are looking at there.

However, I think there’s a huge slice of mid-century history that we’ve largely managed to overlook up until now, but that may well give us a different angle again: Australian police photography.

The ‘mother lode’ of this is a huge collection of about 100,000 negatives taken by NSW police photographers “between 1912 and the late 1960s”: this was originally uncovered in a government warehouse in 1989, but has since had books written about it, as well as travelling archive exhibitions and countless reproductions in newspapers. (It is now under the custodianship of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.)

Fingerprints, crime scenes, mug shots, stolen goods, and (yes) even documents are there: the dead, the gloating, the defensive, the beaten, the defiant, the lost. All human life is here, though (with a nod to Anthony Burgess) perhaps the Holy Ghost remained just out of shot. Some appear strikingly anachronistic, such as the extraordinary Mrs Osbourne, who looks to me like someone circa 2009 with a thing for retro clothes:-


There’s a great description online by Peter Doyle of the research he did into this collection, that turned into his (2005) book “City of Shadows, Sydney police Photographs 1912-1948”, as well as his (2009) book “Crooks Like Us”. Perhaps a little media-theoretic for my personal taste, but stunning, unforgettable images nonetheless. (There are a fair few more online here.)

Anyway… from my reading so far, it seems that almost all police images prior to the 1950s used 6″ X 4″ glass plate negatives: it was only in the late 1940s and early 1950s that sheet film started to be used (roll film didn’t arrive until the 1950s). The white writing on the images (such as “20. MRS OSBOURNE” above) was black writing written directly onto the negative (and hence which came out white when turned positive). Text was normally, I believe, written back to front on the negative so that it would end up the correct way round when finally printed, which I suspect is why many of the captions look somewhat scratchy and upright.

We can therefore (I think) already rule out the suggestion that what we see in the Rubaiyat note might have been applied directly to a negative, because (as you can see from the archives) this was a practice used extensively with dark ink that ends up white when the negative is turned positive (as opposed to white ink that ends up dark when reversed).

We can also (I think) rule out the use of iodine vapour deposition to make the photograph: this was an early forensic technique that took the lipids left on a surface in fingerprints and (briefly) turned them brown, whereupon they could be photographed and used as evidence. However, the drawback with this technique is that the lipids left behind in this way degrade and become unusable after only a week or so: so it would seem unlikely to have been used on the Somerton Man’s Rubaiyat.

(This also answers the often asked question about why the Somerton Man’s suitcase was never fingerprinted – it’s because iodine vapour deposition isn’t much use after a week, and the suitcase was only retrieved several weeks later).

We can also (I suspect, though Gordon Cramer will doubtless disagree) rule out the use of UV photography. Even though the Australian Special Investigation Bureau was formed in 1938 (it had access to up-to-date photographic equipment, and developed a “standard set of procedures for taking crime photos” according to this page), I simply don’t believe the photographer used by the SA police was in that league at all.

So what are we looking at, then? If the back part of the image isn’t a film or glass negative, we only really have three feasible scenarios left:

(1) the actual object itself, with an acetate film placed on top of it (and drawn on)
(2) a positive (developed) photograph of the image, with drawings made directly on top of the photograph
(3) a positive (developed) photograph of the image, with an acetate film placed on top of it (and drawn on).

Gordon Cramer also suggests that the photographic image may have been reversed and overexposed to yield more contrast: it’s a possibility, but I suspect we should get the opinion of a photographic historian who properly understands the nuances of mid-century dark room practice, because the image might well be good enough for an expert eye to tell.

Right now, I’m not sure which scenario will turn out to be the right one: but I suspect that there may well still be sufficient clues in the image to assist us in this. For example, it looks to me as though there is some kind of ‘clip’ in the top right hand corner of the image: might that be for holding the original image flat, or for clipping an acetate on top of the image?


Perhaps taking a closer look at some of the 1940s NSW police photographs will help to make this clear. Something to think about, anyway. 🙂

79 thoughts on “Somerton Man Part Two: Police Photography revisited…

  1. Shurupag on July 19, 2014 at 2:06 am said:

    Interesting read, Nick. I really like these detailed analyses you do.

  2. .. as usual, bloody magnificent. Dome rampant.

  3. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 8:13 am said:

    Good Post Nick but some comments and corrections as you might expect 🙂

    1. The use of iodine vapour was and is common practice to lift fingerprints from difficult surfaces such as paper. Whilst I agree that the print coloured by the Iodine vapour continues to sublimate giving it only a 1 week life approximately. However the practice was to apply a fixative to extend the life, this solution was 12.5 grams of calcium chloride and 43.9 grams of potassium bromide in l00ml of water. This gave extended life to the print and in fact in either case, the fingerprint could be photographed as it appeared.

    2. Jimmy Durham the phorographer was quite widely recognised as a Police Photographer of some standing. And on a point very relevant to your comments, he had just some months previously succesfully lifted fingerprints from a page of a book stolen from a second hand bookshop and succesfully prosecuted the lady thief by virtue of these fingerprints.

    That makes the comments regarding the suitcase incorrect.

    3. The Police used UV light to examine the book with no mention being made of UV Photography? UV light was (and is still used) to show up what the Police found i.e. indentations in the paper of the book. It was these indentations that were traced over by the Police. UV light was used during WW2 and in the Cold War years by censors to examine mail. The technique is still used today and in fact I use it for some of the work I do; low cost and very effective.

    4. As per an earlier discussion I think we had, the clip was very likely used to hold the image or the actual page to dry. You’ll find another dark mark to the top left though somewhat smaller.

    For my part I don’t profess to be a photographic expert nor a code person for that matter. I do understand concealment techniques and am very familiar with micro writing and a few related subjects.

    As per an earlier discussion we had, I suggested then that the markings would have been done on acetate or glass and certainly not directly on to the page itself.

    I agree that it would be great idea to get an independent expert in mid 20th Century photographic techniques to look at the code page. Better still a forensic photographer with knowledge of the history of Police Photography.

    I think they had someone at Adelaide University but I never saw any work or reports on the topic.

    An interesting aside, the only mention I can find of early marker pens was on a site but I am guessing that I can’t post the url. Another thought on the matter was from Gerry Feltus who suggested indelible pencil could have been used. certainly worth consideration.

  4. Gordon: it’s the physical fingerprints themselves that have the short lifespan – the lipids left behind on the surface break down after a week, such that the iodine vapour has nothing much left to turn brown. Fingerprints are visible for much longer periods when using other forensic techniques, but I believe that these were not yet available in 1948-9.

  5. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 8:58 am said:

    Thanks Nick, I can send you a link that shows how Iodine vapour is the problem, it sublimates and thus the print it shows will disappear within a week or maybe less. Fingerprints were able to be lifted in some cases for many months even in those days. Much depends on the environment as you would expect.

  6. Gordon: please do, because this contradicts the sources I have read so far, e.g.

    “The technique may be applied to a wide range of surfaces such as paper, wood, plastic and glass, but, due to its limited sensitivity, prints older than three to five days are unlikely to be detected by exposure to iodine.”

  7. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 9:14 am said:

    In your link it states that the lipids interact with the iodine and thus break down. The fingerprints themselves if not treated can last for months or years. Thus if they examined the suitcase or other items, including the book maybe, they would have been able to lift fingerprints from it and could have used iodine to do that as long as they processed it and photographed it quickly as in within 4 or 5 days.

    Here’s the link:

  8. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 9:21 am said:

    Nick, I didn’t explain that well, it has nothing to do with the life of the fingerprints, it has to do with the nature of Iodine thus fingerprints could be lifted. We used to use graphite powder as a first effort. The Code page could have been treated with iodine as on prperty it had was to show any marking where the fibres of the paper were disturbed.

    The suitcase could have been fingerprinted using another kind of fingerprint dusting.

  9. Gordon: my understanding is that Australia in 1948/9, the only available fingerprinting technique available was iodine fuming. And the lipids (to which the iodine temporarily binds) themselves break down within a week of having been left.

    In the case of the Somerton Man, the Rubaiyat had been left (allegedly) in the car in Glenelg several months before, while the suitcase had sat in Adelaide Station for several weeks: in neither case would fingerprints have been retrievable with iodine vapour deposition.

    I’ve read your links, but nothing there contradicts the basic forensic science I’m describing.

  10. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 10:58 am said:

    Nick, The issue is fingerprints, the science you quote does not apply to impressions, it applies to fingerprints. In the case of the Code page it is not suggested they were looking for fingerprints, they were looking to recover the ‘impressions’ and for which they could have used iodine vapour the impressions were not fingerprints.

    Similarly, the absence of fingerprinting on the othet items including the suitcase had nothing to do with iodine vapours just with standard fingerprinting procedures. I haven’t suggested they would have used iodine vapour to recover fingerprints from anywhere, just to recover the impressions.

  11. Gordon: can you please point me to whatever source you are relying on that says iodine fuming was also used to make impressions visible? I haven’t yet found anything at all that suggests iodine vapour was used by Australian police for anything apart from recovering freshly-placed latent fingerprints from objects.

    I don’t mind if this is speculation on your part, but I would prefer that it to be flagged as such rather than as fact.

  12. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 7:27 pm said:

    Nick, Beter still I can show you an example of it’s use and then you can read of the case of a German spy, George Dasch who in WW2 was landed on Long Island with others from a submarine, he surrendered to the FBI and they found a handkerchief in possession which they treated with Iodine vapour to reveal writing on the surface. The writing disclosed the names and addresses of his contacts in the US.

    The image is on the blog on the covert use of micro writing page and there are numerous links to the story of George Dasch. Unfortunately I am unable to post the links due to your security settings.

    I don’t deal in speculation, I substantiate what I say, it’s a long held belief.

    And here is one source of many that describe the landing

  13. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 7:27 pm said:

    What do you know, managed to get the link included by breaking it up

  14. Gordon: I reassembled the link by hand this end. 🙂

  15. Gordon: the article mentions the FBI making the invisible ink on the handkerchief visible (that Dasch had apparently forgotten how to make visible), but not iodine vapour deposition. It’s an interesting link, but not really one that makes your case in a particularly clear-cut way.

  16. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 9:15 pm said:

    In 1863 Paul Jean Coulier first worked on the use of Iodine vapour to reveal ‘invisible pen indentations’ I am sure you will find that the technique was imrpoved over the years and it was used in mail censorship in particular in allied countries during and after WW2..

    I am not trying make a case for you Nick, I am explaining the techniques used to you for your education 🙂 Effectively I am pointing out where you should place more effort. In the end it’s not whether I am right or you are right, it is ‘what’ is right and the use of iodine vapours or even immersion to reveal indentations is correct.

    Can I suggest that you do some deeper research on ‘invisible pen indentations’? Then track that back to WW1, WW2, FBI, SOE, OSS and even in Australia. I have studied this and associated aspects of micro and secret writing for 4 years. As you no doubt will find, the information is hard to get to and it needs the ‘dogged’ perseverance that you mentioned elsewhere to find it and bring it all together. Not something you can do in a week.

    Here’s another link that describes Dasch’s Handkerchief and the process used.

    Iodine vapour was and is a known and well used technique to reveal indentations. A question for you is where is the evidence that supports your view?

  17. Gordon: this is interesting historical research, I wish I had found even one of these links before now in any of your many blog posts and comments on the subject. It was the absence of any supporting evidence that made your case look speculative from the outside… I shall read up more and post again on what I find.

  18. Gordon on July 19, 2014 at 11:34 pm said:

    No problem Nick, I have kept a lot of information back, having said that I did post a teaser in September 2013 on the blog:

    tamamshud . blogspot . com . au /

    2013 / 09

    / somerton-man-proof-that-miniature.html

    The information is very hard to find and it took months to get a handle on it all and how it all fits together. Just about there now though. Always looks easy when you complete it 🙂

    I am truly looking forward to what you find, always interested.

  19. GC 2 / NP 1

  20. Ralph on July 20, 2014 at 6:44 pm said:

    I don’t think you get points for failing to elucidate your sources, even in an argument about concealment. Granted, the argument was redirected so many times, I don’t know how you could keep score.

    Furthermore, as even Pete wouldn’t fail to discover, the ‘Art of Manliness’ article shows both the simple and complex workarounds to the iodine-vapor trick. It is unwise to guess many reactants for a hidden message for fear of destroying it. Looking in to the Dasch handkerchief, the stenographic transcription shows it was ammonia, not iodine, which was used to reveal the message. Gordon seems to have jumped to conclusions between the articles paragraphs.

    I’m not saying iodine was never used in analyzing the Somerton Code, but Nick can weigh in. Frankly, there’s still more to the story, like how accurately can iodine-vapor resolve .2mm indentations. Finally, proof by intimidation is not proof.

    I’m looking forward to the microwriting post; maybe one of those squiggles will finally look like a letter.

  21. Ralph: (1) good historical stuff, linking right to the evidence… I like it! 🙂

    (2) Proof by intimidation is indeed a hilariously bad way of doing history. If you happen to see anyone being intimidated, please let me know. 🙂

    (3) There’s (unfortunately) still a while before we’ll get to the microwriting. Gordon Cramer has dipped his historical hands in so many different pots of honey at the same time, it would be a waste to blend them all together. I’m more of a single-varietal honey man, myself. 🙂

  22. Gordon on July 20, 2014 at 8:09 pm said:

    Good information Ralph, I am not in to point scoring I would just like to see this solved. If you care to ask, whenever Nick has asked questions of me I have responded with links and answers view the discussions on the tomsbytwo site before you make personal inferences. One of the issues that has caused me some concern is the way that people proclaim their position without even looking for the evidence and when its presented they attack the person who presents it and immediately look for what they can find wrong rather than encourage further effort. I am not sure whether that’s an academic trait but it is a familiar one for me at least. I have posted an overview of how I believe the Police process worked on the blog and as you have seen I have shown Nick and others including yourself where to look for information. I truly hope that everyone interested makes the best of the information and that Nicks investigation into Microwriting yields something of value for the case. The use of iodine vapour is not a trick so much as it was a science invented by scientists who put many years of effort into its development.

    Nick, the number of pots have been ‘dipped’ into over a period of 4 years and when you have done that you get to see a bigger picture and how each aspect relates to the other. Before I take my leave, here’s a thought for you, Jestyn’s verse 70 in my view also contains microwriting examples. The verse and the book still exists. For my part I will be continuing with my own efforts and wish you all well.

  23. Gordon: it’s good that you are now producing some kind of evidence to try to support your various claims, but you’ll get more productive results from people if you provide evidence with the claim itself.

    For me, the immediate question is not about how police forensic work in general was done, but about what specific forensic work was done on this case by this specific police force at this specific time. You seem content to make the inductive leap that if technique X was in use on the other side of the world at broadly the same time, then SAPOL were surely using that same technique too… which may be (just about) good enough to argue the case for possibility, but it is still a weak argument.

  24. Gordon on July 20, 2014 at 9:52 pm said:

    Nick, I have brought new information here and shared it with you openly and the response is one of ‘let’s find something wrong’ I think you’ll find that many people will be put off posting what could be useful and new information for fear of being subjected to what they may perceive to be an arrogant and posturing attitude. I have experienced this before and I really don’t need it.

    That this is weak in your view does not deter or influence me, it is a step forward that others didn’t find and not for the lack of trying I am sure. I read your comments and then looked at what you actually produce in terms of evidence or supporting links and there really isn’t much difference. In fact I would suggest that I include more supportive information, if you recall that was an issue we had on the TomsbyTwo discussions.

    In the end I am committed to moving the case forward wherever I can and to sharing what I find as I always have done. Sometimes I will be wrong whilst on other occaisions I will be right. Personally I am open to admitting any errors or mistakes I may make.

    You would have to admit that the whole process surrounding the SM case had become stuck and was doing no more than regurgitating the same old stuff over and over. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that when something new is introduced we get this negative reaction? Think about and please don’t just dismiss it. Shades of Machiavelli’s comment on resistance to change, ‘Those who have most to gain etc.’

    In my case, and you may not understand it, it wasn’t an inductive link that I made so much as an intuitive one based on experience. I would have to be naive in the extreme if I thought it was only a slim possibility that the Australian Police would not have used techniques, first developed in France then used in the UK and US at the civil and miltary level, in Australia. For your information, and I hope you are aware, the Australian Intelligence services were founded on the MI5 model and in fact took their lead from them for many years especially from 1948 onwards. If you need to know more then you will need to research it yourselves or perhaps look at my blog from tomorrow and at the post that relates to just that topic. Here you and Ralph are criticising my efforts when you have only just found out more information courtesy of what I shared with you. Could it be that neither of you just don’t see the point?

    I really do wish you well in your research, it’s not a personal matter so much as a question of different styles and ways of doing things. All the Best to you and to you Ralph, no offence intended to anyone.

  25. Gordon: oh no, the issue isn’t “let’s find something wrong“, the question is “do you have any evidence that X actually happened?” It seems to me that almost all the evidence you have adduced so far (e.g. about microwriting and iodine vapour deposition) seems to have been assembled to answer the (different, and much weaker) question “do you have any evidence that X might possibly have happened?

    I perhaps need to add here that I see between 50 and 100 different cipher theories a year, a large proportion of which are consistent enough with the primary evidence and genuine history that they “might possibly have happened”, even though there is not a shred of actual evidence that they actually did. They’re all very entertaining and interesting but… overall they’re a bit more of a drain than a gain, let’s say.

    Hence I would be utterly delighted if you were to manage to find a way to elevate your cipher theory above this possibility-based pack. All you have to do is find actual evidence that something did happen, not just evidence that something might possibly have happened.

    While I would agree that a lot of the older Somerton Man case leads have reached evidential brick walls, a surprisingly large amount of genuinely new stuff has emerged over the last 12 months and has elicited generally positive reactions (Tamam Trolls aside): so I really don’t see any of the negativity you describe.

    Finally: as I’m sure you know, ASIO was founded properly in August 1949, which I thought puts it out of the time frame for the present discussion. But let’s see what you have to say. Have you read “No Ribbons or Medals”?

  26. Ralph on July 21, 2014 at 7:25 am said:

    Gordon: I’d like to apologize to you- I didn’t mean to insult you. I’ve learned quite a bit of interesting history from following your posts here and on your site, and I think your contributions are just that, even if I believe some are misguided. There are also points in Nick’s article above I’m uncomfortable with, but it was Pete’s comment that set me off. It’s good that you are actively contributing.

    My background is scientific, so I expect every claim to be cited. I know it’s difficult, especially on a blog with URLs disabled, and I know the mess of comments above is not indicative of your ability as a researcher (or your ability to provide citations). I only wanted to point out what seemed to happen in this case.

    Comments about the skill or patience required for finding a result don’t mean much. Your work itself will suffice to garner respect, and even if your results are negative after many years, if you document the process, you’ve added something (see: Glen Caston’s obituary).

    I hope you come to see how others may reasonably remain unconvinced, despite all of your arguments. As you continue to work on a hypothesis, that can be harder and harder to do. But I also hope you crack the thing open, because the whole case frustrates me.

  27. NS / 2 … GC / 2 … Ralph / 0

  28. Gordon on July 21, 2014 at 1:46 pm said:

    Thanks, that’s good of you Ralph, I was impressed with the information you turned up, it added a lot of value.

    It does seem that there are gaps and misunderstandings of the technologies used and the actual timeline of ‘associated’ events in the years and months leading up to SMs demise. I have the view that there was a much bigger game being played out.

    Just posted part 1 of how the VENONA project may be part of it. I would be interested in your views, and Nicks of course, on that and yes, I have quoted sources. I will say I am unable to quote some sources and that’s just the way it is. Thanks again.

  29. Gordon: Project VENONA was, of course, one of the most top secret cryptologic endeavours ever: dwindlingly few people knew of its existence (certainly not President Truman, nor even anyone in the CIA until 1952).

    Modern history would need substantial rewriting if a dead guy on Somerton Beach in December 1948 just happened to be party to any of its secrets… which is essentially why I’d personally be somewhat skeptical of any suggested link with Venona. But I’ve told you all this before elsewhere, so no doubt you have been looking for evidence to support your claim.

  30. Gordon on July 21, 2014 at 7:17 pm said:

    Nick, VENONA was revealed to Clem Attlee in a meeting between he and Sir Percy Sillitoe in December 1947, the context of that meeting was the discovery of a major leak from the Australian Department of External Affairs. The leak was discovered in a decrypt of a VENONA cable. At the meeting it was decided that Sir Percy should go to Australia to meet with Chifley and inform him of the problem which was viewed as an extremely serious matter as it related to certain British, secret, strategies. It’s a matter of history that perhaps you should read up on before resorting to yet more attempts to discredit something that you apparently need to know more about. You can read more on the blog now and more to come. I look forward to your apology.

  31. Gordon: it sounds as though I’m being criticized for asking what evidence you plan to use to support a post about Project VENONA you haven’t yet posted… interesting.

    Atlee and Sillitoe’s involvement (and the poor cover story they concocted but had to abandon) is indeed covered in “The Defence of the Realm” (and doubtless elsewhere): yet – exactly as I wrote – the number of people briefed on even the existence of VENONA at this stage was still dwindlingly small, particularly in Australia.

    It would be fascinating if the Somerton Man somehow turned out to be connected with Sillitoe’s visits in Australia in 1948 regarding VENONA. But it would also be fascinating if any other of the 100+ secret histories claimed for him were true.

  32. Gordon on July 21, 2014 at 9:09 pm said:

    Progress of a kind. We have moved from outright rejection to a point where you at least see the beginnings of the history of VENONA as it applied to Australia. More names will be mentioned from the various sources that will demonstrate that many people knew of of the project in the UK with many people in Australia being aware and some being named. The CPA is prominent in the cables.

    I am glad that you are reading up on the topic, perhaps now we should get back to this original post and discuss the issues raised regarding the code page and fingerprinting of the suitcase. I think we have pretty much covered the indentation issue and it seems that apart from iodine vapour, ammonia could have been used thanks to Ralph’s great work on uncovering the evidence documents. There was another method but I think not available in Australia at the time that being a Parallel beam machine, one of Hoover’s toys which used a high lumen beam of light set at various angles to illuminate the surface of a subject document.

    With regards to fingerprinting, silver nitrate was also used for recovering prints from paper and for the suitcase it would have been white dusting powder to show up against the darker brown suitcase background. On the images of the suitcase there were no signs of dusting but I am not sure how long after the event those images were taken. The bottom line is fingerprints could have been lifted from the suitcase and possibly the book but there is no record of that being done neither was the question asked by the Coroner.

    Have a great evening Nick.

  33. Gordon on July 21, 2014 at 10:24 pm said:

    Nick, There was a glitch on the post, it had been properly updated but wasn’t showing for some reason. Anyway, all fixed. Doesn’t do to jump to conlcusions 🙂

  34. Nick / 2 – maintaining strong showing, a little emotion coming through, solid batting
    Gordon / 2.5 – there is potential for a surprise ball here, very tidy to date
    Ralph / no improvement, possible early dismissal

  35. pete on July 22, 2014 at 5:26 am said:

    Nick: “dwindlingly few people knew of its existence (certainly not President Truman, nor even anyone in the CIA until 1952)”

    – got a citation on that?

  36. Gordon: silver nitrate was indeed also used — in police forensic practice of the time, such as it was — , but suffered from the same timing issues as iodine vapour deposition, in that fingerprints older than a week were almost always unusable – that is, you could see that there was a latent fingerprint there, but there the recovered print would not hav sufficient detail to be useful for matching. Silver nitrate was also a destructive forensic technique, so was normally only ever used after everything else had been tried: so if it had been used here (book or suitcase), we would still see evidence of its presence (which I think we do not). Hence I think we can rule out silver nitrate.

    You’re still presenting arguments about possibility (e.g. ammonia). When are you going to move on to what actually happened? That’s the hard bit. 😐

  37. Gordon on July 22, 2014 at 11:09 am said:

    You seem to be missing something Nick, I am using facts as the basis of what I am saying and bring forward supporting evidence. I have explained to you that dusting powder would have been used to take fingerprints from hard surfaces like the suitcase and that apparently wasn’t done. With regards to silver nitrate, are you saying that it wasn’t used? If so how would you know?

    You presented a post and I responded with questions and corrections. Do you have any changes you want to make or shall we just move on to other things?

  38. Gordon: you keep presenting evidence about techniques that might possibly have been employed. I’m trying to understand the forensic science well enough to say whether they were or were not actually used – it is more usual to find a disproof than a proof.

    In this case, had silver nitrate been used to try to reveal the indentations in the Rubaiyat note, then I am sure we would see evidence of it in the lines around the first ‘M’ (where we can see something poking through). My contention is that because this dark line does not look silvery or powdered, it seems very unlikely to me that silver nitrate was used here. Similarly, I don’t see anywhere in the pictures of the suitcase that suggests silver nitrate powder was used.

    It was your suggestion that silver nitrate might possibly have been used. It is my conclusion that silver nitrate could not have been used.

  39. SirHubert on July 22, 2014 at 11:43 am said:

    Nick: shouldn’t your conclusion be that silver nitrate does not appear to have been used?

    Pete: NSA website claims the CIA was formally briefed about Venona in 1953.

    Still waiting for someone to tell me what the note means…

  40. SirHubert: corrected my previous comment to read “silver nitrate was indeed also used — in police forensic practice of the time, such as it was — “

  41. kbnz on July 22, 2014 at 4:17 pm said:

    Photography, now that’s up my ally. Love the link to the mug shots, very interesting!

  42. xplor on July 22, 2014 at 4:51 pm said:

    Venona was the work of Office of Naval Intelligence , G-2 and the FBI from 1939 to 1957..
    Their interest was in domestic counterintelligence. Arlington hall was in charge of decoding and decrypting soviet messages.. By 1945 the US was working with the British on Soviet spies.

    Historian, David McKnight says, “What the Venona documents show is that one of the most contentious arguments, which was that some Australian left wingers were recruited by Russian Intelligence, was completely correct.”

  43. Gordon on July 22, 2014 at 11:20 pm said:


    1. I did not suggest that Silver Nitrate was used on the code page that seems to be something that you have misunderstood or I have miscommunicated. I don’t see any evidence of the latter. Silver nitrate was used to lift fingerprints from paper the technique was to spray the surface first then look for prints and then lift/ photograph them. It was possible that the solution was in use by SA Police and they could have used it to find prints elsewhere on the book or for that matter on the torn piece. There is no evidence that prints were taken from anywhere else apart from the hands of the Somerton Man and that leaves a serious question.

    2. Indented writing detection was done using either Iodine vapours or, as Ralph points out, Ammonia was used in the US and whilst not yet found in use in Australia, it is therefore definitely a candidate. there may have been other techniques but the real point is that indented writing was found and those indentations were the ones that were traced over by SA Police, in order for them to do that with any degree of accuracy the indentations would have been lifted and made visible for photographing.

    3. Fingerprint dusting powder was used for smooth, hard surfaces such as you would find on a suitcase, glass dish screwdriver and knives for example.

    You’ll find a video clip on this link that shows a US police officer in 1948 dusting prints from a car dash board and then photographing them:

    http : // tamamshud . blogspot . com . au / p /

    spy-museum . html

    I think that’s straightforward enough. On your issue of ‘Possiblities’ When you are researching an espionage case all things are possible and you should not be close minded about any aspect. I offer no apology for delving into the possibilities because it’s amongst them that you will find the realities. I know it’s dashed inconsiderate of these spy Johnies to not make things all neat and tidy and easy to find but, sadly, that’s how they were and still are I believe.

  44. misca on July 23, 2014 at 2:02 am said:

    …Before one gets into who knew what…Perhaps the question is, when was the project officially named “Venona”? If this was prior to November 30, 1948 then quite possibly, a guy in Adelaide might have been involved.

    Nonetheless, we are still waiting on a blog post that was supposedly coming out a week ago…Micro-writing and codes that link to this possibility…

    Honestly, at this point, I’d just like to see three or four “symbols” that represent anything remotely similar to letters or numerals…

    Hell. I’ll look at one. (Letter or numeral – that is.) And my mind is open. I have no barriers to accepting different points of view. So far, unfortunately, all I see is a “Q”.

  45. misca on July 23, 2014 at 2:06 am said:

    xplor – I agree. No doubts about it. Someone, (several people) were leaking info out of Australia. Nothing surprising there. What is surprising is that “VENONA” (that word – code name) could have somehow been in the SM’s code…Well, THAT would be quite surprising!

  46. pete on July 23, 2014 at 3:54 am said:

    There’s an elephant in the room Nick …

  47. Pete: if the elephant is microwriting, he’s a very, very, very, very, very small one. 🙂

  48. pete on July 23, 2014 at 6:21 am said:

    Exactly Nick, it needs a close look, so why are we hung up on technicalities here?

  49. Gordon: we seem to be in agreement that silver nitrate was almost certainly not used in this particular instance. Perhaps I have misread the source, but ammonia seems only to have been used to reveal the invisible ink in the Dasch handkerchief case, and not to reveal indentations. So we are – I believe – currently left only with iodine vapours or UV lights: more on both of these later.

    As far as possibilities go: it’s easy (and fun) to generate possibilities, particularly when espionage may (errm, possibly) be involved. But at some point, you have to start culling those possibilities, finding ways in which particular ones fail when brought up against the physical evidence. The physical evidence (such as it is, in this case) is what should be keeping you grounded, the stuff that prevents you from wasting time and effort.

  50. Pete: because it’s built on top of other stuff that I’m really not sure of as yet, of which much seems to have been guessed at.

  51. pete on July 23, 2014 at 8:07 am said:

    There is the image “Q” … writing can be clearly seen. If we were fishing, then that is the catch. Is it a prize, or is it not? Nick? … and a great big smiley at you, the love is still here.

  52. Gordon on July 23, 2014 at 8:29 am said:

    Oh Dear, Nick why do you feel the need to continually needle and make feeble efforts to try to discredit me personally and my work? The more I look through your comments the more I am reminded of the school debating society, cheap pointscoring, personal afronts and a distinct juvenile flavour.

    I really must get on with my own work, besides I think I’ve done enough contributing to your SEO, don’t you?

  53. Gordon: collecting a broad range of generalist evidence is a nice first step, but it is only a first step. So… what is so bad about my reminding you that you still have many further steps to take beyond that, exactly? It hardly amounts to either needling or discrediting. Finding historical archive resources that help you resolve questions about this specific artefact is always going to be a greater challenge.

    Oh, and if I was even as remotely interested in SEO as you seem to think, blogging about cipher history is hardly the right place to start. 😉

  54. Pete: something can clearly be seen there… but whether it is signal or noise is another matter entirely, as always with these things. A great big smiley back to you. 🙂

  55. Gordon on July 23, 2014 at 9:56 am said:

    I rest my case. 🙂

  56. Gordon, our work is done …..

  57. Pete: actually, it’s only just beginning… 🙂

  58. Nick, if imagination was used to create methods of secure and secret messages between two parties, do you think that the lack of it might cripple an investigation into their existence?

  59. Pete: overall, I’d say that Somerton Man researchers have so far shown no obvious lack of imagination. If there is some sort of lack, it’s probably in other skills that might serve to temper and balance imaginative reconstructions. :-/

  60. Hecla on July 24, 2014 at 9:31 pm said:

    The only way of solving this case is by asking the living. The Thomsons have already given exciting information about their mother – who else has details about Jessie Harkness?

  61. xplor on July 24, 2014 at 9:56 pm said:

    Who were the known spies inside the Venona progect ? William Weisband, (NKVD ) The codebreaker Meredith Gardner recalled that Weisband had watched him extract a list of Western atomic scientists from a December 1944 NKVD message. Kim Philby served as both an NKVD and KGB agent and was at Arlington hall working with the Americans two months before the Somerton man was found.
    Venona had many names . The first was bride. Others were mask, trine. Dinar.drug,eider
    acorn,copse,daunt and many others. The name venona was chosen because it has no meaning.

  62. Byron Deveson on July 26, 2014 at 12:55 am said:

    I have conducted some experiments to see if ultra-violet or infra-red illumination can accentuate faint pencil marks, or erased ink or pencil marks. I found that UV illumination did not help at all. It made things worse. I used a mineralogical UV light (254 and 360 nm wavelengths) that was equipped with a filter to remove any visible light. This result came as no surprise because I have used both UV and infra-red techniques extensively as part of my job, and as part of my outside interests, for many years.

    For the IR experiments I used a Nikon D50 digital camera that was modified so the sensor is sensitive to IR light out to about 1,200 nm (this modification was done by removing the “hot mirror” from the sensor chip). The camera was fitted with a Hoya infra-red filter R72 that filters out wavelengths less than about 720 nm (ie filters out any visible light). For IR light sources I initially used a hot domestic iron, but after a painful burn I switched to a xenon flash fitted with an IR filter.
    The results I got were no better than I could obtain using normal photography. So I changed tack.

    I found that erased pencil writing still shows traces of pencil marks (black) in the indentations. Even with quite vigorous erasing, to the stage where the pencil marks were not obvious with the naked eye, I found that there were still traces of pencil marks that were visible under low power magnification (ie with a loupe x5 magnification). The indentations left in the paper were also very obvious.

    I did note that IR illumination and detection did bring out printing on the reverse side of the paper, and the partial penetration of the IR through the paper could obviously be useful in seeing traces of inks and pigments etc. that had sunk into the paper, and which had not been completely removed by physical erasure. There are plenty of cases where the original writing on a scraped, recycled parchment has been recovered by IR photography. Incidentally, has the Voynich manuscript ever been examined by IR techniques to see what erasures there might be?

    I would not expect that graphite pencil marks would penetrate significantly beneath the immediate surface of the paper, so I would not expect the IR would be any better than normal photography for seeing erased pencil marks. Which is what the experiments showed.

    If you search Google for “indented writing” you will find plenty of information and I note that oblique illumination is still used in forensic work. The East Germans developed an electrostatic device about 1950 that is said to be more sensitive than the simple oblique lighting method, but it appears that oblique illumination gives adequate results as it is still used in forensic work.

    I did some simple experiments using oblique lighting (just a reading light positioned almost horizontal to the page containing erased pencil marks and I used a normal digital camera to capture the image. The photograph shows similarities to what can be seen under the presumed transparent overlay on the Rubaiyat page in question. I say “presumed” because I do not think there was an overlay.

    The photographs using oblique lighting accentuate the indentations in the paper, and also show the traces of pencil in the indentations that have not been removed by erasure. The appearance of the shadowed indentations with the traces of pencil look exactly like what we see in places in the photo of the Rubaiyat page.

    So, the police (and maybe the Special Branch and the Federal intelligence services too) may very well have tried UV and IR methods on the Rubaiyat page, and they probably did so. But, for my money the erased pencil writing was accentuated by the technique of oblique lighting and an enlarged photographic print was then marked up using either photographers ink, or plain India ink, probably with a fine brush rather than a pen of any sort.

    In my opinion there was no marked up transparent overlay because this would show edge effects which are not present in the photograph.

  63. Byron Deveson on July 26, 2014 at 1:15 am said:

    Re: “Hoover’s …. parallel beam machine”. This was almost certainly just a fancy oblique lighting gizmo that probably used a collimated light source (hence the “parallel beam” bit) rather than a simple light globe. Google “indented writing” and “oblique lighting”.
    I did use a collimated beam at one stage (trying to read badly weathered tombstones) but I found it didn’t give any better result that a simple light bulb, or a photographic flash gun, held at some distance.

  64. Hecla on July 26, 2014 at 9:28 pm said:

    There once was a spy known as Jessie. Feltus fibbed and said she was Tessie. Thought Somerton nasty so she fed him a pasty and quickly found things got quite messy

  65. Hecla on July 26, 2014 at 9:32 pm said:

    The Riverland property? The affairs? The secret family? The wealth of the Thomsons? The criminal activities of Prosper? The improbable Beaumont connection? The speaking Russian by a suburban nurse? The later activities of that nurse and the Jewish burial? You will never find the answers to this case fussing for a scrap of paper, the ‘code’ on which might just have been a simple aide memoire written by a previous owner or even just a piece of rubbish handed up to muddy the waters. Don’t forget a soldier found a copy too. Hum. Who was Somerton? Jessie knew. She is the key.

  66. Smerdon on July 26, 2014 at 10:29 pm said:

    I still believe that the Unknown man is JEstyns biological father. The ears match the decendents of her family .

  67. Gordon on July 26, 2014 at 11:18 pm said:

    Byron, That’s outstanding work and a good result. I had spent a fair bit of time on indentations and am quite familiar with the theory and some practice. One area you might want to follow up on is ‘Questioned Documents’ if you google that you’ll find a mass of useful information. I had a similar experience as you with UV light and indentations last year, Posted June 13, though others report better results. Perhaps that’s down to the specific type of equipment? Posted information on other methods including another Hoover machine, a Spectograph from 1938. Images there for that and another type of UV machine. Not much information on them other than that at the moment.

    In the end there was a fairly wide and interesting range of tools apart from Iodine Vapour (which some thought was the only method of gathering fingerprints in 1948), that could have been used and I, like you, feel that some were. The outcome is that we all learn a bit and move forward a bit 🙂 Posted some UV images on the blog, they show up the colour/shade differences quite well.

  68. B Deveson on July 30, 2014 at 1:33 am said:

    Re: the three possibilities you laid out:
    “(1) the actual object itself, with an acetate film placed on top of it (and drawn on)
    (2) a positive (developed) photograph of the image, with drawings made directly on top of the photograph
    (3) a positive (developed) photograph of the image, with an acetate film placed on top of it (and drawn on).”

    I am certain that we can rule out 1 and 3 because close up photographs of black ink writing on a transparent overlay would show a definite light halo (edge halo) and other effects around the writing. Note that edge haloes in photographs are common and are usually due to other causes such as the (digital) camera chip being sensitive to UV/IR light.
    I will send some experimental images to demonstrate the edge haloes that are present when a transparent overlay is used.

  69. Gordon on July 30, 2014 at 8:27 pm said:

    Byron, According to Gerry Feltus, the image was a negative that would of course turn anything black into white. This was one reason why I suggested that it may have been overexposed in some way.

  70. Gordon on July 30, 2014 at 8:34 pm said:

    Smerdon, There are images of Jestyn’s grandson who was born to one of Jestyn’s daughters who in turn was born some years after the Somerton Man was on the scene. The grandsons ears would suggest that it was a family trait and nothing to do with SM. I will set up a page on the blog containing this and many other images from the case.

  71. Gordon on July 30, 2014 at 9:29 pm said:

    To be correct, wouldn’t we need to be using the same kind of camera/lens as used in addition to the development process and the kind of acetate used in 1948/49? In those days of course there no digital cameras so the effects described wouldn’t be there for a 1948/49 image?

  72. misca on July 31, 2014 at 3:24 am said:

    hecla – It’s a bit strange…Only you and another poster here on cipher have ever mentioned that “another soldier” found a book:

    “Minstrel Janet September 13, 2013 10:57 pm
    Then a soldier found another copy in the back of his car in Glenelg a day later. I’ve never found a book in the back of my car that I didn’t put there myself.”

    Misinformation is so boring.

  73. Smerdon on August 3, 2014 at 9:26 pm said:

    Correct Gordon. The ear genetic similarities run both in JEstyns grandchildren and is even more prevelent in her great grandchildren . I am in contact with the family and there are a couple of members that believe SM could well be JEstyns father or uncle.

  74. misca on August 5, 2014 at 3:01 am said:

    Smerdon – Is it possible that there is micro-writing in the ears as well?

  75. Smerdon on August 5, 2014 at 10:18 pm said:

    Yes misca. There is a good possibility that micro writing is also present in the ear structure . 🙂

  76. Smerdon on August 6, 2014 at 7:39 am said:

    On a serious note. I do believe that there is a visible numbers/letters on the code page. Gordon might be onto something though. It’s worth investigating

  77. Gordon on August 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm said:

    Misca dn Smerdon, No problem with humour and it did make me smile but perhaps not for the most apparent reason.

    It was, and maybe still is, a commonly used practice to write and conceal information on various parts of the body from toe nails to scalp and who knows mabe even the ears 🙂 This is one of the reasons why searching a suspected agent, dead or alive, is such a specialist job.

    Think back to Somerton Man’s jacket, feather stitched and the machinery for which which at the time was only available in the US. Having found that out they took the jacket apart according to accounts. Why would they do that do you think? No prizes given but let’s see if someone has the answer.

    Toni Hiley, Director of the CIA Museum said recently that there is no technology too old to be considered for use in espionage. Have a great day 🙂

  78. misca on August 7, 2014 at 2:21 am said:

    Glad to see you have a sense of humour. All due respect to hard work and passion on Gordon’s part.

  79. B Deveson on August 13, 2014 at 7:55 am said:

    I was a bit surprised to find that the KGB was still using secret writing in high level espionage as late as 1962 in Australia. See: Legal Resident: Excerpt from the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation film on counter espionage. An ASIO training film dealing with the “Skripov” case in Australia.

    See: NAA item 25376

    “…… Our meetings for the first year or so were uneventful and ASIO couldn’t quite decide what Mr Skripov wanted. He gave me ₤425, which I handed to ASIO, and presents for Christmas. We had almost given up hope when Mr Skripov finally showed his true colours by giving me some red capsules and a small bottle of fluid to bring up secret writings test. His instructions were most meticulous.

    He told me I would receive a friendly letter through the post from time to time signed by ‘Theresa’. On the reverse side of the letter there would be important instructions for me printed in secret ink. To bring up the secret message I’d need, as well as the capsules and the fluid, a kettle of boiling water, a rubber glove, some cotton wool, a tumbler and a teaspoon.

    I had first to put three teaspoons of the liquid into a glass, then dissolve one capsule in it. The liquid is colourless, suspiciously like vodka as a matter of fact. I was told, before applying it, to steam the letter but I think Mr Skripov must have got his instructions from Moscow mixed up because it works just as well if you don’t steam the letter first. The glove is necessary when handling this liquid because if it gets on your skin it will turn it purple. The letter is swabbed, then steamed again.

    Actress: Watch now as the secret writing appears in the top left-hand corner. Actually, his first letter was only a test so I could practise bringing up the secret writing.”

    The secret ink developer probably contained the chemical ninhydrin, which reacts with traces of amines to give a bright purple colour (I know from experience that it stains fingers bright purple).

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