I’ve posted on so many separate Tamam Shud / Somerton Man topics recently (which have in turn triggered so many comments), I thought it might be a good idea to at least try to tie up a few loose threads still dangling here. “Ne’er does one door close but that another opens”. (Am I the only person who remembers “The Horrors of Ivan”?)

1. A Professorial Plug

As I mentioned here recently, the Unresolved Mysteries subreddit will be hosting an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) session with Professor Derek Abbott this Saturday. If you log in there then and post questions, he promises to try to answer them.

To be precise, the AMA session will start at the following (time zone) times:-

– Eastern Standard Time: Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 9pm
– Mountain Daylight Time: Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 7pm
– Pacific Standard Time: Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 6pm
– Australian Central Standard Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 10.30am
– Australian Western Standard Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 9am
– New Zealand Standard Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 1pm
– Central European Summer Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 3am
– British Summer Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 2am

Of course, the timing is (let’s say) somewhat suboptimal for European Somerton Man fans: but it is what it is, and if you do want to take part, I’m sure you’ll find a way. 🙂

If you do, here are a few good questions to warm him up with…

* How come the Somerton Man was clean-shaven?
* How come he only had a pastie for lunch and dinner?
* Do you accept the new evidence in Feltus’ Chapter 14 “A Final Twist”?
* Can the dead man’s lividity be reconciled with his position posed on the beach?
* Did anybody ever try to track down the strappers that first found the Somerton Man’s corpse?
* Why did the Somerton Man have no socks in his suitcase?
* etc etc etc 🙂

2. The Australian Codebreaker

While following up the whole how-was-the-Rubaiyat-photograph-made question, I noticed that it was sent to “decoding experts at Army Headquarters, Melbourne” (26 July 1949, Feltus p.108) and that on the next day a “Navy ‘code cracker’ was tackling the task this afternoon” (Feltus p.110).

It struck me that these news stories can only really be talking about one person: Captain Theodore Eric Nave, who his biographer Ian Pfennigwerth dubbed “Australian Codebreaker Extraordinary” (in the 2006 book “A Man of Intelligence”). I personally found this a good read, but I suspect that the details of Eric Nave’s Japanese code-breaking exploits probably proved a bit heavy on the technical cryptology side for most lay readers.

Nave was on loan from the Royal Navy to the Australian Army for eight years until 1st January 1948, when he was “attached to the Defence Signals Bureau as a serving officer”, though his “loan appointment was terminated 17:3:49”. When the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) was established on 16th March 1949, Nave was proposed as a possible director: however, in those paranoid times the job actually went to a Brit: Nave was instead given the role of Defence and Services Liaison Officer, starting 15th December 1949. (Incidentally, he was also appointed to the board of the Victorian Mission to Seamen in 1950, just so you know).

I feel confident that, even though Nave had managed to accrue 160 days of untaken holiday by June 1948, he was at his desk in Melbourne when the Rubaiyat photograph came in – would they honestly have given it to anyone else in the building? Would they hell, I say.

But did Nave ever write about it? And did Army Headquarters keep a copy of that photograph? Even though Pfennigwerth’s book mines many different archives, Nave’s years immediately post-war seem far more sketchy than his war years, as far as evidence goes. All the same, wouldn’t it be nice if one of these archives proved to have a little bit more of an answer for us?

3. A Close Shave?

When I posted about how the Somerton Man was oddly (given the generally accepted timeline) clean-shaven, I proposed that he might have had a long-standing beard shaved off that morning.

With the help of the numerous commenters (and having thought about this a bit more), I can see now that I was being a bit hopeful: ultimately beard science says that hair growth is probabilistic, so there ought to have been a normal mix of all three hair phases in his stubble.

And yet at the same time that doesn’t really square with the timeline and what we see. Even so, there are plenty of other possible explanations we can’t rule out: e.g. the man’s face was shaved in the morgue before the photographs were taken (which is possible); he was shaved later in the day; he was in the throes of such a debilitating (and terminal) condition that his body didn’t have the strength to grow any hairs that day; he in general grew hair slower than most people; he had pale ginger facial hair which didn’t show up as 5 o’clock shadow; and so on.

Who knows which one was right? 🙁

4. The Football Player

When I posted about Mrs John Morison, the Adelaide Mission to Seamen’s relentless hospital visitor, I noted that her daughter Mary Morison married a footballer called Ian McKay, and listed highlights of her life up to 1954. The reason for this particular cut-off date is simply that this is currently as far forward as the Australian newspapers archived in Trove go: 50 years back from 2014 is 1954, and any newspaper more than half a century old is deemed to be out of copyright there (just so you know).

But it turns out that Ian McKay was an Australian rules footballer of great repute, who even has a Wikipedia page devoted to him. Unfortunately, the links given there have withered and died on the webby vine: but not before being picked up by the Wayback Machine. So, according to his obituary, we know that when he died in 2010:-

“Ian is survived by his wife, Mary, and three children, Heather, Andrew and David.”

Hence it’s entirely possible I might yet speak with a member of Mrs John Morison’s family before long, which could well prove to be hugely interesting.

Finally, here’s a picture of Ian McKay at (quite literally) the height of his career in 1952:-


48 thoughts on “Tamam Shud loose end roundup…

  1. Gordon Cramer on August 29, 2014 at 12:05 am said:

    Nice work. A point regarding the code being sent to Melbourne. Would you think that the SA Police would have just sent a copy of the marked up photograph or the pre and post versions plus a copy of a list of whatever else was found?

  2. B Deveson on August 29, 2014 at 12:05 am said:

    I never confirmed it, but I found some indications that one of Jestyn’s brothers was an Australian Rules player, and coach, of some repute. I have not confirmed this, but in the light of the above it is worth a second look.

  3. Gordon: I’m hoping an archived record might be able to tell us what SAPOL actually did do. 🙂

  4. B Deveson: definitely worth a second look, I’d say. 🙂

  5. Gordon Cramer on August 29, 2014 at 1:11 am said:

    Nick: On the shave issue, I put a post on the blog regarding the elevated levels of lead detected in a sample of the Somerton Man’s hair. Lead poisoning, and in fact most poisoning, according to various sites, can cause significant hair loss. Not a big stretch to suggest that it would therefore by default affect beard growth, similar to the comment you made about a debilitating illness in the post above.

  6. Gordon Cramer on August 29, 2014 at 5:54 am said:

    It’s interesting that SA Police sent the code page information to Navy, perhaps they also sent it another department as well but I guess the documents may have been mislaid.

  7. Gordon: the way I read it, they sent it to an individual Navy codebreaker who had been (effectively) seconded to the Australian Army.

  8. B Deveson on August 29, 2014 at 6:35 am said:

    A question for DA. The hair that Derek Abbott’s team analysed by mass spectrometry – was it head, beard or eyebrow hair? Did the method also measure arsenic?

  9. B Deveson on August 29, 2014 at 12:05 pm said:

    My computer is limping and I can’t get into the Reddit site to post some questions for Prof. Abbott. Could somebody copy them across for me? Thanks.

    1) The hair used for the mass spectrometry work, was it beard, scalp, or eyebrow hair?
    2) Re: mass spectrometry results for the hair. Do these include data for arsenic, copper, antimony, mercury and zinc? These elements may help us eliminate some source for the anomalous lead.
    3) Are the MS data available for other elements? It is possible that the ratios of certain elements that are mainly sourced from environmental dust might suggest where SM spent the last week or so of his life.
    4) The ratios of other element pairs that mainly come from dietary sources might suggest where SM had been in the last week of his life. Food transport was limited in 1948 and much of the diet would have been local.
    5) Would it be possible to get a pathologist, or, better still, a pathologist specialising in venereal disease to confirm/deny that the only reason for Clelland wanting to obtain a sample of SM’s decomposing brain tissue would be to confirm that SM suffered from tertiary syphilis? If this point is confirmed then it would strongly suggest that Clelland had an identity for SM in mind. It would also suggest that Clelland had access to the relevant medical records.
    6) Why did the local police appear to sabotage Clellands plan to get a brain tissue sample? It would seem to suggest that the police were running interference on Clelland, and suggests all sorts of interesting possibilities.
    7) Should get a pharmacologist or toxicologist opinion re: possible accidental death from a normal dosage of digitals in the presence of lead poisoning.
    8) Should get a pathologists opinion re: anomalies in SMs pupils. Caused by syphilis?
    9) SMs hair described in the autopsy report as being fair, yet the photographs show his hair was quite dark. What colour was the hair used in the MS measurements? Did it show any signs of bleaching, or dye?

  10. Gordon Cramer on August 29, 2014 at 8:05 pm said:

    Nick, Regarding the code page et al, I was more interested in the absence of information related to where it was sent. Agreed it went to Navy as per the doc but given that they thought enough of it to send it there, they would surely have similar thoughts about sending it to their Intelligence people and alerting them to what they had found.

  11. Gordon Cramer on August 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm said:

    Byron. The hair came from the back of the bust as far as I know, there are some images somewhere showing hairs protruding from close to the top of the shoulders, will try to find them. It would have been transferred there during the casting process, i.e. apply mold material, hair picked up on the inside of the mold, fill out with plaster and hair transferred to plaster. The rest of the document containing other traces is on the blog via a link, The isotopes found to be of interest were Aluminium, Titanium, Chromium, Iron, Copper, Strontium, Zirconium, Silver, Tin and Lead.

  12. B Deveson: I’ll try to post these questions for you. Overall, I think your suggestion that the Somerton Man may well have suffered from tertiary syphilis (that a brain tissue sample would have revealed) is fascinating, predictive and (hopefully still) testable in all the right ways – but perhaps people’s investment in subterfuge-centred explanations is too high to countenance such sad simplicities.

    1948 was at the point when penicillin was beginning to be mass manufactured: though the Somerton Man’s primary syphilis may well already have been successfully treated, the chances are far from remote that he was one of the many who later developed neurosyphilis, very possibly terminally. I often think that an exhumation would bring far more sadness than revelation.

  13. Gordon Cramer on August 29, 2014 at 8:58 pm said:

    Byron: Amongst Clellands notes, he mentions a name and it is in relation to the shoes. The name I think is McKenzie, he could have been referring to someone who may help in tracing the shoes or perhaps the shoes owner. There is a question mark after the name.

  14. How he died is not as important as he is part of someones family history. Some effort must be made to fill in the gap.

  15. Finding SM’s family would resolve most of the mystery.
    They might also explain why no-one stepped forward to claim the deceased back in 1948 or at any time since.
    Or perhaps they did!
    The Mangnoson case is an example of those times and how the Public and Media were regarded when it came to sharing the truth. An enforced suppression via Coroner and Police hid the details…to protect family members perhaps.
    If SM’s death was dismissed as suicide, thus no crime being committed, it may have been treated similarly.
    The attention the unresolved case has gathered since, becomes a State embarrassment now.
    Certainly Police could quickly resolve a few outstanding matters, but they continue to remain silent. There should be nothing to hide now, considering so much time has passed.

  16. You guys are posting questions for DA and we don’t know where to do same? Can someone please give directions???

  17. misca: I’m pretty sure that the announcement page will also be the AMA page, or if not will have a link to the AMA page when it goes live.

    If you can’t participate in the AMA, you can leave a question for Derek Abbott by replying to this comment on Reddit, hope that helps. 🙂

  18. Thanks so much Nick! : )

  19. Um. Did a “conversation” occur or was this all a nebulous hype about NOTHING? I’ve searched and cannot find.

  20. misca: you’re a day early. 😉

  21. Nick – Am I now a day late? Did anything happen???

  22. Gordon Cramer on September 1, 2014 at 10:27 am said:

    Misca, I think we both must have blinked 🙂 Is there a transcript anywhere?

  23. Thanks again Nick!

  24. Gordon Cramer on September 1, 2014 at 3:59 pm said:

    Thanks Nick

  25. Gordon Cramer on September 1, 2014 at 10:55 pm said:

    B Deveson: Given the elevated levels of lead in SM’s hair I wondered whether there was any way that you could check the isotope signature to that of Broken Hill lead mines? I ask that beacuse when looking at the train arrivals times for the 30th November, a train from Broken Hill arrived at around 8 a.m.

  26. Shame that the whole thing was so difficult to find. As a result I’m sure many of us with more questions didn’t post them. It would be wonderful Nick if you could organize a “conversation” that could actually be followed by those of us who follow this case! Perhaps something not so brief and difficult to find/link into?

    If, as DA suggests, there wasn’t a “spy” connection, then Jessica Thomson, at the very least, got away with being an accessory to murder. Hmm….

    Also – WTHay was her daughter doing when she suggested that her mother spoke fluent Russian? Did she or didn’t she? Sounds like a resounding “NO”. So, the daughter who (for reasons unknown) doesn’t want SM exhumed is the one that says her Mom spoke Russian? And why or how does DA get away with a REDDIT q and a without someone asking if he’s had his wife and daughter’s dna tested???

    WT HAy?

  27. The “Monsalavat” reference was interesting but just as frustrating as his references to Pakie’s guestbook. Same chite…Same people. So what gives? One could spend years there investigating communist/artist sympathizers and come out with nothing. If he seriously thinks that there is a link, it would be helpful so many years after, if he would just be clear about it!

    He seems to know that SM was of Scottish origin. He throws out the “McMahon” business but that’s Irish.

    Hmm…I expected much more.

  28. Gordon Cramer on September 2, 2014 at 3:32 am said:

    B Deveson: This link contains some information which may be of use:

  29. Gordon Cramer on September 2, 2014 at 7:29 am said:

    Misca: I think you are closer than you may think with one aspect of your question.

  30. Gordon Cramer on September 9, 2014 at 7:32 am said:

    Nick, Going through the Somerton Man documents and amongst them is Lawson’s Diary for the case. Under June 8th. He states

    ‘RIng from Constable Durham re disposal of original body’

    I would really appreciate your view and those of others as to how you interpret these words. I find them extremely interesting and unusual.

  31. who says the man in the evening was the man in the morning … eh?

  32. Gordon: that is a bit odd. I’ll have a look as well…

  33. Gordon Cramer on September 9, 2014 at 10:57 am said:

    Thanks Nick,
    Pete, you may have a point there

  34. To be buried in tact. Organs removed at autopsy for testing are to be reinstated so that the deceased is buried in their original state perhaps. The complete corpse.

  35. Footballing Family on September 9, 2014 at 3:26 pm said:

    Was Ian McKay the father of the footballer Dr Andrew Ian McKay, who played for Glenelg, and then Carlton?

  36. Footballing Family: I would be entirely unsurprised, but I don’t actually know – the source of most of what I know is Trove, and Trove only goes as far forward in time as 50 years ago, which would potentially be a little bit before Dr Andrew Ian McKay’s time as a footballer.

    But please let me know if you find out one way or the other, thanks! 🙂

  37. Footballing Family on September 9, 2014 at 4:32 pm said:

    Thanks for your response Nick. Andrew McKay wasn’t born until 1970, at which time Ian would have been about 47. Not infeasible, but quite old all the same.

    I can’t seem to find any confirmed link, which, given the amount of material online about Andrew McKay (he is perhaps more famous than Ian), suggests they might not be directly related. On the other hand, they are both from SA, both good very good footballers, and Andrew’s middle name is Ian…

  38. Tootal Scarf
    Patent No 10896 Dec 14/1927
    Wash as Silk

    Different patent number but correct date.

    (This is an Australian scarf.)

  39. B Deveson on September 16, 2014 at 8:05 am said:

    I think that the piece of metal sheet, found in the suitcase and described in the 1949 Coronial inquiry (page 24) as being “tinned zinc”, was wrongly identified. The piece of metal in question is visible in the 1978 TV program, and is also shown in Pete’s gallery of images.
    I think it is significant that the metal is: a) a fairly dull, leaden grey colour. b) wrinkled and creased. c) discoloured or stained in places. d) of fairly small dimensions. Why keep such a small piece of metal sheet? It could not have been of any use to make a stencil.
    The only metal sheet/foil that I have seen that is similar in appearance to the metal found in the suitcase is platinum foil. In particular, a piece of platinum foil that has seen heavy use in chemical tests. There was only one group of people who would have carried a piece of platinum foil around with them in the 1940s. Mineral prospectors, that’s who. From memory, Ion Idriess’ book “A fortune in minerals” published during the Depression to help stimulate the mining industry, describes the use of platinum foil in various chemical tests. The book “Identification and qualitative chemical analysis of minerals” by Orsino C. Smith (you can read it online) describes the use of platinum foil in detail.

    The “stencil brush” founds in the suitcase seems to be too small to have been of much use for industrial type stencilling. Art stencilling, yes, but for a cargo handler? The lack of paint or ink stains on the brush, as pointed out by Pete, suggests that the brush was not used for stencilling. A prospector who was performing his own chemical tests (the majority of prospectors in the 1940s I would suggest) would have need of such a brush, particularly for the gold assays called fire assays. For the assay of gold ores it is critical for a prospector to carefully brush out the “dolly pot” (the mortar in which a prospector crushed a sample of the ore). The failure to recover a piece of gold of 0.5 millimetre diameter would reduce the assay by about one ounce of gold per tonne of ore. So, a good prospector would always diligently brush out the dolly pot. A square cut, stiff bristled brush, just like the “stencil brush” is exactly what was used. The loss of one small particle of gold could reduce a good gold find to a “duffer”.
    In the 1940s gold assays were done using the fire assay method (which can be done in a bush camp) and this method uses large quantities of litharge (lead oxide, PbO). Remember that Prof. Abbott’s team found high lead levels in the hair sample? Fire assays use an ounce or more of lead oxide per test, and it is reasonable to assume that anyone doing fire assays, particularly in a prospector’s bush camp, would get large amounts of lead dust on hair and skin, and would also ingest large quantities.

    And, there is a suggestion that the piece of metal sheet might have had a higher specific gravity than normal stencil metal. Viz. Coronial inquiry 1949 page 24.
    “Inside the folders produced is tinned zinc, an alloy used for stencilling. Mr Gray then produced a piece of similar zinc, not quite so heavy …..”. I note that platinum is heavier than tin or zinc, or any alloy of tin and lead.

    This hypothesis is testable to some degree because fire assays use large amounts of borax. If SM’s hair is found to carry abnormally high concentrations of boron, the odds are very good that he was carrying out gold fire assays.

  40. For these things you give us, most Honourable BD, we are truly thankful.

  41. Gordon Cramer on September 16, 2014 at 9:50 am said:

    Byron, The documents also state that the scabbard for the knife etc used the same metal wrapped in the cloth that you see in the images.

  42. B Deveson on January 10, 2015 at 12:19 pm said:

    A possible explanation for the absence of socks and other clothing items in the suitcase found at the cloak room of the Adelaide railway station.
    Mens clothing, including socks, and a rifle stock were found on Somerton beach three days before SM was found. A motorbike, later found to have been stolen in Broken Hill, was also found abandoned in the sand hills at Glenelg. I am amazed that this was never mentioned in relation to the SM case until recently. I think there is a strong possibility that the motorbike belonged to SM and he had arrived in Adelaide from Broken Hill to reclaim the motorbike and his possessions.
    The youth who stole and then abandoned the motorbike at Glenelg beach told police that the rifle was complete when he dumped it with a suitcase of clothes on Somerton beach. ie. Somebody stole part of the rifle and may have stolen other items.

    Prosper advertised for a particular type of rifle in June 1949. To me, advertising for a particular model smells fishy and suggests that Prosper was setting up an alibi in case he was ever found with the rifle that had been dumped on Somerton beach.

    The Advertiser 18 June 1949 Page 17
    RIFLE, automatic Winchester, model 63 or similar, for cash. Thomson 90A Moseley st., Glenelg. X3239.

    The Advertiser Monday 29th November 1948 Page 6

    Mystery Somerton Find
    The discovery near the water’s edge at Somerton yesterday of a man’s three-piece suit, sports trousers, a shoe, several pairs of socks and an overcoat is being investigated by police. With the clothing was a rifle stock without a barrel. The articles appeared to have been in the water for some time.

    Barrier Miner (Broken Hill) 29th November 1948 page 1

    Hectic Week End For B. Hill Boy.
    Adelaide. – During a hectic week-end a 17-year-old Broken Hill boy is alleged to have stolen a motor cycle from Broken Hill on Friday night and ridden it to Adelaide, abandoned the cycle in the sandhills at Glenelg, dumped a suitcase containing clothing and a rifle at Somerton beach, and illegally used a motor car at Port Noarlunga.
    The lad told the police that he had dumped the clothes, which were found at Somerton yesterday.
    Police found the clothes and a rifle with the barrel missing, but the youth said he had left them
    in the suitcase. He said he walked to Port Noarlunga, where he was later arrested for allegedly having illegal use of a motor car. He appeared in the Juvenile Court today and was remanded until tomorrow week.

    The Advertiser 30th November 1948 page 6

    ADELAIDE JUVENILE BEFORE MR B. J. COOMBE. SM. Charge Against Youth.—Stated by the prosecution to have run away from his home in NSW. a youth of 17 was charged yesterday with having, at Port Noarlunga on Sunday unlawfully used a motor car belonging to Maxwell John McCormack, second-hand dealer, of Stanley street North Adelaide. Prosecuting. APP Northwood said that, shortly after the disappearance of the car had been reported to the police, the youth was stopped while be was driving it along the South road. When questioned by traffic constables he admitted the offence. Defendant was remanded in custody until December 7.

  43. B Deveson: it’s a case that I’ve looked at quite a while back, and I note that the ever-industrious Barry Traish has made corrections to the text in Trove. And it’s all the gaps (whose motorbike? whose suitcase? whose rifle? etc) that make this so frustrating: for if these pieces do fit together with the Somerton Man’s facts, they would surely have been held in place by the most gossamer-thin of historical threads.

    Yet the boy may very well be still alive, if we but knew his name: are juvenile court records from 1948 accessible? I might ask Gerry Feltus if the story of that second suitcase was ever picked up by the police at the time in the context of the Somerton man: Gerry might even have spoken to the (by then much older) kid, I think it’s very much the kind of thing he would do. 🙂

  44. B Deveson: at the risk of answering my own question 🙂 , I suspect that “GRG3/10 Court files – Adelaide Local Court” might be the right archive to be looking at, because it covers from 1948 until 1970. It’s at the State Records of South Australia:-

    “This series comrpises three seperate sequences of files maintained by the Adelaide Local Court from 1948 to 1970.
    – Court files, annual single number, 1948 – 1970
    – Australian Register of Judgement files, annual single number with ‘ARJ’ prefix, 1949 – 1968
    – Register of Transferred Judgement files, annual single number with ‘RTJ’ prefix, 1948 – 1968
    423 metres.”

  45. B Deveson: the owner of the motorbike in Broken Hill seems almost certain to have been W H Coffey of 637 Lane Lane, as per http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/48579065 , who was working at the Central Power Station on the late shift on Friday when his bike was stolen. The theft was initially reported here: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/48578977 .

    If anyone can work out what subsequently happened to W H Coffey, it would be nice to be able to remove his name from the list (but Trove and Ancestry both seem to be silent). Given that his father William John Coffey died in Broken Hill in 1945, someone with access to a BDM CD would probably be able to tell us within a minute or so. 🙂

    Note that the real reason I’m interested is that the reports don’t mention any labels or other identification on the belongings found in the suitcase. 😉

  46. Nick: while you’re chatting with GF, you might ask him if Det. Len Brown ever visited the Moseley Street address. It would be a grand gesture.

  47. John sanders on May 23, 2016 at 2:16 am said:

    Re Mr. Devesons theory regarding the ‘platinum’ foil. Might I suggest that another use could have been to maintain the points on his ‘H’ hard cipher pencils. SMS choice of pre paid envelopes may also suggest a person not likely to be near a convenient post office or agency. Travelling around the Bush a person could just drop their mail at any roadside box providing the postage was paid. Stamps were not so practical for itinerant due to dust, humidity etc.

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