In a comment here yesterday, the ever-insightful Byron Deveson raised once again the possibility that the half-a-rifle-in-the-suitcase-with-socks case might be connected with the Somerton-Man-with-no-socks-in-his-suitcase case. Put like that, you have to admit that there is a certain harmonious balance to the suggestion. 🙂

Though the Somerton Man case we already know (often in painstaking detail), the other case hasn’t yet really been explored in great depth: as for me, until yesterday I thought it would prove to be no more than a crime of opportunity. But I have now built up a very detailed scenario of what really happened there and why – and to my surprise, it (if true) would seem to explain precisely why the Somerton Man was in Glenelg.

The Evidence

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 he was driving it along the South road. When questioned by traffic constables he admitted the offence. Defendant was remanded in custody until December 7.

Yesterday, I found out from Trove exactly whose motorbike it was: a Mr W. H. Coffey of 637 Lane Lane. Coffey initially reported that his motorbike had been stolen during the evening of Friday 26th November 1948 at some time before 12.30am, when his shift at the Central Power Station finished. The bike was later seen by police passing through Mannahill (89 miles SW of Broken Hill), halfway down the Barrier Highway and heading in the direction of Adelaide.

The Timeline

So: the unnamed youth…
* stole a motorbike from outside the Central Power Station in Broken Hill
* used it to carry a suitcase (containing a rifle and men’s clothes) hundreds of miles to south of Adelaide
* left the suitcase on Somerton Beach
* dumped the bike in the sand dunes at Glenelg
* walked 12 or so miles to Port Noarlunga
* stole a car and headed North back past Glenelg towards Western Adelaide
* was captured by police on South Road

On reflection, I’m now completely happy to rule out the notion that this whole thing was some kind of opportunistic joy-ride. But if not that, what actually happened to connect all these scattered pieces of evidence?

The Rifle Sock Scenario

Right now, I can only see a single scenario that joins all these dots… and it goes like this.

(1) Someone near Somerton Beach wants to buy a rifle, and someone in Broken Hill wants to sell a stolen rifle. This is what drives this entire scenario: everything else clicks through as a sort of logical consequence of this shady buyer-seller attempted transaction… though, as we shall see, with an unfortunate twist.

(2) The seller’s first challenge is how to get the stolen rifle from Broken Hill to Somerton Beach without carrying it himself. He finds a do-anything 17-year-old kid who’s willing to steal a motorbike and be the courier.

(3) The seller’s second challenge is how to fit (and hide) the rifle inside a suitcase. He separates the rifle barrel from the rifle stock, and uses socks to cover up the four exposed ends, to stop the two bumping noisily around in the suitcase. He then wraps them up inside a suit and an overcoat: anyone opening that suitcase would see, well, a suit inside a case. Which is what suitcases are for.

(4) The seller’s third challenge is how to make sure the suitcase’s contents wouldn’t lead straight back to him if it fell into the wrong hands. He removes all the labels from the clothes: a mechanism already eerily familiar to almost everyone who has read about the Somerton Man case.

(5) The seller’s fourth challenge is how to get the rifle from the courier to the buyer without having the courier knowing the buyer’s name or address. His answer is to tell the courier to drop the suitcase in a certain place on Somerton Beach at a certain time, presumably near to where the buyer lives or works.

(6) The plan, then, is for the buyer to collect the suitcase with the rifle in from the beach, whereupon everything is where it needs to be (apart from payment… but more on that later).

Yet even though all six steps appear to have happened exactly as they were supposed to, the suitcase should not have ended up dumped in the sea at Somerton Beach with half a rifle in: so something clearly went very wrong indeed. But what?

How Did Such a Perfect Plan Go Wrong?

Again, I can only think of a single scenario that fits and yet explains everything we see.

(7) Before leaving the beach, the buyer decides to check the contents, and discovers that the seller omitted to describe something about the rifle stock that made it completely unusable.

For example: it was a left-handed rifle stock. Or if not that, then some other utterly fundamental aspect of the rifle stock that was sufficient to destroy the viability of the whole transaction.

Whatever the precise reason, the buyer is now so mortally offended by the rifle stock that he puts it back inside the suitcase, pockets the rifle barrel, and – still in a rage – throws the suitcase and its contents into the sea, before marching off. The rifle is unusable, the deal is off: and from now on, all outcomes are possible.

How Does This Fit With The Somerton Man?

If the seller just happened to be the Somerton Man and the buyer just happened to be Prosper McTaggart Thomson (AKA George Thomson), then what happened next surely began with the remainder of the plan that they had previously agreed.

(8) The seller travels down to Adelaide on the train, and makes his way to Somerton to collect his suitcase, clothes, and payment for the rifle. With him he has a wartime knock-off copy of the Rubaiyat: written on its soft back-cover is Jessie’s Somerton telephone number X3239 (the one that Prosper used in his advertisements).

(9) When the seller arrives, he finds Thomson won’t pay him for the rifle. He launches himself angrily at George, but the younger man is fitter and faster: all the older man manages to do is scratch his hand. He asks for his suitcase: Prosper tells him he left it on the beach – neither realises that it has been found and mentioned in the Advertiser.

(10) Somehow the seller dies…

It seems both to Byron Deveson and to me that the Somerton Man had seen his levels of lead drop down in previous weeks, suggesting that he had previously had a high level of exposure to lead (probably occupational rather than just residential, and probably from lead in its powder form rather than in ingot form), but in the previous few weeks had changed his working environment. His spleen was enlarged, implying that he was fundamentally unwell: if he was sitting on the beach unwell, without money, feeling double-crossed, he could simply have died of stress.

Though pretty much any other outcome is possible, too. 🙁

The Punchline

Even when I first dreamed up the whole rifle sock scenario, I found it hard to believe: it seemed such a gossamer web of double-dealing and interstate shadiness. What, really, are the odds that the Somerton Man was selling a left-handed rifle to Prosper Thomson?

Might the Rubaiyat code simply contain directions (somehow) to help the Somerton Man get to Somerton from Adelaide?

Anyway, I’ll let Byron Deveson have the last word here, for he uncovered a piece of evidence from 1949 that perhaps ices the whole fishy cake:-

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.

What Next?

I’ve gone through all the Law Courts reports in the Advertiser for December 1948, and there seems to have been no follow-up report. But perhaps it would be worth looking at the Court files for 1948, to see if anything else is mentioned there, however small. Specificially, “GRG3/10 Court files – Adelaide Local Court” which covers from 1948 to 1970, and is held by 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.”

Any ideas as to how we can identify this 17-year-old lad from Broken Hill? He may still be alive – if this scenario is right, he probably met the Somerton Man. What might he say?

34 thoughts on “At last, the Somerton Man rifle socks scenario…

  1. For what it’s worth, the Internet says the Winchester 63 Prosper advertised for is a “take down” rifle – plenty of images on-line of it split in two leaving a one piece stock and a separate breech and barrel

  2. I’m loving all of this … Nick, who were the Adelaide police who dealt with the lad, any mentions, anywhere?

  3. .. and perhaps the kid took the barrel because he didn’t like the idea of anyone finding a gun that worked. He sounded like a very cool young feller … I can dig that.

  4. Hi Nick, I’ve often thought how odd that a 17 year old would ride a bike from Broken Hill to Adelaide, walk a long distance and steal a car just as a lark. What’s strange is that the news on this event seems to have evaporated from the newspapers of the time. I would have thought this caper would have been in all the newspapers, especially when any type of crime, even minor were reported in the local press. The date itself surely, points to something significant happening at Somerton?

  5. Ken Causey on January 12, 2015 at 1:07 pm said:

    As someone from the US and in a rural area where firearm sales and ownership are still fairly common (my father is a gun collector and has been a licensed dealer in the past) in my opinion being specific about the model of a desired firearm is more likely to be about collector interest or even simply getting a known good model of firearm than about anything nefarious. Do not underestimate how common substandard firearms were in circulation in the 20th century and continue to be today. Be careful about reasoning based on current opinions regarding firearms which are common in many first world societies today but which I suspect were much different in decades past.

  6. Ken: I quoted Byron Deveson with caution, because we don’t yet know any more details of the rifle-stock-in-the-suitcase case than appeared in the newspapers at the time.

    In general, I suspect that we’ve now exhausted Trove’s resources, so the next step is to go looking for evidence from other archival sources: with a little luck, we’ll know more about the actual rifle then.

  7. Pete: we’ll just have to see what the archives have to say…

  8. Ken Causey on January 12, 2015 at 3:11 pm said:

    Nick,

    That’s fine. I guess my point is simply that the reasoning based on a desire for a specific firearm is problematic and doesn’t serve the rest of the reasoning which I think is largely fine without that point. It would be better to use any available evidence regarding Thomson’s previous interest or ownership of firearms and any contemporaneous circumstances that might have triggered the advertisement.

  9. What affects me most is that there was a time when finding some bits of clothing on a beach meant not only that the finder went and reported it to police, but that the police thought reporting it was fair enough, and *investigated* the matter. I bet if they could they’d even return the clothes.

    The other thing is (has anyone else mentioned this?) that if all a person had to do, in those days, to acquire a rifle was to put an ad. in the paper… then why would you bother doing anything more complicated?

  10. Diane: the inference I drew from all that was that it must have been a stolen rifle.

  11. The motorbike owner was William Horace Coffey, according to the Barrier Daily Truth, 22 December 1948 edition:-

    Motor Cycle Stolen, Recovered

    William Horace Coffey, of 637 Lane Lane, reported to the police last night that his motor cycle had been stolen from the front of Bruce Small’s, Argent Street, between 7.30 and 10.45 o’clock. Coffey later recovered the cycle undamaged near the Willyama Hotel about 11.35 o’clock. Recently Coffey had his bike stolen from the C.P.S. and it was later recovered in Adelaide.

  12. Hi Nick, I’ve contacted “The Advertiser” but, they don’t have any indices on any of their articles! I’ve also contacted Adelaide Courts via State Library about the files you mention. I am awaiting judgement as to whether I am allowed access or not. I’m not too optimistic as I was sent an e-mail asking what ARJ & RTJ meant-that’s despite my e-mail to them spelling out the meanings!

  13. thedude747 on February 5, 2015 at 4:03 am said:

    Nick I quite like your scenario.
    That said I think whilst it joins many dots , in doing so it un joins some others. Such as where does the tool kit fit in all this?. He carried them for a reason.

    Also would there be enough profit in a single rifle to go to this amount of trouble and pay a third party to deliver it to Adelaide then the cost of making the second trip?

    I think there could be some facets of it that make me consider a similar scenario.
    Ie yes PT was in Broken Hill around that time as well as other locations such as Port Lincoln buying and selling cars and PT did have a history of selling cars that didn’t belong to him (Perth conviction) and going back on his promises to pay (Daphne Page) dud cheques (Daphne Page case)

    I am considering wether PT had been out bush and taken advantage of someone ie swapped a dud car for a good one (he advertised swap deals many times) or bought a new car with a dud check and skipped town back to Adelaide before the seller got to the bank.

    As in your scenario SM comes to town with PT s number and the tools necessary to mobile the vehicle with or without PT s permission , a repossession if you like. He could have even been hired to repossess the vehicle.

    As far as I’m concerned the tool kit can not be for any other logical purpose particularly taking into account the info I shared recently about the Zinc plate. I also believe the scratches SMs knuckles are a telling sign. Anyone who’s done any auto electrical work ie installed a car radio knows that its a fiddly job to work under a dashboard and you usually come out with scrapped knuckles hence this points to what he may have been doing around that time.
    From that point (SM arriving in Adelaide) it plays out as you have described.

  14. Hi Nick, Still awaiting reply from my enquiry re: Adelaide Courts.

  15. Hi Nick, Since I’ve had no luck with the Adelaide Courts, I decided to check the Police Gazette for 1948 and, the youth, aged 17, was named as Frederick William Pruszinksi. He was fined 4 pounds and 10 pence for unlawful use of a car, so I presume, he was involved with the suitcase-no mention about stealing the motorcycle!

  16. Hi Clive,
    Did his father turn up to the court?

  17. Dude, anyone who ferrets around in car engines gets dirty fingernails .. no?

  18. Clive: thanks for that, much appreciated! In fact, Pruszinski’s (sadly very short) life is covered reasonably well in Trove (he died at the age of 21), so I’ll try to write it all up in a post very shortly – the details dovetail very nicely with everything else that’s come up to do with the Somerton Man lately.

  19. Hi Diane, No mention of his father attending, just a brief paragraph giving his name, age, offence and the fine. It didn’t even give his address.
    Hi Nick, Only 21 years old-not much of a life.

  20. Hi Nick, A Frederick Arthur Pruszinski died at 21?

  21. Hi Nick, Just read the thread-I’m presuming his middle name was Arthur, not William!

  22. Gordon Cramer on February 26, 2015 at 9:44 am said:

    The excellent info would seem to explain the rifle and its association.

  23. Gordon: it certainly explains why the lad was comfortable with rifles 🙂 but I suspect that there’s a lot more to find out just yet.

    However, the good news is that having his name might now make it much easier to find information about him in the various historical Police archives: at any rate, that’s one of the obvious next steps we can try to take.

  24. Clive: seeing as you were able to see the 1948 SA Police Gazette, do you think you might have similar luck getting hold of the 1948 NSW Police Gazette? I’m guessing there will be more detail in there concerning young Mr Pruszinski…

  25. Clive on March 2, 2015 at 9:24 am said:

    Hi Nick, Just found out that the NSW Police Gazettes are only searchable-70 years after the event!

  26. Harold Nelson on March 2, 2015 at 4:48 pm said:

    OK, so I gather this guy is dead. May he rest in peace.

  27. Harold Nelson on March 2, 2015 at 6:06 pm said:

    TMI. At once, initial(s) FWP. Source info, lacking.

  28. Yuri on July 7, 2015 at 12:01 pm said:

    Everyone is dead. It’s a bit ominous, isn’t it?

  29. Yuri: they’re not dead, they’re merely resting. That, or pining for the fjords, it’s hard to be sure. 😉

  30. Lewiansto on December 2, 2015 at 1:13 pm said:

    Is it known for sure that the suitcase was brought from Broken Hill, or is that just an assumption? Could the boy not have picked it up in Adelaide or perhaps somewhere else?

    I’m also wondering how he was linked to the rifle stock and clothes in the first place. Did he just suddenly fess up when he was arrested for stealing the car at Port Noarlunga?

    Anyone had any luck getting any more details on this case?

  31. Lewiansto: I’m pretty sure he fessed up. Also: police made a note of him on the stolen motorbike halfway down the highway from Broken Hill, and I would have thought the presence of the suitcase balancing on there with him would have been fairly obvious. 🙂 But I would agree that we will need a better body of evidence to make any progress here, and this has been slow in coming. 🙁

  32. John sanders on May 11, 2016 at 3:05 am said:

    Mod. 63 Winchester is visually the same as the 03 but ammo is not compatible. Maybe throne purchased was the wrong model

  33. John sanders on June 21, 2016 at 2:52 pm said:

    Didn’t really check your summation of the gun theory before my post above. I am full bottle on this particular weapon and I think you are spot on in your scenario which is exactly as I see it and nothing could be plainer apart from one very important detail. The 63 and its predecessor the 03 are great little break-down weapons similar to the more common Browning and its Remington copy. They all have tube magazines in the butt and the main mechanism and trigger components are in the stock leaving the breech block and receiver forming part of the barrel fore-end section. Takedown is achieved by turning a ratchet screw above the receiver without needing any tools. However if one needs to remove the slide, return spring and fore-end there are two little screws on the cocking cap housing which require the use of a small screwdriver. I might add that serial numbers are on both main sections and on the wooden butt inside the butt plate.

    Now this is the interesting part (if you’re not nodding off yet) because it was also possible apparently to buy a factory-threaded barrel to take a non-factory-made silencer which although illegal in some states was OK in others. If George already had possession of the ‘trick’ barrel, why not advertise locally for another rifle in Adelaide to get what he needed and have a spare legit barrel to show the cops if necessary? I know that all this is just academic and doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter but it’s a good fill-in whilst we await the news on JA from BD and you never know how things will pan out.

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