Here’s a quick work-in-progress timeline for the hypothesis linking Broken Hill to the Somerton Man case.

Sunday 19 Sep 1948.
* Prosper Thomson drives his out-of-town-only taxi sedan to Broken Hill.

Saturday 25 September 1948.
* Prosper Thomson places a small ad to sell his 12-h.p. Vauxhall sedan, or to swap it for a sedan more suited to taxi runs.

Friday 26 November 1948.
* Evening: an unnamed boy steals a motorbike (belonging to William Horace Coffey, of 637 Lane Lane, Broken Hill) outside Broken Hill Central Power Station.

Saturday 27 November 1948.
* Unnamed boy dumps a suitcase on Somerton Beach.
* Unnamed boy dumps the stolen motorbike in the sand dunes at Glenelg.

Sunday 28 November 1948.
* Unnamed boy walks 12 miles to Port Noarlunga and steals a motor car (belonging to Maxwell John McCormack), but then gets arrested by police while driving North towards Adelaide.
* A man’s three-piece suit, sports trousers, a shoe, several pairs of socks and an overcoat plus a rifle stock are all found by police near the water’s edge on Somerton Beach.
* Unnamed boy confirms to police that these items were indeed all in the suitcase that he had dropped there, but that at the time the rifle still had its rifle barrel with it.

Monday 29 November 1948.
* Unnamed boy appears in Adelaide Juvenile Court and is remanded until Tuesday 6th December 1948.

Tuesday 30 November 1948.
* Broken Hill Express arrives at Adelaide Railway Station at 9.17am.
* Between 11am and 12am: Somerton Man checks a (different) suitcase into the Adelaide Railway Station cloakroom
* Between 6.15am and 2pm: Somerton Man buys a one-way train ticket to Henley Beach (from Douglas George Townsend, a student “temporarily employed by the S.A.R. as a ticket clerk”), but does not use it. (Trains to Henley Beach left at 9.30am, 10.50am, and 11.52am that morning: oddly, Henley Beach is about 10km north of Glenelg and Somerton Beach.)
* 11.15am: Somerton Man catches a bus to St Leonards from South Terraces, roughly a 2km walk from Adelaide station. (Oddly, he can catch a tram directly to Glenelg instead, but he does not do so.)
* 7.30pm: a man is seen lying on his back on the beach.
* 10.30pm: a man is seen being carried on another man’s shoulders near the beach

Wednesday 01 December 1948.
* 6am – the Somerton Man is found dead on Somerton Beach, near where the man was seen lying down the previous evening. He has no hat, no wallet, no cash, no ration cards, no identification cards: and shiny shoes. He also has no luggage docket for the suitcase he left at the station the previous day, and no onward or return train ticket.

Tuesday 06 December 1948.
* The unnamed boy (presumably) appears in Adelaide Juvenile Court again. Outcome currently unknown.

14 January 1949.
* An unclaimed suitcase is found in Adelaide Railway Station’s luggage office: mysteriously, it contains no socks. Police quickly link this to the Somerton Man.

44 thoughts on “Somerton Man – Broken Hill timeline

  1. You forgot Mr. Wytkin, the bus conductor who found a rubaiyat in his bus at about the same time the man was found dead.

  2. Pete: I stopped short of “Tamam Shud” and the Rubaiyat and the phone numbers and the nurse because I was more interested in thinking through how the timeline worked across that whole weekend, and then up to the discovery of the Adelaide Railway Station suitcase.

    It’s not the whole story I’m trying to reach towards here, just that crucial first part of it: and so far, the standout piece I simply don’t understand is Henley Beach. So where does that fit into anybody’s story, then?

  3. If the copy of the Rubaiyat bus conductor Wytkin found was the one with a hole in the back page, then it was found on a bus going from the city to the beach on 29 November 1948 –
    I would reckon that might play ‘some part’ in you timeline of crucial events.
    How long will it take you to accept Wytkin’s story, Nick? It’s been there all the time.

  4. Nick – Don’t forget that the boy dumped a suitcase containing the items that you have listed but the suitcase was not found, just the contents.

  5. “The lad told police he had dumped the clothes which were
    found at Somerton yesterday. Police found only the clothes
    and a rifle with the barrel missing, but the youth said he
    had left them in a suitcase.”

    News (Adelaide)
    Monday 29 November 1948

  6. Why did the boy steal a motor bike to drive down to Somerton Beach and dump a suitcase? Could information about this be available still?

    Sadly, I don’t think so. They threw out a book and suitcase belonging to an unknown dead man, why would they keep a record for a minor who took a jaunt to Somerton?

  7. Misca: that’s just speculation on your part about what evidence might or might not exist. Until someone takes the time to actually go and have a look at court and police records (of which the archives have a great deal) or indeed at newspaper archives (e.g. the BDT), the real answer is that we don’t yet know.

  8. Misca: the timeline account was correct on the issue of the suitcases. But what’s intriguing (and as yet undiscussed) is whether both suitcases might have been the same single suitcase… now that would make for an interesting tangle. 😉

  9. Pete: we have the Hillman Minx story too, what’s so wrong with that? The accounts fit far better with an individual handing the book in to the police, rather than the Tramways lost and found department.

  10. Hello Nick. Hi.
    Mr. Reilly not looking accident ? Sister Ethel Lilien Voynich worked at Los Alamos project Manhattan. Then she fled to Rosia. Look at the phote Reilly. 🙂

    ( Reilly- secret agent ).

    And what about those winds he writes Diana ? Large wind . 🙂

  11. What’s wrong with the Hillman Minx Story …….?? Feltus made it up, that’s what’s wrong with it.

  12. Hi Nick, Interesting point is what the police did not say re-suitcase, if the lad left clothes/rifle in the case why is there no mention by the police they are looking for the case? Surely, the lad could have given a description but, then that could have matched the description of the suitcase in the railway station? Didn’t a pair of trousers found in the station suitcase have sand in the cuffs? Why did that particular motorcycle have a suitcase with a full of clothes-it must have been difficult to take on the back of the motorcycle and cycle to Adelaide. All this a couple of days before the SM was found on the same beach-too much of a coincidence?

  13. Hi Nick, The surname “Coffey” seems to be quite popular in the Broken Hill area-must be a big family. I’ve e-mailed a person asking about W H Coffey-if I get a reply Ill post it.

  14. B Deveson on January 31, 2015 at 9:25 am said:

    A James Michael Coffee gets a mention.

    The Mail (Adelaide) 15th April 1950 page 4 £1182 unclaimed in city bank There is about £1,182 deposited in accounts in the Commonwealth Savings Bank, Adelaide, which has been lying unclaimed for years, according to a recent issue of the ‘Commonwealth Gazette.’ In addition there were In other branches of the bank unclaimed deposits of £13/9/8 at Port Adelaide, £6/4/2 at Port Augusta, £44/8/1 at Port Pine, and £41/16/6 at Mount Gambier. In Adelaide there are 32 unclaimed accounts. John Alan Gould has £223/10/. James Michael Coffey £200/9/11, and Edwin Alfred Thorpe £109/7/2. The 113th RAA sergeants’ mess has £6/16/7. About 900 accounts In the bank in all States, ranging from £5 to more than £1,000, are unclaimed, and have been credited to the depositors’ unclaimed fund. Largest unclaimed deposit Is In Lithgow, NSW, where Stanley Frank Hopkins has a credit of £1,169. Second largest is in Melbourne, £1,118/7/6. belonging to Edith O’Harah. Several accounts appear to have been opened during the war by servicemen’s welfare committees, and later forgotten.

  15. November 12, 1948, The Advertiser, Adelaide

    “Hire car available for country trips, day tours, weddings & c. Go anywhere, moderate charges. Careful ex A.I.F. driver. Phone Thompson. x3239”

  16. The same exact add; with “Thompson” spelling appears in the same newspaper on November 13, 1948.

    Also, I think this one has already been mentioned but I am posting it again, given how close it gets to the SM date:

    November 27, 1948, The Advertiser, Adelaide (page 13)

    “Wanted bungalow, pay cash to L1,500 . Can give tenancy maisonette, all mod convs, rent 22 6. Glenelg. Phone Thomson X3239”

  17. Port Lincoln Times, May 5, 1949

    Two Ads…

    “FOR SALE.— Hudson 1940 Touring Sedan, fitted with radio. This car is in very good condition and has an imported American body, new 6-ply tyres fitted, and is only 21 h.p. Does approximately 25 miles to the gallon. Registered and insured. Would suit new car buyer. Please note the
    reasonable price, £765. Will deliver Port Lincoln. Thompson, 90A, Moseley Street, Glenelg, Phone X323”

    “FOR iSALE.— Buick 8/40 Sedan, built in radio, purchased new February 1940. On block 3 years during war. New set 6.50 x 16 6-ply tyres recently fitted. Registered and insured one year. This is truly in new car condition throughout. Very low mileage and represents a rare opportunity to acquire a sound economical American sedan. Advise early enquiries from intending purchasers. This car is oneout of the box. Apply Thompson, 90A Moseley Street, Glenelg, Phone
    X323I9. Will deliver Port Lincoln. e”

  18. Hi Nick, Three questions, why was the motorcycle dumped at Glenelg-did it run out of petrol? Why would anyone walk 12 miles down South, or any direction, to steal a car? There were fewer houses going South from Glenelg/Somerton Park, therefore, fewer chances of car stealing! The car owner, Maxwell McCormack lived in North Adelaide, how come the police were so quick to catch up with the youth on South Road? Was McCormack visiting Port Noarlunga?

  19. Hi Misca, The Port Lincoln advert dated 5 May 1949, I think is a real puzzler. In all the years that Prosper advertised his car business whether car sales, car hire, rifles etc as far as I am aware the advert in the Port Lincoln Times was the only time he ever advertised in that particular paper- I wonder why?

  20. In the same paper where Prosper posts those ads; just above them are three other ads that are interesting. I’ve not understood the Duffield connection but there are two ads as follows:

    “For Sale – 1947 Chev Car Type Utility, as new…Duffield Motors, 48 Hanson Street.”
    “For Sale – 1947 Dodge Fluid Drive Sedan…Duffield Motors, 48 Hanson Street.”

    Just below these two, and before his two car ads, Prosper posted this:

    “For Sale – Motor Cars – See Hudson and Buick Sedans in these columns. If they are from Thompson, they are guaranteed.”

    It’s all a bit strange but perhaps he was trying to disassociate himself from Duffield???

  21. Of note, in that same edition of the paper – on page 16, there is an ad, placed by Hodge Bros,, looking for a “first rate” Motor Mechanic. On May 26th,1949, first page of the Lincoln Times there is a column that reads “STOP PRESS. It has been reliably reported that Hodge Bros, have been appointed International Harvester Co. Dealers fro Port Lincoln.” International Harvester was expanding all over Australia and had set up a plant in Geelong in 1947. The (Chicago) Executive Vice-President of the company had visited Adelaide on March 9, 1949. (See Advertiser of that date).

    If one searches on trove for X3239 there are five instances (all in 1952) in which both the X3239 number and an LU6221 number appear in the same ad. In 1952, LU6221 appears to have been the number for International Harvester Co.

    All of this to say that perhaps Prosper was just “working it” trying to get a job with them??? Maybe he knew about the Hodge Bros. deal or someone that worked there and got himself out to Port Lincoln to see if he could find something for himself?

    Sadly, none of this brings us any closer to finding out who SM is but I thought I would share in case it rings any bells or furthers anyone else’s research.

  22. Regarding the 4 Marlborough Street address, see The Mail, Adelaide (11 December 1948):

    “Color Contest Results…Joan Nelson, 4 Marlborough Street, Henley Beach…”

    Does anyone know if 4 Marlborough Street was a house or apartments in 1948?

  23. Hi Misca, Strange about the X3239 number as the Thomson’s moved to 104 Partridge St in 1950/51 and the telephone # was, I understand X3930. The numbered was either changed back to X3239 or, whoever, moved into Moseley St agreed to take after hour messages!

  24. Clive – I went back to check. There were only three incidents where the two numbers were in the same ad by the same person. These were posted Sept 20, 26, and 27 and all of them were for the sale of a Ford Custom Sedan with radio and venetian blinds. So, I think you’re right. I was probably not Prosper!

    And that takes us right back to square on on why he was placing those ads in Port Lincoln.

  25. thedude747 on February 3, 2015 at 12:58 pm said:

    My thoughts on a few questions posed here.

    I. Duffield motors on Hanson rd Adelaide. Nice pick up Misca.

    Prosper did have a yard on Hanson rd ( which is now Pultney st, Hanson rd Adelaide no longer exists in name) He must have been in some way associated. There is much to suggest a certain amount of “shiftiness” to Prospers adds and he appears to be sailing close to the wind. Second hand car dealers of the shifty nature often appear here and there under various banners.
    The Henley beach train ticket and choosing the bus instead of the tram.
    Ive always put this down as a pointer that SM was on his first trip to Adelaide and he bought the Henley beach ticket by mistake which he later realised and bought the bus ticket not knowing that the tram was the better option for his destination. Who hasnt done the same thing on their first visit to anew city?

    “The lad, the motorbike and the suitcase”
    I mean this with no disrespect , quite the opposite but
    if any records can be dug up Ill bet a mint edition copy of the ROK that he was an aboriginal youth… Why? Apart from the fact that there was and still is a large indigenous population in the broken Hill area and not a lot to do for the kids which leads to trouble. This particular Lad was clearly out for a bit of a joyride with no particular plan in mind has the ring of a lad on a bit of a walkabout. The fact that he had the temerity and stamina to walk 12 miles fits that profile and most importantly as someone mentioned how quickly he was picked up in the stolen car. Sadly a young indigenous lad behind the wheel of a car in 1948 would have been a magnet to the cops of the day and he wouldnt have got far.
    I seriously doubt any SM connection.

  26. Clive/thedude747 – I have found several/many other ads in the Port Lincoln Times for Century Motors Ltd. (12 Hanson Street). I had found an ad that Prosper put in the Adelaide paper with X3930 (thanks Clive) and he also listed a number W1624. If you search for that “W1624” in trove…there he is; busy in Port Lincoln!

    Have either of you ever seen Robin’s funeral notice/obituary??? If so, could please share this information.

  27. The “W” prefix was a bit surprising.

  28. thedude747 on February 3, 2015 at 9:05 pm said:

    Hi Misca
    Yes I have seen a copy of Robins obituary in the Canberra Times. It gives away very little apart from the time and place of a service at a chapel Macquarie Park. He was cremated.

  29. thedude – Thanks!

  30. thedude747 on February 4, 2015 at 12:33 am said:

    As I have posted on petes site the car thief theory just got better for mine.
    I was chatting with an older relative who was in the Adelaide car trade in the 60s and 70s hoping he may know of George.
    Whilst he does remember knowing of him he had nothing specific to offer HOWEVER something far more interesting came out of the conversation.
    I shared my theory with him about SM being a car thief and without knowledge of the full tool kit SM had in the suitcase he volunteered that cars of that era could be easily started with a small sheet of alfoil. You would simply slide it behind the ignition button which was how many cars of the time were operated. It was a simple but effective and handy trick known by people in the trade. He described using the alfoil wrapper from a lifesaver packet to start his FJ when he lost the keys once.
    I then told him about the sheet of soft Zinc SM had in his suitcase and he said that it would have been idea to start a car without keys provided you were able to gain entry and that a short screwdriver would have done that job no problem.
    I cant think of a better reason why he would be carrying a worn out small piece of pliable alfoil or zinc than this.

  31. thedude747 on February 4, 2015 at 12:35 am said:

    Not to mention the other items in his “tool kit” cut down knife with had made sheath plus small scissors with sheath etc.

  32. thedude747 on February 4, 2015 at 1:00 am said:

    Misca
    His service was held on 23 of march 09 and he passed away on 18/3/09.
    Notice read “beloved husband of Dell much loved father of Gina , Robbie and lizzie Dearest brother of Kate.
    Service was at Maquarie Park crematorium 12 30 pm

  33. Everyone else seems to be in Adelaide. Robin’s out at Macquarie Park. Strange that. Any thoughts the dude?

  34. Hi Misca, The “W” prefix was for Century Motors in Hanson St, Adelaide-there is an advert in “News Adelaide” dated 12-10-51 with this number. Prestige Motors at Pulteney St, another Thomson enterprise was advertised with telephone number W1015 or not at all! I think the Adelaide codes were all updated around about 1950ish. With Prosper advertising in Port Lincoln, perhaps he was trying to expand his business or, to put it another way, the innocents of Port Lincoln had no idea of what kind of car dealer he was?!

  35. thedude747 on February 4, 2015 at 8:14 am said:

    Hi Clive
    I agree with your suggestion. to this day salesmen head out to the country centres because they’re easier pickings than city folk. More trusting less used to being given a spiel.
    Misca as far as Robin being in Canberra I think that falls to being with his second wife Dell Brady who had a well known ballet school there. Dell was a ballerina and they both stayed actively involved even building a studio at the bottom floor of there large custom designed home which featured in a local news article in the 80s I have heard Robin sold cars there but a havent seen anything to back that up. I believ Dell came from there but not entirely sure.
    Jessica died in Hamilton Victoria in 07 and Im also unclear as to why she happened to be there ie wether some extended family were living there.

  36. Hi Misca. “The Canberra Times” 10-03-92 has a “biggish” article on Dell Brady & Robin Thomson.

  37. Somerton man was JEstyns biological father.

  38. He was a French ballet dancer. Who was recently sheep dipped before arriving In Somerton.

  39. Hi Nick, Re: contact in Broken Hill-now received a reply saying W H Coffey was married in March 1952. His wife, Patricia Thompson (correct spelling) apparently, does not want him searching his records etc-so a dead end I’m afraid!

  40. Enigma on July 26, 2015 at 6:34 am said:

    Broken Hill to Adelaide, by motor bike in 1948,would have been anything but an easy trip, dirt ,corrugated road full of potholes filled with bull dust. The start of this story has flaws. Strange, in a mere 24 hour period, unknown boy,steals a motorbike, manages to get to Adelaide on a road even a jeep would have had trouble navigating in reasonable time, finds enough fuel on the way and dumps a suitcase at Glenelg, timeframe suggests that either unknown boy never slept, ate and motor bike had never ending fuel tank. Suggest you Google, condition of NSW roads, 1948, with interest in references to Broken Hill, Barrier Highway. Something is not right with this story.

  41. Enigma: well… all good points, except for the fact that it took him more like 36 hours than 24, and the stolen bike was good for nothing except dumping in Glenelg dunes at the end of it all. He definitely made the trip, he was spotted by the police pootling down the Barrier Highway en route to Adelaide. The timing holds up as far as I can see, the bit that doesn’t add up is why he would make the journey at all. But perhaps someone out there will be able to say, let’s hope… 🙂

  42. Milongal on February 15, 2016 at 5:17 am said:

    Why does it suggest the bus was caught from South Tce? I always thought/imagined that it was caught from North Tce (right out the front of the Railway Station) and then turned South on West Tce either following the Anzac Highway to Glenelg (St Leonards) or (perhaps more likely) zig zagging there roughly along the Anzac Highway.

    I have a vague recollection of South Tce being mentioned only in so far as the conductor could tell the ticket had been sold in “Section 1” which basically encompasses the city (so Section 2 would begin somewhere near South Tce).

    Long Ranty Adelaide stuff follows on why I don’t believe he caught a bus on South Tce (I believe there was also a train at the time which may have gone from Vic Sq (where the tram later ran) – half way to South Tce) – and any out of towner asking for a route to Glenelg would surely have been pointed to whichever was closer out of bus or train.

    Although Adelaide was designed as a “mile square” (Digress: East Tce isn’t straight but that’s apparently got to do with Defence Formations when you’re protecting from attack on the only side it’s likely (the West reaches the beach in about 12KM, and civilisation already in the early days would have been spreading North and South so the hills in the East were a potential worry)), but although the Geographical Center is Victoria Square (where King William, Wakefield and Grote St’s meet) it’s hear has always been more North (possibly because of the railway station, or possibly because the original design was North Adelaide (which is now a suburb just across the Torrens) and South Adelaide (which is now Adelaide) and there might have been a tendancy to cluster North (in South Adelaide) closer to North Adelaide (where people may have clustered more South). Or perhaps it was the Rundle Mall Shopping Precinct (although I always assumed this to be effect rather than cause)).

    A current transport map (http //adelaidemetro com au/Timetables-Maps/City) shows the East/West Public Transport corridor focuses around Currie/Grenfell st and North Tce – and it’s only in the last 15 years that a lot of routes were shifted from North Tce to Grenfell St (there’s even an article in today’s paper that’s loosely related – the government wants to clog certain streets (Currie/Grenfell – North Tce is now clogged with the tram extension that was going on at a similar time) with public transport to discourage cars….but I digress again).

    Easy Reader: I don’t think the bus went down South Tce (or if it did briefly, I suspect it had originated from North Tce), I think he caught it (WestBound) from North Tce and then it followed South along West Tce (or some other cross road) eventually crossing SOuth Tce and following up the Anzac Highway.

    Based on recent routes, I would guess it was a crosstown route arriving as a Magill Road Route (following up Botanic Road onto North Tce, stopping (among other places) outside the Railway Station then turning left up West Tce and onto the Anzac Highway).

  43. Milongal: according to Derek Abbott’s timeline, “sometime after 11:15am the Somerton Man buys a 7d bus ticket from conductor Arthur Holdernesse at some point between North Terrace and South Terrace. The bus is headed for St. Leonard’s (in the general direction of Somerton).”

    And from the inquest, as quoted on http://tomsbytwo.com/2014/03/16/hall-and-holderness-the-bus-ticket-for-the-record/ :
    ‘It was issued by Conductor Holdernesse, his running journal for Tuesday the 30th November 1948 shows that this 7d ticket Sericla C/B 88708 was sold by this conductor somewhere between the railway station at North Terrace, and the intersection of West Terrace and South Terrace, while the bus was en route to St Leonards, departing from the railway station at 11.15 am.’

    ‘On that particular trip there were 9 7d tickets issued between the the station and West Tce-Sth Tce, which is the only area where 7d tickets cd be issued.

    ‘After passing Sth Tce, 6d tickets would be issued, this ticket was the sixth of the nine to be sold.

  44. Milongal on February 15, 2016 at 9:41 pm said:

    That seems to make more sense however on the timeline above it says:
    “* 11.15am: Somerton Man catches a bus to St Leonards from South Terraces, roughly a 2km walk from Adelaide station. (Oddly, he can catch a tram directly to Glenelg instead, but he does not do so.)”

    The bus could not have been caught on South Tce (it wouldn’t actually travel along it) and (as per DA’s timeline above) was most likely bought between the railways station and the West/South intersection.
    I don’t know enough about the system back then, but based on the current system, the bus would either cut in from East Tce or Botanic Road (or more likely be through running from another route) and I’m not sure how we can be certain those 9 tickets were sold after the railway station (unless the Conductor’s journal was filled in at each timepoint rather than each section point).

    (I suspect there’s a moderator on busaustralia.com in the SA forums called “The Mayor” who might know if we were interested enough – but I’m not sure it’s all that important – to me it seems likely he caught the bus from the railway station and maybe I’m getting pedantically caught up in irrelevant detail.)

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