Ever the agent provocateur, Pete Bowes has just published a post arguing that the long-standing Somerton Man story about the Hillman Minx was entirely made up. Rather than just snap at the bait, let’s examine the actual evidence and make up our own minds…
As we shall see below, what triggered this whole sequence was a short article in the Adelaide News mentioning the police’s search for a Rubaiyat. There had been no other mention of the Rubaiyat in any Adelaide newspaper since a brief mention at the start of the first inquest more than a month earlier, where the Rubaiyat was no more than a footnote tucked away at the end of the article. Hence the following article – which focused specifically on the police’s ongoing search for a copy of the Rubaiyat – would have come as a surprise to all but the most attentive of South Australian readers.
Although police realise they are acting on a mlIlion to one chance, a search for a book with a torn page which may throw some light on the Somerton body mystery is continuing throughout Australia.
A torn page of Fitzgerald’s translation of the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” was found in the pocket of the victim.
Det.-Sgt. Leane and Det. Brown believe the torn book may still be on the shelves of a library. They think that if they can find it, they can trace the man to the city or town he was in before he came to Adelaide With this information, it may be possible to establish his identity.
Melbourne police have made a search of public libraries and libraries in Victorian provincial towns, but have failed to find the torn volume. Although a number of city and suburban libraries have been checked here, others in country districts have not yet been investigated. The cause of death will probably never be known. A plaster cast of the victim’s head and shoulders, which was exhibited at the inquest, is now in a store room at Adelaide Museum. No request for it to be displayed has yet been made by the authorities.
The Wytkin Rubaiyat
The immediate problem we face is that newspaper reports now offer us two completely parallel narratives to consider, and they both start on the evening of the day the above report appeared.
A bus conductor informed police last night that he believed he knew the whereabouts of a book, which, if it were the correct one, might provide a very important clue in the Somerton body mystery. […] Last night Mr. L. F. Wytkins, bus conductor, of Partridge street, Glenelg, told police that several months ago he found a book answering the description of the one required by the police. He handed it in to the lost property office at the Tramways Trust. Mr. Wytkins said he was not sure when he found the book, but he believed it to be about the time the man’s body was found on the beach at Somerton.
This was Leslie Francis Wytkin (not “Wytkins”). Here’s a photo of him in 1947 from the Adelaide News:
Wytkin died on 10th September 1991 at the age of 84, and was buried at Swan Reach cemetery, 80-odd miles north-east of Adelaide.
If there is any further mention of Wytkin’s Rubaiyat from 1949 or after, I have completely failed to notice it: so unless anyone knows better, it seems that this is where this lead both started and ended.
The Jetty Road Rubaiyat
A second, far more long-lived Rubaiyat story began at precisely the same time: that of the Jetty Road Rubaiyat:-
Fresh hope that the Somerton body mystery may be solved come today with the finding of a copy of the ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ with the last page torn.
POLICE have been searching for such a book through out Australia in the hope it might provide the missing clue to the body’s identity. Last night an Adelaide businessman read of the search in ‘The News’ and recalled that in November he had found a copy of the book which had been thrown on the back seat of his car while it was parked in Jetty road, Glenelg. The book, the last page of which is torn, has been handed to police. If scientific tests, to be conducted next week, show the scrap of paper found on the dead man’s clothing had been taken from the book, police will have brought off a million to one chance.
[…] The finder of the book today handed it to Det.-Sgt. R. L. Leane. On the last page the words ‘Tamam Shud’ had been torn out. On the back of the book are several telephone numbers and a series of capital letters, written in pencil, the meaning of which have not yet been deciphered. As the scrap of paper found on the dead man had been trimmed, police were unable to identify the book merely by fitting it into the torn page. Proof will now rest with tests on the paper and the print.
Though the man was later referred to as “Ronald Francis”, that was not his real name: Gerry Feltus claims to know his real identity, and says that he spoke to him relatively recently (though he may since have passed away), but that he was elderly and unable to give any more useful details. The only extra detail we have was that he thought the book had been dumped in the back of the car around the time of the RAAF Air Display at Parafield on the 20th November 1948.
Feltus additionally noted that the man had told him that the car was a “little Hillman Minx” (“The Unknown Man”, p.105). But apart from the fact that the tear in the back page broadly matched the missing “Tamam Shud” and that the two sets of paper were a match, that’s all we ever knew about this Rubaiyat: it went missing many years ago, along with the suitcase, clothes and all the other evidence relating to the case.
Pete’s Hillman Minx Conspiracy Theory
Of course, the official line has always been that the Rubaiyat found by Wytkin was a dud and that the Jetty Road Rubaiyat was the real thing.
But Pete Bowes doesn’t like coincidences, and he thinks the fact that both Rubaiyats (re)appeared on the same evening of the same day is just too much.
And so, he mused, what if there never was a Jetty Road Rubaiyat? What if the whole Jetty Road story was just a feint, a front, a misdirection; and Wytkin’s Rubaiyat was the real one all along?
Moreover – and here’s what really seems to clinch it for him – this would mean that “Ronald Francis” was actually “Leslie Francis Wytkin” all along.
It would also mean that there never was a Hillman Minx (presumably it was Gerry Feltus who cooked that up): and hence that we can’t really trust anything the South Australian police say, because they’re all obviously Freemasons or Oddfellows or whatever, and therefore duty-bound by the code of their Lodge to protect Wytkin at all cost.
So… What Do I Think?
Pete has worked really hard at this case, and I would be entirely unsurprised if one of the many things he’s figured out along the way turns out to be the key to cracking the whole mystery: if it did, I’d be the first to applaud.
But as far this present issue goes, I’m personally happy to believe that there were indeed two quite separate Rubaiyats; that the shared trigger for their near-simultaneous appearance was the article in the Adelaide News; and that while Wytkin’s Rubaiyat didn’t have its “Tamam Shud” torn out, the Jetty Road Rubaiyat did. Sorry, Pete, but I just don’t see it.