The two tenets of Intellectual History are that (a) (almost) all evidence is deposited in good faith, and that as a result (b) historians should, as their default position, accept that evidence in good faith too.

Yet for cases such as that of the Somerton Man, the jumbled fragments we have to work with appear oddly paradoxical and often contradictory. Can we fit every one of these resolutely square pegs into the uniformly round holes of a single narrative?

What I’m going to present here is an oddly inferential Somerton Man account, based on various difficult pieces of evidence that rarely get mentioned in Tamam Shud presentations, but which Intellectual Historians would surely advise us not to overlook.

20th November 1948 – Parafield

Gery Feltus reports that he has talked several times with the (even now anonymous) man in whose car the Rubaiyat with the torn end-page was found. The man specifically claimed that it had been left there around the time of the RAAF Air Display at Parafield – 20th November 1948.

However, because this seems ten days too early, Somerton Man researchers tend to dismiss it by asserting that the guy ‘must have’ misremembered that date. But staying with the Intellectual Historian methodology, I say: if that’s what the man said, let’s assume he was telling the truth.

It therefore seems likely to me that the Somerton Man was also in Adelaide ten or so days before he died, because the “Tamam Shud” torn from that copy ended up in one of his pockets.

Around 30th November 1948 – Glenelg

“An amazing coincidence was revealed […] when another Adelaide businessman called at police headquarters with a copy of the “Rubaiyat” which he had found in his motor car at Glenelg about the time the body was found. This book was a different edition.”

If we also take this very specific newspaper article where the above claim appears in good faith, we now have two different Rubaiyats being left in the back of two different cars in Glenelg in the second half of November 1948.

What can we infer from this hugely improbable coincidence? The only explanation I can think of as to why two copies of the same book would have been left in the backs of two strangers’ cars at roughly the same time is as a pre-arranged anonymous signal. Though spies knew this as a “dead drop”, criminals with more than a touch of paranoia used this too.

It therefore seems highly likely to me that this second (but barely ever mentioned) Rubaiyat was also directly involved in the sequence of events that led to the Somerton Man’s death.

30th November 1948 – Adelaide Railway Station

The Somerton Man buys a train ticket for Henley Beach, but does not use it. He then leaves his suitcase at the Left Luggage department at Adelaide Station between 11am and noon; then catches a bus towards Glenelg at around 11.15am, but gets off at Somerton.

When you put these three pieces together, I think the resulting implication is that he originally intended to meet someone in Henley Beach and leave his suitcase with them before going on to Somerton Beach; but that when this proved not possible or not desirable, he left that suitcase at the station and instead went straight to Somerton Beach on a bus instead.

(I originally proposed that this also meant that the person he was intending to meet in Henley Beach must therefore have owned or had access to a car or other vehicle: but Helen Ensikat notes that there may well have been a bus going South along the coast from there to Somerton Beach. If there was, then I agree with her that that coast road bus would be a more likely alternative scenario.)

1st December 1948 – Somerton Beach

The Somerton Man is found dead on Somerton Beach at around 6am. He has no hat, no id, no ration card, no wallet, and no money. His stomach contains traces of blood: yet there is no sign of vomit on his clothes or shoes or anywhere nearby.

The presence of blood implies that he would very probably have experienced convulsions and vomiting not long before his death. However, the absence of vomit implies that where he was found was not where he died.

The man’s body has a strong lividity at the back of his head: yet his body is found propped up.

This mismatch implies either (a) that he died right there on the beach but that his blood was prevented from pooling lower by some kind of blockage caused by the specific way he was laying (the theory espoused by Derek Abbott); or (b) that after he died, his body was left laid on its back for some time with his head tilted slightly backwards (i.e. making it the lowest point of his body) which was then carried to the beach and posed there as if he had died there.

While I concede that Derek’s (a) is conceivable, I contend that the evidence points strongly to (b).

21 thoughts on “The oddly inferential Somerton Man…

  1. The Rubaiyat  does not enter the mystery until June of 1949. “After I found it and put the paper back, it took me a good deal of time to find it the second time, as it was a pocket which could be easily missed.’’
    Was this planting of evidence?

  2. In the interests of inferential intellectualism:
    Professor Cleland obtains some items from the police and tries on the unknown man’s coat. James Cowan tries on his slippers, a tight fit. Cleland finds the Tamam Shud slip in the fob pocket of the trousers the unknown man was wearing. The small slip of paper was so tightly rolled he had trouble finding it again at the inquest. (Inquest papers) (GF 64,79)

  3. Return Ticket on February 14, 2015 at 10:18 pm said:

    Not sure if this is relevant, considering all of the other items that might have been found on the body or in the luggage, but were not … but he had no return ticket on the bus to Adelaide and no return ticket on the train to Sydney or Melbourne, or to wherever he theoretically might have come from. Does this mean he was intending to stay, or does it mean that he was leaving by another means, or does it mean that he simply ran out of money and was waiting to get some more. Or maybe borrow it from Jestyn.

  4. He left his bag at the station, you might take that to mean he wasn’t coming back that night, before someone made sure of it.

  5. Return Ticket – It seems as though he was robbed of most items that would identify him. If he bought return tickets, they were most likely disposed of as well???

  6. misca, I get the feeling that tickets, return or otherwise, may only have been good for the day they were issued.

  7. Return Ticket: the question of return tickets is a bit of a thorny one, I’ll try to come back to that in a later post because a blog comment is a bit of a small space to cover it properly. 😐

  8. The only real clue to the book is in Anglicized Farsi from the first edition. I sum it up with this passage from the Fifth edition.
    ‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
    Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
    Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
    And one by one back in the Closet lays.

  9. Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
    Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
    How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
    Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.

  10. T Anderson on February 18, 2015 at 1:56 am said:

    Professor of Ancient History Donald Kagan calls this “The Higher Naiveté” he introduced a(t least one) lecture with “T]here is this critical school that says, “I won’t believe anything unless it is proven to me.” At the other extreme, there’s me, the most gullible historian imaginable. My principle is this. I believe anything written in ancient Latin or Greek unless I can’t.
    Now, things that prevent me from believing what I read are that they are internally contradictory, or what they say is impossible, or different ones contradict each other and they can’t both be right. So, in those cases I abandon the ancient evidence. Otherwise, you’ve got to convince me that they’re not true.
    Now, you might think of this as, indeed, gullible. A former colleague of mine put the thing very, very well. He spoke about, and I like to claim this approach, the position of scholarship to which we call the higher naiveté.
    The way this works is, you start out, you don’t know anything, and you’re naïve. You believe everything. Next, you get a college education and you don’t believe anything, and then you reach the level of wisdom, the higher naiveté, and you know what to believe even though you can’t prove it. Okay, be warned; I’m a practitioner of the higher naiveté.”

  11. T Anderson: I’d argue that Intellectual Historians attempt to go further than Kagan’s higher naiveté, insofar as their overall methodology tries to combine it with close reading and sharp inference. So, rather than just simply ‘believe’ what they read, they see language itself as a fractured mirror that tends to corrupt, tangle and dissipate the writer’s (almost always) original good faith meaning: and they use sharp inference to try to get at what was originally intended.

    Not always successfully, it has to be said: but it’s not an outright bad way of proceeding, in my opinion. 😉

  12. I’m with T.Anderson.
    Historically, and especially with regard to European history, the readiness to disbelieve without suitable reason or evidence has proven – over and over – so embarrassing in hindsight.

    Also, the “new skeptic” is too often just intellectually lazy. A couch-potato who can’t be bothered making an effort to apprehend anything for himself. Sits back munching a sandwich, saying “Uh-huh?”

    A classical sceptic would be horrified.

  13. This is what happens when the conversation turns to the validity of return bus tickets in Adelaide in 1948 … everyone gets a glassy look in their eyes and starts to talk about existentialism.

  14. “The only explanation I can think of as to why two copies of the same book would have been left in the backs of two strangers’ cars at roughly the same time is as a pre-arranged anonymous signal. Though spies knew this as a “dead drop”, criminals with more than a touch of paranoia used this too.”
    This is arguable, Nick, as a dead drop is used as a means of passing a message between two operatives in such a manner so they don’t have to meet. I don’t see how you can fit 2 rubaiyats and two cars into this procedure. Over to you.

  15. I think it’s unfortunate that the most knowledgeable investigator in this case thinks it’s ok to help people he thinks are involved (“involved” = knowing; he clearly states that he thinks Jessica knows more) remain anonymous and “untouched”.

    This has nothing to do with one book or two but really, how could someone professional, so invested in the case, give such a “pass” to someone who he truly believes knows SM’s identity?

    Something doesn’t add up.

  16. Anton Alipov on February 25, 2015 at 1:49 pm said:

    Generally all this looks like trying to shake off the pursuers.

    The man arrives in Adelaide and gets rid of his beard. Leaves a trunk at the station, but never requests it afterwards. Buys a railway ticket but uses another kind of transport. Takes a bus to one point but gets off at another. All this to cover up the traces, but the guys were also no fools, and they found him.

    Previously I expressed an idea that the strangely “incomplete” contents of the trunk may be explained by the fact that the journey was not intended to be a long one, but actually a plainer explanation is just that the trunk was not intended to be picked up at all.

    These “Tamam Shud”s may have been like a black mark, or like “five orange pips”, you know. And the books left in the transport may have served as the sign that the job has been done. However, to receive these signs, the intended recipient should have specifically dedicated himself to searching for lost books in different vehicles, full-time. So probably those books were just disposed of.

    I’m not following the story in detail, so my apologies in advance if I’m not to the point.

  17. Clive on March 7, 2015 at 7:12 am said:

    Hi Nick, Re: Henley Beach railway ticket-reason for him buying a railway ticket is the possibility that he mixed it up with Jetty Road at Glenelg. Apparently, there were two railway stations at Henley Beach, Henley Beach itself and Jetty Road Henley Beach, this is despite the fact that Jetty Road at Henley Beach does not exist! In fact, this station was a stone’s throw from where Prosper/ (Jessie?) lived in 1947-Main St.

  18. Clive: have you checked 1948 railway maps to confirm this claim? I don’t remember seeing that on any of the maps of the time I’ve looked at, e.g. the tram map here (which seems to come up on every Google search):

    There’s also a nice description of the buses here:

  19. Milongal on February 1, 2016 at 10:46 pm said:

    1) Parafield is quite a ways from Glenelg, so I’m not sure about “two different Rubaiyats being left in the back of two different cars in Glenelg”
    2) There was for a while a service that included the stretch Henley to Glenelg (the route varied at different times, at it’s longest I think it was 340 Port Adelaide to Marino (via West Lakes, Henley Square, HarbourTown (once it was built), Glenelg, and Marion) and a 345 Port Adleaide to Flinders Uni (but that would be a long time after SM – 80’s or so) – and as you seem to have found has people who know far more about such things than is healthy
    3) There is a Jetty Rd in Grange (next suburb from Henley, which I think wouldn’t have been Grange back then – I thought it was Kircaldy. I don’t know how the train routes were then (the map you link to suggests that they went up Henley Beach Rd, then North toward Grange,whereas I’d always assumed they followed the current Grange Line and continued South to Henley (stopping at the corner of Grange Rd (which may have had another name back then), and then at Main St))
    4) Adelaide currently (can’t comment too far into the past) uses a time-based system (with a limited section-based component) and pre-1990s used to have a zone-based and time-based one). Basically to purchase a ticket there’s 3 options (which used to be a little more complicated but fundamentally the same under the zoned system0:
    – a Section ticket allows you travel on a single service for a distance not exceeding 2 Sections (the sections are typically less than 1.5km I think)
    – a Transfer ticket allows you travel on unlimited services for a period of 2 hours from the time you purchase the ticket to the time you board the last service
    – a Day Pass ticket allows you travel on all services from the time you purchase it until 4:30am the following morning (not that buses run that late into the night)
    The Transfer ticket can be a source of confusion, but is not a “return ticket” per se’
    Is it possible that the state of play might have been similar in late 1940’s Adelaide (we tend to be a stubborn lot that can’t handle change)? The absence of a return doesn’t to me seem overly significant – especially since he bought the ticket on board (I thought they worked out where he boarded based on his ticket sequence number)

  20. Milongal: reading this again, I think you’re absolutely right – the article considers the Boxall Rubaiyat as the main event and then compares it with the “Jetty Road” Rubaiyat: it treats the latter as an amazing coincidence. So I shall fix this shortly. 😐

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