A little while back, I became aware that “The Unknown Man” – which I consider to be the #1 factual account of the Somerton Man cold case / Tamam Shud mystery – was about to be republished in ebook format, and so I asked Gerry Feltus for some more details to share with you. What I thought Cipher Mysteries readers would be particularly interested in was whether he had made any changes to the original print version (which came out way back in 2010).

Incidentally, here’s a nice photo of Gerry in action, taken from this family website:

Gerry kindly emailed me back a few days ago, saying:

I didn’t make any great changes apart from identifying and providing details relative to the nurse and her husband. I am aware that their identities were continuously produced on web sites, but people who purchased my book don’t all follow web sites so it is only fair that they also have access to the details.

There’s a little more detail on his News page.

Simply The Best

Since “The Unknown Man” first appeared in print back in 2010, I have continuously recommended it to prospective Somerton Man researchers as their very best first port of call. The only possible objection international researchers could have was the (still shockingly high) cost of postage from Australia, a pox to which ebooks are thankfully immune. So the ridiculous situation where people write articles, posts or even papers about the Somerton Man that fail to cite “The Unknown Man” should now hopefully be a thing of the past: it remains the core of any good Somerton Man bibliography.

For me, what is so good about Gerry’s book is that he sensibly restricts it to the pure factuality of the case, for it should be obvious that reporting all the facts in a clear and well-structured way is an amply hard enough challenge on its own. Having said that, even though this approach leaves plenty of room for other books to explore the various hypotheses in more detail, these sadly remain unwritten. Maybe one day, who knows?

Frustratingly, there are still a few details of the case hidden under pseudonyms in “The Unknown Man” which have yet to become public, most notably the real identity of “Ronald Francis” (in the back of whose car the Rubaiyat with the torn-out “Tamam Shud” was found in late 1948) and even the real make of Francis’s car. But perhaps these will emerge into the light before too long… here’s hoping, anyway. 😉

PS: if you haven’t already read “The Unknown Man”, go away and read it now!

Here are some photographs of Glenelg and Somerton circa 1948 I’ve found along the way, that I thought some of you might like.

Glenelg Pier

On a post on his travel blog, John Pedler included three nice images of Glenelg Pier, all courtesy of Holdfast Bay History Centre photographic collection. The first two were taken in 1935 and 1936 respectively, and show the jetty aquarium:

The third image shows the pier after it was destroyed by a storm in April 1948: it was rebuilt (a little shorter) in 1969.

The Crippled Children’s Home

The State Library of South Australia holds many images of old postcards and photographs: one series was taken at the Crippled Children’s Home in 1948. The first image shows the building itself:

The second image shows some children on the beach, which must surely be Somerton Beach, right?

By way of comparison, the image from the Unredacted article looks like this:

Rubaiyats A-Plenty

If you haven’t already picked up on this, the irrepressible Barry Traish (surely the Duracell bunny of Somerton Man researchers) has recently done some digging on George Marshall’s Rubaiyat, and is now certain that it was not a false imprint. So here’s a nice collection of Rubaiyats from the post outlining his findings:

Other Images

This image of Chapman’s delicatessen in the 1940s is on sale on eBay, feel free to buy it if you like. I doubt they sold pasties, but who can tell?

Here’s a double decker bus of the era (I believe), courtesy of the Advertiser’s Adelaide Now site:

I’ve had a dissatisfying, rubbish day today: but given that every day I’ve previously had that involved some kind of interaction with Stephen Bax had been a bad day, perhaps there should be no element of surprise involved.

Bax To The Future

In the case of the Voynich Manuscript, there are at least ten reasonable arguments I can see (even if I happen to disagree with all of them) for a linguistic reading: what frustrates me so much about Bax is that the arguments he puts forward aren’t any of them (or even close to them). Hence he inevitably finds the best form of defence is attack: and given that I’m just about the only person not fawning over him, guess who gets attacked?

Frankly, I’d rather stick flaming needles under my fingernails than experience any more of his wit, wisdom, and whatever in the absence of any effective moderation: so goodbye to voynich.ninja it has to be, sorry.

Doubt With The Old

Of course, Bax himself isn’t the root cause of all this: the real problem is that almost all genuine Voynich experts seem to doubt the depth of their confidence in what they know, and so choose silence over confrontation, no matter how foolish the provocation or how malformed the argument.

Yet even though I’ve been saying for over a decade that we now do know enough to take a principled stand against Voynich pseudoscience, pseudohistory, pseudolinguistics and enigmatology, it’s been a long wait for anyone to show any kind of solidarity with this point of view.

I therefore note with great interest that Rene Zandbergen has recently – after a decade of Rich SantaColoma’s incessant possibility-based argumentation – put up a page dismissing the modern hoax theory. This is, in my opinion, a huge milestone in Voynich discourse: but whether Rene or others will follow up with similarly comprehensive rebuttals of Rugg, Bax et al remains to be seen. When all you can see are vipers, where’s theriac when you really need it?

Dead Drunk On The Beach?

Cipher Mysteries readers will probably see a lot in common between the above and what passes for debate in The Somerton Man world. Even the straightforward disproof of the whole microwriting claim seems to have been overlooked by all the loudest shorts at the poolside: so please excuse me if I sip my Camilla Voodoo elsewhere.

Anyhoo, given that most historical-cipher-inspired songs seem happy to look no further than the Voynich’s surreality, today’s aural treat-ette for you all is a song from South London’s own JerkCurb called “Somerton Beach” (review here), where the wobbly guitars try to capture a kind of alcoholic pre-death haze. Which is nice, if oddly apposite, though I couldn’t easily explain why.

Having now reread Ian Pfennigwerth’s “Man of Intelligence” and gone through various files at the NAA, I now have slightly more solid dates framing what Captain Nave was doing in 1949.

Nave’s Career

Having started work in the South Australian Railways (where his father Thomas worked), Eric Nave signed up for the Royal Australian Navy in 1917. He stayed there until 1930, when he was moved to the Royal Navy.

However, Nave’s RN personnel file is not only fairly brief (he was cheerful and intelligent), but only runs to 1948.

A large proportion of the papers in his NAA ASIO file relate to his pension, because his Royal Navy pension was not transferable to his wife. Because the Naves had four children, this issue required a fair bit of administrative attention. Redactions are merely senior officers’ names.

I incidentally found out that Nave owned a Holden sedan, and that his parents lived at 5b Arlington Terrace, Allenby Gardens, Adelaide.

Captain Nave’s 1949 Timeline

From the papers in the files, we can say definitively that Captain Nave: [page numbers from the ASIO file NAA: A6119, 3576]

* finished formal work with the RN in March 1949 (p.80)

* was allocated to the Terror “18.3.49 for dispersal” (Navy service record)

* had 160 days of untaken / carried over holiday (Pfennigwerth), though the Navy service record says “48 days N.S.L.  28 days E.O.W.L.  56 days release + RAN F.S.L.”

* was courted by ASIO as early as 13th May 1949 (p.87)

* officially retired on 22nd August 1949   (when his pension started) (pp.30-31)

* started with ASIO on 20th October 1949  (pp.30-31)

All of which means that Adelaide-born-and-bred Captain Nave was still (technically) in the Royal Navy in July 1949, when the Adelaide newspapers reported that a “local Navy decoder” was having a look at the Rubaiyat.

Are any of his children still alive?

In July 1949, Australia’s greatest code-breaker Captain Eric Nave was enjoying his 160 days of accumulated holidays before starting a new job with (the newly formed) ASIO on 15th December 1949. I suspect he was at his house in Adelaide Melbourne at the time, but asked over by his father in Adelaide, where he had lived until early on in the war.

Hence I strongly believe that the “local naval decoder” referred to in reference #4 below was Eric Nave. I would be delighted if anybody has suggestions as to how this could be tested or pursued further in the archives.

(1) The Adelaide Advertiser, 26th July 1949, p.3

Yesterday the police interviewed two suburban telephone subscribers whose numbers corresponded with those on the back of the book, but they knew nothing of the matter.

(2) Adelaide News, 26th July 1949, p.1

Phone number found on cover of book

[…]The woman whose telephone number appears in pencil on the cover of the book told police that when she was nursing at North Shore hospital in Sydney about three and a half years ago, she gave a similar copy to a lieutenant who served in the Water Transport section of the Army.

Later, she said, the lieutenant wrote to her mother’s home in Melbourne. She replied to his letter, telling him she was married.
Subsequently, the woman told police, she and her husband settled in Adelaide. Last year a man called at the house of a neighbor, inquiring for a nurse he once knew.

This afternoon the woman is being shown the plaster cast of the Somerton victim, which is now in a storeroom at Adelaide Museum.

Acting on the possibility that the “Rubalyat” in their possession did belong to the lieutenant, police set out to decipher a number of block letters pencilled on the back of the book.

Although the lettering was faint, police managed to read it by using ultra-violet light. In the belief that the lettering might be a code, a copy has been sent to decoding experts at Army Headquarters, Melbourne.

(3a) The Adelaide Advertiser, 27th July 1949, p.1

Army Officer Sought To Help Solve Somerton Body Case

[…]The police have also forwarded to Army Headquarters, Melbourne, a copy of a series of letters printed in pencil on the back of the book. They believe that it is possible that the letters may be some coded message. Police located the woman from a telephone number, also written in pencil on the back the book.[…]

(3b) Adelaide News, 27th July 1949, p.1

Yesterday police traced a telephone number pencilled on the cover to the Adelaide woman who gave a similar copy of the book to the Army lieutenant.

Efforts to decipher several rows of block letters, believed to be a code, on the back of the book are continuing. A Navy “code cracker”, is tackling the task this afternoon.

(4) Adelaide News, 25th August 1949, p.22


Police were told today that Australia’s top cipher experts had failed to crack the code in the back of a copy of Omar Khayyam’s “Rubaiyat’ believed to be connected with the Somerton body mystery.

A naval spokesman said experts in Melbourne had worked on the code for weeks. Melbourne authorities had informed him that the frequency of the occurrence of letters, while inconclusive, corresponded more favorably with the table of frequencies of initial letters of words in English than with any other table.

A reasonable explanation would be that the lines were initial letters of words of a verse of poetry or something like that.

Before a copy of the code was sent to Melbourne, a local naval decoder expressed similar views.

The code, printed in pencil in the back of a copy of the “Rubaiyat” from which the words “Tamam Shud” – meaning “The End” – were torn, was thrown into the back of an unattended car at Glenelg about the time the body of an unknown man was found on Somerton beach on December 1, 1948. In the clothing on the body was a neatly trimmed piece of paper with the words “Tamam Shud.”

(5) Adelaide News, 27th August 1949, p.2

Many try to solve Somerton code

[…]Expert opinion is that the code was made up of initial
letters of words from a verse of poetry or something similar.

The code is:
M R G O A D A B D [sic]

Vic. man’s claim

Melbourne. – A former newspaper seller, Mr. Ernest Jessup, of Caulfield, thinks he may have solved part of the code.
This is how he worked it out:
MRGOADABD [sic] – Mr. Goddard
MTBIMPANETP – Pantryman(?).
MLIABOAIAQC – Mail-boat-AQC (AQC, A class quarters?)
Mr. Jessup believes this hides the name of a ship – his guess is an Indian ship.

Apart from the case of the Somerton Man, has any other police investigation ever revolved around a book left in a complete stranger’s car? Personally, I’d be surprised: this seems to be a unique feature of the whole Somerton Man narrative.

But what, then, of the obvious alternate explanation, i.e. that the Rubaiyat was in the car already? For all the persuasive bulk the dominant explanation has gained from being parroted so heavily for nearly seven decades, I think it’s time to examine this (I think major) alternative and explore its logical consequences…

Gerry Feltus’s Account

To the best of my knowledge, Gerry Feltus is the only person who has actually talked with the (still anonymous) man who handed the Rubaiyat in. So let us first look at Feltus’ account (“The Unknown Man”, p.105) of what happened at the time of the Somerton Man’s first inquest when the police search for the Rubaiyat was mentioned in the press:

Francis [note: this was Feltus’ codename for the man] immediately recalled that his brother-in-law had left a copy of that book in the glove box of his little Hillman Minx [note: not the car’s actual make] which he normally parked in Jetty Road. He could not recall him collecting it, and so it was probably there. He went to the car and looked in the glove box – yes, the book was still there. To his amazement a section had been torn out of the rear page, in the position described by past newspaper reports.

“Ronald Francis” then telephoned his brother-in-law:

Do you recall late last year when we all went for a drive in my car, just after that man was found dead on the beach at Somerton? You were sitting in the back with your wife and we all got out of the car, the book you were reading, you put in the glove box of my car, and you left it there.

To which the brother-in-law replied:

No it wasn’t mine. When I got in the back seat, the book was on the floor; I fanned through some pages and thought it was yours, so when I got out of the car I put it in the glove box for you.

A while back, I pressed Gerry Feltus for more specific details on this: though he wouldn’t say what make of car the “Hillman Minx” actually was, he said that the man told him that the book turned up “a day or two after the body was found on the beach, and during daylight hours“. Gerry added that “Francis” was now very elderly and suffering from severe memory loss. Even so, he said that “I have spoken to Francis, his family and others and I am more than satisfied with what he has told me“.

Finally: when “Francis” handed the Rubaiyat to the police, he “requested that his identity not be disclosed”, for fear that he would be perpetually hounded by the curious. Even today (2017) it seems that only Gerry Feltus knows his identity for sure: though a list of possible names would include Dr Malcolm Glen Sarre and numerous others.

Newspaper Accounts

All the same, when I was trying to put everything into a timeline a while back, I couldn’t help but notice that Gerry’s account didn’t quite match the details that appeared in the newspapers at the time:

[1] 23rd July 1949, Adelaide News, page 1:

[…] 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.

[2] 25th July 1949, Adelaide Advertiser, page 3:

A new lead to the identity of the Somerton body may have been discovered on Saturday when Det.Sgt. R. L. Leane received from a city business man a torn copy of Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam said to have been found in his car at Glenelg about last November, a week or two before the body was found.
  The last few lines of the poem, including the words “Tamam shud” (meaning “the end”) have been torn out of the book.
  When the body was searched some time ago a scrap of paper bearing the words “Tamam shud” was found in a pocket.
  Scrawled in pencilled block letters on the back of the cover of the book are groups of letters which appear to be foreign words and some numbers.
  These, it is hoped, may be of assistance in tracing the dead man’s identity.
  The business man told Det.Sgt. Leane that he found the copy of the Rubaiyat in the rear of his car while it was parked in Jetty road Glenelg, about the time of the RAAF air pageant in November.
  He said he had known nothing about the much-publicised words “Tamam shud” until he saw a reference to them on Friday.

[3] 26th July 1949, Adelaide News, page 1:

The book had been thrown into the back seat of a motor car in Jetty road, Glenelg, shortly before the victim’s body was found on the beach at Somerton on December 1.
Although the lettering was faint, police managed to read it by using ultra-violet light. In the belief that the lettering might be a code, a copy has been sent to decoding experts at Army Headquarters, Melbourne.

Why Do These Accounts Differ?

The Parafield air pageant mentioned unequivocally in the above newspaper accounts was held on 20th November 1948, ten days or so before the Somerton Man was found dead on Somerton Beach. Yet Gerry Feltus was told by “Ronald Francis” himself that the book turned up “a day or two after the body was found on the beach”. Clearly, these two accounts can’t both be right at the same time.

I of course asked Gerry directly about this last year: by way of reply, he said “Don’t believe everything you read in the media, eg; ‘The business man told Det. Leane…. etc…’.“. Moreover, he suggested that I was beginning “to sound like [Derek] Abbott”, who had “nominated the same things as you”.

This is, of course, polite Feltusese for “with respect, you’re talking out your arse, mate“: but at the same time, all he has to back up this aspect of his account – i.e. that the book turned up after the Somerton Man was found, not ten days before – is “Ronald Francis”‘s word, given half a century after the event.

Hence this is the point where I have to temporarily bid adieu to Gerry Feltus’s account, because something right at the core of it seems to be broken… and when you trace the non-fitting pieces, they all seem to me to lead back to the Rubaiyat and the car.

So… what really happened with the Rubaiyat and the car? Specifically, what would it mean if the Rubaiyat had been in the car all along?

The Rubaiyat Car Theory

If the Rubaiyat was already in the back of the “little Hillman Minx”, it would seem to be the case that:

(*) Ronald Francis had no idea what it was or why it was there
(*) Ronald Francis’ brother-in-law had no idea what it was or why it was there
(*) …and yet the Rubaiyat was connected to that car in some non-random way
(*) …or, rather, it was connected to someone who was connected to the car

Given that one of the phone numbers on its back was that of Prosper McTaggart Thomson – a person who lived a quarter of a mile away from where “Ronald Francis” lived or worked, and who (as the Daphne Page court case from five months earlier demonstrated beyond all doubt) helped people sell cars on the black market by providing fake “pegged-price” documentation – it would seem reasonable at this point to hypothesize that Prosper Thomson may well have been the person who had sold “Ronald Francis” that specific car.

There was also a very good reason why many people might well have been looking to sell their cars in November 1948: the Holden 48-215 – the first properly Australian car – was just then about to be launched. Note that the “little Hillman Minx” could not have been a Holden if it had been driven to the Parafield air pageant, as the very first Holden was not sold until the beginning of December 1948:

If “Ronald Francis” had just bought a car in (say) mid-November 1948, I can quite imagine him proudly taking his wife, his brother-in-law and his wife off to the Parafield air pageant for a nice day out.

If Prosper Thomson’s behaviour in the Daphne Page court case was anything to go by, I can also easily imagine that the person who had sold that car might have wondered if he was being swindled by the middle man. In his summing up, the judge said that “[t]he defendant [Thomson] had not paid the £400 balance, and had never intended to do so“: so who’s to say that Thomson was not above repeating that same trick, perhaps with someone from out of town?

Perhaps, then, the person whose Rubaiyat it was was not Prosper Thomson himself, but the person from whom Prosper Thomson had just bought the car in order to sell it to “Ronald Francis”.

Perhaps it was this person’s distrust of Thomson’s financial attitude had led him to hide the Rubaiyat under the back seat of the car, with the “Tamam Shud” specifically ripped out so that he could prove that it was he who had sold the car to Thomson in the first place.

And so perhaps it was the car’s previous owner who was the Somerton Man, visiting Glenelg to track down the owner of his newly sold car, simply to make sure he hadn’t been ripped off by Prosper Thomson.

The Awkward Silence

I’ve previously written about how social the Somerton Man seemed to have been, and how that jarred with the lack of helpful response the police received. For all its physical size, Australia still had a relatively small population back then.

So perhaps the silence surrounding the Somerton Man cold case will turn out to be nothing more than that of jittery people buying and selling cars not through dealers, people who the Price Commissioners pegged prices had effectively turned into white-collar criminals – for how many professionals were so well-off in post-war Australia that they could afford to be principled about losing £400 or more in the sale of their shiny American car?

Incidentally, it has been reported that on the back of the Rubaiyat were written two phone numbers: one of which was the (now-famous) phone number for the nurse Jo Thomson (which her soon-to-be-husband Prosper Thomson was also using for small ads in the newspapers), while the other was allegedly for a local bank.

These are the two things people selling black market cars need: the number of the middle man who was laundering the transaction, and the number of bank to make sure cheques clear (remember that a dud cheque to pay for a car was ultimately what triggered the Daphne Page court case).

But the other thing such people need is an absence: an absence of discussion about the transaction. And if “Ronald Francis” had only just bought his car on the black market through Prosper Thomson (thanks to Price Commission pegging, only about 10% of car sales back then went through official car dealer channels), he would surely have had a very specific reason not to want the details of his sale explored and made public.

And so I wonder whether this was the real reason why Ronald Francis didn’t want his name revealed: because if the police were to understand the web of dealings that had brought the Somerton Man to Glenelg, that would inevitably make it clear that the two men were the participants in a black market car sale, one which – though widely practised – was still a Price Commission offence with stiff penalties.

Along those same lines, I also wonder whether it was Ronald Francis himself who erased the pencil writing from the Rubaiyat’s back cover, to try to cover at least some of the tracks that might lead police in his direction. Of course, we now know that SAPOL’s photographers were able to use ultra-violet photography to (mostly) reconstruct the letters: but this may well not have been known to him at the time.

Please note that I’m not saying this is the only plausible explanation for everything. However, insofar as it tackles (and indeed resolves) a large number of the trickiest aspects of the case, it’s at least worth considering, right?

A Final Note

To be clear, when I ran this whole Rubaiyat Car suggestion past Gerry Feltus (admittedly in an earlier iteration), he dismissed it out of hand (though without any actual evidence to back up his position):

“I will not go into the possibility that the man purchased his car from Prosper. It is an absolutely rubbish suggestion that has no credibility. Poor old Prosper. He must have been the only ‘black market’ racketeer in Adelaide. From my knowledge of the climate during that relevant period he was a ‘nothing’.”

Well, Gerry was absolutely right insofar as that in 1948 Prosper was a small-time black marketeer, a mere minnow in the Melbourne-dominated black market car pool: but all the same, he was a minnow that lived extremely close by.

I suspect the real problem here is that if the mainstream story is wrong – that is, if Ronald Francis’ car had not long before (like so many others at the time) been bought at a premium on the black market, and if Francis had told white[-collar] lies to try to cover up his part in an illegal transaction once he realized what had happened – then people have been concealing their true involvement with what happened for nearly 70 years, not because of murder but because the price control legislation made criminals of nearly everyone selling their car.

And so it might well be that Gerry Feltus (and indeed just about everyone else) has been viewing the Somerton Man as entirely the wrong kind of mystery: not a police cold case, but a Price Commission cold case. How boringly middle class!

During and immediately after World War II, governments everywhere looked with dismay at their non-functioning factories, empty warehouses, and depleted male workforce. Even though the normal economic response to such shortages would be for prices to go up, it was politically vital under the circumstances to prevent profiteering, exploitation, and inflationary pressure from disrupting domestic marketplaces yet further.

In the Commonwealth, legislation was brought in during 1939 to control the prices of many key goods, commodities and supplies: this was known as the Commonwealth Prices Branch. In Australia, this was implemented by appointing a Deputy Price Commissioner for each state, who was tasked with assessing the correct level that specific prices should be. These commissioners were also given the power to investigate and enforce those “pegged” prices (quite independently of the police): the price controls continued until the 1950s.

(Archive material on price control in South Australia is indexed here. For what it’s worth, I’m most interested in D5480.)

Black Markets

While this legislation did (broadly) have the desired effect, the mismatches it introduced between the price and the value of things opened up numerous opportunities for short term black markets to form. One well-known black market was for cars:

15th June 1948, Barrier Miner, page 8:

Melbourne.- If control were lifted, prices of used cars would fall and the black market would disappear, men in the trade said today.
  Popular American cars would settle to slightly below the former black market price and expensive English cars to below the pegged price, they said.
  The pegged price for a 1938 Ford has been £235, and the black market price £450. Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Chevrolets, and Pontiacs might sell for 75 per cent more
than the pegged price.
  There was no shortage of English cars, so a 1937 Alvis, now £697, could go down to about £495. The classic English cars of the late 20’s and early 30’s, pegged at about £300, would probably sell at less than £100.
  Every car would then find its level. Drivers who had kept their cars in good condition would be able to sell them in direct relation to their values.
  Men in the trade said honest secondhand car dealers had almost been forced out of business during the war. Records showed that 90 per cent of all used car sales were on a friend-to-friend basis and they never passed through the trade.

But because you could be fined or go to prison if you bought or sold a car for significantly more than its pegged price, to sell your (say) fancy American car on the black market you would need two separate things: (1) a buyer willing to pay more than the pegged price, and also (2) someone who could supply nice clean paperwork to make the sale appear legitimate if the State Deputy Price Commissioner just happened to come knocking at your door.

And yet because back then cars were both aspirational and hugely expensive (in fact, they cost as much as a small house), so much money was at stake here that it was absolutely inevitable the black market in cars would not only exist, but, well, prosper.

So this is the point where Daphne Page and Prosper Thomson enter the room: specifically, Judge Haslam’s courtroom… I offer the remainder of the post without comment, simply because the judge was able to read the situation quite clearly, even if he didn’t much like what he saw:

Daphne Page vs Prosper Thomson

21st July 1948, Adelaide Advertiser, page 5:

Sequel To Alleged Loan. — Claiming £400, alleged to be the amount of a loan not repaid, Daphne Page, married of South terrace, Adelaide, sued Prosper McTaggart Thomson, hire car proprietor, of Moseley street, Glenelg.
  Plaintiff alleged that the sum had been lent to defendant on or about November 27 last year so that he could purchase a new car and then go to Melbourne to sell another car.
  Defendant appeared to answer the claim.
  In evidence, plaintiff said that before she lent defendant the money she asked for an assurance that she would get it back promptly. She had not obtained a receipt from defendant. After several attempts had been made later to have the loan repaid by Thomson, he had said that the man to whom he had sold the car in Melbourne had paid him by a cheque which had not been met by the bank concerned. When she had proposed taking action against defendant he had said that if she took out a summons she would be “a sorry woman”. He had threatened to report her for “blackmailing.”
  In reply to Mr. R. H. Ward, for defendant, the witness denied that anything had ever been said about £900 being paid for the car. She had never told Thomson that she wanted that sum for it. The pegged price of the car was £442.
  Part-heard and adjourned until today.
  Miss R. P. Mitchell for plaintiff.

22nd July 1948, Adelaide Advertiser, page 5:

Alleged Loan.— The hearing was further adjourned until today of a case in which Daphne Page, married, of South terrace, Adelaide, sued Prosper McTaggart Thomson, hire car proprietor, of Moseley street, Glenelg, for £400, alleged to have been a loan by her to him which be had not repaid.
  Page alleged that the loan had been made on or about November 27 last year so that he could purchase a new car and then go to Melbourne to sell another car.
Thomson said that in answer to an advertisement Page had approached him on October 39 with a car to sell. She wanted £900 for it. On November 11 she accepted £850 as the price for the car and said that the RAA had told her that the pegged price was £442.
  He drew a cheque for £450 and gave it to Page, who told him she had made out a receipt for £442, the pegged price. Early in December he went to Melbourne to sell a car for another man. On his return to Adelaide be found many messages from Page requesting that he would telephone her. He did not do so, but about a week later met her and told her that he could not pay her the £400 “black market balance” on the car because he had had a cheque returned from a bank.
  Page had said she wanted the money urgently, as she had bought a business. Witness “put her off.”
  Later, just before a summons was delivered to him, Page had telephoned and asked when he intended to pay the £400. She had spoken affably, but when he told her that he had had advice that he was not required to pay more than the pegged price of the car and did not intend to do so, she had said she would summons him and “make out that the money was a loan.” She had said that she would bring forward “all her family as witnesses.” He hung up the telephone receiver. He had never borrowed money from Page.
  Thomson was cross-examined at length by Miss R. F. Mitchell, for Page. Mr. R. H. Ward for Thomson.

23rd July 1948, Adelaide Advertiser, page 5:

Claim Over Car Transaction.
  Judgment was reserved yesterday in a case in which Daphne Page, married, of South terrace, Adelaide, sued Prosper McTaggart Thomson, hire car proprietor, of Moseley street, Glenelg, for £400, alleged to have been a loan by her to him which he had not repaid.
  It was alleged by Mrs. Page that the loan had been made on or about November 27 last year so that Thomson could purchase a new car and then go to Melbourne to sell another car.
  Thomson denied that he had ever borrowed money from Mrs. Page. He alleged that she had asked £900 for a car, the pegged price of which was £442, and had later agreed to accept £850 for it. After the transaction he had given her a cheque for £450 on account. Mrs. Page had made out a receipt for £442. When she had pressed him, later, for the remaining £400 of the sale, he had told her that, acting upon advice, he did not intend to pay her more than he had. She had then told him that she would summons him and make out that the money at issue was a loan.
  Mr. [sic] R. P. Mitchell for plaintiff: Mr. R. H. Ward for defendant.

7th August 1948, Adelaide Advertiser, page 8:

NEW Olds sedan taxi, radio equipped, available weddings, country trips, race meetings, &c.; careful ex-A.I.F. driver. lowest rates. Phone X3239.

17th August 1948, Adelaide News, page 4:


  While he gave judgment for defendant in a £400 loan claim in Adelaide Local Court today in a case in which black-marketing of a motor car was mentioned, Judge Haslam refused costs because of defendant’s conduct in the transaction.
  Mrs. Daphne Page, of South terrace, City, sued Prosper McTaggart Thomson, hire car proprietor, of Moseley street, Glenelg, for £400 alleged to be the amount of a loan not repaid.
  His Honor said if it were not that the Crown would be faced with evidence of plaintiff in the case, he would send the papers to the Attorney-General’s Department with a suggestion that action be taken against defendant for the part he claimed to have taken in an illegal transaction.

“Direct conflict”

  His Honor said there was a direct conflict between an account which alleged a simple contract loan of £400, made without security and not in writing, and one which set up that the £400 represented the unpaid balance of a black-market transaction.
  Evidence was that in November last Mrs. Page had agreed to sell a Packard car for £442, but accepted a cheque for £450, defendant explaining the extra would cover the wireless in the car. Plaintiff gave a receipt for £442, the pegged price.
  Plaintiff claimed that in November she lent £400 cash to defendant with which to buy another car in Melbourne. Defendant’s account was that Mrs. Page said her lowest price for her car was £900 and that she afterwards accepted his offer of £850. He said he would give her £450 next day and would want a receipt for the fixed price of £442.
When he gave her the cheque, plaintiff said she did not want a cheque for £450 when the pegged price was £442. He told her not to worry as the unexpired registration and insurance would cover the £8 difference.

Borrowing denied

  Defendant said in evidence he did not pay the £400 balance and never intended to. He was advised of a new car being ready for delivery in November, but denied having borrowed £400 or any amount from Mrs. Page.
  His Honor said there was little support for Mrs. Page’s account as to the terms on which her car was sold. He was of opinion plaintiff had not shown on the balance
of probabilities that any amount was lent to defendant.
  Miss R. F. Mitchell appeared for plaintiff, and Mr. R. H. Ward for defendant.

18th August 1948, Adelaide Advertiser, page 5:

Black Market Sale Alleged
  In a case arising from the sale of a motor car, in which his Honor yesterday gave Judgment for the purchaser, he refused him costs because of his conduct in the transaction.
  The evidence, he said, had produced a direct conflict between an account alleging that a simple contract loan of £400 had been made without writing or security, and one which set up that the money represented the unpaid balance of a black market deal.
  The plaintiff, Daphne Page, married woman, of South terrace, Adelaide, claimed £400 from Prosper McTaggart Thomson, hire car proprietor, of Moseley street, Glenelg, alleging the sum to be the amount of a loan not repaid.
  It was alleged by the plaintiff that the money had been lent to the defendant on or about November 27 last year, so that he could purchase a new car, and then go to Melbourne to sell another car.
  His Honor said he was of opinion that the plaintiff had not shown upon the balance of probabilities that any sum had been lent to the defendant. Were it not for the fact that the Crown would necessarily be faced with the evidence given by plaintiff in the case, he would send the papers relating to the proceedings on to the Attorney-General’s Department, with a suggestion that action sbould be taken against the defendant for the part he had claimed to have taken in an illegal transaction.
  There was little to support the plaintiff’s account regarding the terms upon which the car had been sold by her to the defendant, his Honor said. According to her, the price had not been specifically agreed upon, but left to be ascertained by reference to the pegged price, which was £442.
  The defendant’s account, his Honor continued, was tbat the plaintiff, after having first told him that £900 was the lowest price she would take for the car, had later accepted his offer of £850 for it. He had paid her £450 by cheque, telling her that he would have to borrow the remaining £400 from a finance company, and adding that he would want a receipt for the pegged price, and the registration to transfer the car into his name. The plaintiff had given him a receipt for £442. The defendant had not paid the £400 balance, and had never intended to do so.
  Miss R. F. Mitchell for plaintiff: Mr. R. H. Ward for defendant.

Prolific (if occasionally prolix) Cipher Mysteries commenter bdid1dr has long wondered whether the Somerton Man was someone in her ex-husband’s family. (She also suspects her ex-husband was the infamous Zodiac Killer, but let’s leave that for another day.)

Even though it at first sounds like an outrageously long shot (and one that would perhaps necessitate a Warren Commission ‘magic bullet’), it does in fact concord with many of the things we know about the Somerton Man, in perhaps surprising ways.

For a start, the aluminum comb, the packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum found in the Somerton Man’s American-stitched coat and indeed the coat itself have all been taken as suggesting that the Somerton Man was American (or had recently travelled from America).

More specifically, Derek Abbott launched his recent (but unsuccessful) crowdfunding campaign on the back of a fragmentary DNA match between one of the hairs found embedded in the plaster cast bust of the Somerton Man and Thomas Jefferson.

Yet it turns out that the Shackelfords are an old Virginian family… with links to Thomas Jefferson. OK, this is all still very far from proof, but we’re not yet veering into anything like the canonical Lands Of Somerton Nonsense: so please bear with me just a little longer as we take a look at the Shackelfords…

Lee Erwin Shackelford

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he was born on 12th April 1945 to Willian Shackelford and Normaleen (nee Park):

SHACKELFORD (nee Normaleen Park). April 12, King George V Hospital, Camperdown, semi-private, wife of T./Sgt. W. Shackelford, U.S. Air Corps – a son (both well)

And thanks to a little archival magic (big tips of the Cipher Mysteries hat to Eye and Aye for this), we have a photo of Lee Erwin Shackelford from the USS Ticonderoga circa 1964:

He was also bdid1dr’s first husband: she says that he died in New York a few years ago.

He had a brother (Preston Park Shackelford) who was born 10th April 1948 in Vallejo CA: and another brother (Mark) who was born in New Mexico in 1952.

William Jesse Shackelford Jr

Eye and Aye came up trumps here as well, with William Jesse Shackelford Jr’s US Armed Forces registration card (note: image behind a Fold3 paywall). According to this, he was born on 17th May 1922 in Norfolk VA: the “Name And Address Of Person Who Will Always Know Your Address” field is marked up as “Mrs A. B. Shackelford, 1631 Willoughby Ave, Norfolk, VA”. (Willoughby Ave is close to Norfolk’s Lyon Shipyard: #1631’s plot was long since sacrificed to make way for the I-264.)

According to the Registrar’s Report (note: image also behind a Fold3 paywall), William Shackelford Jr was white, 5′ 5″, 125 lbs, hazel eyes, brown hair, and with a ruddy complexion. He received his honourable discharge from the Army on the 30th August 1945 (ref: 13-062-516).

Unless he secretly had access to a Tardis, William Shackelford was not the Somerton Man: he was still very much alive in 1950, 1960, and even 1970.

Misca pointed out that:

On ancestry there is a record of a Normaleen May Shackelford travelling from Brisbane to San Francisco with her son Lee Ervin/Erwin. The name of the friend/relative she states she is visiting is William Shackelford, 835 Oaklette Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia. A 1940 census document shows two William J Shackelfords living on Oaklette. One is 39 and the other is 17. Father and son. Further research shows the son as having been in the US Airforce in WW II. He is William Jesse Shackelford. He married three times. First wife unknown but I suspect it may have been Normaleen. Second wife (married in 1957) Leila Barnes Stewart (who seems to have died), third wife Catherine Anne Garrett.

William Jesse Shackelford Sr

William Jesse Shackelford Sr’s obituary (in the 7th December 1972 Virginia Beach Sun looked like this:

William Jesse Shackelford, 73, of 292 Stancil St., Princess Anne Plaza, an insurance agancy [sic] operator, died in a hospital November 28 after a long illness.
He was a native of Walter Valley, Tex., a son of William J. and Mrs Martha Farley Shackelford, and the husband of the late Mrs Josephine Taylor Shackelford.
He was the owner of William J. Shackelford Insurance Co. He was a member of Norfolk Elks Lodge 38, American Legion, and Commodore FOP Lodge 3.
He was a World War I veteran.
Surviving are two daughters, Mrs Bennie S. Jordan of McLean and Mrs Shirley S. Becker of Virginia Beach; a son, William Jesse Shackelford Jr of Alexandria; two sisters, Mrs Cordelia Willcox of Tuolumne, Calif., and Mrs Sylvia S. Snyde of Corpus Christi, Tex.; a brother, Feilx Shackelford of Odessa, Tex.; 11 grandchildren; and 11 great grandchildren.

Might there be a missing Shackelford…?

I hope it’s not construed as unkind of me to note that bdi1d1dr’s handed-down family stories don’t quite add up. At this remove in both time and space, tales about her ex-husband’s family’s life in Australia (he moved to the US at a very young age) are bound to be fragmentary and incomplete.

What is either interesting or just plain Chinese Whispered here is that she was sure that there was also a Lee Irving Shackelford in Australia, who somehow disappeared: and quite how he fits into the whole picture nobody seems to know or remember.

And so my challenge to you fine people is to find out if there was a disappearing relative in William Jesse Shackelford (Jr or Sr)’s immediate family tree. Oh, and who was “Mrs A. B. Shackelford”?

Incidentally, one unusual (but possibly useful) resource here is the Shackelford Clan, a group that published a family history newsletter from May 1945 to April 1957 (scanned issues are listed online here) researching… the history of the Shackelford family. Good hunting! 🙂

A few days ago, Australian robotics hacker Marcel Varallo (whose gladiatorial hacks making Roombas fight each other amuse me greatly) very kindly posted up two new scans of the Somerton Man’s Rubaiyat code (along with many megs of his collected Somerton Man stuff) on his blog.

I’ve put the three scans we now have on a Cipher Foundation Rubaiyat Code page, and strongly recommend that people use one of the new scans as a basis for doing any image processing work, rather than the one that has been on the Internet for years.

For example, if you put the three scans’ “Q” shapes side by side and try doing image processing experiments on them…

…what you find is that the so-called “microwriting” (found in the leftmost of the three images) was simply a quantizing artefact introduced when the original JPEG image had its brightness and contrast adjusted. With the new (slightly higher resolution, and generally much smoother) scan, all that nonsense disappears. There is no ‘microwriting’ there at all: The End.

A few days ago, I suggested that a person of interest to Somerton Man researchers might well be Dr Malcolm Glen Sarre, simply because his name and 118 Jetty Road address appeared (admittedly crossed out) in the production notes for the 1978 Littlemore TV documentary on the Somerton Man:

It would seem that someone on the production team thought (for whatever reason) that Dr Malcolm Sarre was the “city businessman” (as the story told to the papers of the day went) was the person whose car the Rubaiyat was found in the back of, parked in Glenelg’s Jetty Road.

And yet it was also said to have been parked outside a chemist’s. “But did it matter” (wrote Gerry Feltus in “The Unknown Man”, p.105) “if the discoverer was a doctor, chemist, dentist, jeweller, business person or a male or a female?”

118 Jetty Road?

A advertisement in the Glenelg Guardian of 24th July 1919 attests to a Mr A. C. Turner – a “Registered Surgeon Dentist” – moving his practice at “118 Jetty Road, Near Miller’s Corner”.

Then, in 5th August 1926, we hear that “Mr. HAROLD V. FRAYNE, Surgeon Dentist, has removed to 118 Jetty Road, Glenelg (next Palais Theatre)”, where he was apparently joined by Frank Smerdon in 1927.

Yet at the same time, we can see a 1926 advertisement for Mai Lyne: “BEAUTY AND HAIR SPECIALIST, 118 JETTY ROAD. Phone—744. Only personal attention. Shingling, Hair Coloring, and Water Waving a speciality” (Mai moved there in April 1926 with “all the latest MODERN TOILET APPLIANCES”).

Moreover, there’s a 1924 small ad for “OVERLAND Car. E.L., starter. perfect condition; £95 cash.—C. Bradley. 118, Jetty Road, Glenelg”: and so it turns out that 118 Jetty Road in Glenelg comprised both shops and residential accommodation.

In 27th September 1944, we can see someone there trying to buy a car: “WANTED car any make 1935-36 model, must be good order. Apply 118 Jetty rd., Glenelg. upstairs.”

Around 20th December 1946, another Smerdon dentist started at 118 Jetty Road: “Mr. John R. Smerdon, B.D.S., who successfully completed his dental course, has commenced practice at 118 Jetty Road, Glenelg. Mr. Smerdon was educated at Dominican Convent and Sacred Heart College, Glenelg.”

Finally, Dr.E.J.Swann (who was, as Byron Deveson found [The Times and Northern Advertiser, Peterborough South Australia 7th November 1947 page 3], in partnership with Dr Malcolm Glen Sarre) seems to have moved out of 118 Jetty Road in 1953.

And so it turns out that 118 Jetty Road does link doctors and dentists together… but not a chemist.

25 Jetty Road?

If we turn to pharmacists now, can we say what chemists were on Jetty Road?

According to the 1948 business map of Jetty Road that Derek Abbott once reconstructed (“Taken from 1948 SANDS McDOUGALL”), we appear to have several to choose from:
* 14 – Pier Pharmacy prop LP Nunn [– Lionel Peter Nunn, Robert W Fox Pharmacist and chiropodist –]
* 24a – Freeman Chemist
* 25 – Fisks Pharmacy D’Arcy Cock Manager [– D’Arcy Kenneth Robert Cock (born Glenelg, 21st October 1907) –]
* 62 – Mrs Bilbey aptmts AND FSMA Chemists Lean,GA mger
* 118 – Paul HD Chemist / Smerdon F Dentist / Swann Dr EJ

Yet I’m reasonably sure that Paul’s Pharmacy was located not at 118 Jetty Road (as Byron Deveson thought he had read), but on Miller’s Corner – an entire block further down Jetty Road. And so I suspect that it wasn’t really close enough to where Dr Malcolm Glen Sarre at 118 to be properly “parkable”.

Frank Smerdon aside, there were also other dentists further down Jetty Road:
* 97 – Smerdon Jno R. Dentist AND Kenniham MJ Dentist
* 106 – Jones Miss L.O.M & Thompson Dental Surgeon [– J. V. CHRISTOPHERSEN B.D.S. also worked here –]

I know that Byron has long had an eye on Mr Nunn and Mr Fox 🙂 , but to me, the Pier Pharmacy and Freeman’s Chemists are simply not ambiguous enough to keep the story going. All of which would seem to leave Fisk’s Pharmacy at 25 Jetty Road. Though this had opened several decades before, it was still running in 1950. Interestingly, this was next door to a “dentist surgeon” called C.R.Stratford, as we can see from this 1930 article:

“A new form of vandalism was experienced at Glenelg during Saturday night. The brass plate of Dr. Milo Sprod was removed from the front of the premises of Mr. W. Fisk, chemist, of Jetty road. An effort was made also to take the plate of Mr. C. R. Stratford. dentist, from premises adjoining those of Mr Fisk.”

(Dr Milo Weeks Sprod died in last 1934). Note that there was also a naturopath practitioner called Norman Russell-Smith next door at 27 Jetty Road.

A little after the war (in 4th July 1949), we also see: “Dr JOHN L. STOKES has commenced practice in partnership with Drs. Donald M. Steele and D. C Dawkins, at 25 Jetty road. Glenelg. Telephone X2581.”

And so because of the close link between doctors and chemists, it would seem that 25 Jetty Road manages to join both of those to dentists: which are (perhaps not coincidentally) the first three professions Gerry Feltus listed.

Finally, putting it all together…?

If we are looking for somewhere in Jetty Road in 1948 that could easily mix up doctors, chemists, and dentists, the address we would seem to be looking for was not 118 Jetty Road (with only a weak link to a chemist) but instead 25 Jetty Road.

I don’t yet know what this means (and I can’t begin to say how frustrated I get that after nearly seven decades we still don’t know whose car it was), but please feel free to make what you will of all the above. 🙂