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The Somerton Man Case. The body of a man found on an Australian beach close to a major Atomic Testing ground, he was probably poisoned, a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and an unbroken Code page found and associated to him. Set against a Cold War background in 1948, was this man a spy? We think so and this blog focuses on the evidence that was left behind and in some cases missed, the Code page, Dry Cleaning numbers, A Poem and a small, torn piece of paper bearing the words TAMAM SHUD.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

SOMERTON MAN: How Did The Police Examine The Code Page?


The book in which the Code Page was found was handed into SA Police in response to a published request for anyone to come forward who had or who knew of a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was missing the two last words 'TAMAM SHUD'. To be precise the words were torn out.

Image of Torn Piece

What would the Police have done when they received the book? One of the first things would have been to see whether the torn piece of paper found on the Somerton Man matched the space that was apparent in the handed in copy. There is some ambiguity, par for the course in this case, because we have a copy of a report that states that the paper type was the same in both the torn piece and the book. What they didn't say was whether the piece matched precisely the torn out section.

The Advertiser newspaper had published an image of how the page looked that showed a torn out section but according to Gerry Feltus, the ex Detective Sergeant who had the case on his desk and author of the Unknown Man book, he believes that the copy shown in the newspaper was not the one held by the Police. His reason for saying this was that the book shown was too large in the first instance and that he has a copy of the Whitcomb and Tombes book and it is a pocket sized version meaning it measured approximately 110mm by 145mm, just the right size to fit into a coat pocket. Gerry also had the actual torn piece in his possession and he was able to prove that the printed words 'TAMAM SHUD' were exactly the same size in both the torn piece and in his pocket sized copy of the Rubaiyat. He would also tell you that according to Detective Brown, the torn piece matched the torn section of the book precisely. As you can see in the image on the left, there is quite a difference.

I carried out an experiment to see whether it was possible to tear out a piece of paper without tearing from the outside edge of the page as per the image above and the result was that it can be done and the piece came out surprisingly similar to the shape of the 'TAMAM SHUD' torn piece. On the left is the torn piece and below is the page with the piece removed.

It's an interesting experiment and it shows that it would have been quite possible to tear the piece out in one hit without resorting to tearing from the outer edge of the page.

The Police were actually very concerned about not revealing the shape of the piece so much so that they folded over the edges before photographing it for distribution to the press.

The Process

UV Lighting

On receiving the copy of the book and given the suspicious circumstances of the mans death, not the least of which were the apparent deliberate removal of any form of identification and finding the small torn piece with the cryptic words 'TAMAM SHUD' (It Is Ended), the Police would have been well justified in thoroughly examining the book to the extent that they would have looked for any trace of writing including 'INDENTED' writing marks. This kind of writing consists of the impressions left when you place one sheet of paper over another, write on the top sheet and then a copy of the words you wrote will appear in an indented form on the page beneath. The process for this step was to firstly examine by eye from different directions and at different angles. The next step is to examine the pages under UV light as shown in the 
image just above.

In June 2013 I posted on the use of UV light and some of the results I obtained then. As you will read I had a result of sorts but not what I expected. That could be because the Police may have been using specialised equipment along the lines of this UV machine shown below:

The FBI had a Lab that contained many devices used for fingerprints and Indented Writing. As you can see in this case it appears that the UV light detected secret writing done in invisible ink. This device was in use in 1938.

UV light can have the effect of highlighting indentations and this was reportedly the case for the book that had been handed in. On the last page of the book, (It was reported that the actual back page had been torn off), two telephone numbers were found plus what appeared to be 5 lines of random letters. One of the phone numbers was for a local Adelaide bank and the other belonged to Jestyn and her husband.

There are a couple of options as to how the writing was written in the first instance, either it was written on the real back outer page of the book and transferred as an indentation from there, or, the back having been previously torn off, the letters and telephone numbers were written on to a separate piece of paper with the back of the book used as a rest. My view is the former and that is based on the significant number of micro letters and numbers found within the larger letters which in turn were indented onto the back page. More on that shortly.


Another device in use by the FBI from 1928was a 'spectograph' this device worked  as described by breaking up light into its various colours/wave lengths to reveal indented/impressed writing:

FBI Spectograph 1938

Having established the presence of indented writing, the next step would be to enhance the information and lift it so it became visible. A process used at the time was to apply Iodine Vapour. This technique was used first in 1863 and developed with some speed during WW1 and then WW2.

The image on the left shows an initial treatment for a document being examined by the FBI for indented writing. Iodine Vapour was and is still used in some cases to lift fingerprints from paper. A Silver Nitrate solution, developed in 1933, was another way that fingerprints could be lifted from paper and it does beg the question why no mention of fingerprints being taken from the book was ever made.

The image on the right is of a handkerchief, it is believed to have been one handed to the FBI by the Commander of German U Boat, U234, that surrendered to the US Navy in May 1945. You should be able to make out code letters that were in fact indentations left by whatever writing instrument was used to apply the 'secret' inks. There was another case, George Dasch, a German Spy landed by submarine as part of a team of saboteurs and who surrendered to the FBI in early 1943, he also had a similarly marked handkerchief which in his case contained a list of his US contacts, this handkerchief was treated in a different way in that it had been written using a process that included copper sulphate and thus another technique, Ammonia fumes, was used. Read more on George Dasch here..

In this next image you can see US Government Censors at work examining some of the millions of letters and other documents during WW2 looking in particular for signs of  secret writing, inks and codes.

In fact in this image they are examining Military personnel letters. In one year during WW2 it is said that this effort produced 400 examples of secret writing.

Notice the way the documents are hung to dry and the use of pegs. The Code Page shows a couple of marks that could well be from it having been treated with Iodine Vapour and then dried out in this way.

It is possible that because of the nature of Iodine that the original code page would have been damaged and could well have 'rotted' so that it no longer exists. Having said that, my belief is that a photograph of the code page, prior to its being marked up by the Police, would have been taken and that may still be in existence.

Oblique Lighting

This kind of light is simple to use, it's a matter of havong a variable strength light that you can apply in nuemrous locations around the object and detect indentations in the process.

There is a long list of options that could have been used including simple light shading with a pencil to reveal the white indentation marks left by another writing instrument.

Gerry Feltus is sure that part of the process was to turn the image negative and that is what we see on the code page now, a kind of negative image.

The Code Page

Notice how light in colour this code page looks and then compare it to the quite dark rust colour of the Iodine treated handkerchief. Notice also the dark marks in the top corners especially the the one on the right. Why would that be? Talking with Gerry Feltus he believes that part of the process used was to turn the image of the code page negative in which case, given this was treated with Iodine vapour, the darker area would turn light in colour and the lighter areas, the letters, would turn darker. It was this image that was then marked over by the Police as you see here and it was probably done over glass or acetate.

Having been processed, the next step for the Police was to send a copy of the marked up code page to Naval Intelligence in Melbourne. I admit to having a problem understanding why a marked up photograph photograph was sent and suspect that this may not have been the case but that is for another, later, post.

Naval Intelligence were apparently unable to decrypt what they saw on the code page and informed the SA Police accordingly.

How Secret Writing Was Concealed

When people think of 'Secret Writing' they often think about vinegar, milk or even certain bodily fluids that can be used to create 'invisible writing'. Whilst there is truth in that, the real world of espionage took the whole notion of invisible ink and writing to another level. They developed smart chemicals that would, for example, need to be processed two or three times at hourly intervals before the message would be visible. Ingenious ways of concealing the raw materials of ink were developed including washing a shirt in a fluid containing the ink such that when needed you simply washed it again and kept the liquid for your secret writing needs. Starched, detachable, collars were known for that particular method.

Was the Code Page Written With Water?

An earlier method was the most simple and din't involve the use of chemicals, the 'secret ink' was water. It is possible that the Somerton Man Code page was in fact done in this way, it is still indented writing and the same process of Iodine Vapour treatment could be applied as shown in this 1931 image courtesy of Modern Mechanix magazine.:

Having done their writing they didn't always just leave it on a page or a handkerchief as shown in the earlier example, they were smarter than that. They would write their message in secret ink and then they would write over it in normal letters or handwriting. Is that ringing any bells? This in my view is how the code page was written in the first instance.

Consider the finding of micro writing on the code 
page. here we have one example where you can make out what are very small letters and numbers apparently written into the shape of a larger letter. This seems to be very much akin to the methods used by espionage agents. The coded message is written and then written over or it could be that the larger letters are written first and then the micro code added within the guidelines now provided by these larger letters. Could it be that what we see here is exactly that? Could it be that the real message was written on to the back of the book and the micro code added perhaps in special ink and what we see now is the indentation from that writing? I believe that's just what it is and the evidence is here to support that view.

There are those who have suggested that the micro writing shown is in fact not microwrting but 'digital artefacts'. These artefacts somehow take on the shape and form of letters and numbers and then wrap themselves rather neatly within the confines of the larger letters of the code. To date no one has been able to demonstrate that or produce any images showing the effect. In the next post I will deal with that theory and show how exactly why what we have found on the code page are not digital artefacts, they are real micro letters and numbers.

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