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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.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Somerton Man: Dinner with the Professor

Breaking into my break so to speak. I thought I would provide an update following a dinner I had recently with Professor Abbott in Brisbane.

As it happens it was Derek's birthday and it marked an auspicious occasion, apparently it was the day that marked his being in Australia for 50% of his life, almost a local :)

We had a very pleasant evening and the food, Italian, was a delight.

We covered a number of topics, some of which I would like to share here as they relate to the SM case.

1. The Keane tie. This tie was found in the suitcase along with 2 other items that bore the name Kean/e being a singlet and a laundry bag. Of note is that the laundry bag had the name printed or stenciled on it but no service number or any further text. The question was what sort of circumstances would there be for a man to have his name marked on a laundry bag but nothing else, just the name?

I posed a question on the tie, when examined it appears to have a woolen texture to it and it does not have a brand name on it and the question was why would you write your name on a tie? The tie appears close in colour to that of a US army tie, a light fawn colour. Did other countries have similar coloured military ties. I do have some pics of US military ties and will post them. Would it be normal for US military ties not to have a brand name? Were they produced in such large quantities that no one manufacturer could cope with the demand and therefore a decision was made to leave the brand off? When you think about it the production of military ties during wartime could be sensitive information especially if the regiment and location was specified so it would have to go through central stores who would not want to be bothered sorting out ties by manufacturer. Any thoughts?

2. Lead. The hair recovered from the bust has apparently yielded better results than expected in terms of DNA and it does seem that SM is of European origin and likely to be from the UK or Ireland. Having said that, the Professor went on to say that, of course, many inhabitants of the US are also of UK origin. On the
issue of lead I raised the possibility of hairdressing lotion, brylcreem was mentioned, and whether it had lead as one of its ingredients. I recall a discussion a few years ago in the Inner Sanctum group when it was thought to be the case.As a matter of interest, Brylcream was the theme for the 1947 Brylcream Summer of Cricket so it was a highly popular product. It seems that SM's hair did not have any dressing as such, this could possibly support the lowering of lead levels shown in his hair in the last weeks of his life. If you recall the lead presence was at a high about 1 month prior to death but then reduced significantly.

3. The third point of interest and discussion was about what wasn't found. This has been the topic of discussion recently with Pete Bowes. It seems to me to be unusual that smoker with a taste for reasonable quality cigarettes and who had what appeared to be a fairly new lighter, had no lighter fuel, no spare flints and no spare wick. Many years ago when I used to smoke it was very common to have a smokers kit promoted by Ronson and others which would include these items. But SM had none of those, lighter fuel could simply be because he had run out but the flints and wick? If we could establish whether the Green & Co lighter was sold with spare flints and wick that may confirm the situation.

Thinking further along these lines, SM wasn't carrying any keys either, I am assuming that he would have locked his suitcase and a key should have been found.

4. We did discuss the matter of micro writing and it is still something on which we have differing views, but that does not affect the association we have had for more than 20 years. In fact the reason for the dinner was to catch up and an opportunity for Derek to repay a meal I once bought for him at Alphutte Restaurant in Adelaide many years ago when we worked together at Technology Park. A great meal on that occasion too.

We talked about a range of other related matters including what might have been the fate of the copy of the Rubaiyat. We also discussed a matter which I was delighted to hear about and which will be revealed in the next few weeks by Derek. Very newsworthy and I offered my congratulations.

For the information of interested parties, I've included the images below being of SM's shoes and  the tie being an example of a US service tie, note no manufacturers label:


Anonymous said...

Byron Deveson has asked me to post this as his PC is currently 'under the weather'
Gordon, the lead MS graph is consistent with the known elimination pharmacokinetics of lead, with the exception of the spikes at about 1,050 and 400 on the time axis. But these spikes could be down to short term changes in the elimination rate of lead due to things such as physiological stress, illness and diet, or due to external contamination. We know that SM had some sort of disease or illness because he had a significantly enlarged spleen. Unfortunately, there is no significant published information dealing with the causes of short term change in elimination kinetics and we will have to wait for the finalised mass spectrometry report that might allow stronger conclusions to be made.
I suspect that Derek might have organised a more complete analysis of a new sample of hair that would show the distribution of the lead (and many other elements) within the hair. I am looking forward to seeing the MS data, or any newer data, because I think that there is a better than 50% chance that the various isotope ratios, and other things, will allow us to establish where SM was during the final two weeks of his life. These data will possibly allow us to establish his occupation.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately all I can comment on is the ties being a militaria collector. It is actually more common for WW2 US service ties to have no manufacturers mark. The main exception being private purchase and foreign made examples. I would also be interested to see better pics of SMs footwear as it sounds like they may be similar to US service footwear.

Gordon332 said...

Yes, the tie does have the appearance of a US military tie, the resolution is not that good but you can make out the texture which appears to be of a woolen material. I have a pic of a similar tie bearing what could be a service number but no manufacturers name. I'll post that.

The shoes have been identified as being English in origin by a shoe maker who has some 55 years experience. I followed through on the numbers in the shoes with a well known shoe custom shoe maker in the UK. The numbers were a match but the footwear was not Oxford Brogue but for a pair of riding boots.

Worth bearing in mind that British shoe patterns were available to Australian manufacturers and that the Repatriation Commission had shoe manufacturing plants during and after WW2 in each of the major cities including Adelaide. These factories were set up to provide returned servicemen with shoes and the shoes themselves did not bear any manufacturers names.

One last point, I understand Prof Abbott that there are moves in place to gain access to what is left of the files which include photographs. I am not sure whether that would include the items of clothing images.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for not looking through your other pages, I see that the shoe ID had been covered already.

The marking on the tie you have posted is what a US service members laundry number, that is the first letter of their last name and the last 4 numbers of their ASN (army serial number). That is a very common method of marking items. Other common means are full ASN, last name and last name and initial.

I have noticed one thing that points to this NOT being a WW2 US issued tie, every issued tie I have come across is constructed by folding the material whereas the T. Keane tie looks to have a seam running along the center rear the entire length of the tie. There is still a chance that it was a US pattern tie made by an Australian company during the war years for sale to US service members though these generally have a makers tag.

On another note you may possibly be onto something with the pants in the suitcase, they look very similar to officers dress pants.


Anonymous said...

GC: would you think it reasonable to assume that the cigarette lighter was in his suitcase because he could no longer use it? There was a packet of matches in his pocket, so he wasn't short of a light.

Gordon332 said...

Hi Pete, Quite possible. My thinking is that having been a smoker in early life, the whole 'smokers kit' was something of a fashion statement. SM appears to have had quite good taste, wore smart clothes and shoes. He was a discerning buyer. A cigarette lighter was found in the case, whilst not the most expensive it was a fairly good quality Green & Co lighter with a fuel reservoir and was around 12 shillings to buy I think but stand to be corrected. In those days, not unlike today, it was standard practice to either be sold or to voluntarily buy the necessary spares as in flints, fuel and spare wick. No sign of those items in the case, not one of them. For such a man to not have at least some spares around him would be unusual in my estimation.

As usual in this case, there is a twist. The original pic taken by the Police that shows the lighter, it appears quite dull and stained, in the 'interview' pic it is bright and shiny and that was some 30 years later. Same make and style of lighter though so it is possible that the first image was not of great quality.

So the bottom line is yes, it is possible that he discontinued using it but there is supporting 'evidence' of a kind that suggests this man would have been fastidious in his habits and was also 'fashion aware' and, therefore, would have had the necessary smokers kit or at least some remnants of it.

Any luck with the suitcase and whether it was locked when found?

Anonymous said...

I Wouldn't know where to look, Gordon, but I'm guessing a man as dapper as SM wouldn't leave an unlocked suitcase in an open luggage rack. I couldn't see you or me doing it either.

Gordon332 said...

Totally agree, in amongst all the inconsistencies it seems to me that the keys are pivotal. The list of things that tie SM to the suitcase include the thread and the fact that no one claimed it, I understand a blade of grass found but not sure that it was a match for the seed in the trouser turn up. The thread was commonly available and the unclaimed suitcase is a bit shaky because I am sure this would be a common occurrence and certainly not enough to be recognised as conclusive evidence that the case was his. On the other side of this rgument is the lack of a left luggage half to the ticket found on the case and now I think it reasonable to state that there should have been keys found on the man. What can we deduce from this?

1. The keys were removed from the man's pockets and the case was interfered with in some way or:
2. The suitcase did not belong to SM
3. The suitcase was SMs and the keys were simply misplaced by him along with the luggage ticket stub

Somehow the latter doesn't sound likely unless it is argued that there weren't any keys.

I think I'd go with option 1.

Any thoughts out there?

Gordon332 said...

Thanks, good thoughts. the other ties were of the centre seam variety I think. Can we be certain that the US always folded their ties?

On another note, in my view the letters found on the 'code' page were the result of using the Ink H technique recommended in the SOE manual. That being so then it is possible that SM was from a British Army background. I do recall seeing some British regiments dress ties being a light tan/fawn in colour and made from wool. The SOE manual can be found here:

There is a kindle version for about $1.99, a good and informative read passed on to me by a friend in the UK.

Gordon332 said...

Byron, Wonder if you could find information on Green & Co? They were the Australian Manufacturers of the lighter found in the suitcase. Apart from general information such as company details and range offered, could you possibly find out if they had any licencing arrangements with US or UK lighter manufacturers? Hope you can help.

Anonymous said...

The presence of a lighter juxtaposed with the absence of a smoker's kit is indeed unusual. As a potential clue it may lend more credence to the theory of digitalis or strophanthin poisoning with a cigarette as the delivery system. It's possible that he wasn't a habitual smoker and that the Kensitas cigarettes in the cheaper Army Club pack weren't intended to be smoked regularly, but rather to mask the inclusion of a poisoned cigarette, with the lighter/matches only included on his person/in his possession to further effect the ruse.

One might surmise that the Somerton Man decided to indulge in one last smoke before committing suicide for reasons unknown, but ultimately that's nothing more than speculation on a far-fetched scenario.