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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.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018


Pete Bowes in his usual style brought the issues surrounding the Somerton Man case down to a simple but quite believable scenario in his latest post: Toms By Two
I thought I would respond to that post supporting his view and by adding some additional thoughts.

Firstly, I agree with your thoughts Pete. I think that the SA Police quickly came to the conclusion that this was very likely an espionage case, probably as soon as the morning CIB shift arrived and sifted through the overnight happenings which included an apparent sudden death at Somerton Beach. Perhaps the file arrived on DS Leane's desk before midday and, having spent the last several years working alongside the various security agencies in SA and interstate, he alerted his contacts to the find. To clarify, it is important to remember the environment in which these men worked, SA had its fair share of spies throughout WW2 and in 1948, they were on the front line of a not so Cold War with highly advanced weapons, as in A-Bombs, and associated technologies being developed right on their doorstep in Adelaide, in Woomera and elsewhere in the State.

I think that once the details were known, a story was put in place by DS Leane, his contacts, and his superiors to explain the case. There are some that have written the subsequent events off as sloppy work by SA Police but I cannot see that being likely given the environment and the nature and experience of those involved.

In my view, from day 1 onwards a story was developed and 'evidence' introduced to back it up. Consider this, if you had found a high profile enemy agent in this condition and had also found information that he was about to deliver, what would you do to ensure that the enemy believed that nothing had been found?

Outwardly the Police were seen to be going through their usual gyrations, taking photographs, calling for people to ID the body and then uncovering a series of 'clues' which were published for all to see. But inwardly, that was a different story:

1. A body that no one was able to identify with some saying he looked nothing like the photograph, (reconstructed), in the press. Do you think that amongst those who viewed the body there was one and maybe two people who were sent by the opposing side to confirm the death of their high profile target?

2. A suitcase with a stack of belongings but only a thread to match them to the man, no fingerprints taken nor mentioned.

2. A torn piece that turns up much later with the edges carefully folded for public consumption so as to conceal its true shape. The focus being purely on the meaning of the words and not what else was found.

3. A photograph of the book that also turned up much later with a shape that didn't match that of the torn piece. Great lengths were gone to, apparently to match the type of paper between the two but there were, in fact, hundreds if not thousands of copies of that same edition in circulation. That comparison would not pass muster in any court let alone a group of hard-nosed Detectives who'd seen it all before.

4. A copy of a code page which, for the public at least had some faint pencil marks on it that turned out to be letters of what could be a code. The reality was that they were not direct pencil marks but were in fact indentations, a very different piece of evidence altogether. By marking over them the Police, or whoever, would give the impression that the real information hidden in those letters, had been completely missed.

There's more to be said later but for now, my view is that the whole case was a campaign of misinformation designed to lull the opposing side into a sense of false security, they were meant to think that their important coded information had not been found.


  1. Good interpretation of the SM scenario. Can't help thinking that the security services were onto this case from day 1, if not before. And the South Australian police were instructed on a day to day basis of how to deal with the press, individuals, evidence etc etc. And among the people who came to view the body thinking he was a relative, workmate, long lost friend etc, were a couple of other individuals who wanted to make sure that the body was of the man they knew only too well. Clive

  2. I have to say, GC, I'm quicker to read than you are.... thanks.

  3. Devil's advocate, if you will....
    Why do they need to create elaborate 'clues' to show nothing was found? Surely a continued propoganda of 'do you know this man?' shows nothing was found.
    Wouldn't creating 'fake' evidence risk giving away that you're making things up because the 'bad guys' might see that something you leak is totally inconsistent with what they know of their agent?

  4. Fair enough comment and question.

    Put yourself in the position of the bad guys, you have found your target, searched for the information you wanted knowing that he had it somewhere but you were unable to find it. The next step is either SM took his own life to protect his 'friends' or the bad guys organised his expedient demise.

    Having discovered the body, the good guys now have an option. They say nothing and act as if it were just another sudden death of an unknown man as I think you are suggesting in which case the bad guys would now have room for doubt. Did the good guys find the information or not?

    The bad guys best and safest bet in this option is to err on the negative side and assume that the information is now in the good guys hands and then act accordingly.

    The next option for the good guys is as I have suggested, they make out like they have found the information but have actually missed the hidden codes, they publish the written over code on the code page, apparently missed the detail on the torn piece and followed the trail of the suitcase filled with litter. It's even backed up by a letter from Naval Intelligence and a specialist code breaker. So, there's no 'fake' evidence they used the basic real evidence and made out that they have missed the good stuff.

    The bad guys now think that it is more than likely that the valued information has been missed and business will carry on as normal which is what the good guys wanted.

    Nothing else was leaked only the hard physical evidence, nothing that could be construed as inconsistent. In hindsight, what that shows is a discipline and a focus on behalf of the good guys. It worked and everyone was none the wiser for at least 62 years.

  5. Clive, I think it really was a mind game with both sides taking the safest options or at least reducing the odds of disaster with every step. Who knows just what the stakes were? Pure conjecture of course but it could range from a list of agents or information that would reveal them, secret details of fuels, aircraft or weapons and the list would go on. I truly don't think for one second that the men involved were silly in any way, they knew their jobs and they knew how to follow instructions. If they appeared lax then it was intended as per the suitcase discovery and the book.

  6. There may have been some on the investigation team who would have preferred the security services to keep their hands off the case .... and some compromises may have been made in order to satisfy them, but only after the inquest.

  7. Inclined to agree with you Pete. The assumption I would make is that the suitcase and contents were left by the opposition and that the Police during the normal course of operations and I believe at the suggestion of Detective Brown, checked the railway station and low and behold, the case was 'found'.

    GF in his TV interview made specific mention of the presence of spies in Adelaide/SA at the relevant time, not beyond the realms of possibilities that moles existed even amongst SA's finest.

  8. In Donald Trump's America he has long railed about the 'deep state' - a shadow organisation of senior judicial and elected representatives who make decisions that usurp the democratic process ... an accusation that has been long linked to the Masonic society.