Australia, news

Mystery Men

Today marks the end of Missing Persons Week in Australia. This is the week when the police pour extra money into campaigns re: finding folk who went walkabout one day and never returned, and there are extra adverts around the place to raise awareness.

Coincidentally, there have recently developments regarding two big mysteries that received a lot of public attention:

Somerton Man

On December 1st 1948, a well-dressed gentleman was found dead on Somerton Beach, in Adelaide, South Australia. Nobody came forth to identify him, and piece of paper with the words ‘Tamam Shud’, which is Persian for “It is over/it is finished”, was found in his pocket.

It transpired that the paper came from a rare edition of a book of poetry, the Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám. Get this – there appeared to be some scribbled code in the book that the page was torn from.

Conspiracy theories went rampant as these all details were appearing at the start of the Cold War, and people believed he was a murdered Russian spy. The gent was buried in a respectable but nameless grave for a while.

He was exhumed again for more forensic investigations.

Apparently as of last week, the case has finally been cracked. Other interesting elements:

• he had legs sculpted like a ballet dancer’s;

• his wife filed for divorce on grounds of desertion (instead of, y’know, actually reporting him missing);

• the lead researcher on this case married a woman who was hypothesised to be Somerton Man’s granddaughter (which he only later ruled out).

• it turned out that Somerton Man had the same occupation as the lead researcher, whose daytime job was electrical engineering.

Read about it here!

So many twists! I remember some years back going to a local Escape Room that was themed with Somerton Man’s case, which was where I first learnt about him. I would not be surprised if they made a movie out of everything that happened.

Image credits: wiki commons and borrowed from the article.

‘The Gentleman’

In July 1994, another also well-dressed gentleman was found – pulled out of the North Sea. He too, had nothing to identify him, and who he was has remained a mystery for 28 years.

The man was wearing had a wool tie, and a diverse range of fancy clothes from all over Europe: British shoes and French pants. His body showed signs of having been physically beaten, and so foul play was suspected.

Image from Murdoch University

For his nice attire, he was dubbed ‘The Gentleman’ – and for a long time, the German police were looking for clues around Europe to identify him.

Researchers from Murdoch University recently conducted isotope analysis of his bones and teeth … and determined that the man had likely been from Australia. This shed a completely new light on the case, which is still to be cracked.

Wiki page

Article on it here.


Reading all these fascinating cases has me wondering what life might for a forensic pathologist, who works out cause of death by looking at soft tissues. This is different to the forensic anthropologist, who does the same but looks at bones. I imagine the former must be a much … oozier … job than the latter.

Had you heard of Somerton Man and The Gentleman? Do the police raise awareness on missing people in your area? What are some interesting historical cases you know of?

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18 thoughts on “Mystery Men

  1. Dr B says:

    Great post, I enjoyed your reveal of the Somerton Man case, a fascinating story. I was thinking about The Gentleman for a while and thought of Lord Lucan 😂😂 So, you might get interested in bones then as a profession. Do you know the long running tv series Bones? And it was how our very own Prof. Alice Robert’s began 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember when I was in elementary school there was a ton of publicity about a 4-year-old kid who’d disappeared from a park in the province’s capital city. I remember having a missing poster on my bedroom wall – I guess they must have been handing them out at school. He never did get found.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It must be terrible for any relatives when someone disappears. Even if they are subsequently found, although it is partial closure, there is still the element of the unknown. Why? Where? How? It is particularly tragic in the case of babies or children.

    Liked by 1 person

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