On December 1, 1948, a man was found dead on Somerton Park beach, just outside Adelaide, South Australia.
He was well dressed in a jacket and tie, but all the tags had been removed from his clothes. He had no identification, and in his pockets authorities found unused train and bus tickets, cigarettes, matches, gum, combs, and a torn piece of paper with the words “tamám shud” – a Persian phrase meaning “is finished” – typed on it.
Months later, when the case became major news, the book that had once contained the torn page was discovered. It was called “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam” and was a book of Persian poetry, The New York Times reported. Inside the back cover of the book was a phone number and another number, as well as what appeared to be a written code, though no one has been able to solve it satisfactorily. A former United Kingdom detective, Gordon Cramer, in 2014 suggested part of the code may have referred to a British post-war aircraft, reported The Advertiser, a South Australian paper.
An autopsy was conducted on the man’s remains, but no cause of death was discovered. He had an enlarged spleen and a damaged liver, so poison was considered, but no trace was found, the Times reported.
For decades, no one could figure out who the Somerton Man was or how he died. Now, at least half of the mystery has been tentatively solved.
An Australian professor of biomedical engineering and a famed American genetic genealogist say they have figured out the Somerton Man’s identity. Professor Derek Abbott of the University of Adelaide and Identifinders International president Colleen Fitzpatrick worked together to use DNA from a hair collected from the victim to produce a family tree. The hair they used came from a plaster death mask of the man’s face made more than 50 years ago. Using DNA from the hair, Fitzpatrick created a massive family tree of more than 4,000 people who shared some DNA with victim. The researchers narrowed their search to a man named Carl “Charles” Webb, an electrical engineer and instrument maker who appears to have left his wife in 1947 and was never seen again.
“We’re just saying this is what the DNA tells us,” Abbott told the Times. “It’s up to the cops to make the legal determination of who this guy was.”
The man also had a sister, who was married to a man named Thomas Keane. This was important because at a train station close to where the Somerton Man’s body was found, a suitcase with some clothes that had “T. KEANE” written on them.
The researchers weren’t completely convinced, so they found a first cousin, three times removed on the family tree and asked to provide a DNA sample. The samples were a match for relatives.
“In all this soup and ocean of DNA cousins, we were able to connect one of them to Carl’s father and one of them to Carl’s mother,” Fitzpatrick told the Times. “You really kind of narrow it down so much it could be any one of Carl’s siblings — but Carl is the one with no documented death.”
While discovering the possible identity of the Somerton Man is a big success, it is still unclear how he died or the mysterious circumstances regarding his clothing and the scrap of paper.