Murder Monday: The Taman Shud Case

If crime shows have taught us anything, it’s that DNA evidence, computer simulations, and cameras with zoom levels higher than a microscope can solve any crime in about a week or so. (Don’t forget snappy one-liners, constant removal and re-placing of sunglasses, and excessive standing around with your hands on your hips.) Even a hard-nosed cop and a series of really, really unlikely events can put away even the most dastardly of crooks.

And so, to fly in the face of that Hollywood tradition, I’m starting a new feature here at the Weird Shit Blog: Murder Mondays. Every Monday, I’ll be featuring unsolved murders, crimes, and deaths from all over the world. (Yes, it’s still Murder Monday even if they’re not technically murders.) Sherlock Holmes, Batman, even motherfucking Robert Stack wouldn’t know what to think of these.

Pictured: Motherfucking Robert Stack, esq.

To set things off, we’re gonna take a look at a death that’s remained unsolved for more than 60 years, and it’s a hell of a case. So put on your deerstalker, blue jeans and white sweater, or (God help you) cheesy sunglasses and leisure suit, and get ready to make some brilliant deductions… or probably not. You know, whatever.

On December 1, 1948, in Adelaide, Australia, a man was found dead on a stretch of beach called Somerton. He appeared to be approximately 40 to 45 years old, average height, average build. In fact, everything about him was pretty average, except that no one knew who the fuck he was. He had no identification, even his dental records didn’t match any known living person in the whole damn country. Weirder still, he had on a suit with a sweater (despite December being summertime in Australia) and no hat, which was apparently uncommon in 1948.

“That’s a bold fashion choice, Tom.” “Go suck a bag of dicks, Bill.”

And even weirder than that, all the tags on his clothes had been removed, making them unidentifiable. The contents of his pockets included cigarettes, matches, a comb, some gum, one used bus ticket to Glenelg (Which is totally a palindrome. Just look at it.), and an unused ticket to Henley Beach.

I’m just saying. Maybe he built a time machine or something.

So, they did what you always do when you find an unknown dead dude on the beach: Threw him in a dumpster and called it a day. Wait, I mean, they did an autopsy. (What I said before, don’t worry about that.) And when you do an autopsy you can usually find some trauma or wounds or poison in the stomach or something. In the case of The Somerton Man, as he came to be known, they found… absolutely jack shit. Apparently, the dude just quit living. That’s totally a medical conclusion that can be reached.

“It was the opposite of being ‘too legit.’”

Since they didn’t find any real cause of death, (although some heretofore unknown poison was decided to be most likely) they sewed his ass back up, pumped him full of chemicals and let him sit around for nine months while they investigated. They briefly believed that a man named E.C. Johnson might have been their victim, but he kinda ruined that when he showed up to the police station alive. Things were at a dead (hah) end at that point until two weeks later, when train station workers found a briefcase with its label removed that had been checked into their cloak room the day before the Somerton Man had showed up on the beach.

Inside, police found more clothes with the tags cut out, an electrician’s screwdriver, stenciling scissors and brush, a table knife fashioned into a sharp instrument (probably also used for stenciling), and a bit of thread, which had also been used to repair a pocket in the dead man’s trousers. Also found were a tie, laundry bag, and singlet, each with a dry cleaning tag bearing the name Tom Keane on them. Unfortunately, the only missing Tom Keane anywhere in the world wasn’t their guy, and so police assumed that the killer left that name behind because that wasn’t the victim.

“Samsonite! I was way off.”

However, the man’s coat was American-made, and not imported. Presumably, that meant the coat had been fitted to him, as was the practice with this style of coat, but police couldn’t rule out that it had been originally tailored for someone with the same measurements as the victim and that he had bought it second-hand. And so it was back to the drawing board, until someone took a look at that repaired pocket and found that it wasn’t a repair at all.

A secret pocket had been sewn into the victim’s trouser pocket, and inside was a slip of paper that read “Taman Shud”. (This became the popular name by which to refer to the case in later years.) They soon found out that the phrase was Persian, and that it was the last line of a book of poetry called “The Rubaiyat”, by a man named Omar Khayyam. Roughly translated, it means “The end” or “Finished.” Since the scrap of paper did appear to be from a printed book, police set out to find the copy it had been clipped from.

Soon after, an anonymous man contacted police and told them that he had a copy of the book mysteriously appear in his unlocked car the night before the Somerton Man was found. After examining the book, authorities determined that this copy of the book was indeed the one they had been looking for. In addition, the back cover page had faint pencil markings in it, which appeared to be some sort of code.

“Dear diary, my alphabet soup and I had a fight again today.”

The code was examined by cryptographers all over the world. While most agreed that it was some sort of code, they didn’t have enough information to crack it. (It remains unsolved today.) In addition to the code, police found an unlisted phone number belonging to a former nurse (whose name was unreleased) who lived less than a mile from the beach where the body had been found. When she was questioned about the case, she confirmed that she had once owned a copy of “The Rubaiyat”, but had given it to a soldier named Alfred Boxall back during World War II. Investigators then came to believe that Boxall was the Somerton Man.

Except he wasn’t, because Alfred Boxall was still alive and working at a bus station near Sydney. In fact, when police came to Boxall, not only was he still alive, but he had his copy of “The Rubaiyat” and showed it to them. It had a dedication from the unnamed nurse on the front inside cover and the Taman Shud verse in the back was intact. He and the nurse both claimed to know nothing of the dead man. Rumors stated that Boxall may have been a former intelligence officer (which he did not deny in at least one interview) and that the Somerton Man had been some sort of Russian spy, but neither was ever confirmed.

And that’s where the trail ends. 60 years later, there’s still no positive identification of the victim, no cause of death, no firm evidence that it wasn’t just a suicide, an uncracked code, an unidentified woman, and an unmarked grave where the body was finally buried. Television programs and criminal justice students have attempted, time and again, to uncover new evidence, but none have. Australia even opened its own intelligence agency as a result of the Taman Shud case. The case is still considered open to this day.

“I guess I’ll just wait here until you guys are finished.”

Wikipedia (Because knowing is half the battle)