Tamám Shud – the unsolved mystery of the Somerton man

In 1948, a man was found dead on a beach in Adelaide and the words, "Tamám Shud", torn from a book, was found in a hidden pocket. The rest of the book was discovered in a nearby car, with a mysterious code on a page only visible under UV Light. The code and the identity of the man have never been solved.

The Tamám Shud case, also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is an unsolved case of an unidentified man found dead at 6:30 am, December 1st of 1948, on the Somerton Park beach, just south of Adelaide, South Australia. The case is named after the Persian phrase tamám shud, meaning “ended” or “finished,” which was printed on a scrap of paper found months later in the fob pocket of the man’s trousers.

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The victim, unidentified Somerton man, and the clues his killer (possibly) left behind. Wikimedia Commons

The Tamám Shud case

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The unidentified Somerton man. Wikimedia Commons

“Tamám Shud,” read the scrap of paper torn from a rare book of 12th-century Persian poetry. However, the word “Tamám” has been misspelt as “Tamán” in many early reports so the case has also gained its popularity as the “Tamán Shud” case.

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Tamám Shud is finished

The words—translated to “it is finished”—didn’t offer Australian investigators much clarity, but that’s about all they had to go on when they came upon the man’s body at Somerton beach.

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The Somerton Man Code. After years of forensic investigation, Somerton Man’s identity remains a mystery with this undeciphered code. Wikimedia Commons
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The book that the paper was torn from was found in a car. Wikimedia Commons

Soon after, in a car parked near the beach, they found the book that the paper was torn from―and inside, a local phone number, another unidentified number and a handwritten text that resembled an encrypted message. The cipher has not been deciphered or interpreted in a way that satisfies authorities on the case.

The Phone Number

The phone number belonged to Jessica Thompson, a nurse in Somerton who said she’d never seen the mysterious man before. However, neighbours said otherwise, claiming the man knocked on Thompson’s door the day before his body was found.

A suitcase at the Adelaide railway station

On January 14th of 1949, staff at the Adelaide railway station discovered a brown suitcase with its label removed, which had been checked into the station cloakroom after 11:00 a.m. on 30 November 1948. It was believed that the suitcase was owned by the man found on the Somerton Park beach.

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The suitcase and effects, found at Adelaide railway station. It was believed that the suitcase was owned by the man found on the beach. In the case were a red checked dressing gown; a size-seven, red felt pair of slippers; four pairs of underpants; pyjamas; shaving items; a light brown pair of trousers with sand in the cuffs; an electrician’s screwdriver; a table knife cut down into a short sharp instrument; a pair of scissors with sharpened points; a small square of zinc thought to have been used as a protective sheath for the knife and scissors and a stencilling brush, as used by third officers on merchant ships for stencilling cargo. Wikimedia Commons

Police recovered various clothes, shoes, slippers, shaving items, knives and other daily use things but all identification marks on the clothes had been removed. However, police found the name “T. Keane” on a tie, “Keane” on a laundry bag and “Kean” (without the last e) on a singlet. Police believed that whoever removed the clothing tags either overlooked these three items or purposely left the “Keane” tags on the clothes, knowing Keane was not the dead man’s name. What was unusual was that there were no spare socks found in the case.

The Tamám Shud case – one of Australia’s most profound mysteries

The investigation team gave their best efforts to line up all the details of the “Tamám Shud” case and solve its enigma, but they were never able to do that.

The Tamám Shud case has been considered, since the early stages of the police investigation, “one of Australia’s most profound mysteries.” There has been intense speculation ever since regarding the identity of the victim, the cause of his death and the events leading up to it.

Public interest in the case remains significant for several reasons: The death occurred at a time of heightened international tensions following the beginning of the Cold War. The apparent involvement of a secret code. The possible use of an undetectable poison. And the inability of authorities to identify the dead man.

Was the Somerton man a soviet spy?

It wasn’t until Thompson passed away that her daughter came forward, claiming her mother was a former Soviet spy who had an affair with the mysterious man. Did Jessica Thompson have anything to do with the man’s death? We’ll likely never know: government officials refused to exhume the body for DNA testing, and his autopsy revealed nothing conclusive.

In recent years new evidence has emerged, including an old identification card possibly identifying the Somerton Man as one H. C. Reynolds. The ID card, numbered 58757, was issued in the United States on 28 February 1918 to H.C. Reynolds, giving his nationality as “British” and age as 18. Further researches have failed to find any records relating to H.C. Reynolds.

The South Australia Police Major Crime Branch, who still have the case listed as open, are investigating the new information. However, some independent researchers believe the ID card belonged to one Horace Charles Reynolds, a Tasmanian man who died in 1953 and therefore could not have been the Somerton Man.

DNA – strands of hair

The South Australian Police Historical Society holds the plaster cast of the Somerton Man’s head and chest taken by the police in 1949. It contains strands of the man’s hair. Any further attempts to identify the body have been hampered by the embalming formaldehyde having destroyed much of the man’s DNA.

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The tomb of the Somerton Man, in Adelaide’s West Terrace cemetery. Public Domain

Other key evidence no longer exists, such as the brown suitcase, which was destroyed in 1986. In addition, witness statements have disappeared from the police file over the years.

The lack of success in determining the identity and cause of death of the Somerton Man had led authorities to call it an “unparalleled mystery” and believe that the cause of death might never be known.


In 2022, after decades of investigation, Professor Derek Abbott, from the University of Adelaide, claims to have identified the identity of the mysterious Somerton man.

Abbott and genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick used DNA sequencing to match the hair of the Somerton man to Carl “Charles” Webb, an electrical engineer and instrument maker born in Melbourne.

Abbott and Fitzpatrick conducted extensive research, including building a family tree of around 4,000 names, to establish Webb’s identity.

The DNA findings are considered incontrovertible, but further investigation is needed to determine how the Somerton man died and what happened to his wife, Dorothy.

The discovery also disproved speculation that the Somerton man was the grandfather of Abbott’s wife, Rachel Egan, whose grandmother was Adelaide nurse, Jo Thomson.

Abbott hopes that their findings will be publicly verified and that more information will emerge about the life and death of the Somerton man, now believed to be Carl Webb rather than a spy.

However, the discovery raises more questions about the man’s long theorized identities and the strange clues surrounding his case, including a Persian poem found in his pocket and possible wartime code scribbled in a book.