A mystery for the indexers out there? The Taman Shud case

Have you ever heard of the mystery of the ‘Taman Shud case’?  I remember being told about it from an early age by my Dad.  A man found dead on the Adelaide beach, South Australia, in 1948, and one of the only pieces of evidence relating to the case was a torn piece of the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam which said ‘Tamam Shud’ – roughly translated, ‘Tamam Shud’ means ‘It is ended.’

After over 60 years, the case remains a mystery – who was the man, how did he die, was he killed, and what is the significance of some of the more unusual clues relating to the case?  A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine titled ‘The body on Somerton Beach’ by Mike Dash (12.08.2011) is a fine introduction for anyone interested in the case.  It led me to look up a few links about the case, including the NationalDryCleaners.com.au website article titled ‘Dry cleaning or laundry marks could be the key to solving decades old murder mystery’ (date unknown), from John Ruffles.  That article in turn led to an interesting Popular Science magazine article from June 1940 titled ‘Laundry-mark detective solves mysterious crimes’ by Edwin Teale  (pg 60-63), about Lt. Adam Yulch of the Nassau County Police, USA, who had indexed laundromat markings – the article said he had a card catalogue of up to 75,000 of them to help identify the marks left on the clothing (made when clothes were professionally laundered) of victims of crime (NB: an article from the New York Times indicates that Adam Yulch died in 1950, and had by then indexed up to 100,000 laundry marks – 03.07.1950, pg 10).

As a result of looking at the work of Adam Yulch, and his index of laundry marks, it made me wonder if an indexer could have a look at this case, and possibly bring new evidence to light.  South Australian newspapers are digitised at Trove, currently including The Adelaide Advertiser, The Adelaide Morning Chronicle (1948/49 not yet digitised), and The MailPage 3 of The Advertiser, 2nd December, 1948 mentions the finding of the body for the first time, while The Mail carried the first story on page 32 on 4th December, 1948.  Here is a saved search for the word ‘Rubaiyat’ in Australian digitised newspapers at Trove between January 1948 and December 1950, and it reveals a few stories about the case.  Helpfully, a number of newspaper articles in Trove have been tagged with ‘Taman Shud’.  Considering the man appears to have arrived in Adelaide on 30.11.1948 by train (although there is the mysterious discovery of clothes on Somerton beach on 28.11.1948), a search of all Australian newspapers using keywords like “Keane OR Kean”, or Somerton, might be useful because the man may have come from another state.  If the answer is in code, could the eagle eyes of an indexer find something waiting to be found in these newspapers, from just before the body of the man was discovered on 1st December, 1948, or just afterwards?

Fishing around in the newspapers myself for something interesting to relate, I found the word ‘Omar’ in answer to a disproportionately large number of crossword questions in the Argus during 1948 – it turns up no less than 11 times (NB: the Argus was a Melbourne based newspaper).  In comparison, the word ‘Omar’ doesn’t appear to figure in newspaper crosswords anywhere else in Australia that year.  In 1949, the word continues to crop up regularly in Argus crosswords.  The last time the word appears before the man died was in answer to a question for 14 ACROSS ‘Persian poet’ in Friday’s Argus, 29th October, 1948 (pg 9), and the solution was published in Monday’s Argus, 1st November, 1948 (pg 13).  I should stress, I am not suggesting this means anything, it is just an example of the sort of thing that might be found by a diligent indexer, who might bring a fresh eye to some of the facts surrounding the case – I can’t see any relevance at all for the word ‘Omar’ appearing so frequently in the Argus crosswords in 1948, it seems to be simply that the Rubaiyat was in the Zeitgeist at the time and the crossword developer may have been using the word to regularly fill gaps!

By typing the code found in the discarded copy of the Rubaiyat into a search engine, I came to an interesting Wiki.  The code (or what can be deciphered), seen using ultra violet light, is:

wrgoababd wtbimpanetp mliaboaiaqc ittmtsamstgab (click here for a saved search for this code on the net)

The wiki is from Adelaide University, school of Electrical and Electronic engineering (the National Dry Cleaners website link mentioned above has a link to a related Facebook group).  Titled ‘Final report 2009 : who killed the Somerton man?’, the wiki looks at some of the possible methods for breaking the code.  The wiki also contains a useful ‘List of people connected to the Taman Shud case.’




6 Comments to “A mystery for the indexers out there? The Taman Shud case”

  1. Mike Dash, at the Smithsonian magazine linked to this blog post. I also then posted the following comment there (comment number 54, 21.08.2011, 11:17pm).

    Mike Dash,

    Thanks for linking to my blog article on the Taman Shud case. I just wanted to add two things:

    1. I found the word ‘Omar’ in the Argus crossword on 11 occasions in 1948. I want to stress that this is not really a clue that relates to the Taman Shud case, it just seems to be an interesting anomaly, but it was too interesting not to add to the article I wrote. I might put up a post at the Trove.nla.gov.au forums to ask if anyone there can explain it, but I can’t see any actual link to the case myself. As I indicated in my blog, I think the crossword developer was merely using the ‘Rubaiyat’ reference because it was in popular culture at the time (e.g. Gregory Peck used it in a film released in 1946, and Agatha Christie used it for the title of a book in 1942). My interest in writing about it was just to see if anyone who works as an indexer could possibly find something interesting in the digitised newspapers – i.e. could there be clues hiding in plain sight?

    2. If anyone is interested in looking at some of the original articles on this in the digitised newspapers, many have been tagged with ‘Taman Shud’. It is also useful to look more widely at some of the stories in the papers at that time. There were daily Cold War stories from China, Europe, and Australia, and although we are fairly removed from it all today, it is easy to see from the papers that there was a real sense of crisis in 1948.

    I don’t actually have a theory but sometimes the most simple explanation is the best. It seems unusual to me that if there was some sort of espionage involved that the man’s body would be left on the beach for the police to find.

    Finally, the comments section here is a great resource for researchers, and very interesting to read. Although it is interesting to speculate, it is also important to remain respectful of the people involved.

    Thanks everyone for posting.

  2. Good work Paul, Any chance that you have the full details of the clues and answers for the 11 Argus crosswords?

  3. Very Many Thanks Paul,
    One or two people will be very interested to see this. I can clearly understand your note in the final paragraph, the chance of there being anything significant in amongst these clues and answers is quite small. Having said that in the end it is a question of reviewing the options, removing some from the list and focusing on the remainder, in the journeying additional knowledge could be found that may well be able to be put to good use.

  4. Paul, I have done some extensive work on this case since I last commented here, amongst the discoveries are examples of miniature writing found on the Code page, the Poem written by Jestyn to AB.

    More recently I have examined the images of the Laundry tag with what appears to be an amazing result. I would be happy to share the image of the latter or those interested could visit http://tamamshud.blogspot.com.au/. The image shows an ingenious way of using miniature writing by writing over the weave within the fabric of the laundry tag. If this is correct, and i believe it is, then the Laundry tag could well be the key to the mystery of the Somerton Man as you have suggested.

    For the record, during WW2 and after some extraordinarily clever but simple techniques were used to pass on coded messages including knitting coded lengths of wool into garments (knots were tied into the wool) and using stitches in a garment that were in fact a variation on morse code. Little has been published on micro or miniature writing as an Espionage tool but it was used in that fashion, in many ways it outperformed micro dots because of the ability to successfully disguise coded messages as per the Laundry mark instance. A non military use example would be that of James W. Zaharee who famously wrote Lincolns Gettysburg address on a 3 inch strand of human hair. Micro writing of 1/10th of a mm can be written without the use of aids such as a magnifying glass and far smaller machine written examples have been recorded.

  5. apologies for the ebook plug – We have a story here, all the known facts held together with a little fictional glue.
    Ebook late 2013


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