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 Mail. Page 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