Byron Deveson claims Cowan Conspiracy
Four days ago, Byron Deveson posted a couple of comments on another site but nobody has taken much notice of them, possibly because BD does go into some detail when he goes hunting.
There’s over 2,800 words.
I asked BD a couple of days ago whether he would mind if I picked it up here .. he didn’t say no so here we go.
(The words are BD’s – the italics, colour and bold are mine.
“What I believe happened is that the rolled up piece of paper was planted to bolster the case for suicide. Planted by Mr Cowan.” Byron Deveson
Question: do the following comments point to a relationship that no-one thought existed?
<start of comment 1>
(a) Every time I read Appendix 10 (DNA – Exhumation) of Gerry’s book I am struck by how jarring I find it, particularly as the rest of the book is a smooth, dispassionate evaluation of the SM case. Gerry started out by wanting SM exhumed, but was then persuaded against it. Strongly persuaded.
I think it is fair to summarize the major points of Gerry’s arguments against exhumation as follows:
(1) The difficulties associated with identifying SM’s by means of DNA.
(2) The matter of “non paternity events” confounding things.
(3) The lack of any evidence of a crime.
(4) The ethical question of disturbing SM’s remains.
(b) While there would have been difficulties with identifying SM from DNA data at the time Gerry wrote his book (2010), this is not the case today. In the last several years genealogical DNA testing has flourished and there are now combined DNA and genealogical databases that include about two million DNA test results. And many of the DNA tests are tied to family tree data. And each of these tests is capable of identifying genetically related people as far back as about six to eight generations. So, even at the present state of play, all persons carrying some European blood could be identified from the DNA data of distant relates.
(c) As an example, persons of largely European descent (ie. Such as SM who carries the typically European mitochondrial haplotype H) who test with Ancestry.com generally get three thousand or more matches (ie. A DNA connection to 3,000+ distant identified living relatives). There is no reason to think that SM’s autosomal DNA would not similarly link him to 3,000 living people. And, judging from personal experience it is highly likely that some of these matches would include some second cousins once or twice removed. It is easy to identify who are the closest relatives because the percentage of shared genome decreases more or less by 50% with each generation and second cousins share about 3% common DNA. At this percentage of shared DNA the possibility of an incorrect match is vanishingly small, much less than one in a million. Once a close match is identified then it would generally be a straightforward genealogical exercise to identify SM.
(d) The figure of one in five quoted by GF for non-paternity events only applies to small, socially dysfunctional groups. The figure for SM’s forbear’s likely milieu is likely to be slightly greater than 1%. For more details Google “non paternity events”. For second cousins the percentage of confounding non-paternity events is small. And, in the event of a non-paternity event or an adoption, the other DNA matches would soon disclose the truth of the matter. ie. There would be potentially several thousand paths that can all be cross-checked to identify errors such as non-paternity events and adoptions, and faulty records.
(e) So the whole system has enormous built in redundancy and very powerful error correcting capability. And, while paternity might be subject to possible doubts, the possible doubt attached to documented maternal ancestors is much smaller. And about 50% of DNA is derived from female forbears, which is much less liable to doubt.
(f) Gerry was told that there was no evidence of foul play. This is not correct and I can only assume that the pathologist who proffered this opinion had not seen all the relevant documents that are available toda. Gerry sought the pathologist’s opinion in July 2001 (page so 201) and I seem to remember that a lot of relevant documents did not become available until after 2010.
(g) Regarding the ethical question of disturbing SM’s remains. I don’t think most people would object as there is evidence of foul play, there is the technology available to identify SM from his DNA, and there are probably close relatives (second cousins once removed) still alive who would like to know why he disappeared from contact and the circumstances surrounding his death.
(h) In addition I note that there seems to have been bad blood between the people from whom Gerry obtained the opinion regarding pathology questions, and the late JM Dwyer and Prof CB Cleland. This seems to have coloured the evaluation of the worth of both Dwyer’s and Cleland’s opinions.
(i) “In 1920 Cleland was appointed first Marks professor of pathology (which then included bacteriology) at the University of Adelaide. Although it ended his experimental studies in epidemiology it allowed him to begin a systematic study of what must be one of the largest series of meticulous autopsy examinations ever conducted by one person—over 7000. Cleland regarded each post-mortem examination as a voyage of discovery and never wearied, continuing to do routine autopsy work into his mid-80s.” Cleland, Sir John Burton (1878–1971) by R. V. Southcott.
(j) Contrast this with the statement (Feltus page 201) made about JB Cleland.
“Prof Cleland was actually a microbiologist with a particular interest in botany but he did go down to West Tce and do a few post mortems. He used to stretch out the removed intestine and go along sniffing for poisons”.
(k) Dwyer is damned with faint praise with the following.
“…. (Dwyer) was not a trained pathologist and knew almost no histology but neverless he was very experienced at post mortems. He was rarely caught short of a cause of death, almost never did any histology and would only do toxicology if he could not avoid it.”
I note that Dwyer was the President of the Australian Medical Association 1963-4 and he was awarded an O.B.E. and an E.D. for overseas service during WW2. He was a medical officer in the field and was promoted to full Colonel.
(l) On the other hand, Deputy Government Analyst Cowan isn’t criticised, although my evaluation (I am qualified to hold this opinion) is that he did a woeful job.
The police are praised while Dwyer, Cleland etc. are vilified.
“The only people to emerge well are the investigating police and it is no fault of theirs that we are no wiser as to the identity or cause of death.”
Bottom line? I feel that the people at the Forensic Science Centre have mislead Gerry. Why? Well I know that Adelaide is a very incestuous and bitchy place with all sorts of hatreds beneath the apparent smooth surface. A pool of piranhas.
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<start of comment 2>
(m) There is evidence of poisoning because SM’s heart stopped in a contracted state, which is to say it was paralysed. Paralysed by some drug or toxin. There is no natural cause, only poison or toxin. And only a very few poisons or toxins paralyse the heart. That’s is why digitalis type alkaloids, curare, botulism and diptheria toxin were all mentioned at the inquest.
(n) Dwyer would have seen many cases of deliberate and accidental poisoning and he and Cleland would have been aware that the Soviets had been staging “suicides” since the 1920s. The forerunner of the KGB had a whole Department researching and enacting “suicides” and there was old KGB adage “Anyone can commit a murder, but it takes an artist to commit a suicide.” The KGB developed digitalis type drugs for assassination purposes and Cleland and Dwyer would have probably been aware of this. The CIA were investigating the use of lead tetraethyl for assassinations in the late 1940s and I note some British scientists were investigating the toxic alkaloid from the Tapas tree in 1950 that would give the same autopsy results.
Because there was other evidence of poisoning and because of the paralysed heart, suspicion fell on the digitalis group of drugs. All the evidence was consistent with digitalis poisoning (or any of the other very small group of drugs and toxins) except for the apparent lack of vomiting.
(o) But people have died from digitalis poisoning without vomiting. In fact, there was a paper published in the early 1980s in the New England Journal of Medicine in which experts in the field estimated that there had been 100,000 or more unrecognised deaths due to digitalis poisoning in the USA alone in previous decades due to faulty formulations of digitalis tablets resulting in wildly variable bioavailability. This was the reason why bioavailability testing of drugs that have poor solubility or a low therapeutic index (such as the digitalis type drugs) was rapidly mandated in the late 1970s (ie. British and US Pharmacopoeias), along with stringent tablet dissolution specifications and tablet uniformity of content specifications.
(p) These regulatory measures were especially necessary for digitalis which has a very low therapeutic index of four. Which is to say that the ratio of a deadly dose to the therapeutic dose can be as low as four. My point is that experts calculated that just in the USA alone 100,000+ people had died from digitalis poisoning, and nobody had ever noticed. The patients were all suffering from heart disease, so when they dropped dead it was unexceptional, even expected. This was potentially a great scandal, but like most cock-ups where the Government has at least some culpability, it was all quietly buried. My further point is that it is unlikely that many of those 100,000+ vomited immediately before death, otherwise the problem of variable bioavailability (I know that’s a cold blooded way of describing the avoidable deaths) would have become obvious long before the mid 1970s when it first surfaced.
(q) Prior to about 1960 it was possible for pharmacists in USA, Britain, Australia etc. to make and sell their own digitalis tablets, and this further added to the problem (non uniform mixing of ingredients, variable manufacture etc.). The wild variability in bioavailability meant that when a patient who was stabilised on a low bioavailability tablet received a new batch, or a different brand of digitalis tablets that had high bioavailability death could result. Dead easy to happen one could say.
(r) All of the medical people involved in the investigation thought that poisoning was the likely cause of death. Mr Cowan didn’t but he does not seem to have had much experience in toxicology apart from testing for poisons and when he received the samples he probably just ordered his staff (Assistant Government Analysts in those days didn’t do the actual testing, they just supervised) to do the standard suite of toxicological tests for a routine suicide investigation. And the samples were probably destroyed before their importance was recognised, and before the deficiencies in the toxicological testing became apparent.
(s) “…. the balance of expert evidence leaned towards the view that the Unknown Man had been poisoned.” Feltus page 199.
“Only one expert, Deputy Government Analyst Robert James Cowan ……. asserted that death was more than likely to have occurred from natural causes than through poison because of failure to detect any poison.” (note, his failure to detect …. so he would say that wouldn’t he? Any poison? But Cowan only tested for a small handful of the most common poisons).
“But, Dr Dwyer backs up his claim of poisoning because he saw signs of asphyxiation and there was “absolutely nothing wrong with the heart.””
So, the only person who discounted poisoning was Cowan, because he had not found any poison! But he would say that, wouldn’t he? (apologies to Mandy Rice-Davies).
say hi to Mandy
(t) There were probably undetected cases of deaths due to barium poisoning in South Australia in 1948-9 (the Bickford scandal) and I note that SM may have had prior GI trouble and so may have received an X-ray with the contaminated contrast media. The symptoms and autopsy findings would have been very similar to that of digitalis poisoning and the heart would have been paralysed. I note that SM had a patch of erosion at the back of his gullet and this could be down to reflux of the contaminated contrast medium.
(u) The very high levels of lead in SM’s hair do not appear to be accompanied by anything other than raised strontium (x3.5 from memory) and possibly raised arsenic. This suggests accidental or deliberate poisoning with a pure lead compound. I have long believed (and I have evidence to support my view) that most of the reported fatal lead poisoning cases were either down to faulty test methods or deliberate poisoning. I further believe that the child deaths supposedly due to ingestion of paint flakes were actually deliberate poisoning of unwanted children. I am not going to explain how this can be easily accomplished but many people in the past would have possessed the knowledge to make the poison without anyone being aware. No poison register, no sales of anything suspicious. Just stuff lying around most houses. And plentiful lead paint to blame as the unwanted children are buried.
(v) Medical people, even medical scientists and toxicologists, still believe that lead paint flakes taste sweet. Obviously none of them have ever tested (tasted) this assumption. It is too often repeated in medical text books. But, medicine is no different in this acceptance of old wives tales than other sciences, and far better in this regard than any other field of learning bar mathematics, physics and chemistry in that order.
Somerton Man was deliberately buried in a dry sandy grave to facilitate exhumation and further testing. So the authorities at the time considered later exhumation could be warranted. What has changed?
There are now very sensitive test methods for organic poisons and mass spectroscopic methods can find things that are not suspected. For example there is an ultra-sensitive immunological test that could probably tell us if SM was taking digitalis for medicinal purposes and had taken an overdose, deliberate or otherwise. His DNA could reveal the diseases to which he was predisposed that could cause sudden death.
(x) Testing would reveal the distribution of lead in his organs and the isotopic ratios of the lead could indicate deliberate poisoning. Testing would also show if SM died as a result of lead or barium poisoning. I could go on, and on, but my point is that (contrary to the advice GF received) that modern methods could quite probably identify any poison in SM’s remains and DNA testing could identify his genetic weak points (such as a genetic predisposition to sudden cardiac death etc.).
(y) Lastly, I don’t buy the standard story that Australia in 1948 was awash with faceless refugees who could just vanish into smoke. That is the Standard Story that is endlessly repeated and endlessly accepted. If you want proof just check the police gazettes for the late 1940s and see how many people that the police were searching for were found. In nearly all cases the people whom the police wanted to find (criminal suspects) were located.Yes, many “missing people” were apparently not located, but this is an artifact. If, nearly always when, a “missing person” was located the police were not allowed to notify relatives if the “missing person” did not permit this. This of course meant that police weren’t particularly interested in “missing persons” and didn’t bother much. You can even see this in the lackadaisical search for SM’s identity.
(z) How many initially unidentified corpses remained unidentified in post WW2 Australia? I have looked and I can’t find a single one. How many unidentified bodies are buried in Australian cemeteries post WW2? None, apart from SM, that I can find.
Unlike most other places in the world people can only arrive in Australia by ship or by air. You can’t slip across a border and walk into Australia, at least not until Mr Rudd facilitated walking on water. The authorities always kept detailed records and the failure to identify SM doesn’t ring true to me. Authorities in Australia have always kept a close eye on people, contrary to the Standard Story. I well remember one night in the mid 1970s trawling through microfilm from the British PRO and finding one of my great great grandmothers in a list of single women, and the men with whom they were living. In 1806, in Sydney. A list created by some nosy, scolding Government official, for no good reason, and still preserved. And Government officials haven’t changed.
Regarding that piece of paper at the heart of the SM mystery. What I believe happened is that the rolled up piece of paper was planted to bolster the case for suicide. Planted by Mr Cowan. Consider the position that Cowan was in. He had bungled the toxicological investigation and I suspect he might have ordered the autopsy samples destroyed before the importance of the case became clear. So, he was desperate for the case to go away. What Cowan could not have foreseen is the “code” on the copy of the ROK piqued Cleland’s suspicion that the case might involve espionage. Cowan had both motive and opportunity.
I will finish by pointing out that much of the speculation above is testable when SM is exhumed. And he will be exhumed when the full mtDNA results become available, because there will be relatives.
PS I will address the question of why an answer to the SM case is important, and important for more than just historical reasons, storytelling, or tying up loose ends.
<end of comment 2>
(l) “Deputy Government Analyst Cowan isn’t criticised (by Feltus), although my (Deveson) evaluation (I am qualified to hold this opinion) is that he did a woeful job.”
(r) “All of the medical people involved in the investigation thought that poisoning was the likely cause of death. Mr Cowan didn’t.”
(s) “Only one expert, Deputy Government Analyst Robert James Cowan ……. asserted that death was more than likely to have occurred from natural causes than through poison because of failure to detect any poison.”
(s)) “.. the only person who discounted poisoning was Cowan,”
(z) “Regarding that piece of paper at the heart of the SM mystery. What I believe happened is that the rolled up piece of paper was planted to bolster the case for suicide. Planted by Mr Cowan.”
“Consider the position that Cowan was in. He had bungled the toxicological investigation and I suspect he might have ordered the autopsy samples destroyed before the importance of the case became clear. So, he was desperate for the case to go away.”
“What Cowan could not have foreseen is the “code” on the copy of the ROK piqued Cleland’s suspicion that the case might involve espionage. Cowan had both motive and opportunity.”
(1) Cowan took possession of four glass jars on or about the 2nd or 3rd of December 1948. The jars contained (1) stomach and contents, (2) liver and muscle, (3) urine and (4) blood.
(2) Cowan and Cleland had possession of the body’s clothing about mid-April 1949. It was at this time Cleland found the slip.
(3) The coronial inquest opened on Friday 17 June 1949, and adjourned 29 June 1949.
(4) The Mail, 23 July 1949 Torn book gives new hope in body case.
“Fresh hope that the Somerton body mystery may be solved come today with the finding of a copy of the ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ with the last page torn.
POLICE have been searching for such a book throughout Australia in the hope it might provide the missing clue to the body’s identity. Last night an Adelaide businessman read of the search in ‘The News’ and recalled that in November he had found a copy of the book which had been thrown on the back seat of his car while it was parked in Jetty road, Glenelg.
The book, the last page of which is torn, has been handed to police. If scientific tests, to be conducted next week, show the scrap of paper found on the dead man’s clothing had been taken from the book, police will have brought off a million to one chance. On December 1, when the body of the mystery man was found on Somerton Beach, police discovered the name tags had been cut from the clothing and all he had in his pockets was a train ticket, a bus ticket, and a neatly trimmed piece of paper with the printed words ‘Tamam Shud.’ Investigators found these words had been used by Omar Khayyam at the end of his verses and meant ‘the end’ or ‘the finish.’
A study of the printing indicated the words might have been torn from a copy of Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam. In the belief if the book could be found it might show the movements of the man be-fore his death, police throughout Australia have been looking for it. The finder of the book today handed it to Det.-Sgt. R. L. Leane. On the last page the words ‘Tamam Shud’ had been torn out.
On the back of the book are several telephone numbers and a series of capital letters, written in pencil, the meaning of which have not yet been deciphered. As the scrap of paper found on the dead man had been trimmed, police were unable to identify the book merely by fitting it into the torn page. Proof will now rest with tests on the paper and the print.”
If Robert James Cowan, deputy South Australian government analyst, planted the Tamam Shud slip in the body’s clothing at some stage he must have had possession of the Rubaiyat it was torn from, or had the slip handed to him.
If Cowan had possession of the Rubaiyat – The ‘Francis’ Rubiayat – the phone number written on the back cover in pencil might point to a relationship he had with Jessica Harkness.
If the relationship he had with Jessica Harkness was intimate and resulted in a child then Robert James Cowan was the father of one of her children, or both.
Ellen baby, how do you like the plot so far?
<copy filed @ 8:45 pm 26 April 2016>
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