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the man at the bottom of the stairs


John Bain Lyons, a local man and jeweller with a business in Adelaide’s King William Street, and his wife, were taking one of their regular walks along the Somerton Beach shoreline in front of the Crippled Children’s Home. At about 7pm, from a distance of about eighteen metres, they both saw a man slumped near the bottom of the steps with his back on the sand and his head and shoulders supported by the sea wall.

John saw the man fully extend his right arm vertically before letting it fall by his side. He thought the man was drunk and trying to smoke a cigarette. He and his wife did not suspect anything unusual and continued to their home at 52 Whyte Street, Somerton, which was within easy walking distance.


Olive Constance Neill, a typist and telephonist of 54 East Parkway, Colonel Light Gardens, Adelaide, arrived at Somerton beach at about 7:30pm on the back of a motorbike driven by her boyfriend, Gordon Kenneth Strapps, of 5 Seymour Terrace, Adelaide. After parking the bike by the roadside they walked down the steps to a bench a little south of the Crippled Children’s Home where they sat to watch dusk approaching over the sea.

They also observed a man lying on the sand with his back to the sea wall about nine metres from where they sat and two metres north. They could only see him from the waist down because the sea wall obstructed their view of his upper body. ‘Where he was lying was a fairly public place,’ said Olive, ‘not the sort of a place a man would be likely to choose if he wanted to go somewhere and die quietly.’

Olive also saw another man standing above them at the top of the steps looking down for a full five minutes at the man lying against the sea wall. The watcher was about fifty years of age, she said, of stocky build, not tall and wearing a navy suit and grey hat.

Gordon noticed that the position of the man’s legs changed while they were there, but he didn’t actually see this occur.

‘They (the legs) were straight out when we got there, not crossed,’ he said. ‘I only took a casual glance (and) when I walked (back) up the steps his left leg had been drawn up, taking it up the sand a bit. I made a remark to my girlfriend that as there were mosquitoes there he must have been dead to the world in not noticing them.’

The witness statements were made at the coronial inquest held on 17 June 1949.

Police Constable John Moss later told the inquest that there would be many of people about, as it was a warm night. Yet no witnesses came forward to say they had seen a body before 7pm or after 7:30pm.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Colombo would have visited the Pier Hotel on the following day to see if any of the regulars had mossie bites on his face. You know it makes sense.

    May 27, 2016
  2. Clive #

    “Dead to the world”, an interesting remark by Gordon. A dumb question, I know, but how did Gordon know there were mossies there? Did he and Olive get up and go due to mossies on the bench and assume the mossies were on the man’s body or, did he actually see mossies near the man’s body?

    May 27, 2016
    • They might have had to deal with a few themselves.

      May 27, 2016

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