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the inquest

The coronial inquest opened on Friday 17 June 1949. At the start of the proceedings, the city coroner, Thomas Erskine Cleland (a distant cousin of Professor John Burton Cleland) stated:

  • the identity of the deceased was quite unknown;
  • his death was not natural;
  • it almost certainly was not accidental.

This was reported in The Advertiser the following day:

The unknown man whose body was found on the beach at Somerton was probably poisoned and his death was almost certainly not accidental, the City Coroner (Mr. T. E. Cleland) said at the opening of the inquest yesterday. This left the alternative that the deceased died by his own act or was murdered. After evidence of the discovery of the body, and medical and police evidence, the inquest was adjourned until Tuesday, when medical evidence will be given by Professor J. B. Cleland, Sir Stanton Hicks and Dr. R. B. Bennett.

In his evidence, Professor John Cleland said he was surprised to learn of the lividity around the ears and neck in view of the position of the body.

This was understood to mean that the body’s lividity was more in common with a man who had died lying down, rather than one who died with his head and shoulders supported by the sea wall.

Sir Cedric Stanton Hicks, Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Adelaide and expert witness, said he was inclined to conclude that a member of a group of drugs that can cause the heart to stop might have been used. Hicks produced a piece of paper and handed it to the coroner, explaining that the first word he had written (glycosides) was the name of the group and the second and third words (Digitaline and strophanthin) were members of that group. All are extremely toxic in relatively small doses.

Although not stated verbally in open court, this information became available to the public when the inquest papers were released.

Hicks went on to say that these drugs were easily procurable by ordinary people and no doctor’s prescription was necessary.

Coroner Cleland adjourned the case sine die on 29 June 1949.


pic courtesy Gordon Cramer (Q)

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