byron deveson’s review
Pic 1 is Mikkelsen* circa 1930, pic 2 is our man with a little shading from the north-east. Byron feels we are looking at the same man. The scars tell the story, he says.
*Charles Mikkelsen was a Norwegian shoemaker who worked on Kangaroo Island in 1929 where he was employed in a guest house, according to a Cheltenham woman interviewed by police. She told them Mikkelsen had a habit of quoting from the last verse of the Rubaiyat.
it’s all yours Byron, take the rostrum.
Evidence suggesting that Charles Mikkelsen, born 1902 in Norway, may be Somerton Man. Listed in no particular order.
1. Physical description. Mikkelsen was described as a seaman 5 feet 10 inches in height, fair hair and blue eyes, with no identifying marks when he passed through port clearance at Port Adelaide on 9th January 1932 per Tancred. He gave his birthday as 17th July 1902 born in Norway and he was single. There is a Norwegian birth record with these details and Charles Mikkelsen is recorded in the 1911 Norwegian census. His relatives are known and there are genealogical records relating to the family.
He stated that he intended to settle in Australia. He gave the names and addresses of two referees -T(om) Blee of Edward Street Paynham and Hicks of “Armagh” Clare. Mikkelsen stated that he intended to board with Mrs. Jacka, Marborough Street, Brighton. He nominated W. Brussler of Merbein, Victoria as a guarantor and stated that he had previously resided in Australia for five years after jumping ship in Port Adelaide in 1924 (Norwegian steamer Bessa). (NAA Item barcode 5511023). All the persons nominated by Mikkelsen were solid members of the community and Charles had obviously made a good impression in Australia. At least one of his referees was a mason with connections to Broken Hill.
2. When Mikkelsen was examined by Dr. A.J. Medcalfe, the Chief Quarantine Officer for Sydney, on 21st January 1938 in relation to his application for permanent residence in Australia he was described as being in “sound physical condition” and a “good type of young man.” It would be intelligence SOP for a trusted and senior bureaucrat such as Dr Medcalfe to act as an intelligence talent spotter. I note that Mikkelsen’s medical emergency at Thursday Island in August 1937 might have been staged so as to get him aboard the Taiping which had come under suspicion of being involved in smuggling opium earlier in the 1930s.
3. In 1953 an un-named woman living in Cheltenham (a suburb of Adelaide) identified SM as Charles Mikkelsen whom she had known “about 21 years ago” (ie 1932) when he was employed at Jensen’s guest house at American River (Kangaroo Island). She stated that when she had last heard of Mikkelsen he was staying at a Somerton guest house. “Det.-Sgt. R. L. Leane and Det. L. Brown have been told Mikkelsen often quoted the last verse, which ended with the words “Tamam Shud,” from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” (News, Adelaide, 23 April 1953 page 9).
The un-named Cheltenham woman said that Mikkelsen spoke fluent English and she said Mikkelsen was aged about 30 (ie. 30 in 1932) when she met him at Kangaroo Island, and he spoke English fluently. Mikkelsen was later employed as gardener to Sir John Brookman and was last heard of while boarding at Somerton.”
4. Gordon Cramer recently (5th November 2016) posted the following on his website.
“Paul (Lawson) recalled that there was a family from Kangaroo Island who had identified the man, and he emphasised it was the whole family and in fact, they travelled over twice to view the body and identified it on both occasions. They believed that the man, who had worked on their property as a handyman was, in fact, a Russian defector, a ballet dancer. This lead was not followed up.” I note that some of the surviving Tirranna crew got back to Norway (then under German occupation) and escaped to Russia.
The standard Russian intelligence procedure would have had these Norwegians carefully checked out and any who were deemed to be useful would have been recruited by the KGB (called then the NKGB) or the GRU. But my feeling is that Charles had been previously recruited by Australian/Allied intelligence to keep an eye on the merchant marine matters. If Mikkelsen was a double agent then this would go a long way to explaining the fog that surrounds the SM case.
5. Keith Mangnoson identified SM as “Carl Thompsen” (perhaps close enough to the name Charles Mikkelsen remembered by a shell shocked veteran after 10 years?) with whom he had worked in 1939 at Renmark. “Latest identification, made today by Mr. Keith W. Mangnoson, of Largs North, is that the body is that of Carl Thompsen, about 44. Mr. Mangnoson told police he had not seen Thompsen since 1939, when they did casual work together in Renmark district. He believed, from conversations, that Thompsen came from one of the colder countries, such as Sweden.” News (Adelaide) 7th January 1949 page 12.
I note that Charles Mikkelsen nominated W. Brussler of Merbein, Victoria as a guarantor when he entered Australia in 1932 (per Tancred at Port Adelaide).
Mr Brussler was an orchardist and this suggests that Charles worked for Mr Brussler. Orchardists used lead arsenate sprays in the 1920s and 30s, and this could be where SM picked up a near toxic amount of lead. Arsenic is eliminated from the body fairly quickly so this might account for the much lower arsenic levels in SM’s hair. Lead is very slowly eliminated.
Mr Brussler was a Mason with connections to Broken Hill. From memory Mr Brussler also seemed to have some political and labour union connections to Broken Hill.
6. The autopsy photographs of SM’s face shows a deep furrow between his eyes at the left hand side of the bridge of his nose that does not appear to be an autopsy incision. This furrow appears to connect to a scar running under his left eye. There also appears to be a scar down the left side of his nose. A high resolution scan of Charles Mikkelsen’s 1930 passport photograph shows that he had scars (possibly partly camouflaged with make-up) in the same position as appear in the SM autopsy photographs. The disease Scleroderma often produces something that looks like a scar on the forehead or face (en Coup de Sabre) and the dark areas in the corners of the eyes in both photographs could be “Raccoon eyes” caused by scleroderma.
7. There is an indication that SM did have scar(s) and this fact was not made public. On one occassion it was reported that a witness was asked if he could remember a scar “on the neck” of the person whom the witness had identified as being SM. It is generally police SOP for police to hold back information that can allow them to cross-check witness statements. The police could have mentioned a scar (but in a different position) to try to jog the memory of the witness.
8. Mikkelsen said that he had a fiancée in New Zealand so he must have been a fairly frequent visitor to New Zealand. (letter from Mikkelsen to the Australian authorities dated 1938. NAA Item barcode 5511023.
9. Mikkelsen worked at Jensen’s guest house, American River, Kangaroo Island in 1932 at the time of a minor gold rush within a mile of the guest house. It is quite possible that an enterprising and sturdy man such as Charles would have engaged in some gold prospecting during his free time. It is of note that the small piece of metal foil (probably platinum foil IMHO), the brush and the loupe (?) found in SM’s suitcase are plausible prospecting tools. I note that in 1948 information about uranium deposits in Australia and the prospecting methods used in uranium exploration were considered to be secret and were protected (information from “Britain and Atomic Energy 1939-1945.” Margaret Gowing. 1964). This all changed with the discovery of the large and rich uranium deposits in the USA in 1949.
10. Somerton man’s hair was found to carry extremely high levels of lead. Charles had been involved in three activities that would have exposed him to lead. These exposures are lead paint dust (ie produced by sanding back or stripping lead paint), mining or handling lead ore, and spraying fruit trees with lead arsenate spray. Mikkelsen reported (NAA barcode 5511023) that he had worked as a building painter in Newcastle, NSW. Mikkelsen was also a seaman and lead concentrates were frequently shipped along the Australian coast, and also shipped overseas. Mikkelsen also worked as a gardener for a wealthy and well connected family at one time in Adelaide.
11. Mikkelsen told the Australian immigration authorities in 1938 that he “did not use banking facilities”. This might explain why Mikkelsen’s name does not appear in the unclaimed monies lists. It could also suggest that Mikkelsen was in the habit of carrying around large amounts of money and this would suggest that Mikkelsen’s body was robbed. It also suggests that somebody might have stolen his bank pass book (that is what they were called) and stolen the money.
This alone could account for the incompetence (“creative incompetence” of sorts) that seems to pervade the whole case. I have several relatives in the police forces (including a retired State Police Commissioner, two retired State Assistant Commissioners, and an up and coming future State Commissioner) and it is no secret that up to the recent past “stealin’ from dead’uns” was a fairly common practice. I note that it was reported somewhere that the phone number of an Adelaide city bank was found written on the RoK.
12. Mikkelsen spent several years in South Australia (1924 to 1930) and was reported to have later resided in a guest house in Somerton (probably in the mid to late 1930s).
13. A photograph of Charles aged about eight shows that he had large hands and average sized feet. This was also true of SM.
14. The pupil of Charles Mikkelsen’s left eye appears to have an irregular edge (ie. iris coloboma which is a fairly rare condition. In Minesotta, USA ocular coloboma was found to occur once in 2,077 live births) and in SM’s autopsy report it was noted that SM’s pupils were irregular in shape. Charles’ eye lid over his left eye is drooping in the Passport photo and the SM autopsy photos seem to show SM’s left eyelid similarly drooping (taking into account the fact that SM’s eyes had been removed during autpsy). Ocular coloboma can (rarely) occur with various dysplasias such as those suggested for SM’s over developed calf muscles and hypodontia.
There are various rare genetic diseases where very soft skin (Ehlers-Danlos type syndromes and some variants of scleroderma), iris coloboma, dental hypodontia and calf muscle hypertrophy could possibly occur in the one individual. I haven’t found any reports of an individual presenting all of these abnormalities, but that is not to say it isn’t possible. None of the effects are life threatening and these types of symptoms are not studied to the same depth as the life threatening and more spectacular diseases. Or the diseases with a significant cohort (ie. market value re: treatments and pharmaceuticals).
15. Mikkelsen has unusual hooded eyes with the hooding over the left eye being more pronounced than the hooding over the right eye, and so does SM.
16. Mikkelsen appears to have a large ear cymba which is also true of SM.
17. Charles Mikkelsen was described as a “shoe maker” by the un-named Cheltenham woman. I would expect many shoemakers would be fastidious about their own shoes, and it seems that SM was. I note that the extensive sweat staining inside SM’s shoes is not consistent with the almost non-existent scuffing and damage of the outer leather. This is consistent with somebody who took great care of his shoes and is consistent with the neat and tidy appearance of SM (well cared for hands and feet, clothes and possessions etc.).
18. Mikkelsen was a crew member of the S.S. Anten at one time. It is notable that the Anten carried lead and lead ore concentrates from Port Pirie, Recorder (Port Pirie) 27th November 1940 page 1. “New York, Tuesday. Mackay Radio Corporation reports that the Swedish steamer Anten (5,135 tons) torpedoed at 7.30 a.m. (G.M.T:) on Saturday. ……. The Anten …… has been a frequent visitor to Pirie for lead and concentrates.”
19. It seems odd that the authorities kept such a voluminous file (NAA C1940/3532) on an otherwise unremarkable seaman. I note that there are frequent cross-references to several other files and some of these cross-references include the annotation “Mi” in red ink – Military intelligence? File page 10 two file annotations “38/20 Mi” and “7165 Mi”. File page 25 “37/7121 Mi” and “38/20 Mi”. File page 27 “S.B. 37/2541” “31/7121 Mi” “8912 Mi”. Maybe “S.B.” is Special Branch? And, in my day, red ink annotation of files was only permitted for very senior bureaucrats such as First Assistant Secretaries.
20. How come Mikkelsen’s 1930 Norwegian passport turns up in his file C1940/3532? This seems very strange. Under what circumstances would the authorities retain a foreign passport? I can’t find any other example of a foreign passport being held in the Australian archives.
21. Charles Mikkelsen’s biological father and half sister were living in the USA by the 1930s so DNA checking is potentially possible.
There are some problems with the identification but I think they can be explained: But also see the last paragraph for an alternate explanation.
1. Charles Mikkelsen was reported to have been killed when the German raider Atlantis captured the Norwegian freighter Tirranna in 1940. However, there are some anomalies in the records (all of the Tirranna’s papers were lost when she was sunk) and there is the possibility of identity substitution. It is possible that Charles Mikkelsen was carrying an Australian passport or at least Australian identification paper, in which case he would have been interned by the Germans and the captain of the Tirranna might have allowed Charles to take on the identity of a crewman killed in the incident. In any case Charles had essentially resided in Australia since 1924 and was making his way to join the Allied armed forces.
From memory a newspaper had reported that Norwegian passengers on the Tirranna were going to join the Allies so the Germans would have used any excuse to intern them, or worse. The Germans did intern two of the passengers and I note that the number of passengers is stated to be eleven in the newspaper report. Don’t the other records say ten? “A report from Melbourne indicates that at least two of the 11 passengers aboard the Norwegian motor vessel Tirranna, which disappeared in the Indian Ocean last June, while bound from Australia to Mombassa, are prisoners in an internment camp in occupied France.” Maybe the Captain lied to help Mikkelsen?
A marine inquiry was held in Norway 20th December 1940, immediately upon the return of the Tirranna’s captain and surviving crew, and the inquiry recorded that there were 36 survivors and 9 deaths (ie a total of 45) but other records give the total as 46.
Sjøforklaringer fra andre verdenskrig (1940 – 1945. See: https://www.krigsseilerregisteret.no/en/forlis/221557/dekksdagbok
There seems to be a consistent discrepancy in the numbers.
The other men killed in the shelling of the Tirranna by the Atlantis were crew members of the Tirranna. Mikkelsen was a passenger. I very much doubt that the Captain of the Tirranna would have allowed a civilian to man the deck gun. I believe that this (if it was the case) would have landed the captain in deep trouble with the Germans if the Germans had found out. It was reported that crew members of the Tirranna had been instructed in the use of the deck gun while the Tirranna was berthed in Melbourne. There may be a file relating to the fitting of the deck gun in Melbourne, and it might mention the names of the crew who received instruction. And didn’t Mikkelsen join the Tirranna in Sydney as a passenger after the crew had been instructed?
2. Charles Mikkelsen’s earlobes in the 1930 passport photograph are fleshier and are slightly detached, but earlobes can shrink during life (and probably in death, but there don’t appear to be any studies dealing with this matter). It is noteworthy that this can occur with the disease Scleroderma sine (sans) Scleroderma. Another symptom of this condition is Reynaud’s syndrome. People with Reynaud’s have very cold extremities and usually dress in warmer clothes than would be expected and this could explain SM being overdressed considering the warm day. Scleroderma sine scleroderma can result in spleen and liver problems, including an enlarged spleen and spleenic pigment (all of which were reported in SM’s post mortem examination). Other things that are sometimes associated with Scleroderma sine Scleroderma are ocular coloboma and reduced pupil diameter, both of which were noted in SM’s autopsy report.
It has been pointed out that the cleft between the tragus and the crus of the helix of SM’s right ear appears to be a lot more developed (deeper) than the cleft in Mikkelsen’s 1930 photograph (passport photo showing Mikkelsen’s left ear). I believe that the apparent deep cleft that is seen in the autopsy photograph is a photograph retouching artefact. The depth of the shadow is not consistent with the other shadows.
Also, I have reviewed several hundred photos of ears and I have not found a single example of such a deep cleft.
It is known that the right and left human external ears are often not precisely the same shape, and in some circumstances right and left areas have quite different shapes. The ear that is well visualised (in the autopsy photo of the right hand side of SM’s face) may well differ in shape from the well visualised ear in the passport photo (left ear). It is reasonable to believe that non-symmetrical development of external ears (essentially a mild development defect) could be linked to dysplasias.
3. It has been pointed out to me that there is another small apparent difference (apart from the ear lobes) between the (right) ear of the SM autopsy photos and the (left) ear shown in Mikkelsen’s 1930 passport photo. But, as I noted above, it is known that right and left human ears can differ significantly in appearance.
It should be noted that the hypothesis that SM is Charles Mikkelsen is testable (and falsifiable in the Popperian sense) because Mikkelsen’s blood relatives are known and mitochondrial DNA testing of SM’s hair could prove, to a reasonable degree of certainty, or conclusively disprove, a maternal connection.
I understand that Prof. Abbott’s team are currently testing samples of hair from the plaster bust and had previously announced that SM’s mitochondrial haplogroup is H, which doesn’t help muchat present because this haplogroup is carried by about 40% of northern Europeans. But it is quite concordant with a Norwegian heritage.
I am expecting that further testing of the hair samples will refine the haplogroup and I understand that there are currently 920 known sub-groups within the wider H haplogroup https://www.familytreedna.com/mtDNA-Haplogroup-Mutations.aspx So, the 40% is spread out over 920 sub-groups so the 40% can be whittled down to about perhaps 0.04% on average. And there can be further mutations that can further refine this down perhaps 0.004% or less. With the present level of published mtDNA testing I believe that SM’s relatives as close as five generations separation could be identified. A full mtDNA match would identify a common ancestor in the early 19th Century.
Tracing the descendants from a common ancestor born in the early 19th Century isn’t usually very difficult although a handful might disappear from view and prove to be very elusive. With a bit of luck I believe that the hair mitochondrial DNA will identify SM’s family group. IMHO a mitochondrial DNA match should be sufficient to trigger the exhumation of SM’s remains for autosomal DNA testing (the gold standard for genealogical connection). Charles’ biological father was Charles Sigvald Lund Eliassen (born 1873 Norway died 1939 Chicago, USA) and his mother was Hansine Andrea Marie Mikkelsen nee Pedersdatter.
References: 1930 Norwegian passport photograph of Charles Mikkelsen. Image PSD24954 courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.
But wait, there is more! (no free steak knives thrown in though).
The SOP of Soviet Intelligence in the 1920s and 1930s was to swap passports and in particular to swap seamen’s papers. Doppelgängers were chosen for a close physical match. Perhaps Charles Mikkelsen’s papers were used by a Doppelgänger when he first entered Australia in 1932? Maybe the Charles Mikkelsen who jumped ship in 1925 wasn’t the real Charles Mikkelsen? The Soviets weren’t above murdering a person to take over their identity.
Maybe this is the reason “Charles Mikkelsen” in 1938 wasn’t keen on paying the landing fee and going ahead with his application for Australian citizenship? Maybe this “Charles Mikkelsen” didn’t want to be closely investigated?
This image from Mikkelsen’s file.