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ballet dancers and the tools of their trade, updated

Theories about the Tamam Shud mystery can be likened to ponds of still water. Some are shallow, others not so.


The ballet dancer.

The deceased has long thought to have been a ballet dancer. He was muscular with highly developed calves and the bottom of his his feet were described by Paul Lawson in this way: The big and little toe were joined together towards a common apex, in other words wedge-shaped,  ….

The toes described this way:

… like he had been in the habit of wearing high-heeled and pointed shoes.

Ballet slippers.

Pointe work.


His company.

Ballets Russes tours of Australia between 1936 and 1940

(1)  The first, a company assembled in London by de Basil and billed as ‘(Colonel W. de Basil’s) Monte Carlo Russian Ballet’, toured for nine months between 1936 and 1937. Its sixty-two dancers were drawn largely from the Ballets de Leon Woizikowsky, augmented by artists from de Basil’s own company, and from Rene Blum’s Ballets de Monte Carlo.

(2) The second tour  took place over seven months between 1938 and 1939, was by the ‘Covent Garden Russian Ballet, presented by Educational Ballets Ltd’

(3) The third tour, included in the company that, in addition to English-based dancers, included a number who were stranded in America on the outbreak of war. These two groups were united in Australia, forming the company that was most commonly referred to as ‘The Original Ballet Russe’, although it was also billed as ‘Colonel W. de Basil’s Covent Garden Ballet’ and ‘Colonel W. de Basil’s Ballet Company’. De Basil himself accompanied this tour, which began in December 1939 and, although originally planned to be of ten weeks duration, was, due to the complexities of the war, extended until September 1940.

From Trove.

The deceased’s tie was of American design, his jacket and comb made in America.


His tools.

I watched as she took us through the process of building a ballet slipper, 10 minutes, found her on YouTube sitting at her work table going through the items she needed to build a shoe. There weren’t many, among them a last*, a pair of scissors, a cutting tool and a pencil. Thread.

*A last is a wooden form that has a shape similar to that of a human foot.


Rosin powder.


The rosin used by ballet companies is usually white or pale, depending on the availability of rosin at the time, between 1936 and 1940. Other rosins can be darker. Whichever one a ballet dancer uses will accumulate over time and the slipper will need to be cleaned of residue.

The accumulated powder brushed off, out.

Third down ..


There is no proof Robin Thomson was the son of the deceased

But he too was a ballet dancer, and his mother remembered some Russian words.

Note: the tools were originally thought to have been the type a ship’s third officer might use to mark cargo.


 Above is an example of what a shipload of cargo looks like prior to loading.

Our view is that the tools found in the Somerton Man’s suitcase may not have been up to the job.

52 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a fascinating story, thanks for sharing 🙂

    December 21, 2017
  2. Clive #

    The”Singleton Argus” 16 Sept 1946 Page 1, mentions about “American Ballet may come to Australia”. (in 1947), Perhaps if not the whole company, then a few individual ballet dancers returned to Australia in the late 1940’s? Certainly this premise that the SM was a ballet dancer should keep everyone on their toes.

    December 21, 2017
    • I know where you live Clive, one more pun and that’s me knocking on your door late one night.

      December 21, 2017
  3. Clive #

    Well, it is Christmas!

    December 21, 2017
  4. Google NKGB and Ballet. Ballerinas were popular.

    December 21, 2017
  5. Clive #

    In a way, it must have been a double-edged sword. Ballerinas, I’m sure could have been trained to spy/report on the West, or any other non-communist country. Then again, being allowed to travel outside the USSR also meant, ballerinas could and did defect. Which leads us to the SM-was he a defector?

    December 23, 2017
    • Ironic that Russian ballet companies were allowed to travel to both the US and Australia apparently unhindered in the days of communist suppression.

      December 23, 2017
    • Byron Deveson #

      Clive, the KGB/GRU etc. made sure that the only people they let out had a very strong attachment to their hostage relatives. Mrs Petrov is just one example. The Russians under Stalin were Neanderthal brutes. When the Russians entered Austria at the end of WW2 they checked the BD&M records and disappeared anyone with the slightest blood connection to Adolph Hitler, even people who hated him and even people who did not know they were related to Hitler. Look at the mess they made of Russia.

      December 23, 2017
  6. Clive #

    Murder first, then ask questions later mentality. Though I doubt any questions were raised, just get rid of anybody who was/could be anti-Soviet I suppose. Makes you wonder what difference there was between the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, nothing as far as I can understand, both as evil and murderous as each other.

    December 24, 2017
  7. Stalin backed the right side in WW2 and used the opportunity to slip in a few agents to see how the yanks did it. Looks like one of them came visiting Adelaide.

    December 24, 2017
    • Ellen #

      Stalin agent or Yank?

      December 26, 2017
  8. Clive #

    Ellen, Interesting point, he must have been able to speak English, or at least , have an understanding of the language. The ‘thing’ that intrigues me is how he managed to be in a city/travelled and yet, not one person came forward and say “He was on the train from….”. Or, I saw him in a shop” Question is, how did the SM materialise on a beach?

    December 26, 2017
    • Mark #

      Perhaps he didn’t travel that day. We only have some suspicious tickets to suggest he did. Perhaps he’d travelled on an earlier day – oir perhaps someone gave him a ride in their car. Or perhaps he was moved there.

      Let’s also not forget that the police didn’t immediately go looking for witnesses – because it was a mundane John Doe to begin with. By the time they did people’s memories may have lapsed at least to the point where they couldn’t resolve the (questionable) photo in the paper to a random stranger they might have seen some time ago.

      What was the first day the photo was published?

      January 11, 2018
      • Mark, that’s four perhapses. Too many to work with. And it’s always advisable to do your own research, that way you can be certain of the result.

        January 11, 2018
  9. Ellen #

    He was reported to have quite a tan.

    December 27, 2017
  10. Clive #

    Yes, he did, on his legs only I understand. Then I suppose the question would be, why his legs only? Was it from sunbathing or his line of work, perhaps? GF’s book (P90) mentions tan “from previous season”, presumably meaning early 1948(?) Jan-Feb. Assuming he had been living in Australia? But, what if the SM was in Northern Hemisphere in the Summer of 1948?

    December 27, 2017
  11. With some of the Ballet Russes’ visiting dancers plus staff numbering over 60 personnel they may not have travelled to Australia by aircraft … a week or three on an ocean liner would be enough for a suntan.

    December 27, 2017
  12. ellen #

    So he was working or sunning himself where his legs would be exposed, coming from a country that was hot enough for a few months to allow a perceptible tan. He also was dressed over warmly for the upcoming warm season in Australia, almost like he was a tourist.
    When I first read the legend of SM, I pictured a rather tipsy gentleman coming from a hotel and finding a comfortable spot on a tropical beach, looking at the sunset and expecting a woman from his past to join him …..only to have his eyes closed forever.
    The forensics change this idyllic picture. Was he a pleasure seeker or a chameleon?

    December 28, 2017
    • He must have been a foreigner, nobody I know wears sluggos and shirt when they go sunbaking.

      December 28, 2017
      • Mark #

        but if you wander the beaches you might occasionally see people in shorts and a (sometimes sleeved) shirt sitting on a towel reading a book. Not all beachgoers are there for a tan or a swim – but the sun likes to crisp them up some anyways…
        Wouldn’t totally dismiss the idea of him being a local simply because he seems to have attended the beach in budgie-smugglers (artisitic licence) and a shirtt….

        January 11, 2018
        • If he was local somebody would have known him. We’ve been chasing these what ifs for seventy years, Mark, now we know more.

          January 11, 2018
  13. Clive, when you ring Paul Lawson to wish him Happy New Year, could you ask him if he remembers any calluses on the top of SM’s toes?
    I don’t remember reading anything in the autopsy report.

    January 6, 2018
  14. Clive #

    Ok, I’ll contact the lady in his life!

    January 7, 2018
  15. The foot on bottom right looks nicely ‘wedge-shaped’, you reckon, Clive?

    January 7, 2018
  16. Clive #

    Sure does, in the SM’s case, if it was just wedge shaped toes, I suppose you would say he wore too tight shoes. But, with him also having well developed calf muscles, it’s not as simple.

    January 7, 2018
  17. I think it more likely the dancer in the picture used the flat side of her big toe to raise herself into the pointe position ….

    January 7, 2018
  18. Clive #

    Just received a telephone call from Paul Lawson’s lady friend “Rosa Kleb”. Paul didn’t notice if there were any calluses due to the time he had available, and the colour of the skin which was dark. Seems a bit odd, as what would it have taken, time wise, for him, just to have a quick look at his toes?

    January 9, 2018
    • You have to ask yourself, Clive, does powdered pine rosin leave a brown stain on skin?

      January 9, 2018
  19. Ellen #

    Those toes are hard to look at. ☺

    January 9, 2018
  20. We have tools that could be used to make ballet slippers, a brush to clean them of rosin powder, rosin powder shaken out of the brush, ballet dancer’s calves and ballet dancer’s feet … and young Robin Thomson, a ballet dancer.

    It’s all looking a bit obvious as to what he was. Finding out who he was might need a little more time, but we like the Ballets Russes, who, by the way, never performed in Russia.

    January 9, 2018
  21. Byron Deveson #

    Judging from what I have been able to discover it appears that the number of sports, activities or occupations that significantly exercise the calf muscles is quite limited. These are: dancing, tennis, cycling, cross country skiing, soccer and sports involving running and jumping. “Calf muscles are used in every running, jumping, dancing activity as well as some kicking activities such as soccer and martial arts.” Quoted from “Coaching and Teaching Female Athletes and Dancers”, by Chris Wells, Kari Fasting, Diane Daum.
    I have checked each of these activities and it appears that ballet dancing is the only one that can give the wedged shaped toes that SM is said to have had.
    Previously I wasn’t very hot on the hypothesis that SM was a ballet dance, but I am now warming to the idea.

    January 10, 2018
  22. Temperature’s rising over here ..

    January 10, 2018
  23. Byron Deveson #

    Pete, from memory the 2002? Weekend Australian SM case story mentioned that Brown? said that SM had Eastern European dental work and this suggested to the investigating team that SM was from Eastern Europe. I also seem to remember that the story said the RoK was found in a dentist’s car. I don’t have access to the Australian newspaper archives so I can’t confirm this.

    January 10, 2018
    • Byron, regardless of where the RoK was said to to have been found and by whom, there has been no explanation given as to why Leane didn’t give the newspapers the opportunity to photograph it.

      January 10, 2018
  24. Clive #

    If true, In certain areas of dentistry, were the East Germans better than the Soviets? The SM facial photo does seem to suggest his origins were Slavic, Hungary/Bulgaria?

    January 11, 2018
  25. Byron Deveson #

    Pete, yes it does seem strange, but there are many other such instances and they scream “cover up” to me. Always have.

    January 11, 2018
    • Byron, At least with a cover up, when you know what side is doing it, in this case SAPOL, you know what side is the the more likely to have committed the offence that needs covering up.

      January 11, 2018
  26. lewiansto #

    Check out this link and zoom in on the guy kneeling. Does he not bear some resemblance to Robin Thomson, even down to the dodgy teeth?

    January 12, 2018
  27. Clive #

    Lewiansto, Interesting photo, even more so when you learn that the L-B ballet put on displays at the RNSH in the 1930’s. Before Jessie’s time, but still intriguing?

    January 12, 2018
    • lewiansto #

      I did get a bit excited when I saw that they had performes at the Royal North Shore Hospital fetes. Unfortunately as you point out the dates don’t line up. However, some of thr dancers did leave the company and joined/formed new companies in Australia. Will have to do some digging and see if perhaps having a ballet performance at the RNSH fetes continued into the 1940s with other troupes

      January 12, 2018
      • I have two daughters, who, when they were very young decided they loved all things ballet: they took classes and their aunts took them to the shows.
        Jessica was born in 1921, she was a teenager when the dancers were around.

        January 12, 2018
  28. Clive … where did you learn that?

    January 12, 2018
  29. Clive #

    I input Lightfoot-Burlakov First Australian Ballet on Google. Look at: There is a long list of ballet dancers (female/male) and supporting staff-intriguing to say the least!

    January 12, 2018
  30. From what I’ve learnt, male ballet dancers may be divided into two classes: ones that spend most of the bill dancing on the balls of their feet and the leading lights, that is to say those who have mastered dancing en pointe.
    Ballet Rambert Australian tour (1947 – 1949)Ballet Rambert Australian tour (1947 – 1949)

    Years ago someone posed the thought that the code may have been a memory shortcut for a ballet repertoire …

    January 12, 2018
  31. Clive #

    So, a possible scenario was that Jessie, being a teenager 15/16 in late 1930’s. Interested in ballet and classes etc, attended a L-B show, was introduced to members of the company, and one male in particular, caught her eye? All a mite far fetched, perhaps?

    January 12, 2018
    • Too soon for speculation, Clive, short cuts are off the menu.

      January 12, 2018
  32. Byron Deveson #

    Two or three years ago somebody who could have been one of Jessie’s relatives claimed that when Jessie was young she had run off “to join the circus”, or something similar. I remember reading somewhere that the second line (what’s the technical term?) male dancers would often make ends meet by working in other entertainment areas. This is the reason I was (and still are) interested in Jock Armstrong the “speciality dancer” with Worth’s Circus who seemed to be well known in Glenelg in 1935.

    January 12, 2018
  33. Clive #

    Anybody seen a photo of a Georges Georghieff, Born 24-07-1900, a Bulgarian citizen. Arrived in Sydney on “Orcades” 18-12-1939.

    January 14, 2018
  34. Clive #

    I think he is on the back row, L-R he is the 16th man, tall with a hat? Was a wardrobe manager(?) ex-dancer?

    January 15, 2018

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