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A cover up or conspiracy? Arguments for and against.

I’m hijacking this discussion from Cipher Mysteries as it will no doubt soon be lost amongst the hundreds of comments in Pelling’s Misc Stuff category and to my mind questions such as these are to valuable to be left categorised as such.

The discussion on CM is ongoing and it’s my attention to update this thread as we go along, if we go along.


The first question put is if Gordon Strapps’ memory of the style of trousers on the man he was watching can be believed.

Milongal is a longtime contributor to the discussions on CM and my earlier attempts to engage him here reaped no reward. Which was not surprising as back in the bad old days I took everyone head-on with no regard to their feelings. Ask John Ruffles and Derek Abbott. I suppose you could put that down to too many years of contributing to the rough-houses that comprised surfing blog fraternities.


Milongal’s argument against a cover up or conspiracy, lifted from CM.

“While I agree there’s a good possibility the “drunk on the beach” wasn’t SM (I find it extraordinary that even Lyons who saw both wasn’t prepared to say he thought they were same), I think the stripes vs plain trousers is potentially just confused witnesses.”

“As I think I’ve ranted previously this is one of the reasons I struggle with too many ideas of conspiracy or cover up.”

The argument for a cover up or conspiracy.

There is no doubt that on occasion witnesses have been confused when asked to recall a situation in some detail: the colour or make of a car involved in a hit-run accident for instance, or the description of persons involved in a crime before they fled.

However the situation with Strapps was different. His deposition states he arrived at the top of the steps with Ms Neill about 7:20 pm and stayed until about 8:00 pm –  and it’s noted that daylight saving was not in use in Adelaide between 1945 and 1948   – which puts Adelaide’s sunset on the evening in question at about 7: 15 pm.

From Strapps’ deposition:

“I noticed a man lying there when we got there. When I walked down the stairs, I noticed he was there. I could only see him from the waist downwards. He was lying on his back. When I walked along the landing I saw his left hand, and it was stretched out.”

“When I walked along the landing!”

Image sourced from and from an article by Lisa Zyga. “He was laying adjacent to the steps in front of the Crippled Children’s Home within a yard of the steps.” Witness Lyons.

“I thought they (the striped trousers) belonged to a suit, although I did not see his coat.”

I don’t consider Gordon Strapps as being confused at all. I see a curious young man with a sharp eye and a good memory of events.

“It was getting dusk at the time. When we left at 8 o’clock, the street lights were on. We could still see 20 yards away I suppose. The man was lying on his back when we arrived there. He was on his back all the time we were there, he did not shift to his side at any time. I shd say we were about ten yards from him, on his south-east. I think we would have been in a position to hear him if he coughed, as we kept on taking glances at him. We were curious but not suspicious. We did not hear any sound at all.”

“They (his legs) were straight out when we got there, not crossed. I only took a casual glance when I walked up the steps, his left leg had been dragged up, taking it up the sand a bit.”

And as far as Witness Lyon’s testimony is concerned, he viewed the man lying by the steps from a much greater distance.

Taken from Lyon’s deposition:

“He was laying adjacent to the steps in front of front of the Crippled Children’s Home within a yard of the steps. It was in quite an open position. I shd say the closest I was to the man was 15 to 20 yards, on the beach.”


The second question, put by пожалуйста who is better known here as English Boris from Yekaterinburg, is whether what appears to be a cover up or conspiracy is simply due to the SA police’s lax investigative processes.

English Boris’ argument against a cover up or conspiracy, lifted from CM.

“If there’s a cover up at work, isn’t it most likely to be covering up plod’s own shortcomings?”

”  .. but it’s hard to judge if these (the long timelines) are even unusual for the time, let alone indicative of letting a cover up happen.”

The argument for a cover up or conspiracy.

Detective Sergeant Leane headed up a large team of dedicated-case detectives. Hardened, knowledgable and experienced men used to case deadlines and, no doubt, over-used to the reams of paperwork that a case produces. Paperwork that is filed and kept so as to be easily accessible in the first months of a crime or suspected crime. Particularly when murder is suspected.

The following is taken from DS Leane’s deposition.

“There is no fact that I know of which points towards suicide and abolishes the possibility of murder.”

And if I could paraphrase that:

“There is no fact that I know of which points towards carelessness and abolishes the possibility of a cover up with regard to the timeline concerning DS Leane’s 51 day delay in producing what proved to be the most crucial piece of case evidence.”


Hopefully we will be able to continue this post tonight with a further discussion about the appearance as evidence of a box of Bryant and May matches.

My thanks to Milongal, NickP and Boris for the opportunity to engage – all’s fair in love and conspiracies.

Any mistakes in context are mine.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clive #

    So, did Gordon Strapps walk down all the steps onto the beach or, just down a few steps?

    September 19, 2020
    • He walked down the steps to the landing, the level area where the seat was situated .. see pic, at no stage did he or Ms Neill go any further down.

      September 19, 2020
  2. пожалуйста #

    Hi Pete, you continue to raise thorny issues indeed. I can well see where you’re coming from on this – trousers as well as delays – but all I’m doing is counselling caution. Conspiracy and cover up are, in my humble opinion, all too easily indicated… after all, we humans look for cause for every effect we see, supposing there must be one over which someone, somewhere had conscious control. Without this belief, our edifice of an ordered world crumbles and we become too conscious of that cold, dispassionate universe out there.

    So, to specifics. You say:

    “Detective Sergeant Leane headed up a large team of dedicated-case detectives. Hardened, knowledgeable and experienced men used to case deadlines and, no doubt, over-used to the reams of paperwork that a case produces. Paperwork that is filed and kept so as to be easily accessible in the first months of a crime or suspected crime. Particularly when murder is suspected.”

    Without more data and information (which you may well have!) much of this reads like interpretation and supposition.

    Did DS Leane head up a large team? Were they dedicated to this case? How do the team size and working arrangements compare to other, similar cases? You’ll probably be able to evidence that from Feltus (book and/or subsequent conversation).

    Were the men (and women?) working with DS Leane really “hardened, knowledgeable and experienced”? How many similar cases had they worked? How well was SAPOL institutionally able to handle a case like this? Were these people “used to case deadlines” and the “reams of paperwork”. In fact, do we know if the case ever did generate those reams? There’s no evidence of it left, I understand.

    You’re right to say that the 51 day gap (you call it a delay) stinks when viewed from our perspective. But we don’t have the case files to determine what else might have been happening in that gap.

    Are there any comparable cases that could provide a comparative timeline, just so we can see if SM is an outlier?

    Finally, the lines you quote from Leane’s deposition are interesting. They flatly contradict what he told Stuart Littlemore 30 years later, by which time SM had – in his opinion – injected himself with curare. Now why would he think a thing like that?

    Sorry, I know this advances the cause not one iota. Nor is it intended to deny your interpretation may be correct.

    I know you hate a “maybe”. But: maybe.

    September 20, 2020
    • Thanks for the response, Boris, your English is improving as each day passes.

      .. to continue

      Coroner Cleland – “Although he died during the night of the 30th November – 1st December, I cannot say where he died. If the body of the deceased was not that of the man mentioned (seen on the previous evening), and if the body had been taken to the place where it was found, the difficulties disappear.”

      Cleland was on the money, wasn’t he?

      And again …

      Professor John Cleland – “The lividity around the ears and neck was perhaps surprising in view of his position, but it was explainable. It would depend on how much the head was supported, it may have been slight, perhaps no more than one’s head supported on a pillow.”

      And again …

      Professor Sir Stanton Hicks – ” …. If it (the poison) had not been self-administered, and the body brought there (Somerton Beach), that would remove any doubts as to the time at which death took place, as well as any other difficulties.”

      It appears that these men weren’t happy with the lack of results from the police investigation as well.

      Imagine how different their responses might have been if Leane had not waited 51 days to produce the TS slip and chemist Freeman had come forward before the inquest, which would have meant Jessica Harkness’ reaction to seeing the bust would have formed part of their considerations.

      Which has always been my point.

      September 20, 2020
  3. Clive #

    Reading between the ‘lines’, you get the feeling that both Cleland & Hicks both had the feeling that something about this case wasn’t kosher? But, without further evidence their hands were tied? Another thing, why does the front cover of GF’s book show the SM resting against rocks and not a wall?

    September 20, 2020
    • Artistic licence, Clive, .. and he was wearing a brown pullover as well.

      September 20, 2020
  4. пожалуйста #

    There is some confusion online about the “sea wall”. In some sources, the “traditional” (x-marks-the-spot) crime scene photo, also used in Pete’s post above, is described as inaccurate because in 1948, the low wall was in fact a pile of rocks (the wall having been constructed later). Some time ago, I tried to address the lividity / blood-pooling issue using this fact (taking Cleland’s point about the head being lightly supported).

    But now I’m thinking it might be the other way round: the rocks replaced the seawall after 1948.

    Can anyone confirm the actual sequence here?

    September 20, 2020
    • “The deceased was lying on his back with his fee towards the sea, his head and shoulders supported by the sea wall.” That’s from Coroner Cleland’s remarks at the adjournment.

      “There is a seawall up there, and he was leaning up against that, supporting his shoulders and head.” From John Lyon’s deposition.

      “I proceeded to the beach at Somerton, where I saw lying near a sea wall opposite the somerton crippled childrens’ home the body of the deceased which was fully clothed., lying on its back with feet towards the west, with the head resting against the sea wall, slightly inclined to the right.” From PC Moss’ deposition.

      Sea wall / rock wall … can be either or in my experience of tide barriers.

      September 20, 2020
  5. пожалуйста #

    Спасибо for your compliments about my English. Here in Yekaterinburg we are fortunate to have many good teacher.

    Perhaps Cleland & Hicks were indeed on the money. But I’m not sure what currency they were dealing in.

    I have always wondered about Cleland’s curious statement about the difficulty “disappearing” if the body was brought to the beach. Exactly what difficulties disappear in that circumstance? Surely, in that eventuality, Cleland is in exactly the same position: he cannot tell where the deceased died.

    Likewise with Hicks, who claims that non-self-administration of the “poison” would remove any doubts as to the time of death. How?

    It all seems quite poor logic to me and suggests that, more than anything else, these gentlemen were ‘inconvenienced’ by the facts before them.

    September 22, 2020
    • Perhaps Cleland noted what was in Strapps’ deposition re: striped trousers, but decided not to bring it up for notice, thinking he may have been mistaken.

      September 22, 2020
      • Perhaps the police and coroner’s reports are all a whitewash. Maybe Leane got a full identification from Jessica, but when they went to verify her story with the CIS someone stepped in and told them that it all had to be covered up as the Soviets were led to believe that this defector had already died in an accident when he was spirited away under their noses years beforehand? Now he was dead and if his identity came out it could jeopardise the rat line, and the agent who was still there, who had provided the original convincing ‘evidence’ that he was dead?

        September 26, 2020
        • Not sure I follow all that, Pete. Are you suggesting the dead man was a ring-in?

          September 26, 2020
          • No. But probably someone who was supposed to be already dead as far as anyone else knew.

            September 26, 2020

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