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25 The part fingerprinter Patrick James Durham wasn’t asked to play in the Somerton Man case.

A Royal Marine, deserter, wanted man, Australian Soldier, Gallipoli veteran, injured Prisoner of War and then South Australian 
Police expert and a gentleman!  

Durham was born in 1889 in Warrington, an industrial town in the north west of England, the oldest son of a brewery labourer and who later became one of Australia’s best known fingerprint experts and was described in the Adelaide press as being regarded as the most capable finger print expert in the country.

South Australian Police Historical Society – Information supplied by Michael Sherrington, Durham’s great nephew in the UK. (link)


On the 14th of January 1949, six weeks after the Somerton Man’s body was found, Detective Sergeant Leane examined a suitcase left unclaimed at Adelaide Railway Station and after taking several items back to his office to be mounted and photographed (pic) he waited until January 19th before taking possession of the suitcase and its contents for examination.

Then ..

“At some stage Leane gave the property to Professor John Cleland of the University of Adelaide.” Feltus.

Cleland didn’t get back to DS Leane until mid April when he informed him that he had found the Tamam Shud slip in the fob pocket of the trousers worn on the body and the assumption is he told Leane at the same time that a microscopic examination of the commonly used Barbour thread, as shown above, was found to be identical to the thread used in repairs made to the deceased’s clothing.

This was the sole basis used by the police in proving the suitcase and its contents belonged to the Somerton Man.

The following is a list of certain articles found in the suitcase:

One knife in a sheath. One scissors in a sheath. One stencil brush. One cigarette lighter. One razor. One razor strop. One small screwdriver. Six pencils. One toothbrush. One glass dish. One soap dish. One can of Kiwi boot polish.

It appears that at no stage of the investigation was Jimmy Durham asked to fingerprint any of these articles despite his well known ability to lift prints from almost any surface and despite that the articles listed would have held prints clearly and that he would have quickly come up with a clear, unambiguous result well before Clenand completed his long delayed, microscopic examination of the threads. And it’s not as if Durham wasn’t available at the time as he was asked to take a set of fingerprints off the body.

Just as confounding was what wasn’t found in the suitcase: spare socks, a brush used for applying the polish to his shoes and a polishing cloth to raise their shine.

It’s been said often that proof the suitcase and its contents belonged to the Somerton Man hangs by a thread and that’s not an exaggeration by any means. But it didn’t have to be that way.

Down to you, RC .. legend.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clive #

    Probably simple answer is that none of the items in the suitcase had any fingerprints that were compatible to the SM’s fingerprints. And, I’m sure the authorities knew that at that time.

    September 16, 2021
  2. Clive #

    Possible that the authorities were responsible for the contents of the suitcase in the first place?

    September 16, 2021
    • It would seem that way, Clive, and whoever they were had the governmental seniority to dictate certain aspects of the police investigation. However, to do so would mean a certain amount of confidentiality was necessary, in other words, look at the copper who ran the show.

      September 16, 2021

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