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It has to be said, nobody but nobody could have been as incompetent as Detective Sergeant Leane of the South Australian Police.

Detective Sergeant Lionel Leane was the son of Brigadier General Sir Raymond Lionel Leane, CB, CMG, DSO & Bar, MC, VD, JP (12 July 1878 – 25 June 1962), a man described by war historian Charles Bean as “the foremost fighting leader” in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and “the head of the most famous family of soldiers in Australian history”, among other accolades and who, after the war, served as Commissioner of the South Australia Police from 1920 to 1944, for which he was Knighted.

One can only assume that Detective Sergeant Lionel Leane, given his subsequent record (see below), got his DS rank and rather ordinary, non- investigative plainclothes job as an administrator come office dogsbody at SAPOL due to his illustrious father’s influence, because some of his decisions with regard to the Somerton Body Case defy logic.

For instance:

A week after receiving the Rubaiyat from Chemist Freeman, Leane engaged Naval Intelligence to help decipher the code, but rather than send them the book itself, Leane had the code photographed, marked up to enhance the quality, photographed again and that was what was sent away to the cryptographers. Sent away with a ‘similar’ copy of the book.

One can only assume that DS Leane, completely unqualified in cryptography as he was, concluded there could not possibly be a link of any description between the code and the book it was written on. I tried this question on Nick Pelling some time back, him being a noted cryptographer with an interest in the case, and after some delay he admitted he was in complete agreement with Leane’s seemingly illogical conclusion, though I feel his response was more subjective than objective, knowing the bald one as I do. He doesn’t like me and the feeling is happily mutual.

And as if the above wasn’t bad enough, Leane decided that it was in nobody’s interest to photograph either the book or the page the TS slip was torn from, he left that task to the local newspaper who dummied up one of each after they had a little chat. They’re the photos we’ve been looking at for over 70 years and if you don’t believe me read Gerry Feltus’ book, provided you can get a copy.

Then you have the unedifying spectacle of a portly Professor Cleland accompanied by the State’s senior chemical and explosive analyst (Cowan) trying on the dead man’s shoes and slippers, his coat! All done in the quest of determining whether these items did in fact belong to the Somerton Man. And no, this is not a Monty Python sketch. This, we are led to believe, is how the South Australian Police went about their business in identifying bodies 1949, and if you think I’m kidding, read on. Meanwhile let’s not forget that during this (staged?) pantomime Cleland discovered the Taman Shud slip in the fob pocket of trousers SM was wearing, the slip that good old old PC Moss didn’t find, like the box of Bryant and May matches he didn’t find either but DS Leane did.

Further, and as a further affront to our sensibilities, Leane waited nearly two months before deciding to publish a photo of the Tamam Shud slip, and if you think all the above is bad form there is MUCH MUCH MORE!


All those bright and shiny personal objects found in his suitcase? Not good enough to bother ace fingerprinter Jimmy Durham thought Leane. The Rubaiyat itself? Why bother young James thought Leane. The ‘almost new’ suitcase? What’s the point thought Leane. The cigarette pack found on his body? Not worth disturbing Durham thought Leane. Not only that, if Leane was reporting progress on the case to his SAPOL superiors, as I’m sure he was, they were incapable of seeing how badly he was doing, all of them, and all the way up the SAPOL chain of command because apparently nobody got back to Leane, asked him to pull his socks up and do what he was being paid to do. Investigate.

So what are we looking at?

Incompetence on a grand scale?

Or a grand multitude of signs that demonstrated somebody in a higher authority needed the police investigation to fail, and in order to achieve that objective they put the least able detective in charge of the case.

Note: for those who might be unaware of the relevance of the phrase ‘Higher Authority’, Jessica Thomson’s daughter, Kate, said in a television interview that her mother had mentioned that the final decisions in the case were the responsibility of such an authority, though she failed to say who they were.


5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clive #

    Raymond must have had a lot of influence to help Lionel up the ladder. How anyone can be that incompetent beggars believe, then again as long as Lionel could write his name, that was probably all that was required. With Lionel in charge, the police investigation could only go in one direction-down the toilet, an outcome the ‘higher authority’ no doubt celebrated

    January 25, 2022
    • Detective Sgt isn’t that far up the ladder when your old man sat at the top as Commissioner for so long, add to that Feltus described him as an administrator of Detectives prior to being put in charge of the SM case .. a desk jockey, about as far away from actual policing as you could get. Lucky old Lionel. If anyone was susceptible to a little official pressure he had the family connections to make him compliant.
      I remember singing that song to Misca about a dozen years ago.

      January 25, 2022
  2. Clive #

    I suppose in the Leane family, everything was relative.

    January 26, 2022
  3. It is I #

    Leaving nepotism out for a second (how he got there might not be so important), I think there’s some interesting evidence to suggest that Leane was rough around the edges and very disorganised:
    – Brown re Leane’s “filing system”
    – Leane with the coarse “….poison like what them n*****s put on their spear tips”
    – Leane talks about finding a syringe nearby (when would he find it? he wasn’t at the original scene)

    At best Leane is unreliable. He doesn’t seem to record things properly, but seems to be the type of person who would answer a question by filling in the gaps rather than admit “to be honest, we don’t know”. Without needing to allege too much incompetence a lot of things can get befuddled simply because someone gives an answer where there isn’t one – and maybe this goes to the box of matches, the cigarette….the other inconsistencies in people’s statements – how many of them are inconsistent with Leane?

    Working off the doco from the 1970s, Brown comes across as measured – very proud to be the centre of attention, but measured and prepared to say “well this was weird, but we don’t know”. Leane is measured but in a coarser way. Where Brown tries to be the official controlling the situation, Leane is more blase and is happy to make remarks on his own opinion (and drop suggestions) – but is reluctant to commit to specifics. Even the “Coopers Sparkling for Leane” that is scrawled in the paperwork for the documentary speaks volumes to me (although I’m kinda not sure what it is loudly saying me)

    January 27, 2022
  4. Clive #

    I suppose it’s possible that Lionel, faced with a daunting task, spoke to Raymond. Raymond advised Lionel to ‘go along with the flow’, in other words don’t try too hard and, if not sure about anything, just make something up?

    January 27, 2022

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