The Somerton Man’s suitcase and its forgotten fingerprints
Fingerprints. How the police love them. Fingerprints have solved more cases than can be counted, they are invaluable, they short-cut investigations and hasten convictions, they prove the self-claimed innocent as guilty, they strike defence lawyers dumb and please prosecutors and overworked magistrates.
Fingerprints = Guilty = Case Closed.
The Somerton Man had his prints taken a couple of days after he was found and a few weeks later they were forwarded to all the English speaking countries: Scotland Yard, The RCMP (Canada), the FBI, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, then the mammoth task of sending copies to every police station in Australia. That’s fingerprints for you. They solve cases, save time, save money, save frustration, save reputations, save the innocent and solve mysteries. So what’s not to love about them?
Because somebody didn’t love the Somerton Man’s prints in the way they should have been.
DS Leane showed up at the Adelaide Railway Station on January 14th to have a look at an unclaimed suitcase thought to belong to the Somerton Man in that it had been lodged the same day as one of the tickets found in his pocket. It had been sitting in the luggage racks for six weeks and according to some sources was unlocked even though almost new. File that under questionable.
The suitcase held a cornucopia of identifiable items fingerprint wise but DS Leane preferred to adopt a different approach in his efforts to identify who owned it and instead took a few bits and pieces back to the station to be photographed and distributed to the press.
A tie that showed a name. T. Keane.
Three items that showed a trade. The Tools.
And an item that showed the type of cotton thread he used to sew on his loose buttons. The Barbour Thread.
This motley collection, according to Detective Sergeant Leane, was all SAPOL needed to identify the Somerton Man as the owner of the suitcase and nobody raised a whisper. Not the press, his fellow officers, his superiors or the generally well-informed public.
Nobody got onto a rooftop and shouted “WHATABOUT FINGERPRINTS?”
That’s the point where the case lost its investigative purpose, especially when you look at the highly experienced personnel involved: Detectives Gollan, Brown, Canney, Strangeways, Leane, PC Sutherland and lastly, Mr James Durham – fingerprinter par excellence.
Not a whisper from any of them, not a whisper from Gerry Feltus either. If ever there was a case for Mum’s The Word this was it.
There is only one reason for not fingerprinting any of the hard-surface items found in the suitcase and that’s because they wouldn’t have found any belonging to the Somerton Man, and that to coin a Boxall aphorism, would have upset the applecart.
The applecart nearly everybody is still pushing.
You know it makes sense.