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Police Constable John Moss –

Who are we dealing with here?

What sort of man was Police Constable John Moss? What do you imagine he was? A chinless wonder with no hope of promotion, the station stooge, the butt of all jokes? Or was he something different altogether? Intelligent, clear-sighted, physically strong, exact in his work and happy in the job.

Pick one.

For over seventy years we’ve been lead to believe that not only did Moss miss finding the matches, he also missed finding the Tamam Shud slip. Well, now we all know about the matches and how they weren’t there in the first place, it’s time to look at the TS slip problem from PC Moss’ position.

By the time Moss had to make his deposition the TS slip had been reported as found in the fob pocket of the trousers he’d searched over six months earlier. This no doubt had him the butt of all manner of sarcastic comment amongst his colleagues  ..  we’ve all seen the movie where cops are portrayed as mean-spirited and mob-handed when it comes to taking the piss out of a colleague perceived to be a bit of a dill so I’m reckoning Moss copped a fair bit for his corner.

So, here he is sitting down at a table looking at the TS slip, the trousers it was found in and a blank deposition waiting to be completed, witnessed by the Coroner and signed. Detective Sergeant Leane no doubt in close attendance, maybe all the Homicide dicks were in the room to watch the show. Canney, Brown, Strangeways, Gollan – the whole crew. Chuckle chuckle chuckle they chuckled, waiting for the moment of truth.

But the not so intimidated Police Constable John Moss knew exactly what to write.

Not, ‘I could not find the slip of paper with the words “Tamam Shud”.

He wrote, ‘I did not find the slip of paper with the words “Tamam Shud”.

There is more than a subtle difference.

Then he might have given them the same finger he used to search the fob pocket.

You know it makes sense.

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clive #

    Perhaps PC Moss should have written: On the day that I examined the trousers, I did not find the slip of paper with the words “Tamam Shud”?

    May 2, 2022
  2. Byron Deveson #

    From memory Moss was soon moved to a less desirable posting. Payback?

    May 3, 2022
  3. Bloke had the courage to directly contradict his boss, DS Leane … and here we are 70 plus years later still believing something was found with the body when it wasn’t. I wonder what Feltus might think about that, not that I’m going to draw his attention to it. The more I re-read his book the more I realise the influence he was under when writing it.

    May 3, 2022
  4. The Sly Dog #

    It is interesting that we focus so much one the things that Moss reported that he found and what he did not find on SM on that fateful morning… also on his deposition (did he write that was was his deposition spoken and transcribed by a stenographer??) When Moss was called down to the beach it wasn’t an obvious crime scene, just some well dressed man dead on the beach. No signs of foul play or suspicious items in his vicinity. People turn up dead in unexpected places of natural causes more often than is reported in the press – now and I’m sure back then; when they have sufficient ID on them next of kin can be contacted and the business of finding out why they died, if not a victim of foul play, isn’t really of public interest and a private matter for next of kin to make the necessary next arrangements.
    It seems reasonable that Moss established SM was dead, did an inventory of the area around the body looking for anything sus, and with that done undertook an external pat down of the clothing looking for the sign of items in pockets… a macro search if you like, looking for a wallet or ID as the first priority. Items like chewing gum, combs, cigarette packs, etc.. would be felt from an external pat down, and pulled from the pockets and also happened to reveal other items like the train and bus tickets also in those pockets. An external pat down of the fob pocket area would be much less likely to detect a small rolled piece of paper that for all intents and purposes might feel like a seam of his slacks or jocks at best. I just can’t see a police officer turning out every single pocket of a dead man’s clothing looking for every single tiny weeny item when at that point time it would have looked like he just peacefully passed away… Getting an official declaration of death from a doctor would have also been a priority, so Moss did the right thing and got SM in the SA Police ambulance to an Adelaide hospital.
    The kind of forensic micro search of his clothing discussed in this post is something I think more likely to happen after the autopsy to determine a cause of death comes back with questions / inconclusive and SM’s identity still is not know. In most cases a deceased person would be missed and claimed by their nearest and dearest. The continued press coverage of the SM case was because he was never identified; no one came forward to claim him and their seemed to be a legitimate search by SA Police, helped by the press, to identify him.

    May 4, 2022
  5. Moss did say he ‘searched’ the clothing. A pat down isn’t a search. Whether he or a stenographer typed up his deposition not known.
    A question for you, SlyD, how do you feel about Leane handing all the physical evidence over to Prof Cleland for over two and a half months .. late January to 19 April ?

    May 4, 2022
  6. The Sly Dog #

    I would classify the pat down the first element of the clothing search… pat to find something and then go digging in the pockets. Remember this was down the beach, out in the open most probably with a ring of spectators. He didn’t mention that this was done in the privacy of the ambulance, did he?
    Back in 1948 in sleepy backwater Adelaide what was the status of the SA Police forensic capacity? They didn’t have a dedicated forensic scientific unit… those kind of investigations were out-sourced. The police approached specialists in their field with questions about evidence or questions arising from their cases. The University of Adelaide, like the SA Museum, was a long established institution with a strong scientific track record… why not ask a distinguished Professor to investigate SM’s clothing and other items. I’m sure there would be other cases Cleland was called upon by the SAPOL – has this been looked into?? Anything he could find would be more and only add to what the police found. As for the two and half months; SA Police were busy, DS Leane was a probably busy man and the Professor probably was too… lots of things on their plates. Maybe Leane just didn’t give the task over to Cleland as a high priority.

    May 4, 2022
    • If as you say, it wasn’t an obvious crime scene with no evidence of foul play, why bother the scientific types at all? Surely the autopsy would provide the investigators with all they need.

      May 4, 2022
  7. Pedro #

    You are grasping at straws. “I did not find the paper” is just a statement of fact. “I could not find the paper” would mean he was looking for that specific thing , which of course he was not.

    May 4, 2022
  8. The Sly Dog #

    The day SM was found dead, Moss arrived at the scene… nothing overly suspicious at that stage. Lyon probably hanging around sprouting he saw a drunkard in a stupor in the same spot the nite before. Moss carefully checks the scene and the deceased for any obvious wounds, trauma, ID, items of interest… The body is transported to the hospital and an is performed autopsy a few days later. Results: no obvious cause of death, but bodily specimens are sent to scientific types for further analysis, looking to isolate a poison. This effectively raises the bar a notch, now the circumstances are more suspicious and this is not a natural death. In addition no one comes forward looking for a missing middle aged man that can be confirmed with the likeness of SM, but quite a few are actively investigated and ruled out. Time to expand the circle of investigations. Get DS Leane on board and within a month and a bit of SM turning up dead get the hit with the unclaimed suitcase but the suitcase is just as baffling when it comes to anything within it ID’ing SM. Hmmm… time to call in additional scientific types.

    May 4, 2022
    • …… and then one of South Australia’s most highly qualified microbiologists is asked to come by Prof. Cleland’s rooms to try on the dead man’s slippers, Dr James Cowan. Overkill, or what?

      May 4, 2022
  9. The Sly Dog #

    I have no issues to think the scientific expert number one on the case, Dr Cowan, who has analyzed the blood and guts on SM Day + 1 would have been in contact with scientific expert number ?two?, the Professor in Emeritus of Pathology, who was also asked to consult on the case… a deep-dive into the belongings and suspected belongings of SM with two smart minds consulting on the case is going be better than one? And we probably all snigger at the thought of two grown mean trying on the clothes and shoes, but they probably got a kind of insight you wouldn’t get from just taking measurements, like a tailor.

    May 4, 2022
    • Fair enough. When Cowan visited The US in ‘90 he was sponsored by a fellow microbiologist named Leland Kirk who was not only associated with the Manhattan Project, something he would have in common with Cowan and the Salisbury Weapons Project, he was also a criminologist who nutted out the infamous Fugitive Case .. they made it into a TV series in the 60’s. So there’s reason enough for Cowan to be sorting through the evidence.
      Thanks for your responses, Sdog, prepare yeself for the next post.

      May 4, 2022
  10. The Sly Dog #

    Yep looking forward to your next post… but in the meantime, after Moss’s preliminary search to see what SM had on his person, and before Cleland and Cowan picked through clothing and belongings, isn’t it likely that other SA Police officers also did their own search? Like Sutherland who attended the autopsy and would have had the opportunity to thoroughly check the clothing once they were removed from the body. A couple of thoughts here – these searches also missed the TS slip (if it was always there) and may have uncovered the infamous box of matches (fuse lit… I’m running away!!)

    May 4, 2022
    • Moss said no matches, he was specific. They just appeared out of the blue.

      May 4, 2022
  11. Clive #

    Seems odd that no hat, wallet, timepiece,address were found on the SM, what did he do? throw all these items into the back of another car, with an open window? Or, was he the victim of a late night attack, hence the abrasions on his right hand?

    May 4, 2022
  12. The Sly Dog #

    And PC Moss went back to the Brighton Police station after dropping SM at the City Morgue via the RAH and had nothing else to do with the investigation until his sitting at the inquest. How would he know.
    Now a handkerchief in SM’s pocket not mentioned by Moss but listed by Leane… imagine the invisible ink that might have been written on that!

    May 5, 2022
  13. Given that Cowan accompanied Cleland in searching the clothes and possessions of TSM by reason of his interest in criminology – re his visit to the US in 1940, surely you would expect the same enthusiasm when he was (1) testing for poisons and (2) analysing the black powder shaken from the particle brush. Cowan however disappointed on both …

    May 6, 2022

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