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Where to now with Jessica Harkness’ involvement?

You can’t say that things haven’t been developing quickly with the Somerton Body Case.


First we had the Abbott / Fitzpatrick Revelation where it was found there was Thomson DNA present in Rachel Egan’s DNA makeup, effectively kiboshing DA’s hopeful claims of linking his children to the Somerton Man and the probability of even more publicity than he has already achieved over the last ten or so years.


Then we had the astounding news that the Somerton Man had an identity. Enter Charles Carl Webb. Allied to this was the opportunity to read his wife Dorothy’s account of an unsuccessful suicide attempt Webb had made some years prior to arriving in Adelaide. Dorothy also recorded his liking for poetry and a morbid fixation with death, all of which could provide an explanation for him being linked to the Rubaiyat ‘The Suicide’s Handbook‘ and Cleland finding the torn and tightly rolled Tamam Shud Slip in his fob pocket.

The End indeed.


I think it was Jo who posted a brief comment on Cipher last month about a phone number appearing in a classified Melbourne ad she found on Trove, asking what was to be made of it. I’ve spent twenty minutes looking for the post amongst the 300 plus comments but gave up. The phone number Jo mentioned was X3239.

Jo noted that the number was for a Melbourne based physical culture instructress named Wilson.

It seems that every state had their own phone numbering system as X3239 was also the listed number of Sister Thomson (aka Jessica Harkness) of 90a Moseley Street.

As a result of Jo’s finding, Jessica’s connection to the Somerton Body Case might now be questioned..

It’s surprising Paul Lawson didn’t make a connection between Webb’s remarkable physique and the existence of the many successful physical culture schools in Australia, even Adelaide had its share of them from as far back as 1921 (see pic).

This is where we ascend into the universe of speculation once again because if the phone number we have always associated with Harkness / Thomson was in fact evidence of Webb’s contact with fellow Melbournian Ms Wilson then all we have left to link Harkness to the Somerton Body case is her reaction to seeing his bust, remembering at the time she was in the company of three senior policemen as well as Paul Lawson and was no doubt being subjected to a barrage of questions.

Little wonder when Alf Boxall learnt of what must have been quite an ordeal he commented that Jessica must have had ‘great courage, tremendous courage.’

Vol. 2, no. 10 (7th April, 1921)

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jo #

    David Morgan had asked, what if x3239 was a number for another state? I’d already looked into this and so replied, on 1 November:

    “@ David X3239 in Middle Brighton, Victoria, seems to be someone involved in “physical culture” – often looking for help with the home & children. X3239 also comes up on searches as tender number and a tool part. I think the interest in the Adelaide number has been because it was for a home & person so close to where SM was found…”

    We haven’t been able to find out who Ms Wilson is yet! She also advertised for a house swap in 1946, to relocate to Kew…

    From this description she could have been at 3/29 Seacombe Grove, Brighton, a beautiful block of art deco flats, opposite the beach.

    She may have been English, as she mentions an English diploma when advertising her physical culture credentials:

    November 4, 2022
    • Jo, there is the possibility she advertised her business, problem being we don’t know what it was called. Do you know if Melbourne had a Yellow Pages business directory then?

      November 4, 2022
      • Jo #

        Hi Pete – t0 my knowledge the Sands and McDougall Directory is the closest to that type of thing for the 1940s. The State Library of Victoria don’t have a complete set online. Ms Wilson isn’t listed under Physical Culture for 1944-5 (there are 17 gyms listed) and all of the apartment buildings on Seacombe Grove don’t have resident details. They are: 29 Ostend Flats, 33 Seacombe Flats and 37 Gladstone Flats.

        November 4, 2022
        • Nice try Jo ..

          November 4, 2022
        • Jo #

          Sadly not the Ostend Appartments – they were only built in 1934 and the physical culture instructress ad is from 1931. They are very beautiful apartments though!

          November 5, 2022
          • a lurker #

            @Jo: Vic does have some searchable Sands and Mac online – from memory in 5 year intervals (so there’s a 1945 one and a 1950 one).

            November 8, 2022
  2. Jerry Klindt #

    The Adelaide Advertiser dated July 27, 1949 says that the woman (Jessica) couldn’t say whether or not the body was that of Boxall. Obviously, the newspaper account doesn’t address her reaction or state of mind. The newspaper account also says that it was pointed out (presumably by the police, although the source is not given) that the unidentified man’s appearance had altered materially before the cast was made. I would assume Jessica was given that same disclaimer before or as she viewed the cast.
    The military photo of Boxall has a strong resemblance to Carl’s photo taken at the morgue. Jessica hadn’t seen Boxall for three or so years. So it wouldn’t be surprising if she said the body might be Boxall but she couldn’t be sure.
    Boxall later said he and Jessica only met a couple of times by chance when they were at the same social events. That might be true, but she remembered a lot about him for such limited interaction. My guess is they had more interaction that Boxall didn’t want to talk about. If, that’s IF, they were banging like a screen door in a hurricane in 1945, she would have had an emotional attachment to Boxall that could have left her looking like she was about to faint when considering that Boxall might be the unidentified body.
    That’s a lot of coincidences. A Melbourne number that is duplicated in Adelaide belongs to somebody (Jessica) who lived a short walk from where the body was found. When asked whether she owned a copy of the Rubaiyat, she honestly said not now, but she once had a copy and gave it to a guy in Sydney. The guy in Sydney turns out to look a lot like the dead guy. That’s a lot.
    The newspaper link has been posted before, but for convenience:

    November 4, 2022
  3. Thanks for that JK, though it has always had me wondering why Lawson specifically remembered Jessica saying NO to all the questions the police put to her in that little room in the museum without saying what the questions were. The fellow after all had quite a good memory of that day as we know.

    November 4, 2022
  4. Eligh #

    Hi, this is my first post… I’ve been following along for a while and thought I’d add my 2 cents.

    I downloaded the hi-res Rubiyat ‘code’ from DA’s primary source page. When zooming in, it is possible to see faint markings or indentations including the phone number x3239, “Jessie” (or part thereof) written at least four times, and what appears to be an M under the disputed first code letter. I’ve uploaded an image showing where to find these markings.

    To find the writing, I suggest downloading the unmarked hi-res photo from DA’s site and spending some time squinting at it. Try zooming in and out; it seems to help. Try using different screens (my phone was ok, but a good monitor is much better). There are more letters to find in different parts of the image.

    A few things that I noticed… The “Jessie” handwriting appears feminine to me. The dot on the “i” is a circle with a cross in it (hug kiss?). There are more “i dots” scattered around, which could be separate doodling, or part of faint “Jessie”s.

    I’m not sure whether the “x” at the start of the phone number is actually part of the number, or whether it’s one of these “i dots” that happens to be next to the number.

    Perhaps a piece of paper had been placed on the cover of the Rubiyat, which provide a backing surface for writing, and the indentations transferred to the cover underneath. This could have occurred multiple times. Remember when phones had cords and you had to sit in one place to speak to someone? We always had a notepad near the phone; it quickly filled up with doodling, and each member of the household seemed to have a distinctive doodling style. Perhaps that’s what’s going on here?

    Perhaps the police noticed the name “Jessie” and assumed Prosper was not involved (hence no investigation in that direction)?

    Was Carl the first owner of the Rubiyat, or does the apparently feminine writing suggest Jessie was the first owner? If Jessie, did she write her number on the back, and give it to Carl?

    Cheers, Eligh.

    Not my real name; I’m averse to publishing identifying details on the web…. And it’s not because I have a temperamental, controlling, depressive, suicidal, knife-wielding ex-lover looking for me… 😉

    November 5, 2022
    • Eligh #

      Hi, adding two more images of my ‘ROK word searches’.

      I’ve found it interesting to observe the following:
      1. “Jessie x3239” is inscribed several times
      2. The “i dot” is styled as an x inside a circle, which doubles as the start of the phone number, and could also represent hug kiss. It seems feminine.
      3. There are several treble clefs

      My working theories at present (putting them out there for comment/support/refuting):
      a. “Jessie” at “x3239” is definitely connected to the Freeman ROK
      b. Jessie possessed the F-ROK for some time, judging by the number of markings
      c. When police found “a number” on the back of the F-ROK, I had assumed until now that it was written once. However, the number is written multiple times.
      d. Jessie wrote her name and contact number on another piece (or perhaps several pieces) of paper, laid on the cover of the F-ROK as a supporting surface
      e. She may have given these pieces of paper, with her contact details, to others (new acquaintances in her new city? friends met at social gatherings? advertising a home business?)
      f. x3239 was not written on the F-ROK by police. There are many instances, written in a particular stylised manner. IMHO this is not consistent with a policeman writing down a number on the F-ROK because it was conveniently on his desk.
      g. Jessie was a musician, probably with some experience and knowledge of theory.
      In my experience (as a player of several instruments), writing musical symbols such as the treble clef is usually learned after being able to read and play music.
      h. Assuming F-ROK Jessie x3239 is the same person as Jess Thomson at x3239, who is also JEstyn on the Boxall B-ROK, perhaps she mentioned the Boxall B-ROK as a way of trying to distance herself from the F-ROK (and thereby distance herself from the man found on the beach).

      “I’m still Jessie from the ROK…”

      ROK on.

      November 12, 2022
    • Eligh #

      Hi again, my eyeballs are beginning to go googly with these ‘word searches’. I thought I’d try looking closely at the Boxall Rubaiyat…. the highest res image I could find was on blogspot. When I started looking, I was surprised (and a bit excited!) to find more “Jessie”s. Since Jessica Harkness admitted giving the ROK to Alf Boxall, I think…

      i. The B-ROK has the same (very) faint “Jessie” impressions as the F-ROK. That positively identifies JH as the owner of both.

      k. I expected not to find x3239 on the B-ROK. I was under the impression that this book was gifted to Alf Boxall in Sydney, before JH had moved to Adelaide and gotten the x3239 phone number. However, I think (tentatively) that I can see one x3239 on the B-ROK. Not 100% sure at this stage. Maybe I’m dreaming.

      I’d appreciate if someone with a keen eye, patience, and tenacity, could also have a go at the ‘Rubaiyat word searches’. The best thing would be to start with the unmarked images, spend a couple of hours (over a few sittings), and begin to trace the impressions in (for example) Paint. See what markings you can identify. Then perhaps we would have two independent searches to compare.


      November 14, 2022
    • Eligh #

      And now the most exciting find so far… (world first?)

      Since I’d looked at the F-ROK and B-ROK, why not try to find an image of the Tamam Shud slip and take a squiz? Lo and behold… more trademark “Jessie” indentations, and the phone number.

      Jessie’s name is all over this case…


      November 14, 2022
  5. A worthy contribution to the House of Speculation, Eligh.

    November 5, 2022
  6. misca #

    Posted on Facebook.

    The full pathologist’s report was released to the public in 2019 and can be read here:

    It includes notes at the end that I don’t think we’ve seen before?

    November 6, 2022
    • Nice work misca and hands up anyone who wants to transcribe it, the bloke writes like a doctor.
      And I read that the Rubaiyat was found in a utility vehicle ??

      November 6, 2022
      • misca #

        Apparently, this report (with notes) has been posted before. I had not seen it and find it interesting. Apologies if my reposting of something recently seen on Facebook is now being muddles into further confusion.

        November 7, 2022
  7. misca #

    “Sandra P. van Tongeren
    I don’t know where to adress this in the group. I found a file that is said to be a “pathology report” on this website, but it seems to be a police report from detective Brown to the coroner. I don’t see the file anywhere in the primary case material. Is this report known? Derek Abbott?”

    November 6, 2022
  8. Jo #

    Thanks to Clive, X3239 seems to have belonged to Flat 3, Gladstone Court, 19 Seacombe Grove, Brighton. There are ads for other apartments, with different phone numbers. We know that Mrs F Wilson lived there in 1931. She is also possibly the person advertising for help with children and the home, seeking and selling prams etc in the 1940s and also seeking an apartment swap to Kew in 1946. It would be good to know if the Wilsons were still there in the 1940s and what Mr Wilson did… It could be another herring… Gladstone Court is no longer around, there is now a house, possibly once belonging to the late John Ilfhan, of Crazy John’s phones fame!

    November 6, 2022
  9. Clive #

    The pathologist reports on certain drugs, which could have been used by Carl Webb. It’s been mentioned before, but was it just a coincidence that a local chemist (Freeman) was involved in finding the Rubaiyat? Found, per notes on the pathologist’s report, not in a car, but in an ‘utility’ vehicle? What vehicle would be classed as an ‘Utility’ vehicle in the late 1940s? If Freeman was more ‘involved’ in this case, did he plead some type of ‘fifth amendment’ to the authorities as a get out clause?

    November 8, 2022
  10. Clive #

    See Adelaide. “The Advertiser” 28 May 1947 Page 18. Both adverts, below, were on the same page:
    (1) WANTED desperately, by ex-AIF man, car, any type, for business, utility will do, can pay cash 75-200 Pounds. Will inspect anywhere city or country, if full particulars given. Thomson Box 953H GPO Adelaide

    (2) A well kept 25 H.P. 4 door sedan, well shod, consider any trade-in, balance terms, NSPR 190 Pounds. Webb, 41 Fullarton Rd. (No telephone number given)

    Possible it could be ‘the’ Webb?

    November 8, 2022
  11. Clive #

    Re: Webb, 41 Fullarton Road, unfortunately, his initials were A.G.

    November 8, 2022
    • Too many Webbs spoil the plot.

      November 8, 2022
      • Clive #

        Could have been called Smith!

        November 8, 2022
        • misca #

          Outlived our guy too.

          14 December, 1948

          “A LATE model sedan, very good, 35 m.p.g, for quick sale. £425 or offer, consider terms or trade in., Webb. 41 Fullarton rd.”

          November 10, 2022

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