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Investigating the Investigation.

November 30, 1948. Witnesses see a man lying by the steps leading to the road on Somerton Beach with his head and shoulders propped up on the rock wall, one saying he appeared to be drunk.

December 1, 1948. A body was found in the same place and in the same position the following morning with a partly smoked cigarette wedged under his chin.

What the police did.

In the initial stages of the case Detective Strangeway at the Glenelg Police Station was delegated the duty of investigating the suspicious death. He was assisted by Detective Gollan and Const. Sutherland.

Jan 8. 1949. Detective Sergeant Leane was placed in charge of Investigation Team which included Gollan, Sutherland and Const. Horsnell.

Jan 11. Detective Brown joined The Investigation Team.

Jan 14. Leane learns of an unclaimed suitcase after he had enquired with Cloak Room staff at Adelaide Station.

Jan 14. Leane visits Cloak Room and examines the unclaimed case and contents, taking possession of some items for ‘checking.’

Jan 18. Leane compiled a comprehensive report for interstate police and media.

Jan 19. Leane took formal possession of the suitcase and together with Brown and plainclothes Const. Bartlett examined the contents. Newspaper reported that Leane identified the card of an unusual brown cotton as being identical with the cotton used to repair the pocket of the dead man’s trousers and to sew buttons on a pair of trousers found in the suitcase.

At some stage Leane visited the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts in an attempt to identify the uses of certain items found in the suitcase.

At some stage Leane visited Hugh Possa, tailor, in an attempt to identify the origin of the coat worn by the dead man.

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

Feb 18. Leane supplied (to the press) two photographs of the Unknown Man, his description, dental details and clothing worn at the time of death.

April 19. Leane informed by Cleland that he had found the TS slip. It was rolled very tightly and put into the fob pocket of the man’s trousers.

At some stage Leane handed the slip to Brown for further investigation.

At some stage Police Roundsman Frank Kennedy informed Brown the words Tamam Shud came from a book called The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

June 8. Brown visited a bookshop where he found a Rubaiyat with the two words Tamam Shud written on the last page.

At some stage Brown found that in a Persian-English dictionary the words Tamam Shud meant ‘to end’ or ‘to finish.’

June 7. Taxidermist Paul Lawson, assisted by Brown and other police removed the body from refrigeration and commenced a mould of the head and body.

June 10. Brown approved of Lawson’s mould.

June 10. Brown submitted a lengthy report to all States.

June 15. Cleland, Brown, Leane and Detective Noblet inspected the mould.

June 16. Lawson handed the cast to Horsnell.

June 17. Inquest commenced.

June 17. Leane swears matches were found on the body.

June 21. Inquest adjourned, awaiting further evidence.

July 4 (abt). Leane’s request that the bust be placed in a room at the South Australian Museum approved, though not for public display.

July 23. Mr Freeman, a Glenelg Chemist, showed Leane a copy of The Rubaiyat with the words Tamam Shud missing that had been found in his car. Leane noticed a telephone number had been written in pencil on the rear cover and using ‘a large magnifying glass’ he saw capital letters written ‘in faint pencil’ on the back of the book.

At some stage Brown stated there were a number of phone numbers written on the back of the Rubaiyat. When interviewed by Stuart Littlemore Brown said he had ascertained that nobody at the second phone number had any knowledge of the dead man.

July 26. Detective Canney interviewed Jessica Harkness, the telephone number’s subscriber.

July 26. Leane and other Detectives escorted Harkness to the museum to view the plaster cast.

July 29. Leane forwarded a photograph of the capital letters and a copy of a similar book to the Director of Naval Intelligence in Melbourne.

August 25. Naval Intelligence responded to Leane, saying they were unsuccessful in interpreting the meaning of the capital letters.

March 14, 1958. Inquest closed for lack of any further evidence.

Police known to have been involved in the investigation: Detective Strangeways, Const. Sutherland, Detective Gollan, Const. Moss, Detective Sergeant Leane, Const. Horsnell, Detective Brown, Plainclothes Const. Bartlett, Detective Noblet, Detective Canney.

All information taken from The Unknown Man by Gerry Feltus. Any mistakes are mine.


What the police failed to do.

Failed to find the Tamam Shud slip

Failed to examine the part-smoked cigarette found on the body to ascertain if it was the same type as those found in the cigarette pack on the body.

Failed to secure the part-smoked cigarette as evidence.

Failed to find the box of matches that was later ‘established’ to be ‘with’ the body.

Failed to immediately alert the press when told by Prof Cleland in April 1949 that he had found the TS slip, thereby delaying any public participation in determining its interpretation and origin.

Failed to remember they had the TS slip for fifty-one days before finally alerting the press to its existence in June 1949, just prior to the inquest.

Failed to have any of the items in the suitcase fingerprinted despite that many of them would have yielded clear results.

Failed to have the Rubaiyat fingerprinted, despite that it had laid undisturbed in Freeman’s car glovebox for six months and was presumably only handled by his brother-in-law before being retrieved and handed over to the investigation.

Failed to have photographs published of the actual Freeman Rubaiyat, thereby delaying any public participation in determining its origin and / or ownership..

Failed to have photographs published of the actual torn page.

Failed to keep the Freeman Rubaiyat secure as it was presumed lost early in the investigation according to then Detective Inspector Len Brown.

Failed to ascertain if there were any maker’s labels on the brown pullover worn on the body or the pyjamas, dressing gown and ties found in the suitcase.

Failed to establish if chemist Freeman or any other local chemists sold the poisons Professor Hicks thought may have been responsible for the death of the Somerton Man.

Failed to check domestic aircraft arrivals in the days prior to finding the body.

Failed to establish if any of the local bakeries sold a pasty to a well-dressed, broad-shouldered man wearing faun trousers, a jacket, brown pullover and striped tie on the night of November 30th.

Failed to make immediate enquiries at the Adelaide Train Station after finding a rail ticket in the dead man’s pocket that had apparently been purchased there the previous day.

Failed to provide Naval Intelligence with the original copy of the Rubaiyat thereby denying them the opportunity of investigating whether the capital letters written on the back cover were in any way related to the book’s content.

Failed to interview Prosper Thomson, cohabitant of 90a Moseley St. and who was also known to use the phone number written on the back of the Rubaiyat for his many classified ads.

Failed to ascertain if Prosper Thomson or Jesssica Harkness had any connection to the second phone number found written on the back of the Rubaiyat.

Failed to ascertain if the premises of the second phone number were connected to the Henley Beach tramways ticket found in the dead man’s pocket.

Failed to submit the finding of important new evidence to the coroner for his consideration.

Failed to make note of the questions asked of Jessica Harkness on July 26 when she was viewing the bust, despite that there were three senior Detectives with her at the time.

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. One more entry into the top group was when Cleland had a “penny drop” moment and asked Lawson to grab the engine room up top. As soon as Leane got word of this he said something like “No No No No, shut the lid and dig the hole! QUICK”!

    February 11, 2023
    • You’re talking about Cleland wanting to remove his brain, right?

      February 11, 2023
      • I am Peter. Why would Cleland ask Lawson, to bypass Leane?

        February 11, 2023
        • Cleland was an uncommon unit. I did read that prior to his death he was planning to visit the New Guinea Highland’s cannibal tribes, his plan being to take note of the herbs and spices they used before and during the cook.

          February 11, 2023
  2. Clive #

    At some stage….the lack of definite dates, when actions etc were taken, speaks volumes. It took 6 weeks for the police to arrive at the Adelaide Railway Station to check for unclaimed luggage, then the Rubaiyat turns up after the inquest. The only possible lead, via a telephone number, at Glenelg, views a bust of the man, nearly faints and, the police (as far as we know) just ignored a possible lead to the case. You could describe the investigation as inept to say the least, loved to have known what PC Moss thought about this case, I guess we will never know.

    February 12, 2023
    • Guzz Rating #

      @Clive…. Not only did the “only possible lead” nearly faint when shown the bust…but she also, later, pointed the finger at the possibility it was Alf Boxall.

      Let’s not forget that the only reason Boxall was ever dragged into this whole Somerton Man business was because Jessica dragged him into it.

      February 13, 2023
  3. Two things … (1) the investigation can be made to appear as a deliberate attempt to protect Webb’s identity and (2) who (as we are still waiting on his official ID) and what was he that was worth the effort?

    February 12, 2023
  4. Guzz Rating #

    “At some stage Brown stated there were a number of phone numbers written on the back of the Rubaiyat. When interviewed by Stuart Littlemore Brown said he had ascertained that nobody at the second phone number had any knowledge of the dead man.”…

    That’s interesting. The follow up questions would be,
    1. what suburb was that number from, if an Adelaide number at all.
    2.Was the owner of that number, when saying they didn’t have any knowledge of the dead man, shown the cast (as Thompson was) or just the photo of the dead man….

    February 13, 2023
  5. Guzz Rating #

    @Pete … Sorry for getting off topic a bit… but getting back to my reservations about Charles Carl Whatever Webb being SM.

    I think that one of the few things that everyone agrees on is that Jessica knew exactly who the dead guy on the beach was.
    Therefore, if the plaster cast she was shown WAS an image of Carl Webb (who, as the supposed narrative goes, visited her at her house only a few weeks previously) …then she should have immediately recognised it to having been Webb!

    (are you with me so far???)

    It makes no sense for her to bring Boxall, who she hadn’t seen for years, into this whole shit-show unless she was convinced the dead man was actually Boxall.
    If she thought the dead man was Webb, she need not have ever mentioned Boxall and we would never, ever have heard of the smug bugger.

    Which can only mean that Jessica never knew Webb…and therefore…if we believe that Jessica knew who the SM was, then whoever he is he ain’t Webb.

    (And yes…I know I’m not explaining this very well…! )

    February 13, 2023
  6. Guzzer … when Jess offered up Boxall to Detective Canney she hadn’t seen the bust .. that came later

    February 13, 2023
  7. thedude747 #

    I think Jess names Boxall for the simple reason that she was under the cosh and just wanted the cops out of her house. “I know nothing , go and see this guy” to my knowledge she never claimed the dead man might be Boxalll, just that she’d once given him an ROK.

    February 13, 2023
  8. dude …. would you have expected the police to ask Jess for any ID either when Canney braced her at home or when the three detectives accompanied her to the museum to view the bust?

    February 13, 2023
  9. dude47 #

    Now days yes they would absolutely ask to see ID but I’ve no idea if that was standard procedure in the day.
    Either it was some kind of cover up (not in my personal opinion) or they totally botched the biggest lead in the case. Absolutely butchered it.

    February 13, 2023
    • Yes, but … all those detectives, a possible murder, an unidentified body, a person of interest … somebody must have had a closer look at Nurse Thomson, surely. That’s what police do. Painting all of them with the same brush is too easy. Solving murders is a ticket to promotion in the police force, plus a jump in the pay packet and a ticket to an upper floor in the local Mason hierarchy…

      February 13, 2023
  10. Anyone?

    February 13, 2023
  11. Clive #

    If she was qualified as a RN, it would have been easy to verify the nursing register surely? But, was she a ‘Sister? as per her entry in the telephone book. I would not be a bit surprised to learn that ‘Sister’ Thomson was not qualified as a nurse, but hey, “In for a penny, in for a pound’ may have been her attitude. Another question, why was her name in the telephone book when it was Prosper doing all the newspaper advertising? Why was it seemingly necessary for Jessie to have her name in the telephone book?

    February 13, 2023
  12. dude47 #

    Clive in the days where the white pages were the number one means of looking people up was it was common for dodgy types to have the phone in another persons name, often a girlfriend. This was usually because they had unpaid bills in their own name and the phone company had cut them of and or they owed money / had people that were Keane to catch up with them for various reasons that they would rather avoid . PT fits the bill as the type who would do this.

    February 14, 2023
  13. Clive #

    Yeah, I take your point about unpaid bills etc. I wonder if anyone, from a religious order, turned up at 90a thinking that ‘Sister’ Thomson was a nun? That could have been a habit.

    February 14, 2023
  14. Clive #

    Has anyone actually found/seen paperwork that confirms that Jessie was a RN or a Sister? Per Margaret Price’s information on the RNSH, Jessie was supposed to have graduated in 1946? (I think!)

    February 19, 2023

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