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Cowan and Cleland – The Biochemist and the Pathologist.

The phone rings.

Robert James Cowan, Deputy Government Analyst for the South Australian Government Department of Chemistry walks over to his desk and picks it up. Says ‘Hullo.’

Professor John Burton Cleland, naturalist (think Charles Darwin), microbiologist (bacteria, viruses algae), mycologist (fungi) and ornithologist (birds) says ‘Hullo’ back.

or  …..

The phone rings.

Professor John Burton Cleland, naturalist (think Charles Darwin), microbiologist (bacteria, viruses algae), mycologist (fungi) and ornithologist (birds) walks over to his desk and picks it up. Says ‘Hullo.’

Robert James Cowan, Deputy Government Analyst for the South Australian Government Department of Chemistry says ‘Hullo,’ back.

Who called who? Do we know?

The upshot of the conversation, whoever instigated it, was that James Cowan and JB Cleland found themselves rummaging through a suitcase containing stained trousers, used shoes, old slippers, some soiled underwear, ditto singlets, a dressing gown, shirts, ties, handkerchiefs and coats – some items having being peeled off the dead body prior to its autopsy and before the rapidly thawing dead man was re-dressed in a shirt and tie for the photographer then stripped off once again and put back in the fridge. This stuff even the Salvos wouldn’t take.

Yet here they were ..

24-72 hours postmortem: internal organs begin to decompose due to cell death; the body begins to emit pungent odours; rigor mortis subsides. 3-5 days postmortem: as organs continue to decompose, bodily fluids leak from orifices; the skin turns a greenish colour (just saying) ..

I’m thinking the suitcase would have smelt a little too, the shirt in particular would have been rank, nothing to bother Cleland though, the old intestine sniffer, he revelled in those type of circumstances and was well-used to assisting police with their enquiries.

What is unusual though was Cowan’s presence, this very senior government analyst trying on the dead man’s shoes and slippers – something Cleland was perfectly able to do without assistance, let alone from a man holding such a senior yet non-related position, so what could Cowan have offered to assist the investigation?

Other than to mis-direct it.

Because nobody knows who put the Tamam Shud slip into the dead man’s fob pocket.

The same James Cowan (Deputy Government Analyst for the South Australian Government Department of Chemistry) who proved to be completely unable to identify a black powder shaken from a very ordinary particle brush (think Office Works) found in the dead man’s suitcase.

The very same fellow who astounded Dr Dwyer when he stated he could not find any sign of barbiturates in the body’s stomach, liver or lights.

This is Carl Webb’s body we’re talking about here, the man who once chewed down about 40 phenobarbital tabs better known these days as goofballs and snorting up a pint of ether  ..


There’s a few folks around who think something was not quite right about the Somerton Man investigation, something a little manky, like the suitcase full of soiled clothing … like James Cowan’s participation. His fingers in the Somerton Man pie.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. It seems there is still no intention of solving this case on the part of authorities. Looks like law enforcement in Australia is overrun by gangs.

    May 23, 2023
  2. John Sanders #

    No intentions of cipher missionaries solving either case Somerton Man or the imposter either, too busy looking for multi denominational picnic spots around Port Phillip bay’s putrid beaches. The authorities may as well give the game away as well and go after the gangs before they’re outnumbered and run out of Dodge.

    May 23, 2023
    • Yeah to all of that … but what was that goofball munching wife beating sunimbitch doing for the last year of his life? He had to be up to something to (allegedly) swing so much official weight.

      May 23, 2023
  3. thedude747 #

    That is the $64 million dollar question PB !!! If we can work that out everything falls into place.

    Where the picnic was, where Doff went , who Alf Boxall shagged and why all pretty irrelevant to me.

    There are traces of Carl right through until he leaved Bromby st then what? He’s gone ! and this once again leads me down the non legit/off the grid line of thinking.

    May 23, 2023
  4. I think the first thing that needs to be done is for the military to take over law enforcement, close it down for a couple of months. Defund the gangs take their badges and guns away from them and then hire newly graduated Professionals from good Australian universities. Anyone heard of Elliot Ness? It Will probably take three months to acomplish.

    May 24, 2023
    • You’re not far off the mark with this. SA got a new Military Adjutant General on 1 Dec 1948. He had a reputation as a lover of walnuts. They referred to him as a serious nut crusher.

      May 24, 2023
      • Yeah we just don’t want a dictator, just have the military in place while the Professionals take over.

        May 25, 2023
  5. Byron D and I discussed Cowan’s participation in examining the clothing etc over 10 years ago, his view then was that Cowan was seeking to discredit Cleland.

    May 24, 2023
  6. The Sly Dog #

    We have to remember that SA Police didn’t have a dedicated forensic unit back in the late ’40’s. It was part of their process to call upon the services of reputable science-types / experts to help in their investigations. As such, Cowan was in on this case on D-Day +1 when he took possession of SM samples (fluids and tissue) extracted as part of the autopsy.
    I can see no issues with Cowan later getting together with Cleland when he was brought in to help with the investigation; SA Police would have briefed Cleland on evidence so far and no doubt mentioned Cowan’s analysis work & results…. Cleland probably got on the horn to Cowan to say he was now involved in this curious case, they should probably collaborate – two science-type minds better than just one, even if one had strange extra-curricular interests like PNG cannibal recipes, etc…. If they were looking at items of clothing and some, like the jackets, appeared slightly different in size, why not try it on with some kind of analog to check?

    May 24, 2023
  7. Can’t argue about any of that … it’s what we don’t know about Cowan regularly lending Cleland a hand, and never will, though it would be interesting if this was the first and only time.

    May 24, 2023

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