Australian police are to exhume the remains of the so-called Somerton man in a bid to finally determine his identity, more than 70 years after his death.
On 1 December, 1948, the man’s body was found on Somerton beach in the South Australian city of Adelaide, with the circumstances of his death remaining an open police investigation.
His cause of death remains unknown and many theories have been advanced over his identity, ranging from a jilted lover to a cold war spy.
An initial police investigation and coronial inquest left the matter unresolved, with the case particularly mystifying because of a number of items found with the body.
They included a suitcase, items of clothing with the tags removed, incoherent writing believed to be a code, the poetry book The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and a torn scrap of paper with the Persian words “Tamam Shud”, meaning it is finished.
The incident also came to be known as the Tamam Shud case as a result.
The case is in the hands of the major crime investigation branch, with detectives to be on hand when his body is exhumed at the West Terrace cemetery on Wednesday morning.
“Following recovery of the remains, Forensic Science SA will attempt to recover a DNA profile from the man,” Detective Superintendent Des Bray said.
Forensic Science SA’s assistant director Anne Coxon said the technology available today was clearly light years ahead of the techniques available when the body was discovered in the late 1940s.
“Tests of this nature are often highly complex and will take time,” she said. “However we will be using every method at our disposal to try and bring closure to this enduring mystery.”
The attorney general, Vickie Chapman, who gave permission for the exhumation, said she believed the Forensic Science SA team was well equipped to handle the challenging task.
“For more than 70 years people have speculated who this man was and how he died,” Chapman said. “It’s an enduring mystery but I believe that, finally, we may uncover some answers.”
The case is part of Operation Persevere, which seeks to put a name to all unidentified human remains in South Australia.
It runs in tandem with Operation Persist, under which cold case homicides are actively investigated.