Somerton Man

History Uncovered Episode 31:
The Baffling Case Of The Somerton Man

Published September 29, 2023

In 1948, beachgoers came across a dead man on Australia's Somerton beach. Well-dressed and with no signs of trauma, police could determine neither his identity nor his cause of death — both of which remain a mystery to this day.

On December 1, 1948, two teenagers riding horses along the beach in Glenelg, Australia, came across a shocking sight. Lying right there in the sand was the corpse of a well-dressed man.

It looked as though he’d simply lain down for a rest and died peacefully in his sleep. But when police arrived and began examining the body, a baffling and disturbing mystery began to take shape.

The man had no obvious signs of trauma; someone had cut all the tags out of his clothing; and, most puzzling of all, he had a tiny slip of paper sewn into a hidden pocket in his trousers which simply read “Tamám Shud.” The phrase, mystifying to investigators at first, is Persian for “it is finished.” The piece of paper had been torn from a rare edition of poems by the 12th-century writer Omar Khayyam.

With only eerie bits of evidence left behind and nothing to indicate to police who the man was, authorities launched a massive inquest. But every break in the case only brought new questions, each more chilling than the last.

For one, the coroner simply could not determine how the Somerton Man had died. His pupils were small, he had spittle on his face, his spleen was enlarged, and his liver was engorged with blood. Investigators suspected he’d been poisoned, but tests revealed no traces of anything in his blood. And when they found the man’s abandoned suitcase, it seemed to lead to a different person altogether.

Detectives believed that a break in the case was imminent when a man named John Freeman walked into the police station seven months after the Somerton Man was found with the book from which the “Tamám Shud” paper was torn.

Tamam Shud

Public DomainThe infamous “Tamám Shud” scrap of paper was discovered in a concealed pocket in the dead man’s trousers.

However, Freeman denied that he knew anything about the body on the beach. He claimed that someone had left the book in his car back in December and — until he read about the case — he’d assumed that it had belonged to a member of his family. Freeman offered detectives no further information.

Unfortunately, the book only deepened the mystery. Inside, detectives discovered fragments of an unbreakable code — and a phone number that led to a mysterious stranger.

For now, his grave marker says it all. It reads, “Here Lies The Unknown Man Who Was Found On Somerton Beach.”

Delve into the bewildering unsolved mystery of “Tamám Shud” and the Somerton Man.

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