On December 1st, 1948, a man was discovered dead on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia. Commonly referred to as simply the Somerton man, because his identity remains unknown today, the deceased man and his body left few clues to help with the investigation. Many of the circumstances surrounding the death led to only more questions. One of the most curious and everlasting was a code found within a rare book which was linked to the man.
The Somerton Man
Believed to have died from a poisonous dose of a rare substance, digitalis or strophanthin, (either as a suicide or murder), the Somerton man’s body was found resting against a wall along the beach. Without showing any signs of struggle, his body was believed to be that of man in his 40’s. He was well-dressed, clean, and appeared physically strong. The few items discovered on the man did not reveal his precise identity, but, a tiny piece of paper did lead to a mysterious book, a secret code, and even more questions.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Within a small pocket of the Somerton man’s trousers, during an inspection a few months after his death, examiners found a slip of rolled up paper with the words of “Tamam Shud” on it. These words are Persian meaning finished. Further research indicated this phrase was written on the last page of a book of poems entitled The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward FitzGerald. After releasing this information to the public, and urging anyone with knowledge about the book to come forward, the investigation then took a remarkable twist.
A man, whose identity is undisclosed, came forward and stated he found a copy of the rare book (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) in his car lying on the floor with the words Tamam Shud missing from it. He believed the book was placed in his unlocked car which was parked near the Somerton beach on the night of November 30th, 1948. It was confirmed the small piece of paper with the words of Tamam Shud belonged to the book found within the man’s car. Upon close examination light pencil markings were noticed inside the back of the book.
The Unsolved Somerton Man’s Code
These markings comprised of five lines of capital letters and a string of numbers. The numbers matched the unlisted phone number of a woman. Questioning the woman (whose identity was also undisclosed at the time) was inconclusive. She denied having any knowledge of the dead man, but had claimed an unknown man had asked a neighbor about her near the time of the Somerton’s man death. She had also shared she had once owned a rare copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, but, she gave it away as a gift to a man named Alfred Boxall in 1945.
The investigation first assumed the identity of the deceased Somerton man could be that of Alfred Boxall. However, they quickly discovered Boxall was alive and well and still had the book with an inscription in it written by the woman. She signed it using the nickname of Jestyn, which is the name commonly used to refer to her today. The fact that both men (Boxall and the Somerton Man) possessed the same rare book and were somehow connected to ‘Jestyn’ still remains incredible.
The five lines of letters lightly written in the back of the book were challenging. They couldn’t be easily deciphered to reveal anything meaningful. The letters (shown above) are as follows:
A few additional marks were noticed. The second line appeared crossed out and there was a small x placed above the O in the fourth line. The beginning W’s of the first and third line were written in a way where they could also be taken as M’s, and the last S had a small line through the center of it. As more and more connections were unearthed about the book, the people involved, and the strange circumstances involving the entire case, these letters became an object of study for the solving of the case. They are the focus of a probable secret code.
Solving the Code
Assuming the letters were written in code, numerous methods have been applied to try and decipher them. Because the code was found within the rare book of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, it is possible the book may be used to decode it. One of the popular encryptions during the time had the use of the one time pad. The letters could be decoded by using a specific verse from the book.
Unfortunately, the original book found within the car has now been lost (or purposedly misplaced). Detectives have been unable to find another identical copy. It is possible the Somerton man’s book may have been the only one which was especially made and disguised as the Rubaiyat in order to be used as a one time pad. Support for this theory is found from a case of another man, Joseph Marshall, who was found dead having a copy of a Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam lying next to him.
The Mystery Lives on
In 1945, the death of Marshall was believed to have been a suicide by the use of poison. His copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was not a first edition like the Somerton’s mans but a seventh edition. It was realized only five editions were confirmed published, so Marshall’s copy should not have existed. A similar question involves the Somerton’s man copy. It was supposedly published by Whitcombe & Tombs; however, another copy has never been found.
With the many discrepancies and deepening questions, the mystery lives on. The code remains unsolved today and continues to be pondered by many. Clearly suspicions are raised concerning the importance and involvement of this rare, but ever occurring book connecting the Somerton man and his unsolved code.
Australia Trove Newspaper Archives, reviewed february 2013
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam- first edition, reviewed february 2013