The Unsolved Code of the Somerton Man

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

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14 Responses

  1. peteb says:

    We have made some progress in the matter – though the code is elusive

    • Unknow says:

      Hey Peteb, I would like to know about this progress.. Because I been online for two week trying unsolved the code myself, I try more then one way to but I always run into a dead end

  2. Sixer/Jenny says:

    Hi Peteb, Would be interested in hearing about your progress….best Jenny

  3. jestyn says:

    the infamous hag, Jessie Ellen Thomson (nee Harkness) is JESTYN.
    Her husband, Prosper McTaggart Thomson of Adelaide.
    Her son, Robin Thomson of ballet dancing fame.


  4. peterb says:

    Hey Jenny, getting in pretty deep here – and progress is strong and defined thanks – There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Research is rewarding, and who knows, we might find him yet, this fellow Keane.

    I might be the only one looking ..

  5. pete says:

    Hey Jen, hope you are well ..

    Everything is shifting about … a couple of phone numbers have changed the generally held beliefs.
    I’m having a very good time with it.

    • Jenny Kile says:

      Thanks Pete for letting me know. I will have a look. The Somerton Man is such a mystery and includes so many twists and turns leading to unexplained circumstances, possible spy involvement, secret codes. vanishing evidence, cover-ups…… will always hold my attention! 🙂

      I appreciate your work on it….

      When I have time I always like to consider the following verse of the Rubaiyat for solving the Somerton code because of the possible connection to the ‘cancelled out half line’ mentioned in the verse and done on the mysterious sheet of paper found on the Somerton Man.

      The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
      Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
      Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
      Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

      (although NO connection to help solve each other (Somerton man and Thrill of the Chase), the above verse was found in the Thrill of the Chase treasure hunt book- Omar Khayyam inspired and moved in mysterious circles-lol)

      • Kathryn says:

        Jenny, I am working on condensing my response to your “no connection” comment because I see a connection. The poem is not about writing as in prose but about living life. Once a life is spent, it cannot be changed by “Greatness and riches” or by “repentance”. It is what it is. Generally, I think each capital letter represents a word and each line represents a sentence. It is a message about a secret plan. The line crossed out signals that a particular part of the plan needed to be changed and the slash means that an event lead to the demise of the code writer. I think the message was delivered to the intended individual(s) when it was released to the public for help. The problem is that I do not know if the message in code is English letters for an English translation or using English letters for sounds for an Arabic translation. As for the unusual “editions”, I think the edition number signals a phase of the plan to make the translation work. Perhaps a number of people were involved in something top secret. It is an interesting puzzle; unfortunately, my Arabic sources are on a computer that is currently not operating 🙁 Thank you, this sounds like a good puzzle for me.

  6. Jonathon says:

    ‘Reminds one of the Seinfeld stand-up routine
    about the qualifications for a New York City cabbie’s license: all one seems to need is a face.

    There have been exceptions, like Hitler and Robespierre just to name an unevolved few, but on the whole, I have found that the people with the most pleasant and consistently sweetest of dispositions have almost always been born during that time
    of year when even the air itself seems perfumed from all of Nature
    bursting into bloom. Non-Taureans look at your
    inherent kindness of heart like it’s an ether cloud of dopey niceness which surrounds your sign naturally, without producing so much as a blip on your radar of self-awareness.

  7. Jenny says:

    Great new article on the Somerton Man for those interested:

  8. SpyMan says:

    the guy was a definite spy and taken out

    the mystery is why. what did he know. who knew he knew.

  9. The handwritten ‘code’ in the back of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám book might be a musical notation, not necessarily written by the Somerton man. It makes sense for at least 90% of the code so far, still working on it :

    A, B, D, G : chords or notes, for example on a guitar. This is an internationaly adopted notation style, the writer could have spoken any language besides English.

    | : not a capital ‘i’ but a bar line.

    O : play open string.

    OX : crossed ‘O’ : damp the string, don’t play the string.

    Q : same as above : thinking of music while writing it down adresses different parts of the brain. Doing both at the same time could result in unvoluntary doodles : ‘I know I have to cross the ‘O’ but I’m allready thinking about the next chord.’ It’s something I would do if I was in a hurry to write down a chord progression in a eureka moment and when no other recording equipment was at hand.

    –X—– horizontal line to indicate the nut of a guitar. The ‘x’ appears to be in second (5th) position : don’t play 5th string.

    W, M, N (?) : the writer appears to have some difficulties forming an ‘M’, at least in the beginning. The ‘M’ becomes more fluent towards the end as if they haven’t written in a long time or don’t write much (capitals) overal. Maybe the ‘second line’ was added afterwards ? Maybe ‘M’ has 2 meanings. The first ‘M’ looks like a crown : ‘Play this on the instument with the crown-logo’. It could be a custom character to indicate the time signature. Metronome maybe ? If this was written with a ballpoint the clumsy first ‘M’ could be explained by trying to get the dried out ball rolling.

    M : Middle finger ?

    T : Thumb ?

    R and L : could refer to Left hand, Right hand

    PAN : could mean ‘slide’ : Middle finger, pan to E, Thumb (is that a period ?) Pink (little finger)

    S or G (?) : the 5th and 8th character from the back : not sure what this is, probably not a ‘G’, they write the ‘other’ 2 G’s differently, both times.

    Last 2 lines could be read vertically : ‘Play A with Thumb, B with Middle finger…

    Final ‘B’ : this is a ‘glorious B’ : ‘I did it ! .. and now I’m done!’

    You’re welcome – Glorious ‘e’

  10. James says:

    Maybe it’s just a first letter sentence code e.g.


    My Life Is All But Over And I Am Quite Calm


    It’s Time To Meet The Saints And Make Sure The Cares Are Buried

  1. January 16, 2015

    […] being introduced to the mystifying case of the Somerton Man, Pete Bowes has ardently worked on amassing as much information as he can find on the matter. He […]

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