Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Taman Shud Mystery

Major part of our reading phase during school days consisted of a lot of mystery fiction. Most of us must have gone through the Secret Seven --> Five Find Outers-->Famous Five-->Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-->The Three Investigators-->Poirot & Miss Marple-->Sherlock Holmes phase and one must admit that it is a fascinating journey. As a kid, I always wanted to be a detective and solve murder mysteries. The case that I've mentioned in this note is one that a friend and I had stumbled across in some police journals during that phase and we had tried carrying on our own 'investigations' :P. It's a real case that has remained unsolved for the past 62 years and is clearly one of the strangest cases I've come across and does make you see the light in the 'fact is stranger than fiction' phrase. I met up this friend a few days back and during the course of our conversation; this case again popped up. I thought I should put this up as a FB note because not only does the case fall in the X-files territory but also offers a change from all the poetry that I put up on FB all the time. :P It's a long post but kindly read through the post patiently. It's certainly worth the read.

The Taman Shud Case:

At 6:30 am on December 1st, 1948, a man was found dead under a street lamp on Somerton Beach in Australia.

He seems to have come from nowhere and no one knew anything about him. It's the things we don't know that have been baffling authorities ever since. Including the meaning of the apparently uncrackable secret code he left behind (more on that later).

Things first started to lurch towards the creepy when police noticed that all his clothes' identification marks had been removed. He was found with no visible signs of injury, wearing a suit and no hat. He had a cigarette tucked behind his ear and another one, half smoked, next to his head as if it had fallen out of his mouth.

In his pockets were a used bus ticket to the beach, an unused train ticket to Henley Beach, an American comb, a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, sixpence, an Army Club cigarette pack with Kensitas cigarettes in it, and a box of matches. His body was found 250 meters from where the bus stop apparently let him off.

Apparently, a few people saw him the night before at the same spot- one couple saw him moving his arm around, and another saw him lying motionless on the beach.

The cops were even more startled when the coroner returned with the cause of death: "Sudden, acute onset of damned if I had any idea." The autopsy revealed exceptional health, a half-digested pasty in his stomach, and congestion in his brain and stomach that would have been consistent with poisoning if, you know, they'd found even a trace of poison anywhere in his body. For good measure, his spleen was three times too big.

It was concluded that he most likely died of poisoning, but from what? The Scottish Yard posted this guy’s picture everywhere, but there was no response. They reasoned that the dead man might have been missing local man E.C. Johnson, but then E.C. showed up. Many other possible IDs came up locally, but all were disproved.

Every breakthrough seemed to increase the mystery. A few months later, a suitcase was found at a nearby train station that had been checked in on the morning of Mystery Man’s death. The suitcase’s label was removed, and inside it was a red-checked dressing gown, a pair of slippers, four pairs of underwear, pajamas, shaving gear, a pair of pants with sand in the cuffs, a screwdriver, a stenciling brush, a table knife that had been fashioned into a sharp knife, a pair of scissors, and a package of waxed thread. All the labels on everything had been removed, but on several items of clothing it said “T. Keane”. Police believed that someone purposefully left the Keane tag on the clothes knowing it was not the dead man’s name, because when they searched for T. Keane, they couldn’t find anyone of that name that was missing anywhere in the world. There was one missing sailor named Tom Keane, but friends of his that viewed the body and the suitcase firmly believed that was not their friend.

Police were doing all sorts of searching and theorizing, and had started wondering if the body had been just dumped on the beach, when they found a secret pocket in the man’s pants. Inside the secret pocket, a piece of paper with the words “TAMAN SHUD” typed on it (the words meaning "ended" or "finished").

The text looked like it was a scrap torn from a book. And it turned out it was; from a collection of poems called The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. And not just any Rubaiyat, but a specific translation, and an extremely rare one at that. They released this info to the media, and a man in the town where the body was found came forward, saying that on November 30th, the night before Mystery Man died, he found a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the back of his unlocked car, and the final page, which was supposed to read “Taman Shud”, was torn out. Yup, Mystery Man apparently ripped out a page and shoved the book into a random car. The Rubaiyat's last verse, immediately before "Tamam Shud", is

''And when thyself with shining foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the grass
And in your joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made One - turn down an empty Glass!''

This gets even weirder. Instead of the book having a library card with the dead man's name printed on it or something even a little bit helpful, the book contained the clue that would take the mystery from "spooky" to "creepy".In the back of the book, the cops found this code:

Five sets of seemingly random letters, the second of which is crossed out. So, what does this code tell us? Nothing. Nothing at all. To this day it remains unsolved. So was the code the result of a disturbed mind, or chronic boredom, perhaps? Turns out, no. The most recent attempt to solve the case found the letters aren't random, just some mysterious cipher nobody was familiar with.

There was also a phone number on the book, which was traced to a woman (Jestyn) in the same town who once dated a man who was rumored to be a spy (Alfred Boxall), but that man eventually surfaced, and his copy of the book still had that last page. (But there is a shroud of mystery surrounding the woman which shall be discussed later).

The man was buried, finally, and a strange woman was seen putting flowers on his grave several times. An inmate in New Zealand revealed that he knew the name of the name of the dead man, but it could never be corroborated. Mystery Man has been linked to more spy stuff, so much so that it prompted Australia to create its own anti-espionage task force, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

Possible link to Marshall case:

In June 1945, three years prior to the death of the Somerton Man, a 34 year old Singaporean man named Joseph (George) Saul Haim Marshall was found dead in Mosman, Sydney with an open copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam beside him. His death is believed to be a suicide by poisoning. Coincidentally, it is some two months after Marshall's death that Jestyn gives her spy lover a copy of the Rubiayat.

Recent updates on the case:
It has been uncovered that Jestyn (the same mystery woman again) had a son, who was 16-months old in 1948 and died in 2009, may have been a love child of the Somerton Man. It turns out that there might be some truth in this theory. A professor of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide has examined images of the Somerton man's ears and found that the cymba (upper ear hollow) is larger than his cavum (lower ear hollow), a feature possessed by only 1-2% of the caucasian population. The professor also consulted with dental experts who conclude that the Somerton Man had anodontia (a rare genetic disorder) of both lateral incisors, a feature present in only 2% of the general population. In June 2010, the professor obtained a photograph of Jestyn's son that clearly showed his ears and teeth. The photograph shows that the son not only had a larger cymba than his cavum but also anodontia. The chance that this is a coincidence has been estimated as between 1 in 10,000,000 and 1 in 20,000,000.

The identity of the deceased man and even the cause of death remain unsolved to this day.

Results from our 'investigations':

My friend and I made some attempts at deciphering the code and came up with a few possibilities:

1. There are a few stand-out features that you notice immediately on seeing the code:

# The “AB” letter-pair appears four times in the message

# IA appears at least twice

#Several reversed letter-pairs (ST/TS, AI/IA, TM/MT) appear in the message.

2. The second line is crossed through. On closer observation, it seems that the fourth line [MLIABO...] is a corrected version of the deleted second line [MLIAOI], perhaps where the “B” was omitted.

3. The note hidden in the pocket = TAMAM SHUD

The first line of the Cipher = WRGOABABD.

When we put the code line back wards and match it with the ‘Key’ phrase, we get:


The ” BABA ” sequence seems to be lining up with the ” AMAM ” which might help us to decipher the rest of the code..

4. Turning possibility no. 3 on its head; the message might not actually be a cipher; rather it might be a half-successful attempt to decode a message that was written in German. People who have knowledge of German might agree with my hypothesis which is based on the following observations:

-->The sequence “SAMSTGA” in line 4 is very similar to the German word “Samstag” (Saturday).

-->In line 1, the sequence MRGO is similar to the German word “Morgen” (which can mean either “tomorrow” or “morning”), and the sequence ABD is similar to “Abend” (evening). There’s also the sequence “AB” between those two elements, which is also a German word (“from”, in the sense of marking the beginning of a timespan). So, the sequence “MRGOABABD” looks quite similar to “Morgen ab abend” (tomorrow, from evening on).

--> I do agree that it might be a complete coincidence but the hypothesis holds some water for the following reasons:

i) All three words specify a time.
ii) Specifying times or meeting points is a very common usage of coded messages.
iii) The missing characters in the two words in line 1 are identical for both words (MRGO -> MORGen, ABD -> ABenD, missing characters in lower-case)
iv) The two mispositioned characters are both vowels, and appear both at the end of their respective word (O in MRGO, A in SAMSTGA).
v) All this takes place in a message of 44 characters. The chance of finding this by coincidence in a message so short seems rather small.
vi) The letter x above the O in line 3 can be seen as an alternate decoding considered by the decoder. (“I think that’s an O, but it also might be an X”.)
vii.) There is insecurity among researchers whether the first written character in lines 1 and 2 is a W or an M. The letter’s ambiguity can be seen as an insecurity on part of the writer about whether he had decoded the character correctly. There’s also the possibility that he wrote one of the letters first and then corrected that into the other letter.

One must admit though that considering the mystery surrounding this case; one can come up with infinite number of possibilities and none will ever have any substantial proof for us to satisfactorily conclude that the case has been solved. Damn! If we could only put ACP Pradyuman on the case :(

Abhijeet: Mmmmy Gawwwd...
ACP: Yahan pe toh laash hai!
Daya:Sir yeh toh marr gaya
ACP: O_o

Have a good day! :D


Anonymous said...

MA T H r eD S U e


MLIAOI (Written incorrectly then crossed out)

MTBIMPANETP (read...dear...)
DeArD M e


MLIABO AIAQC (Dreams, note the specific repeated order)
DerMaS MrM

ITTMTSAMSTGAB (Does that repeated order help here)
reeDe MD eHMA

gweb at gadgeteer dot net
if you want to discuss.

Penny said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

We Are Go twoABiDe

Anonymous said...

Has any attempt been made to verify the son by DNA?
Would that take the matter further?

tomsbytwo said...

You have a fair bit of incorrect information in your post: there was only one cigarette, there was never a missing sailor named Keane, and only one label was removed .. Wikipedia has been updated.

karthick said...


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