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Australia to Try to Solve One of Its Greatest Mysteries

Somerton Man's remains exhumed in hopes of creating a DNA profile
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2021 11:10 AM CDT
Updated May 23, 2021 1:25 PM CDT

(Newser) – Australian authorities are hoping to get to the bottom of one of the 20th century's most intriguing cold cases: that of the still-unidentified Somerton Man, a suit-clad, 40-something man who was found dead on a beach near Adelaide—possibly by poison—on the morning of Dec. 1, 1948. Now, authorities believe advances in DNA make exhuming the body for testing worthwhile, so that's exactly what they're doing, reports the BBC. South Australia Attorney General Vickie Chapman said the decision to do so was made in April due in part to "intense public interest" in the case. More:

  • That's likely in part to the smattering of odd clues tied to the case: the man had calf muscles like a dancer's, missing teeth, and a scrap of paper on him featuring the Farsi words "Tamam Shud," meaning "the end." Police determined they were ripped from a translated copy of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat.

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  • The exhumation took place Wednesday at West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide. The Australian AP reports it took 12 hours to complete the process. The Major Crime Investigation Branch will handle the case, which is part of Operation Persevere, which is trying to identify all remains that are still nameless in South Australia.
  • Detective Superintendent Des Bray recounts the theories: "There was talk about whether he was a Russian spy, whether he was involved in the black market, whether he was a sailor." Others suggested a spurned lover.
  • Bray told Australia's ABC that if the bones yield a DNA profile, "a forensic case meeting will be held to formulate the most appropriate DNA strategy, which will then require considerable investigation work to have any chance of identifying the man or where he originated from."
  • What could make it tough to get his DNA: The Somerton Man's remains were embalmed using formaldehyde, and it's possible the process of doing so destroyed the bulk of his DNA.
(Read more cold cases stories.)

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