The Mystery of the Somerton Man

No one knows how a well-dressed man wound up dead on a beach in South Australia in December 1948, but now DNA is giving investigators their best chance at solving the 72-year-old mystery. Called the Somerton man after the beach where he was found, the man has proved to be one of Australia’s strangest and most famous cold cases. If the authorities are able to extract usable DNA from his remains, they would potentially put to rest decades of speculation. The man’s body was found slumped up against a sea wall near Adelaide, his legs crossed and his posture such that he was at first mistaken for a sleeping drunk. He wore a jacket and tie and had a partly smoked cigarette resting on his collar, with no apparent burn mark. The tags on the clothing he wore had been cut off and his pockets held chewing gum, a box of matches, a pack of cigarettes, two combs, unused train and bus tickets, and a scrap of paper with a line of type reading “tam├ím shud” — “finished” in Persian. At a train station, investigators found a suitcase they traced to the man, thanks to a spool of thread that matched a repair in the man’s pockets. The possessions they found in the suitcase and on the body were of little help. Now, all that remains is to await DNA results that could help unravel the mystery and reveal whether the man was a poisoned spy, a disguised black marketer, a former ballet dancer, a spurned lover, or one of the other many speculations made over the years.