South Australia’s Most Baffling Unsolved Mysteries

There is nothing more intoxicating than a good head-scratcher and some of the world’s biggest unsolved mysteries have happened right in our own backyard. We explore the biggest unsolved SA puzzles that continue to intrigue.

Mystery of the Somerton Man (The Taman Shud Case)

South Australia’s biggest unsolved mystery? Anyone who knows about the case will vouch for how baffling it is. In essence, this is what we know.

On 1 December 1948, a man’s body was found on Somerton Beach. His head was resting on a rock like he was sleeping, an extinguished cigarette on his collar. He carried no identification, just an unused rail ticket, a bus ticket, a comb, gum, cigarettes, and a scrap of paper with the phrase “tamán shud,” which means “finished” in Persian, sewn into a secret pocket in the lining of his trousers.
The book the page was ripped from was a rare copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, found in the backseat of a local doctor’s car. It had an imprint of a coded message that showed up when treated with iodine during a coronial inquest:






These five lines have mystified police, code breakers and amateur sleuths the world over.

Also found were two phone numbers – one for a bank and the other for a nurse (later identified as Jessica Thomson), who claimed to know nothing about the Somerton man. She had given the book to a Lt Alfred Boxall, whom she had served with in the war.

Other interesting elements of the case which came to light were: the man had stayed for a few nights at the Strathmore Hotel, and carried a suitcase ‘with a big needle in it’. The suitcase was found months later, checked into a locker at Adelaide Train Station, containing clothing with the labels removed.
Many theories suggest the man was a spy, who was either poisoned or poisoned himself as he was about to be caught. Yet while the autopsy showed the man’s spleen had grown three times its normal size, and he had extensive liver damage – pointing to side-effects of being poisoned – there were no traces of poison or toxins found in his body by the pathologist.

Other people who have studied the case extensively feel Jessica Thomson is the missing link, especially as Lt Alfred Boxall showed up years later, very much alive and with his copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Her daughter believes that the Somerton man is her father and thinks he should be exhumed for DNA testing.

Status? Adelaide University Professor Derek Abbott has been attempting to solve the case through cracking the code and wants to exhume the body to test for DNA. Professor Abbott and his students have made several breakthroughs, along with Maciej Henneberg, professor of anatomy at the University of Adelaide. They found images of the Somerton man’s ears and found that his cymba (upper ear hollow) is larger than his cavum (lower ear hollow), a feature possessed by only one to two percent of the Caucasian population.

After studying the his dental records, it was found that he had hypodontia (a rare genetic disorder) of both lateral incisors, a feature present in only two percent of the general population.
Professor Abbott was able to obtain a photograph of Jessica Thomson’s son Robin, which clearly shows that he – like the unknown man – had not only a larger cymba than cavum, but also hypodontia. The chance of this being a coincidence is estimated as between one in 10,000,000 and one in 20,000,000. Robin Thomson, who was 16 months old in 1948, may have been a child of either Alf Boxall or the Somerton man.

But as Robin died in 2009, his body would need to be exhumed for DNA testing.

The Unknown Man

From the cover of GM Feltus’s thorough book, which can be purchased at www.theunknownman.com

The scrap of paper

The scrap of paper, with its distinctive font, found hidden in the dead man’s trousers, torn from the last page of a rare New Zealand edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Omar Khayyám – source

Left: The Somerton Man’s rare copy of The Rubaiyat. Source: Australian police. via Smithsonian.com
Right: This is a police scan of the handwritten code found in the back of a copy of The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam, believed to belong to the dead man, found in the back of a car in Glenelg, 1 December 1948. Source: Australian police. via Wikipedia Commons

X marks the spot

The X marks the spot where the Somerton Man’s body was discovered.
Source: Australian police. via Wikipedia Commons

Somerton man's ear

Photo of Somerton man’s ear, compared to normal ear.
Source: Australian police. via Wikipedia Commons


The Beaumont Children

The case of the Beaumont children is a case that has horrified and intrigued South Australians for more than 50 years. The Beaumont children disappeared on 26 January 1966 – a day that has been credited with changing the way Australian parents supervised their children forever.

The three young siblings (Jane, 9, Arnna, 7 and Grant, 4) left their family home in Somerton Park, caught the bus to Glenelg beach, and were last seen sitting on the grass in front of what is now The Beach House.

When they failed to return home, it resulted in one of the largest police investigations, as well as the most infamous cold case, in Australian criminal history.

A search of several beaches, cars and the surrounding areas found nothing. After a public appeal, several witnesses came forward to say that the children had been seen with a blond, thin-faced man and appeared relaxed. One shopkeeper (who had seen the children on previous trips to Glenelg) observed that Jane had bought pasties and a meat pie with a one-pound note. The parents had given them only shillings and pence, enough for the bus-ride and food, making police believe that someone else had paid for the food.

Several pieces of information about the case led police to believe that the man seen with the children may have been known to them, as Arnna had previously told her mother after a similar day out, that Jane had “got a boyfriend down the beach”.

Many other pieces of information came to light, including a woman who had seen a man with three children in an unoccupied neighbouring house, but none of them helped find the children.

As the investigation gained national and international coverage, the public outcry reached fever pitch. Against the advice of the government and the police, Con Polites paid to bring parapsychologist and psychic Gerard Croiset over from the Netherlands. Several sites were investigated and even excavated, but nothing of substance was found. This would prove to be one of Croiset’s most public failures yet would also contribute to the rising popularity of the ‘psychic detective’ on high profile cases.

Many books have been written about the Beaumont children, with speculations linking the disappearance to The Family Murders, Bevan Spencer von Einem, Anthony Munro, The Satin Man (Harry Phipps) – all with no conclusive evidence as to what exactly happened, making it the most infamous and heartbreaking mysteries in history.

Status? The case is still open, but unfortunately, time is running out for any new leads to help solve this tragic cold case mystery.

The Beaumont Children

The Beaumont children photographed at the Twelve Apostles. Supplied: SA Police

Glenelg - where the Beaumont children were last reported seen

The location in Glenelg where the Beaumont children were last reported seen. Supplied: SA Police

Beaumont Children suspect

An enhanced composite sketch of a suspect. Supplied: SA Police

A Google Earth image created by SAPOL shows the current view of Glenelg Beach and the last known areas where the Beaumont children were seen. Supplied: SA Police

Maree Man

Charter Pilot Trec Smith was flying over SA towards Coober Pedy in June 1998 when he saw something that nearly made him fall out of the sky – a 4.2-kilometre tall man etched into the landscape.

The perfectly proportioned figure is that of an indigenous man, holding a spear above his head towards some unseen prey. The perfectly proportioned figure, dubbed Maree Man due to it being 20 kilometres from the town of Maree, was made from 30-centimetre deep x 350-centimetre-wide gouges scraped into the earth.

Even though the figure was clearly achieved using machinery, exactly how this was achieved is perhaps the biggest mystery. It is widely assumed that GPS was used, as making a figure that is as tall as the city of Adelaide would need some sophisticated machinery.

But the Maree Man was only discovered in 1998 (although how long the figure was there before someone found it is anyone’s guess) and GPS was still in its infancy, not being readily available for use to the public.

This led many to believe the Marree Man was a gift from the US military, for use of the Woomera Restricted Area. It would make sense, as they would have access to the technology required. One clue is that, at the feet of the man, are descriptions using terms that aren’t common locally – feet instead of metres,  and a reference to Aboriginal reservations.

An anonymous fax was sent in 1999 that lead to a discovery of a plaque, buried five metres deep near the figure’s nose. The plaque was buried with a USA flag, the Olympic Rings, and a reference to a book The red centre: Man and Beast in the heart of Australia by HH Finlayson.

Other’s conclude that it was actually South Australian artist Bardius Goldberg, who had reportedly talked about making art that could be seen only from above and further reports that he was paid $10,000 for his involvement. Goldberg, unfortunately, died in 2002, unable to confirm or deny any speculation.

Status? The Marree Man is set to be restored, using earth graders and GPS, by Marree locals this year. This is great news because whoever is responsible for the world’s second largest geoglyph still has everyone searching for answers nearly 20 years later.

The Marree Man (South Australia), satellite – © Landsat 1998

Left: Maree Man South Australia, 28 June 1998. © Commonwealth of Australia 2004. This picture of the “Marree Man” was produced from a Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper image acquired on 28 June, 1998 (WRS 99-80), using bands 1,4,7. Source
Right: Greyscale outline rendering of the Marree Man geoglyph discovered in Central Australia in 1998.

Marree Man from the air, circa 1998

Aboriginal hunter with spear / Marree Man – © rr

UFOs and Lights in the Sky

When it comes to mysterious happenings, anything Unidentified Flying Object-related is probably the hardest to swallow but also makes some of the most intriguing mysteries. The appearance of UFOs have been documented throughout history, with Alexander The Great seeing two great “flying shields that spat fire” way back in 329BC.

The outback of Australia has been home to many such experiences, but none perhaps more infamous than that experienced by the Knowles family.

Driving from Perth to Melbourne in 1988, in search of employment opportunities, the Knowles family encountered something strange in the middle of the Nullabor.

It was 4am when they drove through the Nullarbor Plain in the southern part of Australia. Faye and her three sons – Patrick, 24, Sean, 21, and Wayne, 18 – were travelling with their two dogs when an odd light up ahead caught their attention. Sean was driving the family’s blue sedan with Patrick as his co-driver.

As the light got brighter, the two of them mused that it was a UFO landing.

A white beam of light came from within the object and moved along the front of their speeding vehicle. The Knowles describe the light as being one-metre wide and having an angular shape with a yellow centre. The family began to panic.

The object then began to move, floating right above the vehicle.

Uneasy but curious as to what the bright object was, Sean made a quick U-turn on the highway to give chase to the light and also to see if the people in the other car on the highway were okay.

That’s when the Knowles noticed that the light had given chase to the other vehicle instead. They decided to abandon the idea of the chase and did another U-turn.

What the Knowles remember next was their car’s tyres contacting with the asphalt and the sound of one of the tyres blowing out as it touched down on the road. Patrick told reporters it “felt like my brain was being sucked out”.

What was that strange light? Had they seen a UFO? Was it chasing them? As they raced to their destination, believing that their encounter was over, they heard and felt something heavy land on top of their car.

The family claim the object, shaped like an egg in an eggcup, chased and even lifted their car off the road, dropping it so heavily a tyre burst and their voices became distorted and sounded like they were in slow motion.

Faye reached out the window to touch the object, which she said felt hot and rubbery. A cloud of dark dust blew in through the window, smelling of decomposing organic matter. Sean managed to bring the car to a halt on the side of the road before he and his family fled in terror and hid in some bushes.

The family’s encounter is unbelievably odd, but they were not the only witnesses.

Graham Henley, a truck driver, had seen the strange light on the same road just minutes before. He had been observing the light on the highway for a good five minutes but can’t remember seeing any other lights near or beneath the hovering object, and his description of the object matched those of the family.

The Knowles drove to the town of Ceduna, where they were interviewed by local police. Sergeant Jim Furnell of the Ceduna Police Department investigated the case. He could confirm to reporters that the Knowles were visibly shaken by the experience and that the car did have indentations on its roof and some of the fine, dark dust.

So, what was it? Theories seem to point to a meteorite. The Knowles family’s description of a bright light, violent shaking, vehicle damage, smell and the deposit of powder-like material was consistent with the falling disintegration of a carbonaceous meteorite.

It would explain several of the oddities of the mystery, but certainly doesn’t explain the strange feelings the family felt. Whatever it was, it gets added to to the list of SAs unsolved mysteries.

Status? Now, it’s just a story to scare each other with on those long road trips across the Nullarbor.

Knowles family interview

Screen capture from Knowles family interview. Source

In 1988, the Knowles family of Australia encountered a UFO that landed on top of their car and lifted it up into the air. (Kesara Art) Source: Mysteries, Legends, and Unexplained Phenomena by Preston E Dennett.

Got an intriguing mystery that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments, below.



  1. William Buckley

    30/05/2017 at 2:30 pm

    The UFO that attacked the Knowles family was by all accounts about the size of a station wagon, it hovered, it had a powerful searchlight, it spewed out hot exhaust fumes and carbon soot and made a humming electrical noise and a vroom vroom noise came from the engines. Sounds like a helicopter to me. A truck driver who looked at the car shortly after the attack said the car was covered in soot and there were four dents on the roof and it looked like the car had been picked up by a magnet. It was. Forensic analysis of the dust was found to be mostly potassium chlorate, an explosive compound, and carbon and a trace of astatine a toxic radioactive chemical produced synthetically. So nothing Alien was found and nothing to suggest they were attacked by space people.The family were pursued up and down that desert road for nearly an hour and after the attack a similar craft (a helicopter) was seen hovering over a tuna boat in the Southern Ocean. It is my view that the family drove into a paramilitary espionage story, and for them it was a case of mistaken identity that they were attacked. There is a coverup going on here. Mrs Knowles gave an interview to a newspaper and said,” We are all angry. Everybody knows that this happened to us but the people who should be concerned have just ignored it. There has been a coverup. The Government owes us, and the public an explanation.” This case can be solved, just look at the evidence and seek the truth.

  2. William Buckley

    31/05/2017 at 2:04 pm


    The strange encounter experienced by the Knowles family on the Nullarbor Plain must be one of the most significant sightings of a UFO of all time. The sheer volume of physical evidence and witnesses involved in this story and our inability to discover the truth is absolutely amazing. The investigation into this incident has so far centred around trying to explain it in terms of an unknown phenomenon or a possible alien encounter. This is not the case.

    The attack on the Knowles family was orchestrated and carried out by a well resourced paramilitary organisation operating in Australia, using a sophisticated helicopter with specialised lifting equipment. The Knowles’ involvement was purely accidental. They were not the intended target and were attacked only because they resembled the real target group who were also travelling on the same road that night. The nature of this covert action by this paramilitary group and the importance of the assassination attempt on the real target group are now shrouded in secrecy and cover-up and nobody wants the truth to be revealed. I have investigated this event from day one and have now reached a plausible explanation that I would like to share with you.


    On the evening of the 20 January 1988 Faye Knowles and her three sons, Patrick, Sean and Wayne, were on their way from Perth to Melbourne. Sean was driving when they were between Madura and Mundrabilla. An observer from the paramilitary group must have wrongly identified the Knowles family as the target group and details of their vehicle and location were passed on to the attack helicopter waiting out on the Nullarbor Plain.

    At 1.45 am the Knowles family had reached the attack zone, a lonely flat piece of landscape where low level flying could be carried out safely. When the helicopter crew spotted their car they turned on their powerful spotlight and began to fly directly towards them. The plan was to night blind the driver and force the car to stop or crash. If the helicopter had succeeded in stopping the car the family would have been murdered on the spot. The helicopter was equipped with sophisticated lifting equipment in the form of a high-powered electro magnet attached to a long steel cable. For the crew of the chopper it would have been a simple matter of attaching the magnet onto the car roof, lifting the car off the ground, flying over the Southern Ocean, which is 50 km away, and dumping them into a watery grave.

    The Knowles’s initially thought that the spotlight on the helicopter was a truck with one head light which was driving erratically, but according to Patrick, as they approached it, it looked more like an object hovering above an old station wagon. Other reports by the Knowles’s have described the helicopter as a huge glowing thing, a weird looking thing, a car and a caravan or even an egg in an egg cup. These discrepancies are not surprising when you consider the split second glance they had as they swerved around the light beam. The truth is that Sean swerved to avoid the light beam, which was projected 20 metres in front of the helicopter and nearly collided with the craft.

    Sean Knowles had evaded the first attack and was now accelerating eastwards. The helicopter turned around and began to chase their car from behind. It flew past them and probably intended to get in front of them again to have another go at running them off the road. Sean had other ideas. He turned the car around and then sped off in a westerly direction. The chopper crew must have realised that this cat and mouse game could continue all night and made a desperate attempt to attach the electro magnet onto the moving car and hoist it off the road. Now hovering above the speeding car they lowered the electromagnet onto the roof of the car and switched it on. The Knowles’s heard a clunking noise as the electromagnet was attached and felt the weight of the magnet pushing the car down. The car was bathed in the intense light of the spotlight and the static electricity from the electromagnet made their hair stand on end. The high voltage of the magnet running through the car’s electrical system begun to heat the wiring causing the insulation to smoke and emit the foul smell the occupants experienced. They wound down the windows and were engulfed by dust, soot and exhaust fumes, which were whirling around beneath the chopper. Mrs Knowles felt the car being lifted, so she reached onto the car roof and touched a spongy shock insulator, which surrounded the electromagnet that she later described, felt like a suction pad. The hot exhaust fumes that were being emitted from the jet engines also burnt her hand. The placement of the electro magnet directly above Mrs Knowles in the back seat indicated that the magnet was not placed in a central position, which made it impossible to pick the car cleanly off the road. As soon as the car was lifted it began to swing violently from side to side. Sean reported that at this point the speedometer indicated 200 km/h. This was because his foot was still on the accelerator and the front wheels were freewheeling with no road resistance.

    Inside the car the rotor blades of the helicopter created a pounding and compressing effect around the Knowles family. Their voices began to quiver and they seemed to be talking in slow motion as the pressure affected their hearing and speech. The swinging car beneath the helicopter now created difficulties for the chopper crew as they tried to trim and stabilise the craft. Unable to control this movement they began loosing height. The full weight of the car was now transferred onto one of the rear tyres, which completely blew out the sidewall as it bounced back down onto the road. The springs inside the vehicle’s front wheel wells were also damaged from the violent up and down movement as the car bounced along the road.

    Sean Knowles slammed on the brakes and the car acted like an anchor as the helicopter dragged the skidding car along the road. The car eventually came to a halt and the Knowles family, except Sean who had blacked out, jumped out of the car and made a run for the bush. The family watched as the helicopter dragged the car, with Sean still in it, sideways off the road. Sean eventually regained consciousness and climbed out of the car. He later described the helicopter as a huge thing with tanks on both sides and making a humming electrical sound.

    From the choppers high vantage point the crew must have noticed a truck that was approaching the scene, so they broke off the attack to avoid any more witnesses to their operation. With the helicopter out of sight the family returned to their car and started changing the blown tyre. At this point in time the truck passed them. The chance appearance of the truck gave them the time they needed to change the tyre, restart the car, turn around and start to follow the truck in an easterly direction.

    With the family back in the car and on the road the helicopter returned to continue the attack. The driver swerved all over the road trying to outmanoeuvre the helicopter as it tried to re-attach the electromagnet. It wasn’t until the Knowles passed a truck that the helicopter broke off the attack. Shortly after the family stopped at the Mundrabilla roadhouse.

    At the roadhouse the terrified Knowles began telling their story to the staff and two truck drivers, Graham Henley and John De Jong, who now examined the car. Mr Henley later reported to the press that he noticed four dents on the car roof that looked as if the car had been picked up by a magnet. He also reported that there was soot all over the car and it smelled like a blown fuse. Mr Henley had also observed a very high-powered spotlight in his rear vision mirror following him for five minutes. Both truck drivers returned to the scene where the change of tyre took place and verified the skid marks and evidence from the car, which was dragged sideways off the road.

    In the meantime the Knowles’s wanting to leave the area continued their journey to the east just as the sun came up. They were stopped and questioned by the South Australian Police in Ceduna. The investigators confirmed that the family were in a state of great anxiety and visibly shaken by the ordeal. They also confirmed that there were four dents on the corners of the hood and there was a fine black/grey dust covering the inside and outside of the car. Even with the Knowles family’s eyewitness account and the large amount of forensic evidence on the car the police failed to conduct a proper investigation into this incident. They instead made arrangements for the Knowles to proceed to Adelaide for further investigation by UFO Research South Australia. The story was also passed on to the TV Station Channel 7, who tied the family to an exclusive interview for a modest $5,000. From that point on truth and evidence relating to this incident was difficult to obtain and the facts became misrepresented and confused.


    There are many theories from Ufologists and the media about what happened to the Knowles family that night. Here are some of them:

    • The family were going to be abducted by aliens from outer space who were going to conduct experiments on them.
    • They were caught in an electromagnetic storm.
    • It was the sun coming up.
    • It was a rocket fired from Woomera.
    • It was a hoax.
    • It was an attempt by the family to defraud the insurance company after they had an accident in their car.

    I sometimes wonder how many intelligent life forms live on this planet. This is obviously a case of attempted murder of four people who were all extremely traumatised by this hour-long attack. There was plenty of forensic evidence and witnesses to prove that the family was attacked and a major police investigation should have been triggered to uncover the truth.

    Analysis of dust samples collected from the car turned out to be mainly Potassium Chlorate, an explosive compound that is used by terrorists to build improvised explosive devices. A radioactive chemical, Astatine, has also been found. Astatine should only be found in a nuclear facility because it is associated with nuclear fission or depleted Uranium.

    The attack on the family happened six days before the Bicentennial of Australia. Dignitaries from all over the world were at the Opera House in Sydney on 26 January 1988 and a million people packed the streets and parks around it. We now know that terrorists who are plotting to harm us would more likely choose a major celebration in an iconic location for maximum impact. Now more than ever this case needs to be investigated at the highest level to uncover the truth.

    The last word must surely go to the Knowles family. Mrs Knowles gave an interview to a Western Australian Newspaper in which she stated: “We are all angry. Everybody knows that this happened to us but the people who should be concerned have just ignored it. There has been a cover-up. The government owes us and the public an explanation.”

    • Tony suckling

      06/01/2018 at 3:38 pm

      Very intriguing reading and scary reading, however where did you get your information???

      • William Buckley

        05/03/2018 at 2:40 pm

        Everything that I have written can be attributed to newspaper articles and magazines which the Knowles family have commented in. A lot of the confusion about this story comes from the way it was first reported by a television station which had an exclusive contract on what was said. This TV station took the family to a secret location and conducted their interviews.When it was first broadcast on TV the family were still in a great deal of stress and had not had any proper sleep for days. There were four of them trying to tell there bits of what had happened and the whole timeline of the story was confused and difficult to comprehend so most people thought it was bulldust. Over the years I have collected every bit of information I could find and I have also spoken to the family, a truck driver from the roadhouse and an insurance assessor who looked at the car. Rather than jump to a conclusion it was Aliens from outer space I chose to examine it as a crime and look for motive , means and opportunity and evaluate all the forensic evidence to come up with a theory, which is what the police should have done. All scientific theory can and are tested simply by applying the test of, Can this event be reproduced to come up with the same effect and outcome.The answer to that is yes, If you have seen the James Bond movie ” You Only Live Twice” a car was picked up by a helicopter using an electromagnet attached to the chopper by a steel cable. It worked in the movies but in real life it was far more difficult and the attack failed. I don’t have a website but I am using my Facebook page to publish the articles I mostly relied on for my story. You can search William Buckley for Perth and with a bit of effort find my site.Thank you for your interest.

  3. Jackson

    01/06/2017 at 10:20 am

    Hello Willliam, many thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed response, as well as the time you took to send an email, I found it a very interesting read – thank you

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