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