Mystery of the Somerton Man – The Taman Shud Case

The Taman Shud Case, also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is an unsolved case of an unidentified man found dead at 6:30 a.m., 1 December 1948, on Somerton beach in Adelaide, South Australia.

It is named after a phrase, tamam shud, meaning “ended” or “finished” in Persian, on a scrap of the final page of The Rubaiyat, found in the hidden pocket of the man’s trousers. In 1948, an unknown man was found dead on Somerton beach in Adelaide, South Australia.

He was found without identification, and no apparent cause of death, although it was eventually determined that he was killed by an undetectable poison such as digitalis.

He had no identification, no labels on his clothing, and only a few small clues among his personal belongings, including a curious tiny piece of paper found in a small hidden pocket in his trousers. It was apparently torn from a book, with the words Taman Shud printed on it.

Librarian translators determined it to be a Persian phrase meaning “ended” or “finished”, found on the last page of a very rare edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The poetic implications led many to believe the man may have committed suicide. But more sinister clues were about to make that theory seem unlikely.

Through a widely publicized campaign in the media, a man came forward whom discovered the exact book that the paper had been torn from in the back seat of his unlocked car about a week before the body was found. Inside the back cover of the book was inscribed a series of non-random letters that appeared to be some sort of secret code.

This was easily believable given the Cold War climate at the time, and the town of Adelaide’s close proximity to a top-secret missile and military intelligence site which had recently been infiltrated by Soviet spies, an event which directly led to the creation of the Australian Secret Security Service.

Expert code breakers and computer programs still have yet to manage a translation, despite sophisticated attempts as recently as 2009.

The very rare edition of the book may have contained the decryption key within its pages, but it was lost back in the 1960’s, and a replacement has yet to be found.

Why did he have a piece of paper that translated to “ended” ripped from a book found randomly in a man’s car? Just what did the letters in the back of the book mean?

The Taman Shud case remains a mystery that many are still trying to solve even to this day.

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