I’m sure your heart is as heavy as mine as we watch the war coverage from Ukraine. The one characteristic that always arises when talking about Putin is his background as a KGB agent. Many people believe his years of spying still permeate his thoughts and guide his actions.
Unlike today, where espionage occurs through social media platforms, WWII spying took on a unique form after the war. In 1948, rumors circulated that the United Kingdom started testing nuclear weapons, and Australian spies leaked that information to the Russians. Those suspicions permeated the conversations of the police when they found a well-dressed body sitting on the cliff in Somerton Beach, Australia.
In December 1948, a couple walking along the shore noticed a well-dressed man sitting on the beach. He had no blanket, no picnic basket, and no companion. The couple waved hello, and the man lifted his arm in the air but dropped it by his side.
At sunrise, two boys found the lifeless man sitting upright. The body had no identification, and the tags removed from his clothing. (Classic spy tactic). Upon further investigation, the police found an unused train ticket, a pack of chewing gum, matches, a comb, and a packet of cheap Army Club cigarettes in his pockets. Also, the packet contained seven expensive Kensitas cigarettes sitting amongst the cheaper brand.
Lacking evidence of foul play, the coroner’s initial theory was death by a heart attack. Yet, an external examination found that the man appeared healthy, had a muscular appearance, and that his calves were that of a dancer.
Unable to identify the body through general queries, the police reached out to other countries, including the US FBI, with pictures and fingerprints. A full search of foreign databases did not link the man to any police or military records.
Meanwhile, the law enforcement agency received notice of an unclaimed suitcase at the railway. The chance of matching the contents with the body proved difficult. Until they noticed the labels on the clothing removed. Contents included an orange-waxed thread, not found in Australia at the time but existed in the U.S. The researchers matched the thread with the buttons sewed on the suit, which proved the bag belonged with the body.
The suitcase also contained an electrician’s screwdriver, a table knife, scissors, a ship’s navigation, and a cargo stenciling kit. Only one article of clothing had the name T. Keane written on a shirt.
When no information arrived, the authorities pursued a complete autopsy. Weeks later, the autopsy revealed no signs of a heart attack, but the man had a large spleen, congested liver, and blood in his stomach. Similar to someone who had poison in their system. However, scraps of food lodged in his back teeth did not contain any poison.
Did someone kill the man by poisoning the cigarettes or the chewing gum? We will never know. The authorities found no use for the cigarettes nor the gum and discarded them before the autopsy. Thus, forensics and medical examinations prove a dead-end (no pun intended). A second inspection of the man’s clothes located a tiny piece of paper folded into a small square and sewn into the pocket of his trousers. The paper had two words written on them: Tamam Shud.
The authorities put out a call to the Universities and libraries worldwide for information about the phrase. Several months later, a librarian revealed that the phrase, Tamam Shud, is the last two words of a book of love poems called Rubiyat of Omarkhayyam. When translated, the words mean, “It is finished.”
Could this have been an act of suicide based on unrequited love?
To add to the mystery, the day before the man died, a cab driver found a copy of Rubiyat of Omarkhayyam in the back seat of his car. When the police inspected the book, they found the torn sheet fit the ripped section of the page. The volume also contained a hand drawing of a woman, a series of codes, and two phone numbers.
One phone number did not register, but the second number belonged to a woman who lived 400 yards from Somerton Beach. The woman desired to remain anonymous and gave her nickname, Jestyn, to the police. According to Jestyn, she owned a copy of the Rubiyat of Omarkhayyam, but gave it to a soldier named Al Boxnall, whom she met in the hospital while working as a nurse. Jestyn also shared that Al Boxnall worked for the Australian Intel.
Yet, a search for Al Boxnall provided information for another person.
Oh, but there’s more! To add fuel to the spy mystery, a short time before the police found the Somerton man, they discovered another body at a restaurant near Jestyn’s hospital, and that man also had a copy of Rubiyat of Omarkhayyam lying next to him.
Was Jestyn a femme fatale working as a spy? Or was she a love them and kill them kind of gal?
With no further leads, the police cast the head of the mysterious man and brought Jestyn to look at it. Although she claimed no ties to the man, witnesses state she looked faint and startled when she saw the cast.
Years later, researchers found the daughter of Jestyn and learned that she trained as a professional ballerina for decades (remember the body had calves of a dancer?). They also noticed that her daughter had a remarkable resemblance to the face of the Somerton man. Had Jestyn wooed the man for information, become pregnant, and then exposed his cover, which led to his death?
In 2021, Jestyn’s daughter had the body exhumed for DNA testing, and the results are still pending.
So, do you think this is a romance gone bad, or did the unknown man have ties to a foreign spy agency? Let me know your thoughts. I’ll post pictures and links about this case on my Facebook page (Harper Gale Books) if you’re interested.
Until next time,