This is a story I have been writing about The Tamam Shud Case or the Mystery of The Somerton Man. It is one that is little known but has extraordinary circumstances. The man’s body was found dead on Somerton beach at 6.30am on the 1st December 1948, sitting propped up on a wall on the southern coast of Australia. It has come one of the country’s most profound mysteries, the identity of the man has never been known. Found months later (the case was reopened a number of times even by an academic in 2012) was a page torn out of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam a poet of 12th Century fame. The page found in his fob pocket, read Tamam Shud, meaning “finished” in Persian. As well as less romantic evidence and suspicions of military interference, this one is a head scratcher from start to finish.

Please note that many of the people, places and storylines are works of fiction and it is not to be considered fact, those can be found easily, for all to read.

I

Dead before Dawn

In South Australia, he was found, the sunrise wreathed his death, casually he slumped against some steps. It looked like he was just enjoying a smoke, but alive he was not. Discovered by two swimmers and two horse riders, the early risers, on Somerton Beach at around 6am on the 1st December 1948. Opposite the Crippled Children’s Home on the corner of The Esplabade and Bickford Terrace on a fine summers day.

The pristine beach soon had the police arrive and carry the body away, bagged up in the back of their van as the low swell swept morning waves up the warm sand. His death was considered suicide and unsuspicious, the body being rigid with rigor mortis, meant he had died the night before,

“Arr he was dead before dawn” one of the coppers said.

They thought suicide as he carried no proof of identity on him. That theory soon unravelled as his body was searched and the autopsy began, things were found that police couldn’t quite understand.

The most mysterious of these things was a piece of paper torn from a book discovered in the fob pocket sewn into the dead man’s trousers. The paper had printed on it in distinctive font, “Tamam Shud”. The autopsy produced more confusion, the means of death was by an unknown poison. They did not know who the man was, his identity apparently non existent.

The case was reopened after suicide was declared and investigations began in earnest.

Detective Timothy O’Keefe sat on his veranda watching rays of the setting sun dance through the leaves of his gum trees. A few kookaburras chatted away on their branches as the crickets struck up their dusk choir. He eased off his braces and sat back on his wicker chair, curls of dark Brylcreemed hair coming loose, a sign that duty was at an end. He put a cigarette to his lips but he never lit it, his eyes were already closed and sleep came, uncomfortably.

A man was running down a beach trying to light a cigarette in cascading rain, he ran with the terror of a beast in flight. For behind him was a pack a lions, sniffing prey and drooling death from fanged mouths. His feet sank in wet sand as the big cats pounded closer, forming a circle around him. Feebly mumbling short moans he spun around trying to see all six lions at once; strangely he still tried to light his cigarette as well, in vain.

Suddenly there was a great rumbling from the earth and out to sea a great wave was forming, as big as mountain,  its steely grey slopes coming ever closer, great foam peaks frothed menacingly. The wave was upon them and its might was going to crush them.

A hand shook his shoulder and his eyes opened to find his wife’s face in front of him looking quizzical.

‘You alright there dear?’ She laughed

‘Look like you’ve seen a ghost’

‘Just a dream, love’ he replied  although his mind was still furiously trying to remember it.

‘What’s for tea?’

‘Lamb chops and veg, like we always do on a Wednesday, anyway, I saw Joyce today and she was saying this bloke Finn….’

His wife’s voice trailed off and he thought about the man who died looking like he was just enjoying a smoke and who the hell he could’ve been.

© Jack Nugent

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