The Tamam Shud fragment was a proof of identity…

When dealing with the Somerton Man case, many people have a tendency to try to reduce it all to a story wrapped around an emotion (love, passion, jealousy, hurt, anger, loss, betrayal, etc) and/or a crime (plotting, deception, murder, suicide, etc).

But actually, these are mindsets that not only don’t help, but also get in the way: looking at the evidence with a clear head is a hard enough challenge on its own. In fact, I find getting to the point where I’m ready even to ask the right question to be a genuinely tough process, never mind reaching towards an answer.

So here’s today’s question…

Actual-tamam-shud

Why was the “Tamam Shud” scrap of paper in the Somerton Man’s pocket at all?

After a lot of consideration, my starting points for answering this question are:
* I believe the Somerton Man placed it there himself (i.e. it was not planted there by someone after his death)
* I believe it was not random, accidental or coincidental (i.e. it seems to have been consciously and deliberately put in a hard to find place)
* I believe it was placed there for a rational reason (whatever that reason happens to be)
* I believe it had a specific extrinsic function – that is, it had value or meaning or use only in relation to someone or something else

So… why was it there, then?

Putting all this together, my current working hypothesis is that the “Tamam Shud” fragment was the Somerton Man’s physical proof that the Rubaiyat was linked to him, even though he had (apparently) not previously met the person who was in possession of that Rubaiyat.

So the two items when combined together form a paired identification proof mechanism: the Tamam Shud scrap was a token to prove his identity to someone he had not previously met, while the Rubaiyat was a token to prove the other party’s identification to him.

If this is right, we have a fairly small number of token-based mutual identification scenarios to consider, such as:

(1) Seller – Intermediary – Buyer
* The Seller tears the “Tamam Shud” out of the Rubaiyat.
* The Seller gives the “Tamam Shud” to the Intermediary (the Somerton Man) and the Rubaiyat to the Buyer.
* The Intermediary meets the Buyer to collect money – possession of “Tamam Shud” token proves he was sent by the Seller.
* The Intermediary takes the money back to the Buyer.

(2) Seller – Messenger – Buyer
* The Seller (the Somerton Man in this scenario) tears the “Tamam Shud” out of the Rubaiyat.
* The Seller gives the Rubaiyat to the Messenger to give to the Buyer (but keeps the “Tamam Shud”).
* The Seller meets the Buyer to collect money – possession of the two halves mutually prove each party’s identity.

(3) Buyer – Messenger – Seller
* The Buyer tears the “Tamam Shud” out of the Rubaiyat
* The Buyer passes the “Tamam Shud” to the Seller via a Messenger
* The Buyer meets the Seller to collect money – possession of the two halves mutually prove each party’s identity.

Pete Bowes and Gordon Cramer seem to insist that this kind of behaviour is merely ‘tradecraft’, but I really don’t know if that’s a position that can yet be justified. All the same, there’s certainly a strong whiff of distrust and proof at play here: personally, I don’t yet know what to make of it all. But it is what it is.

Richard Frederick Arthur Pruszinski’s short Broken Hill life…

Who was the 17-year-old boy from Broken Hill who dumped the suitcase with clothes and a rifle stock on Somerton Beach the weekend before the Somerton Man died there?

Commenter ‘Clive’ had had no luck with the Adelaide Court archives (in fact, Janey found out a few weeks ago that “all [Adelaide] Youth Court files prior to 1984 have been destroyed”), so decided to trawl through the Police Gazette. Luckily, what Clive found there was that “the youth, aged 17, was named as Frederick William Pruszinksi. He was fined 4 pounds and 10 pence for unlawful use of a car”.

Actually, it seems very likely to me that the youth’s name was Richard Frederick (“Freddie”) Arthur Pruszinski, of 247 Williams Street, Broken Hill: and we can trace many aspects of his (unfortunately) short life through Trove.

10 December 1945: Fred Pruszinski was in Class 2CP, and got “1st English (aeq.), 1st Technical Drawing (aeq.)”

29th November 1947: a relative (presumably?) was working on the mines but fell ill: “C. Pruszinski was taken to the Hospital and admitted after he had become ill at the Zinc Corporation. His condition last night was stated to be quite comfortable.” (He seems to have flown back from Melbourne on 4th January 1949.)

Despite his young age, Fred Pruszinski was a keen member of the Silver City Miniature Rifle Club: his first newspaper mention is from 8th March 1948, and by 20th August 1949 he was Honorary Secretary.

29th November 1949: his sister Eileen Patricia Pruszinski announced her engagement to “Harold, only son of Mr. and Mrs H. Payne, 608 Beryl Street”. They were married on 11th March 1950 at 9am:

Fine needlerun lace and misty tulle was chosen for the bride’s picturesque period gown, which she had made herself. Underlined with rich satin, the frock was made with a high round neckline and circular tulle yoke piped with satin and outlined with a soft frill, and the slender satin-piped waist line was met by a hooped crinoline skirt. The centre panel of soft tulle frills was edged each side with satin piped scallops caught with sprigs of orange blossom, and the skirt swept out into a graceful flowing train flnished with a deep tulle trill all around. A trail of orange blossom was caught across the back waistline above a shirred bustle of satin-lined lace, and her long peaked sleeves were buttoned to the elbow. A coronet of orange blossom backed with a frilled lace halo surmounted her frothy veil of six tiers of scalloped tulle, and she wore a double strand pearl necklace. […]

By 14th May 1951, Fred Pruszinski was shooting for West Broken Hill Rifle Club.

12th July 1951: “Failure to observe a halt sign at the intersection of Argent and Kaolin Streets cost Richard Pruszinski a fine of £2 and 10/ costs.” (Might have been Freddie or his father Dick, I don’t know).

8th January 1952: in an apparent change of direction, Fred Pruszinski passed an Engineman Driver’s Examination (“AC and DC”). By 1st July 1952, he had passed his Diesel examination too.

Yet sadly, he died suddenly at Morton Boolka creek on 7th March 1953, having shot a bird and tried to swim to get it, before falling into difficulties and drowning. (The Coroner subsequently ruled that his death was an accident, e.g. Barrier Miner, 31 Mar 1953.)

There were plenty of funeral notices: a typical description of Pruszinski’s funeral appeared in the Barrier Miner, 11th March 1953 edition:

The funeral of Mr. Richard Frederick Arthur Pruszinski took place yesterday afternoon. The cortege left his residence, 247 Williams Street, for the general cemetery. Envoy J. Crocker conducted a service at the grave. The bearers were: Messrs. D. Hargraves, K. Cook, P. Fitzgerald, D. Carlin, J. Heslop, and J. Hamilton. The following representatives were present: Mr. J. P. Fitzgerald <W.I.U. of A> Mr. L. Farrugia (Zinc Corporation Sickness Fund); Messrs. F. Anderson and J. Brownett (West Rifle Club).

He was buried in grave #214 at Broken Hill Cemetery, the same one as Richard Walter Pruszinski (1928-1934, presumably an older brother).

According to this, Pruszinski was born and educated in Broken Hill, and “was employed at the N.B.H.C. as a miner. He was a member of the W.I.U. of A., Zinc Sickness Fund, and the West Rifle Club”. This funeral notice lists his close friends: “DON PURCELL, DON HARGREAVES, DON CARLIN, KEVIN COOK, JOHN WINKLER and PAT FITZPATRICK”. (They were also his pallbearers). At the West Broken Hill Rifle Club, “the flags were flown at half-mast and members stood in silence in respect for late member F. Pruszinski.”

The Secret History of Paul Rubin, perhaps…?

Here’s a partial update on the Paul Emanual Rubin cipher mystery for you, followed by my updated thoughts on the ciphertext, and then finishing with my current best guess as to what happened. But… please don’t build your hopes up too high, there’s no sign of hugely happy ending to it all just yet. :-(

The Update Part

After my recent post on the Paul Rubin cipher, I discovered that Craig Bauer (whose long-standing interest in the case was the starting point for that post) is currently planning to write and publish a Cryptologia article on it.

Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to his article: and I really hope that he gets to peek just a little behind the veil of the scanty external documentation to reveal the real secret history just behind it. There’s certainly very little of substance currently in the public domain: yet there’s a good chance that many of Rubin’s friends – if Bauer could manage to identify them – may well still be alive. I’m sure that they would be very happy to help Bauer get closer to the truth, even at this distance in time.

At the same time, I’m assuming that the FBI – which was so clearly involved right from the start of this case – will likely not be contributing to the picture Bauer will build up. As a matter of general policy, the Bureau seems uninterested in contributing or collaborating with external codebreakers (and don’t get me started on the Ricky McCormick case), so the FBI side of things seems to be an avenue that will remain blocked for many years yet.

The Cipher Part

Doubtless Craig Bauer will have his own conclusions about the ciphers used (and he may even have access to enough primary material to be able to break the ciphertext). But here are mine.

rubin-newspaper-cutting-annotated

Even on the low resolution photo of the cipher note, we can see “PER” at the bottom right, which is surely Paul Emanuel Rubin’s typewritten signature. Hence there is no real doubt that this whole thing was made directly by him.

I also have no real doubt about the section with the numbers on (outlined in blue above): that this is a home-brewed Morse Code variant. Only an amateur / kid code-maker would use something like this: while visually impressive, it’s hugely long-winded and impractical.

Finally, I have very little doubt about the section that seems to have “Conant” and “Dulles” in the clear: there is only one cipher system that has sufficient latitude to achieve this, and that is where a plaintext message (or a simple substitution cipher message) gets interspersed with euphonic or orthographically pleasing nulls to generate a covertext. Trithemius proposed this 500 years ago, and I feel certain that this is what is being used here.

e.g. the underlying cipher message might say “C.N.N”, but after nulls get added, the cover message becomes “C.o.N.a.N.t”.

As a more general observation, though, I suspect that each line of the text uses a separate code-table, because there seems to be very little consistency from line to line, even if you take every other letter of each line. But that fits with the whole amateur code-maker thing: it’s almost impossible to break extremely short ciphertexts, unless you have a lot of a priori knowledge about what was going on in context (which seems not to be the case here).

Finally, the other short patches of text seem likely to me to be code-table references or offsets etc. When Rubin’s friend said at the time that he (I presume he) would be able to decrypt it in a few hours if he had access to Rubin’s code-tables, this is without much doubt what he meant. Hence my prediction is that each code-table is relatively simple in itself, but that each one is used only in short bursts, to make it nearly impervious to codebreakers.

The Secret History Part

As to what was going on Rubin’s life and head in the days and weeks up until his death, I don’t honestly know: as I mentioned before, I strongly suspect that he may have been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia (for surely only someone in a distressingly paranoid place would even consider taping a coded message to their abdomen), but many other causes and rationales are still in play.

But I do have a guess about what went wrong after his death.

And this is based on cryptanalysis: that if “Conant” and “Dulles” were, as I believe, both part of a covertext created by filling between genuine cipher letters with nice-looking Trithemian nulls to form additional words, then I don’t honestly believe that the plaintext will ultimately have anything remotely to do with “Conant” and “Dulles” at all. In short, if you were paranoid about Conant and Dulles, you really wouldn’t leave them in plain sight.

But this was the diametric opposite of the assumption that the FBI seemed to be working on in this case. This was 1953, after all, the height of the HUAC and Cold War era, and Reds were perceived to be under every goshdarned Bed. And Rubin was a student, and therefore – so the mythology goes – could well have been exposed to one of numerous radicalizing factors and ideologies. So in fact it seems to me that poor Mr Rubin may not even have been the most paranoid element in the whole setup: by which I mean that the FBI seems to have been institutionally paranoid at that time, paranoia on an almost industrial scale.

Personally, I believe that Rubin’s friends – with whom he had exchanged numerous coded notes, according to various newspaper accounts, and doubtless knew most of his Trithemian tricks well – could easily have broken the heterogeneous set of micro-ciphers that made up his final essage, had they been given access to his code-tables.

However, my suspicion (as things stand) is that Rubin’s friends never got to see the message. Instead, I suspect that the FBI collected up all Rubin’s code-tables and documentation, tried to break them (and failed), and then – because they perceived that National Security was somehow at stake, even if they couldn’t prove it – kept everything quiet. The paranoid logic being, of course, that if Rubin was a goddamn Commie, then all his code-breaking chums were probably all the same distressing shade of Red, and therefore not to be trusted anywhere near his note.

(To my eyes, there are institutional echoes of the way the Ricky McCormick case was later handled, with the (minor) difference being that the institutional paranoia at play there was a weed (ha!) that grew vigorously on top of America’s civil War On Drugs.)

If I’m right, all Rubin’s code-tables are probably still sitting in an FBI archive, having never been shown to the very people who could have helped crack it without much trouble: and if so, what a sad waste of time the whole affair was.

Let’s hope Craig Bauer gets to tell us the whole story.

The Cryptography of Jules Verne…

Here’s a very accessible 1940 article by über-codebreaker William Friedman that I’m sure you’ll like: an appreciation of the cryptography of Jules Verne.

William Friedman – “Jules Verne as Cryptographer” – The Signal Corps Bulletin, April-June 1940 pp.70-107

signal-corps-bulletin-april-june-1940

In the article, Friedman discusses three stories Verne wrote that each hinged on a cryptogram that had to be broken:
* A Journey To The Centre of the Earth (1864)
* The Giant Raft or 800 Leagues On The Amazon (1881)
* Mathias Sandorf (1885).

In two cases it was a transposition cipher, while in the other it was a Vigenère cipher. Of course, it was Friedman himself who invented the whole Index of Coincidence approach for tackling Vigs in a systematic way, and what is nice here is that he reconstructs Verne’s attack on the Vig ciphertext in an easy-to-understand way (short version: Verne got it largely right, but not anywhere near 100%).

Naturally, many will point to Poe’s “The Gold Bug” as the ultimate cipher story: but actually, that used only a simple (monoalphabetic) substitution cipher, so Verne’s work was – cryptographically speaking – much more challenging. I hope you enjoy Friedman’s take on the three ciphers!

Incidentally, the article was recently found, scanned and posted by cryptocollector Brooke Clarke in the book section of his webpage of crypto-related stuff – thanks, Brooke, much appreciated! :-)

The cipher on Paul Emanuel Rubin’s abdomen…

I’ve been trying to post about the cipher that was attached to Paul Emanuel Rubin’s stomach for over a year now: so it’s about time I pushed what I’ve found out onto the web, to see if anyone else has more luck.

The story starts with a pair of 35-minute videos of a 2013 talk on unsolved ciphers given by Craig Bauer, managing editor of Cryptologia. Part 1 covers the usual suspects (Voynich, Beale, Dorabella, Somerton Man, etc), while Part 2 moves on to largely American cipher mysteries (Zodiac, Kryptos, etc). The slides are also available here.

One American cipher that has long fascinated Bauer (right at the start of Part 2) is the case of Paul Emanuel Rubin, who on the morning of 20th January 1953 was found dead (from cyanide poisoning) with a cipher taped to his stomach. Bauer showed a picture of the cipher taken from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin:-

rubin-newspaper-cutting

Newspaper Accounts

The best newspaper account I found was from the Schenectady Gazette, Friday 23rd January 1953:-

Dead Youth Sent Friends Coded Notes

The parents of a chemistry student who was found dead of cyanide poisoning with a coded letter taped to his stomach told police today that the youth had the curious habit of sending coded letters to friends.

One unidentified friend in Paul Rubin’s Brooklyn neighborhood told police he might be able to decipher the typewritten note that has baffled the FBI. Two words in it were recognizable – “Dulles” and “Conant”.

But these developments only heightened the puzzle for Coroner Joseph Ominsky. “I am keeping in my mind the opinion that this is no suicide,” he said. Yesterday Ominsky said there was a possibility it was murder.

The body of the 18-year-old New York University student was sent home to Brooklyn today for an Orthodox Jewish burial while local and federal authorities tried to learn how he came to die Tuesday in a ditch at International airport.

Ominsky said the FBI should explore contacts the victim had in New York and here to determine if he had been a messenger for some unusual activity.

“Until this question is answered,” the coroner said, “I cannot set a time for an inquest.”

The FBI here, informed of Ominsky’s statement, said it had “no comment”.

A number of curious objects were found in Rubin’s pockets and the appearance of the words “Dulles” and “Conant” on the coded message lent a cloak-and-dagger air of mystery to his death by cyanide poisoning. It was assumed the names referred to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and James Bryant Conant, U.S. high commimissioner in West Germany.

The FBI here has sent the message to its cryptographers in Washington.

Neither the parents, who said Rubin left home last Monday morning ostensibly for classes, nor the friend, could see any motive for suicide.

Moreover, according to this report

Ominisky [sic] said that if the cyanide was self-administered, the body would not have been in its orderly position, with the youth’s thick lense [sic] glasses undisturbed. He pointed out that cyanide kills quickly, and no vial or other container was found at the scene.

However, the Shamokin News Dispatch reported the next day (23rd January 1953) that:-

Investigators disclosed today that a five-inch long test tube was found near the ditch where the body of a New York University chemistry student was discovered last Tuesday.

The vial was turned over to city toxicologists for tests to determine if it had contained the cyanide which killed 18-year-old Paul E. Rubin, of Brooklyn, N. Y., a sophomore at NYU.

Police said the test tube was found about five feet from the 12-foot deep embankment near the International Airport in which the body was spotted by a soldier en route to catch a plane.

A thorough search was made of the area, but nothing else was found, police reported.

[…]

Police reported that an unidentified friend of the victim said that he could probably decipher the message found on the body if he could find the proper code books, but it might take him a week.

“Curious Objects”

Bauer (who either has access to far more newspapers than me or has seen the Coroner’s Report) noted that the “curious objects” included:

* “an image of an airplane with a Nazi swastika on its tail assembly” in a wallet: on the photo’s rear was written “France Field, Panama”.
* Another picture in the same wallet was of “The Thinker”, Rodin’s well-known sculpture.
* “a plastic cylinder containing a signal fuse” (a magic prop)
* “the casing of a spent .38 caliber bullet (found in a pocket of his topcoat)”
* “a fountain pen gun”
* “forty-seven cents” (though he had started the day with a rather more substantial $15)
* the February 1953 issue of “Galaxy Science Fiction”

Attempted Followups

To me, this is an unsatisfactory cipher mystery because we can’t even see the cipher clearly. I asked the FBI if they would release a better quality scan of the cipher, but got no reply (which is a shame).

I also asked the Special Collections Research Center at Temple University (who have a large archive of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin’s photos, many of which won awards) about the photo. Unfortunately, the scan of it they very kindly sent me from their microfilm archives was slightly worse than the one we already had, so no luck there either.

Also, I should point out that William Friedman retired in 1956, and without any doubt would have been shown the cipher at the time: so perhaps there’s a mention of it in Friedman’s papers at the George C. Marshall Foundation. I’ve had no luck there (though the archive does have lots of great photographs, if that floats your boat), so feel free to pick up my Friedmanian dropped baton and carry it further yourself.

Any other suggestions?

So… What Do I Think?

Firstly, I have to say that I think anyone who types out a mysterious note and tapes it to their stomach to be found later must (a) be suffering from some complex mental illness and (b) be about to consciously embark on a pre-planned perilous action. I’m sure up-to-the-minute politically correct healthcare professionals have a whole wealth of ways of pussyfooting around the term, but to me this has plenty of features that suggest paranoid schizophrenia.

Secondly, looking at the cipher itself, it’s clearly a mess: or rather, it doesn’t appear to be the product of an ordered, controlled mind or even a single cryptographic system. There are fragments of binary 0s and 1s (interpersed with dots and x’es), German, made-up words, an odd-looking signature, all kinds of stuff.

As a result, my overall opinion is that what we are looking at here is probably a product of delusion and steganography in equal measures: and so it is probably a kind of unhappy cryptogram rather than a tricky ciphertext per se. Hence my conclusion: that even though I would very much like to see the note in its entirety, I don’t currently believe that we will ever solve it.

Some things are just lost to the world.

The oddly inferential Somerton Man…

The two tenets of Intellectual History are that (a) (almost) all evidence is deposited in good faith, and that as a result (b) historians should, as their default position, accept that evidence in good faith too.

Yet for cases such as that of the Somerton Man, the jumbled fragments we have to work with appear oddly paradoxical and often contradictory. Can we fit every one of these resolutely square pegs into the uniformly round holes of a single narrative?

What I’m going to present here is an oddly inferential Somerton Man account, based on various difficult pieces of evidence that rarely get mentioned in Tamam Shud presentations, but which Intellectual Historians would surely advise us not to overlook.

20th November 1948 – Parafield

Gery Feltus reports that he has talked several times with the (even now anonymous) man in whose car the Rubaiyat with the torn end-page was found. The man specifically claimed that it had been left there around the time of the RAAF Air Display at Parafield – 20th November 1948.

However, because this seems ten days too early, Somerton Man researchers tend to dismiss it by asserting that the guy ‘must have’ misremembered that date. But staying with the Intellectual Historian methodology, I say: if that’s what the man said, let’s assume he was telling the truth.

It therefore seems likely to me that the Somerton Man was also in Adelaide ten or so days before he died, because the “Tamam Shud” torn from that copy ended up in one of his pockets.

Around 30th November 1948 – Glenelg

“An amazing coincidence was revealed […] when another Adelaide businessman called at police headquarters with a copy of the “Rubaiyat” which he had found in his motor car at Glenelg about the time the body was found. This book was a different edition.”

If we also take this very specific newspaper article where the above claim appears in good faith, we now have two different Rubaiyats being left in the back of two different cars in Glenelg in the second half of November 1948.

What can we infer from this hugely improbable coincidence? The only explanation I can think of as to why two copies of the same book would have been left in the backs of two strangers’ cars at roughly the same time is as a pre-arranged anonymous signal. Though spies knew this as a “dead drop”, criminals with more than a touch of paranoia used this too.

It therefore seems highly likely to me that this second (but barely ever mentioned) Rubaiyat was also directly involved in the sequence of events that led to the Somerton Man’s death.

30th November 1948 – Adelaide Railway Station

The Somerton Man buys a train ticket for Henley Beach, but does not use it. He then leaves his suitcase at the Left Luggage department at Adelaide Station between 11am and noon; then catches a bus towards Glenelg at around 11.15am, but gets off at Somerton.

When you put these three pieces together, I think the resulting implication is that he originally intended to meet someone in Henley Beach and leave his suitcase with them before going on to Somerton Beach; but that when this proved not possible or not desirable, he left that suitcase at the station and instead went straight to Somerton Beach on a bus instead.

(I originally proposed that this also meant that the person he was intending to meet in Henley Beach must therefore have owned or had access to a car or other vehicle: but Helen Ensikat notes that there may well have been a bus going South along the coast from there to Somerton Beach. If there was, then I agree with her that that coast road bus would be a more likely alternative scenario.)

1st December 1948 – Somerton Beach

The Somerton Man is found dead on Somerton Beach at around 6am. He has no hat, no id, no ration card, no wallet, and no money. His stomach contains traces of blood: yet there is no sign of vomit on his clothes or shoes or anywhere nearby.

The presence of blood implies that he would very probably have experienced convulsions and vomiting not long before his death. However, the absence of vomit implies that where he was found was not where he died.

The man’s body has a strong lividity at the back of his head: yet his body is found propped up.

This mismatch implies either (a) that he died right there on the beach but that his blood was prevented from pooling lower by some kind of blockage caused by the specific way he was laying (the theory espoused by Derek Abbott); or (b) that after he died, his body was left laid on its back for some time with his head tilted slightly backwards (i.e. making it the lowest point of his body) which was then carried to the beach and posed there as if he had died there.

While I concede that Derek’s (a) is conceivable, I contend that the evidence points strongly to (b).

The Winter Ballroom

The Brazilian nurse adjusted the Great Poet’s line and pillows with genuine tenderness but little effect.

“Titanic deckchairs?” he mused. “Infinitesimal parameters?” Words, old friends, pain relief, they all failed him now: like the snow falling softly outside, the only way was down.

Since arriving, he had only written occasional haikus on a Post-It Note pad: but day by day even that had become impossibly long-form. His writing fingers drummed arthritically on the coverlet, empty-tanked sports cars ever impatient for races they would never finish.

On a whim, he stared past her out of the window at the snowman standing in the tiny courtyard. It lacked yesterday’s newly-made sharp definition, true, but a pinprick of its shaped vitality was still discernible, if you knew where to look. “You and me both, pal”, he wheezed ineffectively.

“Are you alright, Meester Alston?”

“Never better”, he tried to lie: but as with his pen, the words seemed too wide, the channel too narrow.

She paused, watching his struggle for breath. “I will leave the light on”, she said as she left. “You seem to have a lot on your mind tonight.”

As the ground-floor’s other temporary residents turned in and switched off, the snowman gradually found itself illuminated just by the poet’s room light, leaving it a white lighthouse in a wine-dark sea of night. And far off in the hospice, a muffled radio played the organ intro to Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

And he was back in the ballroom, Bayswater, 1967, winter solstice. Dress code was pagan, Bohemian black for everyone except his bride, white-faced, ivory-clad Lindsay, his Mama Cass, his muse, with her sane reasoning and insane appetites.

Oddly, his resentful, drug-abusing sons were there too, their burning arrows of creativity forever condemned to sail listlessly beneath his own Laureate arc: and his daughter Caterina as well, beautiful before she was born and serene after she died.

“We skipped the light fandango…” Indeed: so what shall we dance this time, my dear? His mistresses, Tarni and Ute and Iris, eased gently out of the shadows as bridesmaids – though hardly vestal virgins – lifting him to the stage, to Lindsay, to a reconciliation they had both wanted but had never quite reached.

And everywhere he looked in the darkness around her, he saw more eyes, more faces, more everything, and with a vivid clarity that had long eluded him. And he was writing, writing now, writing his life and his love and his pain and his death, trapped and freed within a seventeen syllable prison cell of heaven and hell…

It was Nurse Celestina who found the body beside the snowman: how the Great Poet got there was a mystery. The Post-It Note in his hand was blank, though: there never was enough time to write that final haiku.

Our winter ballroom
Fills with friends anew.
My first and last dance, with you.

Ultimate Cipher Personality Quiz…

Discover your true ‘cipher personality’ with this easy-peasy six-step Ultimate Cipher Personality Quiz.

Note: answers are for entertainment purposes only, and may not apply to people even half as clever as you. ;-)

Question #1

Actual-tamam-shud

While reaching into a hard-to-get-to pocket, your fingers unexpectedly touch a tiny piece of paper hidden there. Unrolling it, you see that it contains the words “Tamam Shud”. Do you:

a) Decide to change dry-cleaners, this current lot are waaaay too weird for you.
b) Nearly fall off your chair. “OMFG! I’m obviously about to be murdered!” And who’s that knocking at your door? It can’t be coincidence, there’s no such thing…
c) Track down who put it there and hurl anonymous abuse at them for the rest of their pitiful life.
d) Smile wryly to yourself, but then don’t really think of it again.
e) Go upstairs to the study to cross-reference it against your large collection of Rubaiyat scans.

Question #2

davinci-code-small

“The Da Vinci Code” was…

a) Definitely Tom Hanks’ finest hour. That or “Forrest Gump”. I mean, “Apollo 13″, what kind of art-house cinema trash do you call that?
b) Yet more elaborate disinformation to disguise the extraordinarily far-reaching power of the (very real) Priory of Sion.
c) A great excuse to sell fake movie memorabilia on eBay.
d) OK for the beach, but not that much to do with historical ciphers, now you come to mention it.
e) A cynical kick to historical cryptography’s gonads, from which the scars still (more than a decade later) have yet to fully heal.

Question #3

voynich-nymph

At a family party, an elderly aunt tells you that she’s just heard an interesting piece on the radio about the Voynich Manuscript, and asks if you know anything about it. Do you:

a) Wonder to yourself if she’s remembering to take her medication properly.
b) Freak out, because she reminds you so much of a nymph on page f80v you were looking at earlier.
c) Track down the idiot radio programme producers and hurl anonymous abuse at them for the rest of their stupid lives.
d) Gently correct one or two of the worst misconceptions she’s picked up from the programme. *sigh*
e) Explain that the media almost never do it justice, and then sell her a copy of your own Voynich Manuscript book. (A bargain at £9.95).

Question #4

benedict-cumberbatch-alan-turing

Alan Turing was…

a) Fanciable. And gay. And what was he doing playing Sherlock Holmes? I didn’t quite get that bit.
b) Cynically murdered by the same Establishment his brilliance had helped perpetuate.
c) Exactly the kind of sensitive smart-arse I’ve made a part-time career out of harrassing online.
d) A genuine National Treasure, though not accurately portrayed in The Imitation Game.
e) Merely one of many brilliant and mercurial individuals who somehow managed to work together as part of an oddly coherent team. If only Bletchley Park’s present-day managers could achieve the same trick…

Question #5

Alphabet_de_la_buse

You are an 18th century French pirate, just about to be hanged. You pluck your enciphered treasure map from round your neck and throw it to the crowd, shouting out “Find my treasure, whosoever of you is smart enough”. What flashes through your mind just before you die?

a) Should it be ‘hanged’ or ‘hung’? Or ‘hunged’? I never can remember… urrgh!
b) My fellow Freemasons will ensure the Flaming Cross of Goa is never found…
c) Excellent, that’s the twentieth fake pirate cipher I’ve given away now. My lies shall live forever!
d) Anyone who manages to break something that obfuscated certainly deserves to become fabulously rich.
e) With luck, pinching my arm will wake me up from this frankly rather ridiculous airport novella of a dream. Next!

Question #6

pigeon-face-cropped

While cleaning out an old chimney in your Home Counties house, a pigeon skeleton with a red canister attached to one leg tumbles down. Inside the canister, you find an enciphered WW2 British Army message. What do you do?

a) Throw it straight in the bin. Dirty things, pigeons: probably died from Ebola or something. Nasty!
b) You realise it’s actually a message from Rudolf Hess, giving the coordinates of the SS’s secret UFO base. But rather than risk releasing information so powerful it could destroy the world, you burn it. And eat it.
c) You make twelve perfect copies and quietly sell them to dealers around the world for half a mill each, then move to New Mexico. Suckers!
d) You frame the pigeon bones and send the message straight to GCHQ: but when they give up, so do you.
e) You rewrite an open-source hill-climbing Typex simulator in OpenCL, and then set it going on your NVIDIA GTX 980 card to reconstruct the ciphertext’s rotor settings. Any minute now…

And Your Cipher Personality Is…

That’s all the questions done! Now count up your answers to reveal your true Cipher Personality…

Mostly a): You are a Cipher Lurker. Pay a little bit more attention at the back, puh-lease!
Mostly b): You are a Cipher Nutter. If you could bottle paranoia and sell it, you’d be rich. But you can’t. So you’re not.
Mostly c): You are a Cipher Troll. Even Tolkien didn’t like you, and he’s the one who made your lot famous.
Mostly d): You are a Cipher Bore. But be reassured that I like you (sort of), even if millions wouldn’t.
Mostly e): You are Nick Pelling. Or if you aren’t actually me, please be at least slightly reassured that I feel so very, very sorry for you.

The Hillman Minx that was or wasn’t…

Ever the agent provocateur, Pete Bowes has just published a post arguing that the long-standing Somerton Man story about the Hillman Minx was entirely made up. Rather than just snap at the bait, let’s examine the actual evidence and make up our own minds…

The Trigger

As we shall see below, what triggered this whole sequence was a short article in the Adelaide News mentioning the police’s search for a Rubaiyat. There had been no other mention of the Rubaiyat in any Adelaide newspaper since a brief mention at the start of the first inquest more than a month earlier, where the Rubaiyat was no more than a footnote tucked away at the end of the article. Hence the following article – which focused specifically on the police’s ongoing search for a copy of the Rubaiyat – would have come as a surprise to all but the most attentive of South Australian readers.

Adelaide News, 22nd July 1949

Although police realise they are acting on a mlIlion to one chance, a search for a book with a torn page which may throw some light on the Somerton body mystery is continuing throughout Australia.

A torn page of Fitzgerald’s translation of the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” was found in the pocket of the victim.

Det.-Sgt. Leane and Det. Brown believe the torn book may still be on the shelves of a library. They think that if they can find it, they can trace the man to the city or town he was in before he came to Adelaide With this information, it may be possible to establish his identity.

Melbourne police have made a search of public libraries and libraries in Victorian provincial towns, but have failed to find the torn volume. Although a number of city and suburban libraries have been checked here, others in country districts have not yet been investigated. The cause of death will probably never be known. A plaster cast of the victim’s head and shoulders, which was exhibited at the inquest, is now in a store room at Adelaide Museum. No request for it to be displayed has yet been made by the authorities.

The Wytkin Rubaiyat

The immediate problem we face is that newspaper reports now offer us two completely parallel narratives to consider, and they both start on the evening of the day the above report appeared.

The Adelaide Advertiser, 23rd July 1949

A bus conductor informed police last night that he believed he knew the whereabouts of a book, which, if it were the correct one, might provide a very important clue in the Somerton body mystery. […] Last night Mr. L. F. Wytkins, bus conductor, of Partridge street, Glenelg, told police that several months ago he found a book answering the description of the one required by the police. He handed it in to the lost property office at the Tramways Trust. Mr. Wytkins said he was not sure when he found the book, but he believed it to be about the time the man’s body was found on the beach at Somerton.

This was Leslie Francis Wytkin (not “Wytkins”). Here’s a photo of him in 1947 from the Adelaide News:

l-f-wytkin

Wytkin died on 10th September 1991 at the age of 84, and was buried at Swan Reach cemetery, 80-odd miles north-east of Adelaide.

If there is any further mention of Wytkin’s Rubaiyat from 1949 or after, I have completely failed to notice it: so unless anyone knows better, it seems that this is where this lead both started and ended.

The Jetty Road Rubaiyat

A second, far more long-lived Rubaiyat story began at precisely the same time: that of the Jetty Road Rubaiyat:-

Adelaide News, 23rd July 1949

Fresh hope that the Somerton body mystery may be solved come today with the finding of a copy of the ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’ with the last page torn.

POLICE have been searching for such a book through out Australia in the hope it might provide the missing clue to the body’s identity. Last night an Adelaide businessman read of the search in ‘The News’ and recalled that in November he had found a copy of the book which had been thrown on the back seat of his car while it was parked in Jetty road, Glenelg. The book, the last page of which is torn, has been handed to police. If scientific tests, to be conducted next week, show the scrap of paper found on the dead man’s clothing had been taken from the book, police will have brought off a million to one chance.

[…] The finder of the book today handed it to Det.-Sgt. R. L. Leane. On the last page the words ‘Tamam Shud’ had been torn out. On the back of the book are several telephone numbers and a series of capital letters, written in pencil, the meaning of which have not yet been deciphered. As the scrap of paper found on the dead man had been trimmed, police were unable to identify the book merely by fitting it into the torn page. Proof will now rest with tests on the paper and the print.

Though the man was later referred to as “Ronald Francis”, that was not his real name: Gerry Feltus claims to know his real identity, and says that he spoke to him relatively recently (though he may since have passed away), but that he was elderly and unable to give any more useful details. The only extra detail we have was that he thought the book had been dumped in the back of the car around the time of the RAAF Air Display at Parafield on the 20th November 1948.

Feltus additionally noted that the man had told him that the car was a “little Hillman Minx” (“The Unknown Man”, p.105). But apart from the fact that the tear in the back page broadly matched the missing “Tamam Shud” and that the two sets of paper were a match, that’s all we ever knew about this Rubaiyat: it went missing many years ago, along with the suitcase, clothes and all the other evidence relating to the case.

Pete’s Hillman Minx Conspiracy Theory

Of course, the official line has always been that the Rubaiyat found by Wytkin was a dud and that the Jetty Road Rubaiyat was the real thing.

But Pete Bowes doesn’t like coincidences, and he thinks the fact that both Rubaiyats (re)appeared on the same evening of the same day is just too much.

And so, he mused, what if there never was a Jetty Road Rubaiyat? What if the whole Jetty Road story was just a feint, a front, a misdirection; and Wytkin’s Rubaiyat was the real one all along?

Moreover – and here’s what really seems to clinch it for him – this would mean that “Ronald Francis” was actually “Leslie Francis Wytkin” all along.

It would also mean that there never was a Hillman Minx (presumably it was Gerry Feltus who cooked that up): and hence that we can’t really trust anything the South Australian police say, because they’re all obviously Freemasons or Oddfellows or whatever, and therefore duty-bound by the code of their Lodge to protect Wytkin at all cost.

So… What Do I Think?

Pete has worked really hard at this case, and I would be entirely unsurprised if one of the many things he’s figured out along the way turns out to be the key to cracking the whole mystery: if it did, I’d be the first to applaud.

But as far this present issue goes, I’m personally happy to believe that there were indeed two quite separate Rubaiyats; that the shared trigger for their near-simultaneous appearance was the article in the Adelaide News; and that while Wytkin’s Rubaiyat didn’t have its “Tamam Shud” torn out, the Jetty Road Rubaiyat did. Sorry, Pete, but I just don’t see it.

What was the Henley Beach connection…?

When I was assembling the Broken Hill + Somerton Beach timeline, one thing stuck out like a non-proverbial prominently-sticking-out-thing: Henley Beach. Why did the Somerton Man…

* …buy a single ticket to Henley Beach (but not use it)
* …instead catch a bus to Somerton Beach (where he later died)?

From this simple starting point, people have constructed all kind of spy-related narratives (usually involving the Somerton Man’s being followed and hence trying to shake off his tail, TV gangster-style). But I just don’t believe them: and Gerry Feltus’ Appendix 2 would seem to rule out almost all of them in a fairly comprehensive and common-sense manner.

Similarly, the suggestion that the unused train ticket was planted in the dead man’s pocket after his death seems just a bit too contrived, a bit too ‘Hollywood': a somewhat melodramatic thesis, one might say. Hence I also think that this will prove to be well wide of the mark.

Finally, Gerry Feltus also passes along the suggestion that a planned (but never actually built) train extension from Henley Beach station to Glenelg may have been marked up on some of the maps at the station in 1948: and hence that the Somerton Man might possibly have mistakenly bought a ticket to Henley Beach thinking he could continue directly on to Glenelg. But, once again, this seems a bit elaborate and hopeful, and is somehow missing a simple ring of truth.

Gerry, ever keen to keep his text free from the blight of speculation, never offers his own explanation for Henley Beach, but instead asks a long series of hard-to-answer questions, presumably to try to help people proposing their own Henley Beach theory to stay at least a little grounded.

So what did happen? My own chain of speculation is that the Somerton Man…

* Arrived in Adelaide on a train that morning.
* Bought a ticket to Henley Beach, where he was planning to meet someone (and perhaps drop off his suitcase with them) before going on to Glenelg after lunch.
* This was only a single ticket because that person in Henley Beach had their own car (or was there perhaps a bus service running directly between Henley Beach and Glenelg? I don’t know, but please leave a comment below if you do).
* Probably went to the City Baths to get freshened up, have a shave etc.
* Tried again to telephone that person to confirm, but got no answer.
* Hung around at the station for a while, and perhaps tried to call again just before the 10.50am train to Henley Beach departed, but changed plan when that again yielded no response.
* Left the suitcase in Adelaide Railway Station left luggage just after 11am.
* Caught the bus to St Leonards (near Glenelg) at 11.15am.

All of which speculation may not mean much, but the upshot is that I now suspect that someone else knew who the Somerton Man was: a person who I expect lived close to Henley Beach and owned a car.

From my perspective, my belief is that biggest lie about the whole Somerton Man case will turn out to be the notion that nobody (or perhaps only Jessica Thomson) knew who he was.

Rather, I suspect that a fair number of people knew exactly who he was, exactly why he was in Adelaide, and exactly how it all ended up. Not a conspiracy of action as such, but rather a mutual wall of silence. Nobody said a word: for had they done so, surely no good would have come of it.

Everyone in that network had something to lose.

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