This is how we find out who the Somerton Man man was (fingers crossed)…

Right now, I think there is a ~35% chance that the Somerton Man was a Russian merchant seaman who had worked on a WWII Lend-Lease ship bringing goods from America to Vladivostok on the Pacific Route. We know his physical appearance, height, fingerprints, and his rough date of birth: and that he was found dead on a South Australian beach on 1st December 1948.

What struck me last night was that this might well be all we need to work with.

So at long last, I’ve finally formed a Somerton Man plan. Here’s what I’ll do (though it won’t happen in a day or even a week):-

(1) Find the Soviet crew lists for Lend-Lease ships landing on the West Coast of America during 1941-1945 (e.g. via or elsewhere), and merge them into a single list.

Once this is filtered for merchant seamen of the right age (and I’ll happily take your suggestions as to what age range to filter against), my estimate is that I should have ~250 names to work with.

(2) Find out if any of these were alive in 1949 and beyond.

As I recall, there is a Maritime Cemetery in Vladivostok. My guess is that a fair few of these merchant seamen will be buried there: hopefully I’ll be able to find a nice administrative list or database to work with.

I estimate that this should reduce the list to something closer to 100 names. If other usable secondary databases exist, they might help get the list down to ~50 names.

Once I get to this point, it seems that there are four parallel strategies to follow, each of which might independently work:-

(3a) Trace these 50 names further using other Soviet databases. (Though because this was the era of Stalin’s Russia, there might well be rather less to go on than one would normally hope for).

(3b) Find crew-lists of Soviet ships arriving in or leaving from Australian ports 1943-1948 (and/or Australian alien seamen registration forms), and cross-reference against these.

(3c) Network through to retired Russian merchant seamen who worked on Lend-Lease ships and see what / who they remember. (There are, as I also recall, Homes for Retired Seamen in Vladivostok, which would seem to be a good place to start).

(3d) See if I can get a Vladivostok journalist interested enough in the story to try to run it in a paper. Who knows what might come out of it.

Perhaps one of these will work, perhaps it won’t. But it certainly beats sitting around trying to guess what “MLIABO” might conceivably stand for (“Making Love Is A Bad Option”, etc). icon wink This is how we find out who the Somerton Man man was (fingers crossed)...

Somerton Man and WWII Lend-Lease…?

From almost the start of the 1948 investigation into the Somerton Man, South Australian police suspected that he (a) might have worked as a Third Officer on a merchant ship, and (b) might originally have come from Eastern Europe. Add to this his connection with a nurse living in Glenelg who later claimed to have spoken Russian when she was younger, and you get what I think is a reasonably meaty hypothesis to work with – that he was a Russian merchant seaman.

But because he had an American comb, some clothes with American stitching, and a pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, it also seems that he had visited America (or perhaps have some long-standing fascination with it). So how might all these pieces link together?

One fascinating maritime connection between the USA and USSR from around this time is the Lend-Lease program, which was launched by the Lend-Lease Act of 11th March 1941: note that the USA was still (theoretically) neutral then, because it did not officially join the war until 8th December 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

roosevelt signing lend lease act 1941 Somerton Man and WWII Lend Lease...?

Though Lend-Lease started a lot slower than had been intended (and there are plenty of theories about why this should have been so), it lasted until 1945 and covered all manner of items… on a truly epic scale, as per the following alphabetic list (which I found here):-

  • Airplanes 22,150 units; Anti-submarine ships 105 ships; Army shoes 15,417,000 pairs;
  • Building equipment in total cost US Dollars 10,910,000; Blankets 1,541,590 pieces; Buttons 257,723,498 pieces;
  • Cars 51,503 units; Chemicals 842,000 tons; Cotton 106,893,000 tons;
  • Detonators 903,000 units;
  • Explosives 295,600 tons;
  • Foodstuffs 4,478,000 tons;
  • Gasoil 2,670,000 tons;
  • Locomotives 1,981 units; Leather 49,860 tons;
  • Motorcycles 35,170 units; Machinery in total amount US Dollars 1,078,965,000;
  • Non-ferrous metals total 802,000 tons;
  • Pistols 12,997 pieces;
  • Rifles 8,218 pieces; Railways cars 11,155 units; Radar 445 units;
  • Sub-machine guns 131,633 pieces; Ship’s Engine 7,784 units; Spirits 331,066 liters; Cargo Ships – 123 units;
  • Tanks 12,700 units; Trucks 375,883 units; Tractors 8,071 units; Torpedo 197 units; Tires 3,786,000 pieces;

(In fact, Russia finally settled its Lend-Lease debt only in August 2006, but that’s another story entirely.)

This vast array of items travelled on at least 123 Lend-Lease ships, and by a variety of sea routes:-

  • Pacific 8,244,000 tons (47.1% of total volume);
  • Caspian via Iran 4,160,000 tons (23.8%);
  • Arctic 3,964,000 tons (22.6%);
  • Black Sea 681 tons (3.9%);
  • Soviet Arctic Route 452,000 tons (2.6%);
  • Grand Total 17,501,000 tons (i.e. 100.0%).

For the Pacific Route (which I suspect is what we’re most interested in), ships departed ports on the USA’s west coast (“principally Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Columbia River ports”). The Japanese would often intercept and examine ships on this route, because as part of the USSR-Japan Neutrality Pact, it could not be used for military cargo. These ships usually docked in the heavily-congested port of Vladivostok, before having their cargo carried 5,000 miles West by the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Also as part of this agreement, Japan only allowed the USA-supplied ships used on the Pacific route to be crewed with Russians. Crew was typically a mix of USSR merchant seamen and poorly paid USSR Navy armed guards.

Unlike the Atlantic crossing, Pacific Lend-Lease ships usually sailed individually rather than in convoy: but they were in greatest danger from submarines – German, Japanese, and American submarines all sank some Russian ships (sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally).

Incidentally, one of the most famous Lend-Lease Pacific sea captains was Anna Shchetinina, who wrote a book about her experience called “On the Seas and Beyond the Seas” («На морях и за морями») (though after WW2 she worked in the Baltic).

Might the Somerton Man have been a Soviet seaman from a merchant ship that was lost in WW2? I found a list of Soviet ships that were lost in the Pacific: but the only one with unaccounted seamen seemed to be the Uzbekistan (though this ship is marked as “Redelivered” in a different list):-

uzbekistan soviet ship 1937 Somerton Man and WWII Lend Lease...?

01.04.1943 – Uzbekistan (Узбекистан – one of USSR republics); Cargo ship / Far East State Shipping Company / 3400 BRT / North Western Coast USA / Wrecked / No information about losses.

Or possibly the Ilich (which doesn’t appear on the list of Lend-Lease ships, so probably wasn’t one):-

ilich soviet ship 300x200 Somerton Man and WWII Lend Lease...?

4.06.1944 – Ilich (Ильич – Second name of Lenin); Cargo passenger ship / 4166 BRT / Far East State Shipping Company / Capt.I.S.Sergeev / Port of Portland, USA / She sank alongside of berth due to unknown reasons / 1 crew (A.Arekhpaeva) was lost and 66 crew were rescued.

Or perhaps even Soviet submarine L-16, which was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-25 on October 11, 1942 “on the approach to San Francisco while sailing in surface position, and sank.” More detail on this very interesting (and well-illustrated) page.

paperno image of L16 memorial 300x205 Somerton Man and WWII Lend Lease...?

I really don’t know: at this stage, I’m just starting to find my way around this little slice of 20th century history, so this is more of a research log than a cipher history post. But I thought you’d like to see what’s going on here. icon smile Somerton Man and WWII Lend Lease...?

* * * * *

Other links and books:-

State archive of Primorsky Territory

Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East – where it is, how to use it

Records of the United States Maritime Commission

Major Jordan’s Diaries (online)

“Feeding the Bear: American Aid to the Soviet Union, 1941-1945″, Hubert P. van Tuyll: Greenwood. ISBN 0-313-26688-3.

Voynich pub meet, 28th September 2014…

Every once in a while I set up an open-to-all Voynich pub meet in an historic London pub: and, prompted by the imminent visit of a German print journalist, the time has swung around for another one.

It’ll be on 28th September 2014 at 7pm onwards, and once again at the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, an historic Thameside London pub with its own handy pirate gallows outside. (I’m told this is also useful for rapacious bankers, though sadly still rather underutilized in this respect.)

In case of reasonable weather, the chances are that we’ll be sitting in the beer garden / patio area – go through the pub, turn left just after the main bar, and continue through to an outside area. But in case of not-so-good weather, troll around the various floors of the pub until you find a table with a well-used copy of “Le Code Voynich” on it, that’ll almost certainly be the one. icon smile Voynich pub meet, 28th September 2014...

Incidentally, another date for your diary this coming week is International Talk Like A Pirate Day (19th September). This is mainly useful for telling bad pirate jokes, e.g. what is a pirate’s favourite Star Wars character? Arrrgh2-D2. Or Jarrrgh Jarrrgh Binks. Or Queen Arrrghmidala. Or possibly even Darrrghth Vader. You choose!

The Somerton Man’s grave…

Gordon Cramer was recently looking at Paul Lawson’s 8th June 1949 work diary entry relating to the plaster cast that he was making of the Somerton Man, and noted this interesting-looking page:

Lawson Notes Entry The Somerton Mans grave...

Police Job
Interview with Detectives (Brown + 1)
Ring from Constable Dinham re disposal of original body

Gordon quickly builds his own theories on top of why the word “disposal” was used, but it turns out that if we follow the timeline of what happened, it all makes sense.

According to a 30th May 1949 Adelaide News story, “The SA Grandstand Bookmakers’ Association secretary (Mr. Alan Saunders) said today his association would pay burial costs, to prevent the victim being buried as a pauper.“. This is the first mention I’ve found of an actual burial.

Then, according to the 14th June 1949 Adelaide News, the burial itself took place at 9.30am of that morning. The service was carried out by Captain E. J. Webb of the Salvation Army, who said at the end (according to Gerry Feltus’ book, p.85) “Yes, this man has someone to love him. He is known only to God.”

west terrace 300x188 The Somerton Mans grave...

Originally, only a simple wooden stake saying “UNKNOWN SOMERTON BODY” was placed there, but the headstone we see today was added a few days after the funeral by Mr. A. Collins, a Keswick monumental mason.

here lies the unknown man The Somerton Mans grave...

So it all makes sense. As far as Paul Lawson knew on the 8th June 1949, the original body (i.e. not the plaster cast he was making!) was to have been disposed of in a pauper’s burial: but a last-minute donation by the SA Grandstand Bookmakers’ Association at around the same time secured a proper burial, while an after-the-event donation by a local monumental mason turned the grave into something that would last.

According to the (1978) “Somerton Beach Mystery” documentary by Stuart Littlemore, flowers were left on the grave in the spring (though not every year) by an unidentified person. So perhaps Captain Webb might just have been wrong.

Mini-update on Feynman Cipher #2 (F2)…

If there’s a reasonable chance Feynman Cipher #2 (“F2″) is an exotic transposition cipher, it struck me that it might be a good idea to apply a whole load of exotic transpositions, and then use a really simple test to try to order them according to some minimized metric.

The metric I chose was the number of unique letter pairs appearing in the transposed cipher, simply because even a Vigenere should respond to that (for a reasonable-sized cipher). So… here is the bit of C code I wrote:-

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <memory.h>

const char F2[] = /* Note: 261 = 9 * 29 */

#define WIDTH 29
#define HEIGHT 9

int count_unique_pairs(const char *cipher, const int * order)
int i, j, n;
int curr, last;
int count[26][26];

memset(count, 0, sizeof(count));

n = 0;
curr = -1;
for (i = 0; i < WIDTH; i++)
for (j = 0; j < HEIGHT; j++)
last = curr;
curr = cipher[order[j]*WIDTH+i] - 'A';
if ((last >= 0) && (count[last][curr]++ == 0))
return n;

int best_pair_count = 10000000;

void find_order_with_least_unique_pairs(const int * old_order, int index)
if (index < HEIGHT)
int new_order[HEIGHT];
int i;
for (i = index; i < HEIGHT; i++)
memcpy(new_order, old_order, sizeof(new_order));
new_order[index] = old_order[i];
new_order[i] = old_order[index];
find_order_with_least_unique_pairs(new_order, index + 1);
int count = count_unique_pairs(F2, old_order);
#if 0
if (count > 188)
if (count > best_pair_count)
best_pair_count = count;
printf("pairs = %d, order = { %d %d %d %d %d %d %d %d %d }\n",
old_order[0], old_order[1], old_order[2],
old_order[3], old_order[4], old_order[5],
old_order[6], old_order[7], old_order[8]);

const int default_order[9] = { 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 };

int main(int argc, char argv[])
find_order_with_least_unique_pairs(default_order, 0);
return 0;

It didn't reveal a great deal (and pasting it into WordPress lost all the formatting, *sigh*), but I thought I'd post it here anyway. icon smile Mini update on Feynman Cipher #2 (F2)...

The Voynich Manuscript at the Folger Shakespeare Library!

Ever since Hans P. Kraus donated the Voynich Manuscript to Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1969, it has been on an exceedingly short leash. (Has it even left New Haven? I don’t believe so.)

Well, that’s about to change. As part of a special “Decoding the Renaissance” exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library from 11th November 2014 to 1st March 2015, the Voynich Manuscript will be on show in Washington (free admittance, too!). The Folger people haven’t yet said how they plan to display it or illustrate it, but I’m sure they will be eager to make the most of this hens’-teethingly rare opportunity.

De furtivis literarum notis vulgo The Voynich Manuscript at the Folger Shakespeare Library!

The overall exhibition is curated by Renaissance historian Bill Sherman (his excellent “John Dee: the Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance” sits on the shelf next to me as I type), who will be giving a ‘public panel’ discussion with Rene Zandbergen at 7.30pm on 11th November 2014 to open the exhibition (tickets to the talk at $10/$15 are already on sale).

But… why the Folger, why Washington, why the Voynich Manuscript? The answer is simple: what links all the parts of the exhibition is the famous Washington-based code-breaker William F. Friedman. From his early days working on Baconian claims at Colonel George Fabyan’s “Riverbank” complex, to his Index of Coincidence, to his work breaking the Japanese “Purple” code, and right through to his long-standing interest in the Voynich Manuscript, Friedman was a fascinating and complex character.

220px William Friedman The Voynich Manuscript at the Folger Shakespeare Library!

Hence anyone wanting to get the most out of the exhibition should probably prepare themselves with a second-hand copy of Ronald W. Clark’s (1977) “The Man Who Broke Purple”, a biography of William Friedman. It’s not the whole story (government codebreaker stories rarely are), and it skirts unsubtly around Friedman’s depression and related problems during WW2: but even so, it’s far from a bare-bones sketch, with plenty of meat for interested readers to sink their teeth into.

Do I wish I had got the public panel gig with Bill and Rene? Of course I do, I’m only human. But it turns out that even though this is all fascinating news in its own right, there’s much, much more afoot to do with the Voynich Manuscript that is planned to be played out during the remainder of 2014. So, much as I applaud the Folger’s exhibition’s honouring and celebrating the man who (very probably) was the greatest code-breaker of all time, this is in many ways merely the antipasto for a very much larger cryptological feast that is approaching…

…but more on that as it happens. Don’t say I don’t spoil you. icon smile The Voynich Manuscript at the Folger Shakespeare Library!

And the Somerton Man’s surname was…

As normal, the answer turns out to be so painfully, staring-us-all-in-the-face obvious that it’s almost embarrassing to type.

From what I can see, the most likely scenario is that the Somerton Man’s surname was surely…


i.e., that he was a Russian merchant seaman called Stein, who I believe died from natural causes (possibly, as Byron Deveson suggests, of neurosyphilis) in the Glenelg house of Jessica Harkness during the evening of 30th November 1948.

The reason is that I suspect “JEStyn” = “J(essica) E(llen) Штейн”, and that the two met in Royal North Shore Hospital Sydney, where she was a trainee nurse and he was a patient (where, pace Byron Deveson, he was perhaps having his syphilis treated with penicillin? Who can tell?). Whether or not they were actually married, it seems that in 1944 she felt confident enough of their relationship to take the Russian seaman’s surname when signing her name in Alf Boxall’s Rubaiyat.

It’s a pretty specific claim, so how can it be disproved?

Tamam Shud loose end roundup…

I’ve posted on so many separate Tamam Shud / Somerton Man topics recently (which have in turn triggered so many comments), I thought it might be a good idea to at least try to tie up a few loose threads still dangling here. “Ne’er does one door close but that another opens”. (Am I the only person who remembers “The Horrors of Ivan”?)

1. A Professorial Plug

As I mentioned here recently, the Unresolved Mysteries subreddit will be hosting an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) session with Professor Derek Abbott this Saturday. If you log in there then and post questions, he promises to try to answer them.

To be precise, the AMA session will start at the following (time zone) times:-

- Eastern Standard Time: Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 9pm
- Mountain Daylight Time: Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 7pm
- Pacific Standard Time: Saturday, 30 August 2014 at 6pm
- Australian Central Standard Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 10.30am
- Australian Western Standard Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 9am
- New Zealand Standard Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 1pm
- Central European Summer Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 3am
- British Summer Time: Sunday, 31 August 2014 at 2am

Of course, the timing is (let’s say) somewhat suboptimal for European Somerton Man fans: but it is what it is, and if you do want to take part, I’m sure you’ll find a way. icon smile Tamam Shud loose end roundup...

If you do, here are a few good questions to warm him up with…

* How come the Somerton Man was clean-shaven?
* How come he only had a pastie for lunch and dinner?
* Do you accept the new evidence in Feltus’ Chapter 14 “A Final Twist”?
* Can the dead man’s lividity be reconciled with his position posed on the beach?
* Did anybody ever try to track down the strappers that first found the Somerton Man’s corpse?
* Why did the Somerton Man have no socks in his suitcase?
* etc etc etc icon smile Tamam Shud loose end roundup...

2. The Australian Codebreaker

While following up the whole how-was-the-Rubaiyat-photograph-made question, I noticed that it was sent to “decoding experts at Army Headquarters, Melbourne” (26 July 1949, Feltus p.108) and that on the next day a “Navy ‘code cracker’ was tackling the task this afternoon” (Feltus p.110).

It struck me that these news stories can only really be talking about one person: Captain Theodore Eric Nave, who his biographer Ian Pfennigwerth dubbed “Australian Codebreaker Extraordinary” (in the 2006 book “A Man of Intelligence”). I personally found this a good read, but I suspect that the details of Eric Nave’s Japanese code-breaking exploits probably proved a bit heavy on the technical cryptology side for most lay readers.

Nave was on loan from the Royal Navy to the Australian Army for eight years until 1st January 1948, when he was “attached to the Defence Signals Bureau as a serving officer”, though his “loan appointment was terminated 17:3:49″. When the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) was established on 16th March 1949, Nave was proposed as a possible director: however, in those paranoid times the job actually went to a Brit: Nave was instead given the role of Defence and Services Liaison Officer, starting 15th December 1949. (Incidentally, he was also appointed to the board of the Victorian Mission to Seamen in 1950, just so you know).

I feel confident that, even though Nave had managed to accrue 160 days of untaken holiday by June 1948, he was at his desk in Melbourne when the Rubaiyat photograph came in – would they honestly have given it to anyone else in the building? Would they hell, I say.

But did Nave ever write about it? And did Army Headquarters keep a copy of that photograph? Even though Pfennigwerth’s book mines many different archives, Nave’s years immediately post-war seem far more sketchy than his war years, as far as evidence goes. All the same, wouldn’t it be nice if one of these archives proved to have a little bit more of an answer for us?

3. A Close Shave?

When I posted about how the Somerton Man was oddly (given the generally accepted timeline) clean-shaven, I proposed that he might have had a long-standing beard shaved off that morning.

With the help of the numerous commenters (and having thought about this a bit more), I can see now that I was being a bit hopeful: ultimately beard science says that hair growth is probabilistic, so there ought to have been a normal mix of all three hair phases in his stubble.

And yet at the same time that doesn’t really square with the timeline and what we see. Even so, there are plenty of other possible explanations we can’t rule out: e.g. the man’s face was shaved in the morgue before the photographs were taken (which is possible); he was shaved later in the day; he was in the throes of such a debilitating (and terminal) condition that his body didn’t have the strength to grow any hairs that day; he in general grew hair slower than most people; he had pale ginger facial hair which didn’t show up as 5 o’clock shadow; and so on.

Who knows which one was right? icon sad Tamam Shud loose end roundup...

4. The Football Player

When I posted about Mrs John Morison, the Adelaide Mission to Seamen’s relentless hospital visitor, I noted that her daughter Mary Morison married a footballer called Ian McKay, and listed highlights of her life up to 1954. The reason for this particular cut-off date is simply that this is currently as far forward as the Australian newspapers archived in Trove go: 50 years back from 2014 is 1954, and any newspaper more than half a century old is deemed to be out of copyright there (just so you know).

But it turns out that Ian McKay was an Australian rules footballer of great repute, who even has a Wikipedia page devoted to him. Unfortunately, the links given there have withered and died on the webby vine: but not before being picked up by the Wayback Machine. So, according to his obituary, we know that when he died in 2010:-

“Ian is survived by his wife, Mary, and three children, Heather, Andrew and David.”

Hence it’s entirely possible I might yet speak with a member of Mrs John Morison’s family before long, which could well prove to be hugely interesting.

Finally, here’s a picture of Ian McKay at (quite literally) the height of his career in 1952:-

IanMcKay1952GF Tamam Shud loose end roundup...

A quick look at the Feynman Ciphers…

For those of you who have had their fill of the last week’s posts on the Somerton Man, here’s a different cipher mystery that doesn’t get aired even 1% as much: the Feynman Ciphers.

The first Feynman Cipher (F1, 380 characters long) turned out to be based on a 5 x 76 transposition path cipher (the plaintext was “WHANTHATAPRILLEWITHHISSHOURESSOOTE”, i.e the start of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales), but what is a little odd is that nobody seems to have yet made any inroads at all into the other two, though it is often remarked that transposition may well be involved. In that sense, they’re a bit like the d’Agapeyeff challenge cipher, which is also believed to be a multi-stage cipher including one or more transposition stages.

At 261 characters long, the second Feynman Cipher (F2) is a little shorter than F1: this length factorizes to 3 x 3 x 29, or 9 x 29, or 3 x 87. It also includes all 26 letters, which rules out a lot of tricky ciphers such as Playfair and Phillips.


Though normally very good at identifying cipher types, Cryptocrack doesn’t do particularly well in this: it suggests Phillips, FracMorse, Playfair and Beaufort as its top four tips, none of which seem hugely likely to me. What is interesting, though, is that if you transpose the ciphertext (say, using some of the seven transposed routes listed by James Lyons), Cryptocrack produces a quite different set of recommendations, suggesting instead Trifid (which it almost certainly isn’t), but more reasonably Running Key and occasionally Vigenere.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a Vig: so right now, my prediction is that it’ll turn out to be a funky path transposition combined with Running Key (combining this with Vigenere would surely be just a bit too sadistic). Perhaps this will be what James Lyons will say too, when he gets round to posting part 3 (his part 2 is here.

Finally: the third Feynman Cipher (F3) is short too: 231 characters, which factorizes to 3 x 7 x 11. Much as James Lyons notes, I currently expect more or less everything said about F2 to hold true for F3: so I epxect it’s probably a Running Key (or perhaps Vigenere, but I doubt it) combined with a funky path transposition.


What do you think?

The oddly clean-shaven Somerton Man…

Gordon Cramer, responding to a comment about beards I left back in June on his Tamam Shud site, replied:-

“[...] I do wonder about the clean shaven image of him that was published originally, given his supposed movements he would have been without a shave for 18 hours or more before his departure yet no 5 o’clock shadow or stubble..”

The Somerton Man checked his suitcase (containing a razor and razor strop) into Adelaide Railway Station cloak room between 11.00am and noon (and he then bought a bus ticket sometime after 11:15am), while his time of death was estimated next morning as probably having been about 2am that same night: so to be precise, it seems likely that he wouldn’t have shaved for at least 15 hours.

All the same I do agree that Gordon has a point here: the Somerton Man’s perfectly clean-shaven appearance in the police photos doesn’t really square with the generally accepted timeline – 15 hours is too long to not get some kind of “5 o’clock shadow”.

Just to remind you, here’s what he looked like (once Jimmy Durham had managed to wrestle a shirt and tie onto the body):-

Somerton Man front 768x1024 The oddly clean shaven Somerton Man...

Somerton Man side 1024x768 The oddly clean shaven Somerton Man...

Timing discrepancies like this are problematic for all Tamam Shud theories, because they’re not really a matter of opinion: facial hair is controlled by physical rules, which aren’t normally bypassed. So what could explain the Somerton Man’s apparent clean-shaven-ness?

Never having grown a beard myself, I was surprised today to find out that facial hair doesn’t ‘just grow’ (i.e. continuously and mechanically): rather, it follows a set of growth rules. In a page on beard length in a beard-products-selling website, I discovered that human hair has three distinct phases: anagen, catagen, and telogen.

The anagen phase (for head hair) lasts anywhere from two to six years, and since this is the growth phase, we can say with confidence that no man’s beard can ever grow longer than it is at six years old. Now, a man’s genetics determines how long his beard’s growth phase is. [...]

During the second phase (catagen), your hair stops growing. It embeds in your skin, and sort of sits there for a few months. During the final phase (telogen), a new hair starts growing in the follicle and pushes out the old hair, causing you to shed it.

The upshot for the Somerton Man, I think, is that if his facial hair didn’t obviously grow during the last 15+ hours of his life (and don’t take my word for it, click through above to the high-res images for yourself), it seems most likely to me that his facial hair – i.e. moustache and beard – wasn’t in the anagen (growth) phase, but was instead in the later catagen or telogen phases. That is, I believe this supports the idea that he had recently shaved off a long-standing (or do I mean “long-hanging”?) and therefore possibly quite substantial moustache and beard. (Hence the question: might one of the two combs in his suitcase have actually been a beard comb?)

Of course, the major alternatives to this scenario are (a) that he shaved again later in the day (problem: his razor was still in the suitcase), (b) someone else shaved him while alive (but in Glenelg?), or (c) someone else shaved him just after he had died (possible, but this does seem just a little bit unlikely – a dead guy is a dead guy, right?).

Personally, I’m running with the whole “luxurious beard” theory, but feel free to disagree. icon smile The oddly clean shaven Somerton Man...

pirate captain and his luxurious beard The oddly clean shaven Somerton Man...

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