"Tamam Shud"

“Tamam Shud”

  • Unidentified man found dead on Somerton beach, just south of Adelaide, South Australia, on 1st of December, 1948.
  • Inside the man’s trousers, piece of paper with a phrase tamám shud, meaning “ended” or “finished” in Persian, was found.

The Tamam Shud case came about on 1 December 1948 at Somerton Beach, South Australia. At 6.30am, police were notified that a male body had been discovered lying in the sand opposite the Crippled Children’s Home. His head lay against the seawall, legs outstretched and feet crossed. He appeared to have died in his sleep. Nobody knew who he was and a search of his person did not shed any light on the matter. He had an unused train ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach, a bus ticket, an American comb, half a pack of Juicy Fruit, half a pack of Kensitas Club smokes (one of which lay unlit on his coat collar) and a Bryant & May matchbox.

Bamboozled, the police put out a public appeal for information. Several witnesses came forward to say that they had seen the man lying in the same spot where he was found the night before the discovery. Most assumed he was sleeping off a drunk. Two witnesses thought he had moved or shifted position as late as 8.00 pm suggesting that he was still alive at that time. Another person witnessed a man inspecting the Unknown Man, as this John Doe is sometimes called.

The corpse of Taman Shud
Do you know this man?

An autopsy of the Unknown Man was conducted. The pathologist found he was of Britisher appearance, aged 40-45, in top physical condition, 180 cm tall, hazel eyed, fair haired, his hands and nails showed no signs of manual labour, his wedged toes and pronounced calf muscles suggested he may have been a dancer or runner. He was fashionably attired (all identifying clothing labels had been removed), hatless (unusual for the time) and clean-shaven. His teeth didn’t match any known dental records. He had eaten a pasty shortly before death. Time of death was put at approximately 2.00 am on 1 December. The man’s cause of death was thought to be poisoning by some undetectable substance.

Six weeks after the Unknown Man was found, Adelaide railway station staff turned up an unclaimed suitcase that had been checked in at 11.00 am the day prior to the Somerton Beach discovery. The suitcase was likely the Unknown Man’s. The label had been removed as in the case of the man’s clothes, as had all the clothes in this case, save for a tie, laundry bag and singlet (the only tags that couldn’t be removed without damaging the items) which were labelled T. Keane, Keane and Kean respectively. Other items present included a knife and scissors, shaving kit and orange Barbour thread (unusual and unavailable in Australia – and matching some that had been used to patch a pocket tear in the Unknown Man’s pants).

Somerton beach where Taman Shud was found
The location where the body on Somerton beach was found is marked by an X.
On the right: Suitcase and effects that were later found at Adelaide railway station.
The suitcase of Taman Shud

The baffled police turned to the FBI and Scotland Yard but the Unknown Man’s prints didn’t match any in their databases and no English-speaking country had a T. Keane / Kean reported missing. Police thought it was a pseudonym. His coat was definitely American – the peculiar machine stitch was only performed there. The man was a complete mystery.

The mysterious nature of the case deepened even further a few months later, upon re-examination of the evidence a weird, hitherto-undiscovered item was found hidden in the man’s trouser fob pocket. It was a tiny rolled up scrap of paper containing the cryptic printed phrase ‘Tamam Shud’. A librarian translated the phrase for police – it was Persian for ‘finished’ and it was from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – a collection of 12th century poems. Again the police appealed to the public for information.

Taman Shud Sign
This piece of paper, torn from the last page of a rare New Zealand edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam with its distinctive font, was found hidden in the pants.

As luck would have it, a man found the very copy of the Rubaiyat that this piece was torn from (fittingly, a rare edition) in an unlocked, abandoned car in Glenelg and turned it in to police. Incidentally, the theme of the Rubaiyat is that one should live life to the fullest and regret nothing. Anyway, on the inside back cover of the book, police were able to lift handwriting indentations – a phone number, an unidentified number and an encrypted message:


Taman Shud Code

The woman who owned the unlisted phone number was unable or unwilling to assist the police investigation. To date, no-one has been able to crack the code, and experts speculate that it is likely that no-one ever will.

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