The Tamam Shud case, also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is an unsolved case of an unidentified man found dead at 6:30 am, 1 December 1948, on Somerton beach, Glenelg, just south of Adelaide, South Australia. It is named after the Persian phrase tamám shud, meaning “ended” or “finished”, printed on a scrap of paper found months later in the fob pocket of the man’s trousers. The scrap had been torn from the final page of a copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, authored by 12th-century poet Omar Khayyám. Tamam was misspelt as Taman in many early reports and this error has often been repeated, leading to confusion about the name in the media.
Following a public appeal by police, the book from which the page had been torn was located. On the inside back cover, detectives were able to read – in indentations from handwriting – a local telephone number, another unidentified number and a text that resembled an encrypted message. The text has not been deciphered or interpreted in a way that satisfies authorities on the case.
The case has been considered, since the early stages of the police investigation, “one of Australia’s most profound mysteries”. There has been intense speculation ever since regarding the identity of the victim, the cause of his death and the events leading up to it. Public interest in the case remains significant for several reasons: the death occurred at a time of heightened international tensions following the beginning of the Cold War; the apparent involvement of a secret code; the possible use of an undetectable poison; and the inability of authorities to identify the dead man.
In addition to intense public interest in Australia during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Tamam Shud case also attracted international attention. South Australian Police consulted their counterparts overseas and distributed information about the dead man internationally, in an effort to identify him. International circulation of a photograph of the man and details of his fingerprints yielded no positive identification. For example, in the United States, the FBI was unable to match the dead man’s fingerprint with prints taken from files of domestic criminals. Scotland Yard was also asked to assist with the case, but could not offer any insights.
In recent years new evidence has emerged, including an old identification card possibly identifying the Somerton Man as one H. C. Reynolds and an ongoing DNA analysis of hair roots found on the plaster bust.