Has an Enduring Australian Mystery Finally Been Solved?

University of Adelaide professor thinks he has identified the Somerton man
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2022 12:51 PM CDT
Has an Enduring Australian Mystery Finally Been Solved?
The Somerton man.   (Wikimedia Commons/Australian police)

It's one of Australia's most persistent mysteries, and Derek Abbott says he has solved it. As CNN reports, the University of Adelaide professor had long advocated for the exhumation of the long unidentified Somerton Man. The suit-clad, 40-something man was found dead on a beach near Adelaide—possibly by poison—on the morning of Dec. 1, 1948. The man had calf muscles like a dancer's, missing teeth, and a scrap of paper on him featuring the Farsi words "Tamam Shud," meaning "the end." South Australian officials agreed to the exhumation, which took place in May 2021. Police are still mum, but Abbott says he has figured it out: He says the man was Carl "Charles" Webb, an electrical engineer and instrument maker.

As CNN reports, the exhumation wasn't the key after all. Rather, he says a strand of the man's hair collected from a plaster "death" mask made by police and given to Abbott years ago finally gave up its secrets thanks to genetic genealogy. Working with American genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, the two constructed a family tree containing 4,000 individuals. That led them to distant cousins on both his maternal and paternal sides; DNA collected from them was compared to DNA from the hair to verify their theory—verification that happened on Saturday. They then dug into historical records to piece together what they could about Webb.

Australia's ABC reports he was born in Melbourne in 1905 and there is no death record associated with him. "The last known record we have of him is in April 1947 when he left [wife] Dorothy," says Fitzpatrick. She went to court to say Webb had vanished and she wanted a divorce. Later documents show she moved to Bute, South Australia, some 90 miles from Adelaide. "It's possible that he came to this state to try and find her," Abbott says. "This is just us drawing the dots. We can't say for certain say that this is the reason he came, but it seems logical." One other clue: The name "T. Keane" appeared on the Somerton man's tie; Webb had a brother-in-law named Thomas Kean. (Read more unsolved mystery stories.)

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