Somerton Man identified as Carl ‘Charles’ Webb

3 August 2022

Derek Abbott, a professor at the University of Adelaide, claimed last week to have identified the so-called Somerton Man, perhaps bringing a close to one of the most intriguing, and lingering, Australian mysteries of the twentieth century.

In December 1948, the body of a man thought to be about forty, was found at Somerton beach in Adelaide, capital of South Australia. His body showed no sign of trauma. He was not carrying any identification, nor were there missing person reports for anyone matching his description.

In the months following his death, a suitcase containing some possessions, was located, but offered no clues as to who he was. A scrap of paper, bearing the words tamam shud, was found concealed in clothing the man owned. The fragment was later found to have been torn from a page of a book of poems titled Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám, originally written in the twelfth century.

It was all enough to send the rumour mill into overdrive. People variously believed Somerton Man to be a spy, a displaced war veteran who’d made his way to Australia, or a jilted lover who’d presumably somehow taken his own life at the beach one night.

South Australian police exhumed Somerton Man’s body in May 2021, to further their investigation, but Abbott had been making progress separately. Working with Colleen Fitzpatrick, an American genealogist, he concluded the man to be Carl “Charles” Webb, an electrical engineer from Melbourne.

While mystery still surrounds the circumstances of his death, Abbott believes Webb may have travelled to Adelaide to see his ex-wife, who moved there after the pair separated several years prior.

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