A Conversation With Justin, & A Rather Long, Pointless Story About A Dead Man

“Dude, why are you slacking on the postings?” Justin asked.  “Whenever I’m feeling depressed, I read one and it picks me up.”

“I’m writing one now!” I replied.  “I’ve been busy with school.  I’m hoping to post one today and one tomorrow.”

“Cool,” he said.

I continued.  “Today being less personal, tomorrow being more typical Ashleigh-wah-my-life.”

He was disappointed.  “I hate your less personal ones.  It’s like you’re trying to get into the New Yorker or something, which is dumb.  But the wah-my-life ones make me feel like things could get a lot worse, so I may as well not feel so bad about my shitty life.”

I laughed.  “I’m glad my misery cheers you up,” I told him.

“Well, at least it serves some purpose other than you using us, the public, for your own self-medication,” he finished.

On the evening of November 30, 1948, a man and his wife were walking through Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia.  Across the way, there was a man lying slumped over in the sand with his head against the seawall and feet pointing toward the water.  They saw the man make a movement with his right hand, as though he were trying to smoke a cigarette, and then drop his arm limply.

The couple assumed the man was drunk, and they continued walking.

Later that night, a young girl and her boyfriend were strolling along the promenade at the top of the seawall.  The stopped to have a seat near the steps leading down to the beach.  From their resting spot, the girl saw a man’s left hand lying motionless beside his body.  They commented between themselves that he may be dead because he was not reacting to the mosquitoes.  The lovers remained for about thirty minutes, during which the man did not move.  They concluded that he was drunk or asleep, and thus did not investigate further.

The next morning, the husband from earlier in the previous evening went back to the beach for a swim.  He noticed that the same man was still propped up against the seawall in the same position as the night before.  The police were notified.

Upon arrival at the scene, an officer examined the body and found no signs of disturbance.  The left arm was lying beside the body and the right arm was double bent. An unlit cigarette was behind his ear, and a half-smoked cigarette was lying on the right collar of his coat.

There was nothing unusual about a man dying in a public place, so it was assumed that someone would soon come forward to claim him.

Two days later a post-mortem examination was conducted. Until then it was thought that the man had died from natural causes. Now, however, a mystery began to emerge: despite numerous tests, no cause of death could be discovered.

The body was found to be that of a tall 45-year-old European man in excellent physical condition. Consistent with poisoning, his stomach was found to be highly congested with blood, and his heart had failed.  However, tests did not reveal any poison.

All labels on his clothes were missing, and he had no hat, which was unusual for 1948, especially so for someone wearing a suit.  He was clean-shaven, had no distinguishing marks, and carried no identification.

The police began extensive enquiries to establish the man’s identity. Photographs, fingerprints, and dental records were circulated throughout Australia, New Zealand and all English-speaking countries.  No record of the man could be found.  It was like he had never existed.

A search of his pockets revealed the following items:

  • a used bus ticket from the city to St. Leonards in Glenelg
  • an unused second-class rail ticket from the city to Henley Beach
  • an aluminum comb, manufactured in America
  • a half pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum
  • an Army Club cigarette packet containing Kensitas cigarettes (a different brand)
  • a quarter full box of matches

In January 1949, staff at the Adelaide Railway Station found an unclaimed suitcase in the cloakroom with the luggage label removed. It had been checked in after 11a.m. on November 30th, 1948.  Clothing in the case matched that worn by the man, with identification marks removed. The entire contents of the suitcase were:

  • a red checked dressing gown
  • a pair of size seven red felt slippers
  • four pairs of underpants
  • pajamas
  • shaving products
  • a pair of light brown trousers with sand in the cuffs
  • an electrician’s screwdriver
  • a stenciling brush
  • a table knife cut down into a short, sharp instrument
  • a pair of scissors as used on merchant ships for stenciling cargo
  • a thread card of Barbour brand orange waxed thread, the same as that used to repair lining in a pocket of the trousers the dead man was wearing

And so the mystery deepened. Numerous people went to view the embalmed body.  Some even claimed that they knew him, but ultimately an identity was not established.

Three months later, further examination of clothing found on the body revealed a secret pocket within one of the trouser pockets.  Inside was a piece of paper with the words “Taman Shud” printed on it.  Public library officials found that the words came from the last page of a collection of poems written 900 years ago by a Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, called The Rubaiyat.

The theme of the poem was that one should live life to the fullest and have no regrets when it ended. The words Taman Shud mean “the end” or “the finish”.

A photograph of the scrap of paper was sent to interstate police and released to the public, leading a random person to admit he had found a very rare first edition copy of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat in the back seat of his unlocked car in Glenelg on the night of November 30, 1948.  The book was missing the words “Taman Shud” on the last page, and tests indicated that the piece of paper was torn from the book.

In the back of the book were faint pencil markings of five lines written in all capital letters, with the second struck out. The strike out is now considered significant with its similarity to the fourth line, possibly indicating a mistake, and therefore likely proof the letters are code:


Code experts were called in at the time to decipher the lines but were unsuccessful.

When the code was analyzed by the Australian Department of Defense in 1978, they made the following statements:

There are insufficient symbols to provide a pattern.
The symbols could be a complex substitute code or the meaningless response to a disturbed mind.
It is not possible to provide a satisfactory answer.

More recent attempts to solve the case suggest that the letters aren’t random, just some mysterious cipher with which no one is familiar.

The identity of the deceased man and cause of death remain unsolved to this day.

Police photo of the dead body (above), the dead man’s code from the back of The Rubaiyat (below)

One Response to “A Conversation With Justin, & A Rather Long, Pointless Story About A Dead Man”

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