The Tamum Shud Case
One of the things that distinguishes humans from animals is our urge to pay proper homage to our dead. After we die, we want to be known and remembered, and when that is not possible for someone, it makes anxious and uneasy. Anonymous death is a frightening thing, and during the height of the Cold War, it had the flavor of espionage and murder.
The Australian case of Tamum Shud is one that continues to haunt people more than half a century after it was discovered. It is a case of lost identity, of murder, and of fear.
The basics of the case are simple, and the details have been combed over again and again. On the first day of December in 1948, a man was discovered on the Somerton beach in South Astralia. The man lay on his back, his legs crossed and a cigarette, half-smoked, tucked between his shoulder and his cheek. He had an unused rail ticket in his pocket, an American comb, a packet of Juicy fruit gumb, a cigarette packet and matches on his person.
So far, it was a tragic case, but nothing too strange. Then the autopsy came back, and the questions began. The man’s heart was in good shape, but there was blood in his stomach and he had dramatically enlarged kidneys, liver and spleen. The coroner declared that the man found on Somerton beach was in every way a healthy man and that he had been poisoned, though by what, it is not known.
The more the man was examined, the more questions came up. As mentione,d he was a man in excellent health. He was just an inch short of six feet with feet that looked as if they had worn boots with pointed toes, like a dancer would wear. The coroner further noted that his calf muscles were very well developed, like a ballet dancer’s would be. His clothing was of a very good quality, though he was dressed far more warmly than the warm Australian day warranted. All of the labels on his clothing had been cut away, and he had no wallet and no identification.
There were many suggestions for who the man was, but nothing definitive would ever show up.
A short time later, it was discovered that there was a tightly rolled scrap of paper sewn into the hem of the man’s trouser pocket. When it was unrolled, it was found to contain the words “tamam shud.” These words end the work, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. They translate to “it is finished” or “it is done.”
The words themselves seem to have been torn out of a particular volume of the work, and desperate for a lead, the police addressed the public to discover which edition it might be.
Some time later, an anonymous man came forward to reveal that a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam had been left in his unlocked car at a time and place very close to the discovery of the dead man. When he turned in the book, microscopic investigation revealed that scrap in the man’s pocket had indeed come from that book.
Even more mysterious were the letters written on the back of the page itself, evidence of a code that had been worked. At this point, no one has cracked this code or revealed what it might say.
Today, there are many theories on who the man from Somerton might be. Some people are convinced that he was a Cold War spy who had outlived his usefulness and been killed. Others are convinced that it was a tragic suicide. Still others believe that the death was a message sent across the world, and that only the recipients know what it truly means.
In any case, whoever the man from Somerton was, he has taken his secrets with him to the grave.