The Taman Shud Case

It would seem that our trip through weird history may be better called ‘All the Weird Things that Happened in 1948’. Because it seems that all of the topics that I’ve looked up for entries today have happened in 1948.

The Taman Shud murder is a crime, a true crime, that has made the jump to both popular culture and urban legend status. An unidentified man was found dead in Somerton Beach, Australia early on December 1, 1948. None of the markers normally used to identify bodies, such as fingerprints and dental records, were able to shed light on the man’s identity. Eventually the police were able to track his coat back to the States, but that was the most they were able to determine.

Beyond the jacket, the only facts that were able to be linked to the man was that he seemed to have been in great health when he died, that his clothing was stripped of any identifying markers, and there was a brown suitcase eventually linked to him. Within the suitcase there was some clothing, also with everything that could be used to identify it removed. A piece of paper with the words Taman Shud written on it was found on his person. The words mean ‘finished’ or ‘ended’.

The paper was found within a secret pocket of the man’s pants. Further, the paper was from an extremely rare edition of poetry; in an increasingly odd twist the book the page was removed from was eventually located after a man reported that someone had left it in his car near the crime scene.

On the back page of the book a cipher was discovered:







What is truly remarkable is that the cipher has been identified as such, as opposed to a random set of letters-but no one has any idea as to how to break it or what it may mean. All that can be determined is that some characters may be broken or illegible (or unfamiliar to cipher breakers) and that there are spaces or missing characters within the cipher.

As of right now the case remains unsolved, with theories including that the Somerton man may have been a spy. The case is appealing to many people and has worked its way into the popular mindset. Stephen King is said to have used the case as inspiration for The Colorado Kid.


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