Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

The Taman Shud Mystery

with 6 comments


I’ve decided just for fun to write about a few historical mysteries. Unsolved crimes in particular. Why? Just for fun. I’ll start with the Taman shud case. That’s him above. OK, not exactly, we don’t know who this is. That’s the mystery, or at least the core of it. The man pictured above was found dead on a  beach in Australia in 1948. European look, 40-45, excellent shape, muscles and bones consistent with a runner or ballet dancer. Good clothes, although all of the labels had been removed. No hat, unusual for  a suited man in 1948. No wallet. In his pockets he had a rail ticket, a bus ticket, gum, matches, a comb, and a cigarette package where cheap cigarettes had been replaced by quality cigarettes. His fingerprints and dental records were of no help in identifying him. No cause of death could be established. Despite massive publicity in Australia, no one came forward and was able to identify who this man was. And Australia was a small country at the time, only eight million people lived there.

Six weeks later a suitcase belonging to the deceased man was found in a l,ocker at the local train  station. The label from it had been removed. It contained a number of items, none of which shed any real light on the mystery. There was an item that is usually used by merchant seamen. Some of the clothes may have come from the United States. While the suitcase shed a little more light on his movements the day before he was killed, it went no further in determining who he was. A coroner’s inquest didn’t help much either. They noted that his shoes were freshly polished, which was odd since it appeared he had been walking around all day the day before he was killed. The inquest concluded he had been poisoned by some unknown toxin. And that his body might have been dumped where it was found, though eyewitness testimony contradicts that. (The contents of the suitcase are listed here.)

It gets weirder. In a pocket in the man’s clothes was a hand sewn inner pocket. In it a tiny piece of rolled up paper with the words “Taman Shud” printed on it. It was eventually determined to have been torn out of a rare book that had been left in a  man’s car the night of our mystery man’s demise. The words are from a book of poems and mean “ended” or “finished.” When the book was examined it was found to have five lines in faint pencil markings:


What do they mean? Who knows. The best cryptographers haven’t been able to make sense of it. There was also a telephone number that led to a woman who seemed to know who the deceased was. He was a man named Alfred Boxall, a seaman. She claimed to have given him a copy of the rare book of poems. It seemed like case closed until Alfred Boxall showed up, alive and well, with a copy of the book of poems that indubitably came from the woman. How had her phone number ended up in the mystery man’s copy? Again, no one knows. Some feel that she knew more than she let on. Sadly she wasn’t investigated further, and the case’s one promising lead was never followed up on. Some think that it was a suicide. Some think Cold War cloak and dagger espionage was involved. I tend to think he was a mentally disturbed person who killed himself. We may never know. A recent investigation tried to get him dug up for a DNA sample, but a judge decided (rightly so) that something other than idle curiosity was required for an exhumation.

And that’s that. Well, the core of it at least. Like so many things, if one wants to dig into it further, there are all sorts of other minor hints and clues. And some of the above may be wrong, as this site attests. There’s all sorts of websites on the case as a Google search of Taman Shud reveals. Will the case ever be solved? Maybe. Does it mean anything? Probably not. Why did I write about it? Because it’s a weird and interesting case. I think the only real conclusion that can be reached is that he wasn’t from Australia. It just seems unlikely with all the publicity the case got that no one in Australia recognized him. Even that’s not completely firm. Maybe he was a recluse. Maybe he altered his appearance before his death. Is there any connection to UFOs or ancient aliens? I don’t think so.

In any event I am sorry I have posted so infrequently lately. I sometimes have these interludes that interfere with blogging, it’s called my life. They tend to be brief so i am sure I will be back soon. Have a great week everyone.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, is arguably a historic image, and I got it off Wikipedia. He’s still in the news, here’s a recent article on the case with lots of pictures and recent developments.)


Written by unitedcats

December 11, 2012 at 9:31 am

6 Responses

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  1. Cool post, I wonder if he was some sort of spy? I happen to be reading about/listening to Number stations,
    maybe the poem book was his key to decoding messages.


    December 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    • Maybe. Seems like an odd place for Cold War spy vs spy stuff. Many of the details seem like they would attract attention, why would a spy rip labels out of their clothes? And nothing has come to light in the former Soviet sphere about him, other Cold War mysteries were cleared up after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s as good a guess as any though. —Doug


      December 12, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    • How about a combo between Doug’s thought and Pyrodins, a mentally ill man (maybe schizophrenic) who thought he was a spy. The poetry book still could have been his key to decoding, at least in his mind. Removing labels off ones clothes seems eccentric at best, possibly a sign of mental instability. I don’t know how romanticized the idea of being a spy was in 1948, but it has always been a fairly pop culture profession in entertainment. Doesn’t explain the woman’s phone number, unless maybe he like to “spy” on people, observed her giving Boxal the poetry book and he added it along with the woman to his fantasies. Of course none of this explains his actual death.

      Josh V

      December 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      • Haha yes! Mystery solved! His death could have been caused by mishandling of some kind of poison he obtained in his pursuit of being a “real” spy….lol


        December 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

  2. Hi Doug,

    Normally I ignore stories like this but I find myself drawn to it in a sad, gentle early autumn light sort of way. He was somebody’s son, sibling, friend–had a name. After reading the highlighted links, I followed a footnote from, I believe, the second one (the list of items) which led eventually to the blog of a person who claims to have some evidence as to the identity of the man and some of the possible circumstances surrounding his death. What I find really intriguing about this story are the events which took place before and after. Several years before, a man had been found dead in a park nearby with a copy of the Rubiyat on his stomach, apparently poisoned with digitalis, the same substance suspected of killing Somerton Man. Soon after the Somerton Man incident a man came forward by the last name of Mangnoson who claimed that the deceased was a man with whom he had worked nine years prior. Shortly before he was to give tesitmony, Mangnoson’s two year old son was found dead in a sack in some woods and Mangnoson nearby unconscious from exposure but otherwise unharmed. He had been away from home for four days during which time his wife was terrorized by a masked prowler who had been seen lurking around their house. The story about the park victim is interesting in its own right but I won’t overshare.
    This is one of your better ones, thanks!


    December 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm

  3. Spies have been known to go insane. Book code, SS refugee, double agent, ran afoul of the wrong people. Could be some weird combination, leaving a hopeless puzzle. I can’t help but imagine George Smiley calmly examining the body in the middle of the night.


    January 7, 2013 at 3:58 pm

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