Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘historical mystery

The Taman Shud Mystery

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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pockets he had a rail ticket, a bus ticket, gum, matches, a comb, and a cigarette package where cheap cigarettes had been replaced by quality cigarettes.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

Historical mystery solved, and watch out for falling rocks

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This is probably one of the least known mysteries in history. Even calling it an historical mystery is a bit of a stretch, since nothing of an historical nature happened. It’s probably more accurate to call it  a fortean historical mystery. And in any event, it’s an interesting little story, so I’m sharing it. The story starts with a letter. A letter dated to the early nineteenth century. In this letter, a man recounted an event that had happened in his childhood, some decades earlier. It was a memorable event, that’s why he wrote it down, and that’s why someone saved the letter no doubt. Well, who knows, old stuff gets saved all the time for no apparent reason. My apartment is proof of that.

When our story teller was a child, he and his family were staying at a shepherd’s shelter high in the Scottish Highlands. And not for the fresh air and ambience, back then if one was in a cabin in the mountains, one had a practical reason for being there. In this case, I assume it involved sheep, but that’s not germane to our story. And one night there was a terrible storm. At the height of the storm, the people in the shelter witnessed large boulders being pushed uphill by the wind on the slope next to the shelter! Numerous people witnessed it, the boulders were still there in the morning, and no one had an explanation for it. It would have been an incredible thing to witness no doubt.

So, 200 yeas later, how would this mystery be solved? Fortunately the long lost letter writer had included enough details in his description that it seemed like the actual location could be found. And in the remote Scottish Highlands, it likely was still more or less undisturbed since the event in question, there not being a whole lot of highways or suburbs built in said location. So an informal expedition was mounted, including such specialists as could be enticed to spend a day or two tramping around in the hills, a geologist being one such. The expedition set out, and with little difficulty located the scene. The site of the shelter was still visible, and the boulders still littered the hillside beside it. Mystery solved!

OK, that was a little joke. The experts investigated, especially the geologist. The boulders were on the same side of the valley as the shelter. On the other side of the valley, cliffs. And more importantly cliffs from which it was obvious that rockfalls must happen from time to time. And thus, now the mystery was solved. At the height of the storm, there had been a rockfall. Boulders had rolled down the far side of the valley, across the valley, and partway up the opposite slope. And since it was storming and night, only the end of the boulder’s journey across the valley had been witnessed. And a sight it must have been, that’s for sure.

Wait, so how come these people didn’t notice the following morning that a rockfall had occurred on the other side of the valley, and such must have been the origin of the boulders they witnessed during the night? Easy, back then people generally (and still are) unaware of how far boulders can roll when they fall off a cliff. It wasn’t till the century that geologists really got a handle on this, a mile or more in some cases. I remember in one of my geologic hazards classes seeing pictures of a popular campground in Lassen that was closed in the 1960s because a visiting geologist pointed out that the big boulders scattered through the campsite had come from an unstable cliff a mile away and barely even visible through the trees from the campsite. And that, well, it would be happening again.

Fun story, if one likes that sort of thing. The only point here (there’s always a point,) is that people in the past observe things through the filter of what they knew about the world. The people who witnessed this event weren’t stupid, and one of them was articulate enough to decades later write down an accurate description of the event. Just at the time “common sense” told them that the boulders couldn’t have come from the other side of the valley, so the only explanation was that the wind was indeed blowing them up a hill. So one has to be a little careful about historical descriptions of event, one can see stuff today that science can’t yet explain, imagine how it must have been for people a few centuries ago.

Fodder for another blog post I suppose.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, and is arguably an historically important image. OK, that’s a stretch. Credit and copyright: AP. It’s a house in Lytteton, New Zealand struck by a car size boulder during the recent earthquake. Notice the hole in the lawn where it bounced, and it went through the house like it was made of paper. No one was killed by it at at least. Looking at this though, the fellow who wrote the letter above, was lucky he lived to write the letter.)

Written by unitedcats

March 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Did Adolf Hitler Really Die in 1945?

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A friend asked me this recently, did Hitler really die in 1945? It was a staple mystery of my youth, the circumstances of his death were muddy, so there was lots of idle speculation after the war. I even remember it coming up in a third grade classroom, and the teacher saying that even if he was alive, he’d be a very old frail man by then (1967 or so.) There were a couple of pictures of his supposed corpse floating around, none of them very convincing. To the best of my knowledge now, these photos have all been long debunked, one was even a snapshot of Hitler taking a nap. Granted most people accepted that he died in the bunker as history says, but what’s the real story?

The real story gets muddy very early on. For whatever reason, Stalin decided to confuse and obscure Hitler’s fate after the war, ordering his minions into secrecy, and giving conflicting stories to his American and British allies. The Allies themselves were in fact confused in the immediate aftermath of the war. I mean, yes, the Nazis had indeed announced Hitler’s death in the final days of the regime, so most believed he was indeed dead, but no one knew for sure. However, within a year or two of the end of the war, both historians and Allied intelligence agencies had extensively interviewed the survivors of the last days of the war in Hitler’s bunker, and satisfied themselves that the essential details of Hitler and Eva Braun’s death were accurate.

And that’s where the story stood for decades. Historians satisfied, popular belief tinged by understandable rumours and speculations. And then the Soviet Union collapsed, and the details of the Soviet investigation and corpse recovery became available to the west. And the story was that the Soviets had recovered Hitler’s charred  bones, confirmed they were his through his dentist, hidden the bones for decades, then dug them up and destroyed them. And that was that, mystery solved.

Well, not really. I think it’s safe to say that the preponderance of the evidence, and the lack of any evidence of any escape, indicates that the historical account of his death is accurate. And until recently, I would have argued that it was a slam dunk. Today, not so sure. What triggered my re-evaluation was the discovery of the story of the submarine pictured below. This is U-530, a German U-boat active from 1943 until the end of the war, sinking three allied ships and surviving the war. So how does U-530 figure into the mystery of Hitler’s death?

Maybe it doesn’t, but there is a mystery. When the war ended U-530 was at sea. And instead of surrendering to the Allies, she sailed to Argentina and surrendered in July 1945, two months after the war ended. The Allies had some questions for the captain of U-530. Why had it taken him two months to sail to Argentina? He couldn’t say. Why had he jettisoned his ship’s deck gun? Shrug. Why did none of his crew have any identification? Silence. And where was the ship’s log? Oberleutnant Otto Wermuth didnt know. Mysterious, eh? Especially since U-53o had a prior history of top secret missions, rendezvousing with a Japanese submarine in mid 1944.

Conspiracy theorists maintain that it dropped Hitler and supplies off at a secret base in Antarctica, where the Nazi’s plot to rule the world to this day as they develop flying saucer technology. Yeah, right. Good comic book idea there. However, it is within the realm of possibility that U-530 stopped somewhere off the coast of Argentina and put someone ashore. Many Nazis fled to Argentina and Paraguay after World War Two, there was a sizable German immigrant population, and its a good bet the Nazis had intelligence assets there that survived the war. (Safe houses, money, agents, connections.) If there was anywhere on Earth where Hitler might be able to go to ground, Argentina was it.

Anything else trigger my re-evaluation? Consideration of the extreme muddiness of the evidence. Reading that a skull fragment the Soviets had purported to be Hitler’s was revealed that of a young woman by DNA testing. Realizing that if Hitler had gotten away, both the allies and the Russians had good motivation to hide the fact. Realizing that if anyone had the resources and fanatical followers to pull off such a deception, it would be Hitler. So while I think there is every possibility that Hitler died in the bunker, and an excellent case can be made that he did so, it’s not incontrovertible. Granted, at this point he would be over 120 years old, so it’s a safe bet that he’s dead now.

Right? Still, the Nazis did all sorts of medical experiments that others would never conduct due to ethical concerns, could Hitler still be enjoying a tall glass of apple juice (his favourite dink) at some obscure Argentine cafe? Until further evidence emerges, who can say?

(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. The first two are absolutely public domain. The third one is all over the web and I can’t find its origin, if anyone knows I will properly attribute it. The top image is the last known photograph of Hitler, taken just outside the bunker two days before his death. The middle image is the U-530 interred in Argentina. The bottom image requires no explanation.)

Written by unitedcats

February 13, 2012 at 6:05 am