WRGOABABD
June 5, 2015 5:31 AM   Subscribe

The Taman Shud case has been one of the world's great unsolved mysteries. Is an amateur enthusiast now on the verge of finally cracking the case?

Taman Shud previously, previously.
posted by Chrysostom (53 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is an amateur enthusiast now on the verge of finally cracking the case?
No.
posted by librosegretti at 6:02 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


As the Wikipedia article mentions, the case is the basis for Stephen King's mystery novella The Colorado Kid, which is a fun read.
posted by Gelatin at 6:02 AM on June 5, 2015


Guys, someone is on to us.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:03 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


A well-wrought little article. Take the time to read it to the end. It's worth it.
posted by Lesser Spotted Potoroo at 6:18 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


both the article and wiki talk about his liver being full of blood. along with various organs like kidneys being 'congested'.

what am i supposed to infer from this?
posted by sio42 at 6:46 AM on June 5, 2015


oooh this is intriguing. still doesn't tell us who the Somerton was, but it's still neat:
To Abbott, this coincidence was irresistibly suggestive, and he now believes a theory that might propel the Somerton mystery into the realm of solvability: that the man was Jo’s secret lover, and Robin Thomson their son. Another fact that Abbott cites as support for this idea is that Robin had a rare anatomical abnormality: He never grew lateral incisors, so his canine teeth, like the Somerton Man’s, abutted his front teeth.
posted by sio42 at 6:55 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


both the article and wiki talk about his liver being full of blood. along with various organs like kidneys being 'congested'.
what am i supposed to infer from this?


My lay person's understanding of this is that there was multiple organ failure, presumably from poisoning. (Though they apparently didn't have the resources to figure out what poison was used.)
posted by aught at 6:59 AM on June 5, 2015


Robin also had an anomaly in the shape of his ear which is not terribly common, but one which the Somerton Man also had.

Although I would question why, if Rachel is keen to have DNA identification carried out, they don't find a relative of Prosper Thomson against whom she can compare her own DNA. That would at least go some way to solving the mystery.
posted by Thing at 7:00 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Good article. As always with this case I'm a bit torn - Abbott is as blinkered as any amateur sleuth, but that doesn't necessarily make him wrong. And Feltus always puts him down in such odd, petty ways it doesn't give me any confidence in his judgement either.

The news about Rachel Egan is weird and interesting. I like it when people find happiness, but she seems (as presented by the author, so a grain of salt here) a bit shocked by how fast everything happened. And yeah, she and Rosa have other avenues of investigation that don't need an exhumation, so what is the hold-up there?
posted by harriet vane at 7:05 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Abbott has twice petitioned the government of South Australia to discuss exhuming the Somerton Man and twice been denied, on the grounds that obsessive curiosity does not justify disturbing human remains.

This article was much better than Reason magazine's take on the story, a long-winded diatribe against big government regulations that have destroyed the market for random body exhumations.
posted by compartment at 7:06 AM on June 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


you'd think the gov't would allow a one time exhumation to gather dna samples if it meant there might be hope of providing some family with closure.

maybe someone's great uncle ed went missing.

altho dammit, i am soooo mad the police threw out the Rubiayat that was found in the car.

that's so crazy about the book. i think that's my favorite part of this whole thing.
posted by sio42 at 7:10 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think The Doctor needs to solve this by going back in time.

The book is probably some plot by that one weird lady who's like not a time lord and not their enemy but some long lived/immmortal almost omnisicent race.
posted by sio42 at 7:14 AM on June 5, 2015


On the one hand, this case has always fascinated me, and the article is a good read. On the other hand, well, Betteridge's Law.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:15 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


This article was much better than Reason magazine's take on the story, a long-winded diatribe against big government regulations that have destroyed the market for random body exhumations.


HAHA is this for real?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:20 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


No identical copy could be found. It appeared that the Somerton Man’s Rubáiyát was unique and published by a company in the habit of issuing, for obscure reasons, one Rubáiyát at a time.
What obscure reasons? TELL ME MORE!
Abbott’s code-breaking efforts, for which he initially held high hopes, stagnated. He tried to solve the code by treating it as a substitution cipher, in which every letter stands for another. He has tested that theory with computational models and conclusively ruled it out. He tried to determine if the letters were random, and even at one point had his students drink beer and write down random letters in progressive stages of inebriation to see if the letters resembled the patterns of those in the code. They did not.
As far as he could tell. MeFites, it's time to drink FOR SCIENCE!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:51 AM on June 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


Yes FLT, yes! Also, how was this other Rubiyat in this whole other case identified as a 7th edition from Methuen if Methuen never published a 7th (or 6th) edition?

Granted it's a side note to this story, but it's a maddening little detail left unaddressed.
posted by Naberius at 7:52 AM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


i know naberius - EVERYTHING about the book is what i want to know.

i want there to be a whole novel or tv show that explores the book and answers all of the questions about it!!!!!
posted by sio42 at 7:54 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


HAHA is this for real?

Sadly, it is no more real than the recently green-lit movie adaptation. The main characters are two cold-case sleuths who are also best frenemies. One, a hard-nosed retired professional, is played by Walter Matthau. The other, an enthusiastic amateur, is played by Jack Lemmon. They are brought together by the mystery and their shared love of ice fishing. (Some details have been changed.) The movie is set in Minnesota and it is titled Grumpy Old Men 3.
posted by compartment at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, how was this other Rubiyat in this whole other case identified as a 7th edition from Methuen if Methuen never published a 7th (or 6th) edition?

Presumably it was "identified as X" simply in the sense that someone said it was X. Just because I identify a shape outside my window as Bigfoot doesn't mean it's a huge baffling mystery that demands explanation the following morning. I was just wrong.
posted by No-sword at 7:57 AM on June 5, 2015


. Just because I identify a shape outside my window as Bigfoot

YOU SAW BIGFOOT?!
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:12 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


If there's one thing that metafilter has taught me, it's that large sequences of letters are -- if not ciphers -- then intiialisms from books. What passage in the Rubiyat matches WRGOABABD?
posted by boo_radley at 8:24 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wow! Did not see the end of the article coming.
posted by wittgenstein at 8:28 AM on June 5, 2015


People who are smarter than me can automate boo_radley's suggestion by parsing through the ebook with a script or something.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:28 AM on June 5, 2015


boo_radley: amazingly, no initialisms of WRG in the entire text.

fun puzzle though :)
posted by idiopath at 9:13 AM on June 5, 2015


Right, it immediately reminded me of Decoding cancer-addled ramblings from AskMe.

I fed the copy of Rubaiyat from filthy light thief's link into the code I wrote for that question. The results aren't plausible:

WRGOABABD -> with roses grow over as becomes a blind divinity
WTBIMPANETP -> with the bird is mutual pledge and new ebooks the project
MLIABOAIAQC -> me live in anything but oftener as in avertissement que cette
ITTMTSAMSTGAB -> in the the mountainous tract south a mystic shadowing the gratefully accepted but

The code doesn't look for an exact match in the text, it uses Viterbi decoding to find the best statistical match given word transition probabilities of the corpus, and includes the possibility of errors in the input.

I ran it again using all the religious texts I'd used for the AskMe question (King James Bible, various creeds, hymn and prayer books) and didn't get anything plausible either: WRGOABABD -> with the blessed is my people and not eat the people(!)
posted by jjwiseman at 9:20 AM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


all instances of WR*:

["walker" "rubaiyat" "of"]
["who" "read" "the"]
["we" "repeated" "to"]
["was" "reminded" "he"]
["whatever" "reason" "however"]
["what" "records" "remain"]
["were" "really" "at"]
["with" "rule" "and"]
["wine" "red" "wine"]
["with" "rule" "and"]
["will" "replace" "the"]

source (clojure):

(def src (slurp "http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/246/pg246.txt"))

(def words (string/split src #"\W"))

(let [full-match [\w \r \g \o \a \b \a \b \d]]
  (reduce (fn [[matches all-matches found] cantidate]
            (let [letters (map first found)
                  cantidate (.toLowerCase cantidate)]
              ;; (println "matches" matches "found" found "cantidate" cantidate)
              (cond (not (not-empty cantidate)) [matches all-matches found]
                    (= letters full-match) [(conj matches found) (conj all-matches found) [cantidate]]
                    (= (take (count found) full-match) letters) [matches all-matches (conj found cantidate)]
                    :true [matches (conj all-matches found) []])))
          [[] [] []]
          words))
posted by idiopath at 9:20 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


(idiopath, note that there's a clojure viterbi initialisms decoder at https://github.com/wiseman/initialisms/blob/master/clojure/src/initialism/core.clj; It's much faster than the python code in the same repo.)
posted by jjwiseman at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2015


Some have suggested that the string of letters is an initialism for a phrase the Somerton Man wrote himself. An obscure suicide note known only to him. The third line of MLIABOAIAQC has been inspiredly written out as "My life is all but over and I am quite content." Which is fitting for a suicide note but utterly unprovable.

I also like the suggestion that as the first two lines begin with W the word is "Women". I mean, if a man kills himself then it's odds on that he will blame women, right? Right? That's why he crossed out the first draft of the second line: he had something more to add about how awful women are!
posted by Thing at 9:24 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


jjwiseman: ha, I just noticed that we were using the same language, but it seems I'm ruling out results that your code finds...
posted by idiopath at 9:26 AM on June 5, 2015


with the bird is mutual pledge and new ebooks the project

The word "ebooks" appears in the Rubaiyat?
posted by Ratio at 9:42 AM on June 5, 2015


For centuries, men wondered what the hell that meant. Now we know...
posted by Naberius at 9:46 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


In the front matter. I literally did "curl -O http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/246" and used that as the corpus. If the full de-initialized phrase had existed in the text it would have been found anyway.
posted by jjwiseman at 9:46 AM on June 5, 2015


As I've mentioned before, that post-mortem photo of "Somerton Man" looks so much like my late grandfather it's seriously, seriously spooky (but my grandfather looked absolutely nothing –zero– like the artist's impression on this page – scroll down to see) . It's a fascinating story, and it would be amazing if some new info could be revealed with DNA. The genetic(?) traits in common with Robin Thomson certainly do seem rather unlikely to be coincidence given the other multiple connections with Robin's mother (location of his death so near where she lived, her unlisted phone number written in the book, the fact that she had (also?) given a copy of the book to at least one other person, her apparent/reported dramatic reaction to seeing the plaster bust, especially as a nurse).

Like everyone else, I have so many questions. A big one, and maybe this has been covered somewhere, is whether the removed labeling from his clothing was "newly removed" or had been removed for a while – something that could most likely be fairly determined at the time, but probably not all these years later. It seems to me that if someone killed him and also removed the labels, they would not have left his suitcase (which they would have had to have access to) to be discovered. So let's say he removed the labels himself, either as a regular thing (because he hates labels in his clothes or because he's a spy), or only for this one circumstance (suicide, and didn't want to be identified, presumably), in which case they would have been newly removed.

So, just assuming suicide: if so, he left the book in a car himself... why? Was it a particular car, or a random car, from his perspective? If he wanted the book to be found and connected with him, why not keep it with his person? If he didn't want it found, why not dispose of in a more sensible way? Since he went through the trouble to put it in the car, my guess is that it was a particular car, probably someone closely connected to "Jo," and leaving it there, specifically there, was a message. If Jo was in the habit of giving a gift of this book to people she was close to, it would have been an incident that car-owner would probably have shared with her, and probably showed her the book.

So, was the "cypher" something that only she would know? A final message? I was wondering if there was some "nurses' shorthand" they might have used/studied together at one point. For example, this page shows "Q" as meaning "every," but I'm not really seeing any "aha!" thing in that list. But I don't know how different this might be from the '30s-'40s. What if it wasn't a cypher, but something they had written together, or he had noted down as she was discussing, and which she would certainly recognize, but wouldn't be a "code" but just something they had done together for whatever reason? (I don't know; I regularly excavate a ton of completely weird notes and drawings in our house that I struggle to imagine what the hell we were talking about that we needed to mark these things down.)

Anyway, it would be very interesting if the DNA tests were allowed, but maybe we aren't entitled to go that far just because it's captured the public curiosity.
posted by taz at 10:00 AM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Alright, confession time. I am a lady who has given multiple copies of the same meaningful poem to multiple lovers. I think probability is high that if she gave it to one identified boyfriend, she did to another - sometimes you seize on a poem and it just grabs you - especially as it was the same edition.

One thing I wonder though actually about that same edition - and that I think probably wasn't tested at the time - was it possibly her own copy? Did he visit her before he died, and that is why she fainted? Man, this is a really interesting case!
posted by corb at 10:09 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The word "ebooks" appears in the Rubaiyat?

1. Translate a collection of Persian poems.
2. Attribute them to a local polymath with a reputation for poesy.
3. ????
4. Prophet!
posted by chavenet at 10:09 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd never heard about this case before. I see why it's so fascinating!

The teeth thing pretty much convinces me that the guy was the woman's previous lover and father of her son. She probably married to legitimize her pregnancy - that's certainly something that was done back in those days. That she seems to have managed to stay totally silent about it the rest of her life is remarkable, though. Seems like a lot of things from that time period that were hushed up at the time (e.g. the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland) have eventually come to light as times have changed and things that would have been scandalous are now forgivable.

Maybe he really was a spy, and that's why they couldn't be together in the first place?
posted by dnash at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huh, that really was a twist.

So, just assuming suicide: if so, he left the book in a car himself... why? Was it a particular car, or a random car, from his perspective? If he wanted the book to be found and connected with him, why not keep it with his person?

My fun crackpot theory about this: if he was being followed and saw a car with a window cracked, he could throw it in there. The person following him can't just scoop up the book later, and would have to break into the car to get it, arousing suspicion. Knowing the person would be good, but even a random person would do, since the likelihood of somebody talking about that with friends and family would be great, improving the chances that the book would be found by the police. The book going missing seems sort of suspicious as well, although I guess police departments probably do just purge evidence every now and again.

Feltus’s perspective is aided by age. As someone who was alive during the Somerton Man’s last years and remembers the upheaval of postwar Australia, he does not see the Somerton Man’s anonymity as unusual or mysterious. “There were lots of displaced people around,” Feltus says. “People were jumping ship, changing their names, becoming a whole new person.” Wartime rationing was still going on, and black marketeers had good reason to sneak around without identification.

Sounds like a fascinating period and place. Is there any modern fiction about it?
posted by codacorolla at 10:32 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love that detail about the company that publishes only a single copy at a time of the Rubáiyát. That's so incredibly odd. I watched an interview with a JFK assassination obsessive who said that if you focus intensely on one place and moment in time, you are going to find a lot of weird and strange things, simply because the world is a weird and strange place.
posted by Kattullus at 10:45 AM on June 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


Yes I want to know more about that too! I'm like, 'Is it a SPY company?'
posted by corb at 10:48 AM on June 5, 2015


Sounds like a fascinating period and place. Is there any modern fiction about it?

Here's a page on the Australian government's on website about Australian novels, broken down by period of Australian history in which they were written.

This Australian bookseller's list of Best Fiction in 2011 includes a reference to Frank Moorhouse’s Cold Light as being a modern novel set in post-war Australia.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:07 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think the whole "only one copy published" is an established fact, more like an extraordinary reason why no other copies of the same book have been found. Indeed, during his Reddit IAMA Abbott said:
We've found almost identical versions. The real version apparently was on plain white paper. However, the versions we found were on coloured paper. We've never found an exact copy on white paper.

In the war years, backyard publishers made money by doing rip-off copies of popular books from bigger publishers. These are called "false imprints."

It is possible we are dealing with a false imprint here.

We have found exact copies of Alf Boxall's and George Marshall's copies. It appears that Alf had a genuine imprint and George Marshall had a false imprint. False imprints survive and can appear on eBay just like any other old book. So it was lucky that another copy of the Marshall one appeared. But still nothing for the Somerton Man's copy. Keep looking folks!

posted by Thing at 11:16 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I watched an interview with a JFK assassination obsessive who said that if you focus intensely on one place and moment in time, you are going to find a lot of weird and strange things, simply because the world is a weird and strange place.

Sounds like John Updike's comment in the New Yorker:
We wonder whether a genuine mystery is being concealed here or whether any similar scrutiny of a minute section of time and space would yield similar strangenesses—gaps, inconsistencies, warps, and bubbles in the surface of circumstance. Perhaps, as with the elements of matter, investigation passes a threshold of common sense and enters a sub-atomic realm where laws are mocked, where persons have the life-span of beta particles and the transparency of neutrinos, and where a rough kind of averaging out must substitute for absolute truth. The truth about those seconds in Dallas is especially elusive; the search for it seems to demonstrate how perilously empiricism verges on magic.
posted by theodolite at 11:30 AM on June 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


I watched an interview with a JFK assassination obsessive who said that if you focus intensely on one place and moment in time, you are going to find a lot of weird and strange things, simply because the world is a weird and strange place.

Errol Morris' piece The Umbrella Man for the New York Times. (also on Youtube and Vimeo)
posted by unsupervised at 12:06 PM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes! Thanks, unsupervised. For the record, it was Josiah "Tink" Thompson who I was half-remembering, and he was going off on the Updike piece mentioned above.
posted by Kattullus at 2:15 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Norman Mailer said something similar re: JFK.
posted by gentian at 3:13 PM on June 5, 2015


From the last time, I thought that the connections to Russian espionage were greater. And that there are sealed Russian records that might soon become public*. Yet, this article only mentions the Russian spy theory as a throwaway.

Interesting and somewhat creepy twist at the end there.

* Putin, fine, you can have Crimea. Can we find out who this guy is, though?
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 4:30 PM on June 5, 2015


We just need Miss Fischer to come along and solve it.
posted by drezdn at 5:03 PM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was wondering if there was some "nurses' shorthand" they might have used/studied together at one point. For example, this page shows "Q" as meaning "every," but I'm not really seeing any "aha!" thing in that list. But I don't know how different this might be from the '30s-'40s.

I am definitely not a sleuth in any way, but the abbreviation of Q for "every" or "per" is derived from a Latin word (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_abbreviations_used_in_medical_prescriptions) and has been used by pharmacists since ~1900, at least in the US. /medical librarian out

Man I love these kinds of mysteries. They keep me up at night but are so deliciously thrilling.
posted by holyrood at 9:35 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


*squints at the corpse*

It's Lane Pryce.

Solved that for you.
posted by gusandrews at 10:01 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, it's not Glenn Miller (as someone apparently believes, according to the article). I just google-image-searched him and his teeth were normal.
posted by daisyk at 10:53 AM on June 6, 2015


We just need Miss Fischer to come along and solve it.

Kerry Greenwood wrote a (non-fiction) book about the case which includes a short story where she does let Miss Fisher have a crack.
posted by andraste at 7:41 PM on June 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought about this for a while and I have, I believe, solved the case. The clue lay in the cigarette packet. We have good reason to believe that Somerset Man was a philanderer, and father of an abandoned child. What weight must have been on his shoulders. How could he die without confession? Yet to inscribe a note directly would be to mark the child as the offspring of a suicide, adding yet more shame.

Consider the contents of his pockets. There was the slip of paper with the words "Taman Shud", some other debris, and a cigarette packet. Why did Somerset Man carry Kensitas cigarettes? Perhaps it was his preferred brand. But then why were they in a different packet? My breakthrough was this realisation: he carried the cigarettes to explain the "Army Club" packet. An empty packet would be too obvious a clue; the cigarettes served to disguise it.

We know Somerset Man liked cyphers; much thought has been given to the words "Taman Shud", but that was only half the clue. The whole clue is made up of the cigarette packet inscription with the last words from the Rubaiyat: "Taman Shud Army Club". Together they form an anagram of his confession:
"TAMAN SHUD ARMY CLUB" = "TRULY, SUCH A BAD MAN".

There is no more to say.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:20 AM on June 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


MetaFilter solves the case again! Thank you for your sterling work, Joe in Australia.
posted by daisyk at 5:03 AM on June 7, 2015


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