The "Somerton Man" was a mysterious corpse that appeared on an Aussie beach in 1948. Researchers just used insane DNA tech to name him.
· Jul 28, 2022 ·

One thing is becoming increasingly clear: the power of genetic genealogy can't be overstated.

On December 1, 1948, a man was found dead on Somerton Park beach, just outside Adelaide, South Australia.

He was well dressed in a jacket and tie, but all the tags had been removed from his clothes. He had no identification, and in his pockets authorities found unused train and bus tickets, cigarettes, matches, gum, combs, and a torn piece of paper with the words "tamám shud" – a Persian phrase meaning "is finished" – typed on it.

Here are pictures of the man when he was found (Warning: Not graphic but it is a dead body):

This poor fellow has been unidentified for nearly three-quarters of a century.

More from The New York Times:

At a train station not far away, the police found a suitcase that they traced to the man. In the suitcase, some of the clothing and a laundry bag had "T. KEANE" or "KEANE" written on it, but the police found no one unaccounted for by that name.

The Persian phrase added to the mystery. Apparently, the piece of paper had been ripped out of a book... and someone found said book.

After the case gained publicity months later, a man turned in a classic book of Persian poetry, "Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam," that he said he found in his car, its last page torn out and letters scribbled on its back cover.

The book had a phone number written inside the cover, along with what looked like code that no one has been able to decipher.

Oh, and then there's the possibility of poison.

An autopsy could not determine a cause of death, though it found an enlarged spleen and a liver in poor condition, leading to speculation of poison, though no trace of any was found.

Thanks to modern technology, we now know who he was. Back to the Daily Wire:

An Australian professor of biomedical engineering and a famed American genetic genealogist say they have figured out the Somerton Man's identity. Professor Derek Abbott of the University of Adelaide and Identifinders International president Colleen Fitzpatrick worked together to use DNA from a hair collected from the victim to produce a family tree. The hair they used came from a plaster death mask of the man's face made more than 50 years ago. Using DNA from the hair, Fitzpatrick created a massive family tree of more than 4,000 people who shared some DNA with [the] victim.

It is absolutely bonkers that we can use DNA from random victims to create pools of people that share some genetic traits – I'm not sure if it's insanely cool or has serious Orwellian vibes.

The researchers narrowed their search to a man named Carl "Charles" Webb, an electrical engineer and instrument maker who appears to have left his wife in 1947 and was never seen again.

"Genetic genealogy," in case you weren't aware, is a very promising, relatively new technology, one that uses DNA to map out far-flung family trees:

Genetic genealogy creates family history profiles (biological relationships between or among individuals) by using DNA test results in combination with traditional genealogical methods. By using genealogical DNA testing, genetic genealogy can determine the levels and types of biological relationships between or among individuals.

To confirm the man was indeed Charles Webb, they did some sleuthing. The man had a sister who was married to Thomas Keane, solving the mystery of the suitcase. Then, they found a first cousin three times removed and asked to test this distant relative's DNA. It was a match.

Of course, they still have no idea what the Persian phrase in his pocket meant, why he was there, or what the tickets were for, so the mystery isn't solved yet.

Let's hope they can next figure out how the heck this unfortunate soul ended up dead on an Adelaide beach.

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