Somerton Man: Twist in on of Australia’s most mysterious cold cases case as bizarre ‘birthday card’ emerges
A bouquet of flowers along with a birthday message left has reignited speculation about the real identity of a man at the centre of one of Australia’s most baffling and enduring mysteries.
The identity of the Somerton Man has been shrouded in mystery ever since his body was discovered by two trainee jockeys slumped against a wall at the seaside suburb of Somerton Park beach in Adelaide on December 1, 1948.
The man was dressed perfectly in a pressed double-breasted suit and tie with shoes freshly shined.
Bizarrely he had an unlit cigarette resting on his chest, a coded message in his pocket and a book of Persian poems among his belongings.
However, after 74 years of remaining unclaimed and unidentified, a birthday tribute claims an Austrian spy is the true identity of the Somerton Man.
A bouquet of flowers and a birthday message left on a sculpture of a man at a beach (pictured) claims Austrian man Carl Josef Halban is the real ‘Somerton Man’
The identity of the Somerton Man has been shrouded in mystery ever since his body was discovered by two trainee jockeys slumped against a wall at the seaside suburb of Somerton Park beach in Adelaide on December 1, 1948
Family and friends of Austrian man Carl Josef Halban left the birthday flowers and message on a seaside sculpture of a man sitting at Somerton Beach.
‘Happy Birthday to the real ‘Somerton Man’, Carl Josef Halban,’ the note read.
‘Milliner, sailor, communist, spy. Our birthday wish for you is for the truth to come out. Austria is calling you home.’
The note was signed: ‘Your loving family, your voice Sophie and your beloved Jestyn.’
Former Adelaide lawyer Sophie Holsman, who has spent two years researching the Somerton Man mystery, left the note on behalf of Mr Halban’s family.
Ms Holsman claims she has evidence the Somerton Man was Mr Halban – a European communist and spy whose cousin worked on building an atomic bomb in the UK.
The mystery man was dressed perfectly in a pressed double-breasted suit and tie with shoes freshly shined
Among the Somerton Man’s belongings was an unlit cigarette resting on his chest, a coded message (pictured) in his pocket and a book of Persian poems
The lawyer, who now lives in Canberra, is working with Mr Halban’s family in the US and Europe.
‘They want the truth to come out,’ Ms Holsman told The Advertiser.
‘I’ve got expert evidence supporting him as Somerton Man from internationally renowned document examiners, scientists and Halban’s family.’
Pictured: An artistic impression of Carl ‘Charles’ Webb, dubbed The Somerton Man
Ms Holsman claims she passed on Mr Halban’s name and her file to South Australian police two years ago.
She argued investigations in recent years focusing on a 43-year-old man from Melbourne as the real identity of the Somerton Man were false.
In May 2021, the Somerton Man’s body was dug up and examined in the hope new technology will finally provide the answers needed to crack the case.
Adelaide University researcher Derek Abbott, who is widely considered an expert on the puzzling case, claimed the Somerton Man was Carl ‘Charles’ Webb – a 43-year-old electrical engineer and instrument maker from Footscray in Melbourne.
Professor Abbott, alongside renowned American genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, made the identification in June, 2022, after using hair from a plaster mask police made in the 1940s to construct a DNA profile.
After building a family tree of around 4,000 people, the pair successfully matched the DNA with genetic records uploaded by members of two separate families on a genealogical website.
However, Ms Holsman argued the Somerton Man could not be Carl Webb because the electrical engineer did not travel internationally.
‘Carl Webb cannot be Somerton Man based on previous forensic findings,’ Ms Holsman said.
‘Somerton Man had to have travelled overseas prior to arriving in Adelaide due to the high levels of strontium-90 in his hair.
‘In other words, he must have been at atomic testing sites. Carl Webb never travelled internationally – he cannot be Somerton Man.’
Adelaide Cemetery Authority pall bearers carry the body of the exhumed Somerton Man on May 19, 2021 (pictured)
Ms Holsman, who also has an Australian history degree, added Mr Webb did not match the photos of the Somerton Man.
She also claimed Mr Halban’s named appeared in photographs of the suitcase which was found with the Somerton Man.
Ms Holsman said she received a tip-off about the Somerton Man’s real identify and will explore her research into the puzzling mystery in an upcoming TV documentary.
A post-mortem examination of the Somerton Man ruled he was poisoned, but he was never identified because no family members came forward to claim him.
The fact Somerton Man was never claimed and the way he was found led many to believe he was a Cold War spy as the tags of his clothes were ripped out – a trademark of espionage agents.
Others believed wild theories including he was murdered by a scorned ex-lover.
Professor Abbott’s research suggests, the Somerton Man, who he claims is Mr Webb, was the youngest of six siblings, had German roots and might’ve been wearing US clothes from his brother-in-law when he died.
Information about the Webb family was uncovered through records, articles and reaching out to distant relatives.
His research also sheds light on why the Somerton Man may have been wearing American clothing at the time of his death.
A photo of a 1921 football team has also been used to help identify the Somerton Man.
In an old family photo album Charles Webb is seen in the back row of a family photo, playfully placing his hand on the head of a man thought to be his brother-in-law (Charles Webb is circled in red)
In another photo, a young boy marked C. Webb (bottom left) stares sternly into the camera from the front row of the Swinburne Technical College under-16 football team
Records show a 14-year-old boy with that name ‘C Webb’ was enrolled at the Swinburne Technical College and studied there for two years.
This information led budding online sleuths and researchers to discover the under-16 football image showing the group of boys pictured in 1921.
The list of players in the photo reveals one of them is named ‘C Webb’ but it is unclear which player it is referring to.
Professor Abbott said there was ‘definitive proof’ Webb is one of the 21 boys in the image.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
December 1, 1948: Trainee jockeys find the Somerton Man’s body on Somerton Beach in the early hours
January 14, 1949: Adelaide train station staff find suitcase believed to belong to Somerton Man in the station
June 1949: Inquest into the man’s mysterious death is launched
June 1949: The Somerton Man is buried in West Terrace Cemetery
March 2009: University of Adelaide Professor Derek Abbott begins investigating the case. His research leads to Rachel Egan. The couple later marry and have three children
October 2019: South Australia Attorney-General gives conditional approval to exhume the body
May 2021: South Australia Police exhume Somerton Man’s body for further testing
July 2022: Adelaide University researcher Derek Abbott and American genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick reveal DNA analysis of Somerton Man’s hair identify him as Carl ‘Charles’ Webb
September 2023: Family and friends of Austrian man Carl Josef Halban left a birthday tribute on a seaside sculpture claiming he is the ‘real’ Somerton Man