Mister S or Mister Somerton are the terms used by the youngsters to refer to the guy whose photo sits above their playroom door.
His real name remains unknown more than 70 years after discovering dead on an Australian beach in a lovely brown suit with a half-smoked cigarette resting on his collar.
The children believe he is a distant relative, but he may be a stranger whose story has captivated their father for over a decade.
Derek Abbott of the University of Adelaide first learned about the Somerton man in 1995 and has spent the last several years pushing for his body to be unearthed so scientists can do the DNA analysis to determine his identity.
Last month, the exhumation took place in the city’s West Terrace Cemetery, where the Somerton man was interred in 1949 behind a tombstone bearing the inscription “the unknown man.”
South Australia Police Detective Superintendent Des Bray told reporters at the cemetery site that the exhumation was about much more than putting an end to one of Australia’s most enthralling crimes.
“It is critical for everyone to realise that the Somerton man is not merely an enigma to be solved. It’s the father, son, grandparent, uncle, or sibling of someone, which is why we’re doing this and attempting to identify him “As Bray stated.
“We know folks who live in Adelaide who believe they may be related,” he explained. “And they are entitled to a conclusive response.”
Among them is Abbott’s wife, Rachel Egan, whom he met after writing her a letter expressing his suspicions that she might be the Somerton man’s grandchild. The two chose to marry during a single supper dominated by discussion about death and DNA. They now have three children, an eight-year-old girl, and twins, both
of whom are awaiting confirmation of Mr. S’s genuine identity.
“Whether he is connected to one of us or not, we have accepted him into our family in any case, because he is the one who brought us together,” Abbott explained. “His cause of death is largely irrelevant at this point. It’s more about who he was and whether we can reclaim his name.”
An impeccably attired corpse
On December 1, 1948, the guy was discovered lying on his back in the sand, his head and shoulders propped up against the seawall at Somerton Beach in Adelaide’s southwest. He was dressed impeccably in newly polished shoes and appeared out of place on a beach where the city’s early risers were out for a walk.
Two apprentice jockeys discovered the body, although several other witnesses reported seeing someone matching the description lying there the night before. One man stated that he saw his arm twitch but did not bother to notify the cops.
” He was resting in a fairly public location, not the sort of location a man would choose if he desired to die quietly,” witness Olive Neill testified during his 1949 inquest, according to written, yellowing notes.
A physical examination revealed more questions than answers. There was no evidence of violence, nearly all of the labels on his clothing had been removed, and he was without identification.
Although an autopsy determined that the death was not natural, three medical witnesses testified that it was not. Detectives speculated that he might have taken a poison so uncommon that it could kill instantly and then vanish without a trace. There was no evidence of poison in his system.
“I believe the immediate cause of death was heart failure, but I am unable to determine what factor contributed to heart failure,” said Robert Cowan, a federal chemical analyst who studied body samples.
The Somerton man was well-built, between the ages of 40 and 50, standing at 5 feet, 11 inches tall, sporting grey-blue eyes and gingery-brown hair that was beginning to grey at the sides. According to pathologist John Cleland: “Many persons who end up at the morgue have unclean, unmanaged toenails. His were spotless.
If scientists successfully create a DNA profile, it will be compared to people in Adelaide who believe they may be connected before a broader search of DNA databases is conducted.
Australia has three DNA databases for law enforcement purposes, the most comprehensive of which is the National Criminal Investigation DNA Database (NCIDD), which has over 1.2 million DNA profiles. The Australian Federal Police began the National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons last year to identify approximately 500 unidentified human remains. If a DNA match to the Somerton guy is discovered, police will attempt to locate living descendants.