After nearly 70 years, a proposed detailed reading of the famous Tamam Shud code message is finally available
THE SOMERTON MAN CODE DECODED
Rev. Gary E. Crum, Ph.D.
Castlewood, Virginia, USA
March 6, 2017
(proofed again with slight revisions: 9/11/17)
Search engine key words: Tamam Shud code somerton man decoded mystery solving report murder case tamam shud Adelaide cipher solution initialisms therapeutic writing
The tangled facts about the enigmatic “Somerton Man,” are available elsewhere, including at numerous places on the Internet and even in an American 60-Minutes television production. Suffice it to say that his body was found under strange circumstances on December 1, 1948, on Somerton beach near Adelaide, South Australia, and detective crime scene investigators have yet, nearly seventy years later, to piece together his name or the exact details.
There is one piece of this case that has particularly challenged investigators and cryptologists; namely, a faintly-written note discovered within a book known to be associated with the dead man (he had a fragment of the exact book in his pocket). The assumption is that he was the one who had left the cryptic letters in that book either before or after tearing out a page-portion containing the words “Tamam Shud” from the last page of a rare book version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and are translated to mean “finished.” (source: Wikipedia, Tamam Shud Case, viewed online, 3/5/2017).
A picture of the mysterious Somerton Man or Tamam Shud note found in that book is reproduced on this page in the photo box.
MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE FACTS OF THE CASE AND THE CRYPTIC NOTE
On March 5, 2017, I was “surfing” the Internet while killing a little time after work hours in my office. I found myself for some reason looking up famous unsolved murders. I encountered some well-known ones like the cases of Jack the Ripper, but encountered others of which I was unfamiliar, such as the case of the Somerton Man. As I skimmed over this case, I ran into the Somerton Man note reproduced above.
This note had apparently stumped hundreds of experts but was a type of note that I could interpret almost immediately, for I used to write such notes on scrap papers often (when younger and in a lonely state, which, praise God, is no more). Such a state of mind can generate this type of writing, and, if I am right, the writer not only used this intuitively cathartic writing technique the same as I, but like me was at the time reflexive, perhaps even in anguish, and was a devout thee/thou “King James Bible” Christian, with English as his native language -- as is supported by English writings in his possession.
Furthermore, like me, he was writing to the exact same targeted mutual recipient: God.
I believe for reasons set forth below that these lines of capital letters are short-hand prayer sentences. If I am right, then his words and syntax suddenly become more intelligible, to me especially as a person with the same intuitive way of expressing my innermost thoughts.
If I have over-connected the dots: have added two and two and gotten five, so to speak, then so be it. But the note made sense to me, where it had been gibberish to everyone before me. Although my ruminations may be flawed, I present them here in case it may help this mysterious investigation. Also present toward the end of this document, I present scientifically-derived evidence that my approach to reading the note is correct, even if the final word by word interpretation I present is perhaps less than definitive.
After translating the note in fairly quick order, using words that would be very common to my own such writings, and using English King-James Bible terms common to prayers of the victim’s and my faith and general era (I was born only four years before his death), I reached the interpretation presented below. Following that satisfying exercise, I experienced a personal epiphany about my younger life’s spiritually-blessed coping mechanisms. I came to know myself better by coming to know a psychologically tortured “brother” in the long-dead man, so to speak, with a common cryptic way of expressing his/our most private thoughts. His, our, thoughts, which were never to be shared with other humans.
My next step (the following night) was to research this expressive process which had become for me now almost tangible rather than primarily subliminal. I have thus in the last few hours learned much about James Pennebaker’s “therapeutic wiring” studies; the field of “expressive writing” (e.g. , see John Evans’ writing in Psychology Today); and the left-brain-right brain catharsis provided by taking inner, reflective and even anguished thoughts and putting them into language rather than their dwelling in spiraling, disembodied musings. On this last point, Fran Dorf (https://frandorf.com/2013/01/22/the-healing-art-of-writing-memoir-or-fiction/) makes the following observation: "When you bring language or narrative to any emotional experience as you do when you write, you bring this experience, or perhaps the memory and associated emotions of the experience into the logical, analytical left brain. This helps integrate the two and lessen emotional reactivity, a big part of healing. In doing therapy and facilitating workshops, I’ve even seen writing help to heal people who aren’t even particularly literate."
I personally used to write these capital letter prayer lines (and sometimes still do, though rarely) like I believe the Somerton man did: deeply earnest and healing supplications. Even as he, I tilted my T and L horizontal cross lines to conserve space, and bunched letters (really words) -- as they flowed quickly from my heart -- at the end rather than scrolling them onto the next line and thus breaking my chain of thought. I crossed out prayers that were inappropriate as soon as the Spirit led me to discern error. I used only letters for each word to allow the easier flow of my thoughts, and still to allow me to have a comforting, copy for later review. The writing represented hard evidence of my faith in my Protector and in a badly-needed, intimate relationship otherwise totally unseen and therefore less comforting. It was therapeutic.
These thoughts were so personal that writing them was a joy, but they were kept as beginning letters only, not just for speed, but to remain private – no one else’s business. After all, I could easily remember their interpretation, for they arrived on paper not without a characteristic tone and a painfully memorable spiritual experience. Eventually they would be discarded, but then another set of cryptic prayer sentences would be written in a time of need –- perhaps on a napkin, perhaps on the bottom of a note from someone else, but it would always be set at least ephemerally on a soon-to-be-discarded scrap of paper in order to be a satisfying balm in time of mental confusion, isolation, or despair.
SEARCHING FOR OBJECTIVE CONFIRMATIONS OF MY ASSUMPTIONS
Anticipating that the above claims in relation to the Tamam Shud note would and should generate skepticism, I sought to find some objective evidence that I, as a scientist, would find at least partially supportive of my conclusions.
I first searched for evidence that others besides the Somerton Man and I had written privately in this way, delving into areas both forensic and psychological, including the new found area for me of therapeutic writing. Finding no such collaborating evidence (perhaps someone reading this has something to share with me via this website’s email contact information at the bottom of this page, in small print.) I sought to analyze the dynamics of my assumptions about the note in other objective ways. I next asked myself the following question: “Could I be projecting a quirky aspect of my own past onto the Somerton Man’s unintelligible message?” So I decided to try to generate prayer lines by reading random lines from random letter tables that are available on the Internet, but found I could not generate readable multiword sentences of any kind, let alone readable prayer sentences. The difficulties I encountered in that exercise, however, led me to an important discovery – a finding that lends objective weight to my interpretation of the message. The reason I could not make intelligible sentences from random letter tables was not necessarily because they were too alien to speech patterns, but because they were alien in their statistical relationship to normal speech/writing in that they too often included letters like X, Z, Q, and U.
I then went to the online Wikipedia (“Letter Frequency,” viewed 3/8/17) sources again and looked up which letters are most likely to begin words in English: a 11.602% b 4.702% c 3.511% d 2.670% e 2.007% f 3.779% g 1.950% h 7.232% i 6.286% j 0.597% k 0.590% l 2.705% m 4.383% n 2.365% o 6.264% p 2.545% q 0.173% r 1.653% s 7.755% t 16.671% u 1.487% v 0.649% w 6.753% x 0.017% y 1.620% z 0.034%
So, the most commonly encountered letters beginning words in English (> than 10%) are A and T, and the least (< 1%) are J, K, Q, V, X, and Z.
In turning then to the Somerton Man’s message, including the crossed out line and assuming the final (disputed) letter of that line was an I and also an L, which of course it could not really be, I listed the total number of times each letter of the alphabet was used in the Somerton Man note (not their percentage), omitting the two mysterious M/W/symbols: A 9 B 5 C 1 D 1 E 1 F 0 G 2 H 0 I 5 J 0 K 0 L 3 M 4 N 1 O 3 P 2 Q 1 R 1 S 2 T 6 U 0 V 0 W 0 (the two disputed W/Ms not counted, though it would not change the conclusion either way) X 0 Y 0 Z 0 Thus the most common Somerton Man message letters are indeed A and T, and of all the rarely used letters in English to begin words (J, K, Q, V, X, and Z) only one instance occurred in his note (a Q).
So, the message of the Somerton Man was apparently composed entirely of capital letters of English words based on this test, and can be supposed to be sentences, probably of one line each, but possibly of more or less, since there is no formal punctuation. Indeed, this all had already been supposed by me immediately based on my past personal therapeutic writings/prayers, but I believe the evidence above supports that very conclusion independently and strongly. The Letters are not random, nor likely to be substituted letters in a secret alphabet code, for their pattern of occurrence even in such a short message makes it clear they are English words represented by their initial letters only. Statistically speaking, I can see no other likely explanation. Perhaps someone reading this can.
This conclusion now leads us to some important implications. Such sentences would be unintelligible to someone unfamiliar with the subject’s linguistic patterns, common words, and state of mind. Even then, only God (certainly not me) could 100% accurately interpret such a message, to utter a truism; and thus, perhaps, only God would likely to be the intended recipient. However, a sympathetic soul of like mindset, God-language, and linguistic patterns (perhaps like me) could make a fairly accurate general interpretation.
At this point in history, a better conclusion to this mystery is, I believe, impossible -- without the discovery of much more detail about when the note was written and in what the Somerton Man was involved. But for argument’s sake, let’s say it is something like a note for a colleague in the cold war spy business concerning secrets like clandestine heavy water shipments. First, numbers cannot be accurately communicated by the first letters of English words – is a T saying three, thirteen, or thirty-six? Also, is S for safe or suicidal, or is IA for in agreement or in anger? Only God could know without causing a catastrophic transmission of crucial secret information. Secondly, cities, towns, roads cannot be accurately designated on a map using first letters only, more than 1% of the time, I would guess. No, this type of writing could not be useful for sharing secret information between two distant locations/persons. Such sentences can make sense only to the writer and to a soul-mate or (more likely) a Deity.
As for my assumptions that they were Christian prayers given in anguish, which assumptions were certainly not minor for my interpreting the meaning/words I used for these letters, those assumptions of course are open for others to question loudly. But still the most telling fact, though anecdotal, I realize, is that I could nearly read all components of those lines within ten minutes of seeing them, and no one else before me, I believe, has come close to doing that in a coherent manner. The lines, even the shape of many letters, seemed familiar to me in an intimate way.
MY PROPOSED TRANSLATION OF THE CRYPTIC NOTE, WITH ALTERNATIVE WORDS, LINE BY LINE
1 (Sign of some deity?*) . . . Righteous God Of All Before And Beyond Death. This is a praise salutation to God that typically initiates a solemn prayer. First person pronouns like “I” (for personal prayer) and “we” (for group-conscious prayer) is appropriately reserved for the confessions and supplications that will follow. A Christ-endorsed example of this prayer pattern is seen in what is commonly called in Christianity “The Lord’s Prayer.” Meanwhile, the possible reference to death perhaps suggests that the Somerton Man was feeling aware of his mortality the time.
2 My life Is An Obvious (Outright) Lie (Loss). This is crossed out maybe because his salvation is true/real and thus no loss, or his pessimism is belatedly seen as being non-Christian. (NOTE: I do not feel the last letter is “I” instead of “L”, even though it admittedly (as noted by others) does not have the space-hoarding horizontal line bend of the other L’s, because as the last letter it could have been written atypically even as the decision not to continue was made.)
or 2. My life Is Agony (Is Abandoned), Oh Lord. This may have been crossed out because Jesus suffered true agony on the cross bearing our sins and the forsaking of the Father, not us; and we are certainly never abandoned.
or 2. This crossed-out, shortest line of all may be simply beyond deciphering: it may be a beginning fragment and not a complete sentence, such as if the writer were in the midst of praying and felt a spiritual inconsistency in what he was recording. I have done this type of thing myself; though, once again, this is only an egocentric, anecdotally-derived postulation of the Somerton Man’s behavior.
3 (Deity sign?*) . . . That Blesses (Thou Bless-ed) I Make Penitence And Need (Always Needing) Eternally Thy Peace
4 My Lord I Am Burnt Out And I Am Quite Confused. This line's entire meaning arose in my heart in about 4 seconds upon first reading the initials, and was the easiest line for me to translate into words. But, I pensively ask myself now, why do not letter sequences like QC mean something like "quite confident" or "quince condiments (!)" instead of "quite confused"? The answer is of course my own personal experience of using this same type of writing in times of abject isolation and exhausted confusion. This confession may also in turn suggest to the reader that any future effort to decipher the Somerton Man's initial writing will fail for a lack of a context of the writer's mindset, purpose in writing, and the note's intended recipient. As inadequate as my reading may be, it thus could be all there ever will be, barring a breakthrough of some kind in the forensic investigation.
5 I Trust (Thank) Thee My Tender (Trusted) Savior And My (Merciful) Shepherd That Goes (Guides) Always Before. Here he ends in a statement of true faith that all will be salved, thanks to our God’s unfathomable power and love. This type of closing displays the believer’s spark of trust, kindled by the therapeutic/spiritual healing expected from written prayers to a God who responds readily, supporting us until it is time for us to leave this cruel world at a special, precious moment of faith and accomplishment and go to our rest. We need to keep our hand on the plow to the end, as Jesus expects once we have opened our heart’s door to his gentle knocking (Luke 9:62; Revelation 3:20).
* Further Note on the above “Deity” symbol: This M-like mark is too complex and consistent to be a twice similarly “misprinted” M, or W, I believe; and could represent a personal symbol for the Deity. In comparing the second W/M we see a slightly clearer view of maybe the letter N between two vertical lines (compare with the same shaped N elsewhere in the message). The only not overly satisfying explanation for this that I could entertain after some research and thought is that this marking might be interpreted in one of the two following ways: 1. It might be a personal version of the familiar abbreviated Latin inscription Pilate placed above Jesus on the cross: “INRI” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). This perhaps was reduced to “INI” [= Jesus of Nazareth, Jew] by the Somerton Man. My quick review of religious symbols has produced no example that looks like this, however. 2. It might possibly be that the two left and right lines/bars represent the pillars of Solomon’s Temple which are named in the Bible (2 Chronicles 3:17) as Boaz and Jachin and which are so omnipresent in the symbolism of Freemasonry and Zoroastrianism, and to a lesser extent in Judaism and Christianity. If the two lines have such a symbolic origins, which is speculation at best, the N placed between them could perhaps refer to Deus Nexum: the concept of the divine power that unifies the dualistic pillars of existence: heart and mind, the world and the heaven. Such a divine connector, the divine nexus, is perhaps the Messiah or Jesus. I do not really, expect, however, that a private symbol, if that is what it is, can ever be easily deciphered. My hope is that somewhere such a symbol of the past, perhaps a glyph or rune, might be uncovered which would suggest to us more about the mysterious Somerton Man’s background and traits.
SUMMARY OF MY CONCLUSIONS
It is my thesis that the Somerton Man note is as follows:
1.That it is composed of four one-line sentences where the words are represented by the first letters of those words. This conclusion seems overwhelmingly likely to me for reasons stated above.
2.That the reading of such sentences would be nearly impossible in the absence of more information, and even then they could never be 100% deciphered except by the writer, who, of course, is deceased.
3.That my own unique neurotic experiences in creating these very same type of anguished notes leads me to postulate they are therapeutic writing in the form of intimate prayer sentences intended only for God.
Based on these facts and assumptions, I have developed a possible reading of the bulk of the note, as presented above, and reached this interpretation, which I believe to be fairly accurate, within about ten minutes of my first viewing it, given my (a) having a similar history of that exact bizarre behavior; (b) assuming English is also the Somerton Man’s native language (a fact corroborated by many facts concerning his belongings and ease of movements in Australia, as cataloged elsewhere by others); and (c) assuming he, like me, was a student of the popular (especially in the 1940’s) King James version of the Bible (i.e., he used thee’s and thou’s for second person pronouns when praying).
On an even more personal note, as a fellow Christian, or certainly at least as a suspected religious colleague of some sort with the deceased man, it is my sincere hope that he would not begrudge me this postulated intrusion into his private thoughts, given the debate that has raged for decades concerning his personal business. After all, his death was a highly visible matter for the police and the coroner, who by nature of their important duties often expose in public a victim’s private matters in order to seek clarity about potentially criminal events.
Finally, I hope my insights, however flawed they may be, will shed some light on his circumstance; and might someday help to resolve the Somerton Man's identity. Meanwhile, I pray he will rest in God’s peace.
PS -- After writing the above, I (on 3/9/17) learned from the Internet that the likelihood that the Somerton Man's note was in fact English "initialisms" had been already postulated by the students of Somerton Man expert Professor Derek Abbott of Adelaide University and by a blogger on this case named John Rehling. The latter expert's blog contains a comprehensive discussion of this initialism possibility (more comprehensive than mine in many respects) and contains the following statement fragment from his conclusions: " . . . the Tamam Shud cipher very likely is an initialism of some short English text(s)" (viewed Online 3/9/17, https://nlpconfidential.blogspot.com/2014/02/murder-and-nlp-taman-shud-case-part-1.html?m=1). In my coming so late to this mystery, I am chagrinned that many fine efforts by previous investigators like Prof. Abbott and Mr. Rehling are largely unknown to me, and I wish I could in the above essay produce more of their names and references in a more scholarly review. Unfortunately, my main contribution, if it is that, is in the nature of a personal experience, and it will be up to people like those two men and others to parse the true worth of my conclusions. (In the final analysis, I might quip, those more knowledgeable experts may have fallen short of getting to an actual proposal of the message's contents because they were hampered by having a less neurotic history than I!).
I must confess that my main hope for future vindication of my detailed interpretation of the note lies now not in the hands of cryptologists, but in the hands of experts in therapeutic writing: to find supporting examples of spontaneous anguished writings by initials only.
--- END ---
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: GARY E. CRUM
I am a Licensed Local Pastor in the United Methodist Church, Holston Conference, USA. Before joining the clergy at a late age, I was a long-time Associate Professor of Health Care Administration at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and Chief of Staff of the Ohio State Health Department, among holding other governmental and educational posts. I have a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary; master’s degrees from George Washington University, the University of Kentucky, and Columbia University; and a Ph.D. (in medical entomology) from the University of Kentucky.
I have a another website unrelated to this Somerton Man matter: sermonASAP.com.
I can be seen on YouTube delivering a sermon in 2016 (before hearing about the Somerton Man) on the topic of prayer: http://youtu.be/GJOtZyKhTe0
Please send your comments on this essay to the email listed in the website's footer below, or write to me at P O Box 1072, Castlewood, VA 24224 USA -- please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope, if you want a response.