The Tamam Shud Enigma

The Tamam Shud Enigma – Dead Body found in Australia with Ancient Persian Connection


On December 1, 1948, authorities were called to Somerton beach in Adelaide, South Australia. A dead body had been found. Little did police realize they were about to encounter what is now considered one of Australia’s most profound mysteries, with connections to the ancient world.

They found his cold body on the sand, slumped at the base of a seawall. He was a middle-aged man in top physical condition, smartly dressed in a suit and tie, his sophisticated black shoes polished. Despite the hot weather, he wore a knit pullover and suit-jacket. His corpse revealed no obvious cause of death. Nobody knew who he was, or where he had come from. After collecting the body, police examined his possessions and clothes for a hint of who he was, but the tags and labels had been carefully removed, leaving no trail.

Unknown dead man found on Somerton Beach, Adelaide

Police photo of the unknown dead man found on Somerton Beach, Adelaide, on the morning of 1 December 1948. ( Public Domain )

Investigators were perplexed when they found what appeared to be a secret message stuffed in his trouser pocket. The words Tamam Shud were printed on a rolled-up scrap of paper, found deep in the unidentified man's pocket. Consulting library experts, police found that the mysterious scrap had been torn from the last page of a rare copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Eerily, Tamam Shud is a phrase meaning "the end" or "finished", and is found at the end of The Rubaiyat.

Tamam Shud

Image: Tamam Shud. The scrap of paper, with its distinctive font, found hidden in the dead man's trousers, torn from the last page of a rare New Zealand edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam ( Public Domain )

Was this cryptic note a final message of doom for the unknown man?

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a collection of poems, translated into English from Persian by Victorian writer Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. The quatrains were originally penned by Omar Khayyám, a Persian poet, astronomer, philosopher and mathematician from the 12 th century. Khayyám was one of the major polymaths of the medieval period, and was dubbed the “philosopher of the world”.

Portrait of Omar Khayyám, 12 th century Persian poet. Image source .

The theme of The Rubaiyat is one of Carpe diem , of seizing the day – living to the fullest and dying with no regrets. Smithsonian describes the poems as “romantic reflections on life and mortality.” Investigators suspected that the unknown man had thus committed suicide with some sort of poison, but they had no evidence to back up the theory. In fact, they had no evidence to show what had actually caused his death, although they assumed he died from a dose of undetectable poison. The South Australia coroner published his final results admitting he was unable to say who the Somertan Man was, or what had killed him.

As the investigation continued in 1949, a copy of The Rubaiyat was recovered bearing the tear-marks that matched the scrap found on the body. This very rare, first-edition book of ancient poems had been placed in the backseat of an unlocked car which had been parked along a jetty a week or two before the body had been found. The car owner turned the book in to police, but requested to remain anonymous, adding to the mysterious nature of the case.

Under close inspection, the rare copy revealed scrawled letters on the back cover, grouped together in no recognizable language. How strange, yet fitting, that a cryptograph would be found within a book of poems by a renowned ancient philosopher and mathematician. Detectives determined it was a secret code, and due to the tense times of the Cold War, speculated that Somerton Man was a Soviet spy murdered by unknown enemies. No governments or intelligence agencies have ever admitted knowing the man. The Rubaiyat code was made public and many tried to decipher it in vain, but it remains uncracked to this day.

Somerton Man Code

Somerton Man Code. The handwriting showing pencil markings in the back of a book of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám . The markings are presumed to be some sort of code. ( Public Domain )

The unknown man was buried without anyone ever learning the truth of his life or death.

The Tamam Shud case remains an unsolved enigma, but The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam seems to maintain a hold over life and death in Southern Australia. Several deaths are seen as possibly related to the Tamam Shud case. Could the ancient writings be cursed?

In June 1949 the body of a two-year-old was found in the sand 20 kilometres down the coast from Somerton. The boy’s father was found next to him, unconscious and near death, and was later admitted to a mental hospital. The pair had been missing for days. Like Somerton Man, the boy’s cause of death could not be determined. The man who found them said their location was revealed to him in a dream the previous night.

Three years before the death of Somerton Man, Joseph Marshall was found dead in a park in Sydney with an open copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam laid on his chest. It is believed his death was caused by poison.

Featured image: Book cover and illustration from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam


Tamam Shud Case – Wikipedia

The Body on Somerton Beach- Smithsonian

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam - Omar Khayyam Rubiayat

Omar Khayyám - Wikipedia

By Liz Leafloor


lizleafloor's picture

It IS a mystery! The man who turned in the book to police requested anonymity at the time, which certainly seems suspicious. In fact, many of the people investigated by police at the time remain unnamed to this day. Allegedly the anonymous man found the book in the car and assumed it belonged to his brother in law, but never gave it a thought until the police went public with a few details of the case - such as the ripped back page with "Tamam Shud". He reportedly realized he had the ripped copy and turned it in to investigators.

Why he would do that if he was involved in the death is unknown.

SOMEONE out there knows what happened, surely.


unless they really want to keep mystery around that book we should know by now the name of the car owner that had the book return to police

so normaly police should have his name

if not it is a mysterious mystery,,,?


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