Somerton Man mystery: Man claims to have seen dead body

A man has made a bombshell claim about one of South Australia’s most gripping mysteries, as police remain baffled 70 years later.

A man has come forward for the first time, claiming to have seen the Somerton Man’s dead body on the beach more than 70 years ago when he was just a child.

Rural Victorian resident Rodger Todd has been sharing the incredible tale with family and close friends for decades, but has never gone public.

That was, until a friend of the 84-year-old dobbed him into the media.

In his first ever interview, the Poolaijelo resident told NCA NewsWire he had been walking along Somerton beach before dawn about 7am on December 1, 1948 with his terrier called Dandy when he made the discovery.

Mr Todd, who was only 11 at the time, said he spotted the man on the sand, slumped up against the fixed stone wall with his head perched on his chest and thought he was sleeping.

He said he walked within about 50m of the man when he realised Dandy had run off towards the person he believed was sleeping and urinated on him.

“I was a bit embarrassed about it at the time, but there was not a soul around,” Mr Todd said.

“I thought it was a bit strange because it would have woken him up, so I went over to him, looking very closely to see if he was breathing.

“The closer I got, the more I realised he wasn’t breathing.”

According to the grandfather of one, he got within one metre of the unknown man, then ran back to his family’s holiday home along the Esplanade and told his mother he’d seen a dead body.

She replied that she would call the police.

Mr Todd said he asked his mother if he was allowed to go back and have another look at the man but was told he couldn’t leave the house.

Peeking from the front window of the home, he said he saw two police cars and two ambulances arrive at the beach within the hour, as well as about 20 spectators.

Mr Todd has always been curious to know if his mother was in fact the first person to contact police about the Somerton Man.

“I remember talking to mum very briefly about it a couple of years later but she wasn’t very interested in it. She was a private person.

“The reason I haven’t got back to the authorities since then is because I (only) saw him and that’s it.

“I could only describe how he looked and where he was.

“I can’t see that it would be of any interest to them for me to own up because I didn’t touch him.”

Mr Todd said he couldn’t clearly remember what the Somerton Man was wearing at the time, but described the clothing as “dark” coloured.

He said he thought he was wearing a jacket.

“I could see a fair bit of his face and I remember having memories of his face … There was a bit of colour in it.”

His wife Marjorie, 76, said her husband of 56 years had “been sticking to the story” she had first heard when they were courting almost 60 years ago.

“I’ve kept him in very good health so he’s able to tell the story,” Mrs Todd said.

“This could not have been told because it happened such a long time ago and nobody else has come forward.”

Their youngest of three children, Kristine Todd, said she thought the story was “hilarious” and was her dad‘s “cool” claim to fame.

The Vale Park resident, 51, said she first heard it about 10 years ago when she brought the Somerton Man up in conversation after reading about it in the newspaper.

“(At the time I thought): ‘dad’s been keeping this secret from me for so long. This is so exciting’,” Ms Todd said.

“I tell people about it and I have one particular friend who was gobsmacked and wanted to ask dad about it straight away.

“I think with that generation, their fathers had been fighting in wars, so I guess death wasn’t a major, weird, freaky thing to an 11-year-old compared to this day and age.”

The identity of the Somerton Man remains a mystery, more than 70 years after his body was discovered on the beach.

Questions around who he was and where he was from have captured the imaginations of generations of Australians, with many waiting with bated breath to find out if his exhumation unveils the truth about his life.

His body was exhumed in May this year with forensic experts working to extract DNA to try identify the man.

An SA Police spokesman said there was no further information to provide about the exhumation.

When police found him in 1948, the man had an unsmoked cigarette resting on his chest, his hair was perfectly in place and his double-breasted jacket was pressed and in perfect condition.

A number of clues were left but none have yet helped to crack the case.

Officers found an aluminium comb – which was unavailable in Australia – that suggested he had recently been in America.

There was an unused rail ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach, and a bus ticket from the city. This led police to the train station where they located a suitcase they assumed belonged to him.

Pathologist Professor John Burton Cleland found a small rolled up piece of paper in a hidden fob pocket in the man’s trousers that read: “Tamam Shud”, which was Persian for “it is ended” or “finished”.

The paper from that note was later found to have been ripped from the final page of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, specifically a 1941 edition.

In the back of that book there was an encrypted message which was five lines long.

Code-crackers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Scotland Yard were tasked with decoding the message, but were unable to.

An unlisted phone number belonging to a nurse named Jessica Thomson was also discovered in the book, but the woman denied knowing the Somerton Man.

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