The identity of the so-called Somerton man, who was found dead on an Adelaide beach more than 70 years ago, has been solved, a University of Adelaide professor says.

Derek Abbott says DNA from hairs taken from the man more than a decade ago was recently cross-checked with other samples and identified him as Carl Webb, an engineer born in 1905 in Victoria.

Using DNA submitted to worldwide databases, Prof Abbott said he was able to find a distant cousin on Mr Webb’s father’s side and then build out his family tree.

“We’ve been trying to extract DNA all these years. It’s a very tough problem getting it out of old hair,” he told radio 5AA.

“But the technology has improved dramatically over the years.”

By February this year, Prof Abbott’s team had achieved enough refinement to use that DNA to find a nearest cousin to the Somerton man.

“Our tree has 4000 people on it altogether as we built it out and there are only two people on this tree with no date of death,” he said.


“What we were able to do is trace Carl Webb’s maternal side down and find somebody alive today who has done one of these genealogical DNA tests and we found a match.

“We’ve now got subsequent other matches. We’re very confident, with 99.9 per cent confidence this is the man.”

Police and Forensic SA officials are yet to confirm the identity after exhuming the man’s remains last year in new efforts to solve the mystery.

On December 1, 1948, the man’s body was found on Somerton Beach with the circumstances of his death remaining an open police investigation.


The Somerton man was first found by passers-by who noticed him slumped against a seawall.

The cause of death remains unknown and many theories have been advanced over his identity, ranging from a jilted lover to a Cold War spy.

An initial police investigation and coronial inquest left the matter unresolved, with the case particularly mystifying because of a number of items found with the body.

They included a suitcase, items of clothing with the tags removed, incoherent writing believed to be a code, the poetry book The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and a torn scrap of paper with the Persian words “Tamam Shud”, meaning it is finished.

When the remains were exhumed, Detective Superintendent Des Bray said it was important to remember that the identity of the Somerton man was not just a curiosity or a mystery to be solved.

“It’s somebody’s father, son, perhaps grandfather or uncle, and that’s why we’re doing this,” he said.


“There are people we know who live in Adelaide who believe they may be related and they deserve a definitive answer.”

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