The "Somerton Man" is buried in Australia on June 14, 1949. Researchers said on Tuesday that they finally know the man's identity. Photo by Government of Australia/Wikimedia Commons
July 27 (UPI) -- Forensic experts have helped to clear up a nearly 75-year-old mystery by identifying a body found long ago on Australia's Somerton Beach that led to decades of speculation about who the man was and why he died.
The body, known through the years as belonging to the "Somerton Man," was finally identified through DNA sequencing. The forensic testing helped researchers and authorities narrow down possibilities by identifying possible relatives.
The dead man was found dead on the beach in Adelaide in 1948. He was dressed in a suit and tie and there was a half-smoked cigarette sitting on his collar. He carried no identification and the tags on his clothing were cut out. For decades, there was speculation that the man was a spy and that perhaps he'd died as part of a clandestine operation.
No fingerprint matches were ever made after years of searching and authorities found incoherent writings that some suspected may have been code.
Australian and U.S. experts said on Tuesday that the body belonged to a man named Carl Webb -- and he was not a spy, but rather an electrical engineer.
More than a decade ago, University of Adelaide professor Derek Abbott took up the cold case with U.S. forensic specialist Colleen Fitzpatrick, who used DNA sequencing to build a family tree. That produced 4,000 possible relatives and ultimately led to Webb through a living relative.
Abbott said solving the case came after a process of waiting for technology to advance enough to point them in the right direction.
"It's like a sudoku puzzle with 4,000 elements. It was huge," Abbott told The Age. "Basically, there were just two people in there with no dates of death."
He said researchers were able to "triangulate" a match with DNA to both maternal and paternal relatives of Webb.
"It turns out he's our man because it all fits," Abbott said.
Researchers said Webb was born in 1905 and was the youngest of six siblings who'd separated from his wife Dorothy in 1947, the year before he died. However, that's when Webb apparently fell off the radar in Australia.
"I suspected right from the beginning of this case because a lot of the spy theories came around in the '40s," Abbott said. "I thought, 'That's all very well, but it's more likely to be something banal, really.' And that's what it turned out to be, all quite pedestrian."
Abbott said he suspected Webb was trying to find Dorothy, who'd moved to Adelaide. The cause of his death, however, remains a mystery.