Despite modern policing in the first world being more advanced than ever, there are every year dozens of men and women that are found dead with identities that will forever remain unknown. They’re given temporary names, usually John or Jane Doe, that they’re recorded under until their real names can be tracked down, but sometimes that never happens.
These are people that once had families, many of which loved them dearly, who never stopped looking for them. Months, years, and even decades go by. The longer the truth behind their sleeping faces remains unknown, the more unlikely it becomes that they will ever be identified and receive the goodbyes they deserve.
Here are some of these tragic cases.
LITTLE MISS LAKE PANASOFFKEE
On a cloudy February 19th back in 1971, two teenagers were hitchhiking in Lake Panasoffkee, Florida, when they discovered a partially submerged figure floating beneath a highway overpass. They called the police, who retrieved from the water the fully clothed but badly decomposed body of a young woman.
She was dressed in a green shirt, green plaid pants, and a green floral poncho. Found on her person were a white gold watch, and a gold necklace. On her ring finger she wore a gold ring with a transparent stone, leading the authorities to believe that she may have been married. No identification papers were found.
Dr William Schutze conducted a forensic examination of her remains and concluded that she had been killed approximately thirty days prior to her body being discovered. A man’s size-36 belt was fastened around her neck, leading to speculation that strangulation had been the cause of her death.
Examinations performed more than a decade later determined that the woman weighed about 115 pounds when she died, and had been somewhere between 17 and 24 years old. She had brown hair and prominent cheekbones. Her height was estimated to be between 5 foot 2 and 5 foot 5. She had received extensive dental work including crowns and numerous silver fillings. She had given birth at least two children.
Examinations of her teeth and skeleton indicated that she was either of European or Native American ancestry, with one geological scientist even deducing that she had likely spent her adolescence near the sea in Southern Europe, where she is thought to have been until as recently as within a year of her murder. It was even determined that she most likely came from Laurium, a fishing port in Greece. It was hypothesised that she may have been visiting for Epiphany, a Greek Orthodox celebration that took place on January 6th 1971, a little over a month before her body was discovered.
Despite all of the new information that has come to light over the years, still no one has come forward to claim the body. We may never learn what happened to Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee.
THE SOMERTON MAN
Police were contacted the morning of December 1st 1948 after the body of a man was discovered on Somerton beach near Glenelg, a small town less than seven miles southwest of Adelaide, South Australia. The man was found lying on his back with his head rested against the seawall, with his legs extended, and his feet crossed. It was initially believed that he had died while sleeping.
A search of his pockets found an unused rail ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach, a bus ticket from the city that may or may not have been used, a narrow aluminium comb, a half-empty packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, an Army Club cigarette packet containing seven cigarettes of a different brand, and a quarter-full box of Bryant & May matches. On the right collar of his coat was an unlit cigarette.
Witnesses came forward to say that the previous evening they had seen an individual resembling the dead man lying in the same spot and position as the body was later found. A couple who saw him at around 7PM stated that they noticed him extend his right arm to its full length and then drop it limply. Another couple who saw him about half an hour later, after the street lights had come on, said that they did not see him move once during the half-hour that he was in view, but did feel as though his position had changed. They commented that although they felt it peculiar that he was not reacting to the mosquitos in the area, they did not investigate further as they assumed that he was just drunk or asleep. Another witness said that she saw a man looking down at him from the top of the steps that led to the beach. Witnesses said that the body was in the same position as it was when the police viewed it.
A pathologist determined the man to be aged about 40-45 with a “Britisher” appearance. He was in “top physical condition” and was “180 centimetres (5 ft 11 in) tall, with grey eyes, fair to ginger-coloured hair, slightly grey around the temples, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, hands and nails that showed no signs of manual labour, big and little toes that met in a wedge shape, like those of a dancer or someone who wore boots with pointed toes; and pronounced high calf muscles consistent with people who regularly wore boots or shoes with high heels or performed ballet.”
A thorough autopsy found that the man’s “heart was of normal size, and normal in every way …small vessels not commonly observed in the brain were easily discernible with congestion. There was congestion of the pharynx, and the gullet was covered with whitening of superficial layers of the mucosa with a patch of ulceration in the middle of it. The stomach was deeply congested… There was congestion in the second half of the duodenum. There was blood mixed with the food in the stomach. Both kidneys were congested, and the liver contained a great excess of blood in its vessels. …The spleen was strikingly large … about 3 times normal size … there was destruction of the centre of the liver lobules revealed under the microscope. … acute gastritis haemorrhage, extensive congestion of the liver and spleen, and the congestion to the brain.” His death was estimated to have occurred around 2AM on December 1st.
The pathologist was unable to conclusively explain the cause of death but stated: “I am quite convinced the death could not have been natural … the poison I suggested was a barbiturate or a soluble hypnotic”.
On January 14th 1949 staff at the Adelaide railways station discovered a brown suitcase with its label removed that had been checked into their cloakroom sometime after 11AM on November 30th 1948. Inside the suitcase, which was believed to have been owned by The Somerton Man, were a red-checked dressing gown, a red felt pair of slippers, four pairs of underpants, pyjamas, shaving items, a light brown pair of trousers with sand in the cuffs, a thread card of unusual orange waxed thread not available in Australia, an electrician’s screwdriver, a table knife cut down into a short sharp instrument, a pair of scissors with sharpened points, a small square of zinc thought to have been used as a protective sheath, and a stencilling brush of the type used by third officers on merchant ships for stencilling cargo. As with the clothes worn by the man, all identification marks had been removed, saved for those on a tie, and a laundry bag. On these items the names “T. Keane” and “Keane” were found.
Police believed that whoever removed the tags on the clothes left the ones on the tie and the laundry bag knowing that Keane was not the man’s name, and would only serve to make a police investigation harder. No T. Keane was found to have been reported missing in any English speaking country.
During a further investigation of The Somerton Man’s belongings a small piece of rolled-up paper upon which the words “Tamám Shud” were printed was found in a fob pocket sewn into his trouser pocket. After a nationwide search police were given the exact copy of the book the piece of paper had been torn from, a collection of poems entitled Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The exact circumstances of how the individual that delivered book came to find it is unknown. On the inside of the back cover was a series of written indentations. Part of these were deciphered to be a telephone number, but the meaning of the remaining text (another number and what is thought to be a cryptic message) was unclear.
The Somerton Man’s body was found during a time in which there were growing concerns of the Cold War and increased concern over espionage led many to theorise that the man was a spy. However, to this day his identity, what the code meant, or what he was doing before he died remains a mystery, at least to the general public.
There’s more horrific tales to come on the next page.