Adelaide film-maker Wayne Groom has tackled many diverse projects in his career, most notably the cult classic Maslin Beach.
His latest work, Missing Pieces: the Curious Case of the Somerton Man is a documentary, made in collaboration with director and Media Arts lecturer, Dr Carolyn Bilsborow .
Found on the beach at Somerton in 1948, the so-called “Somerton Man” was well-dressed, well-built, and had no identification on him, except a torn page from the Rubayiat and two phone numbers. He has never been identified and his cause of death, or even manner of death (murder, suicide, misadventure, natural causes), never definitively ruled upon.
Glam was lucky enough to chat to both Wayne and Carolyn about what lead them to tackle this fascinating mystery.
W: We’d finished our previous project [The Cods] and were discussing various options: Carolyn got excited about the Somerton Man story, which I knew very little about.
C: You know how you come across various things online? Well I saw the letters that were found on the back of the poetry book and I thought ‘I can solve this’! I couldn’t let it go. Those letters are so tantalizing.
W: Once we got started we went to Canberra and interviewed Prof David Horner Then we discovered some connections with a gangster in Sydney…a stand-over man in the racing industry. We went to Penrith to look at some police files.
C: We spent about a year going around several conspiracy theories. And then we made the decision to work closely with Professor Derek Abbott of University of Adelaide, who is one of the primary researchers [on this topic]. One by one we started contacting various people who Prof Abbott had in his files. So the film is our interpretation , and it’s called “Missing Pieces” because that is a characteristic of this story. And I think that’s what makes it a great mystery: you can come along with your own take on it, and that could all fit. That engages you with the story. What we’ve tried to do is go back to basics and present all the facts-everything we have evidence for-and let the audience fill in the gaps for themselves. Because the waters have been so muddied over the years.
W: That’s why we’ve gone back to people who were there, many of whom are now in their 90s or even 100s. People like the man who made the plaster death-mask; an eyewitness who saw the body on the beach; a detective, Len Brown who worked on the case. So I feel that this documentary will change our understanding of the Somerton Man. And three current detectives from the cold case unit of SAPOL are coming to see the premiere!
C: Researchers all over the world have pretty much exhausted the paper trail for this, so what we need now is to exhume the body, get some DNA, and work out who he is once and for all. By 1950 around 200 people had come forward claiming to know who he was. And the police dismissed all of those identifications. But surely one of them was right!. There was a woman at the time who’d come from the Riverland and she was absolutely sure that she knew who he was. In fact she was so convinced that she knew him that she even attended the Coroner’s inquest and put flowers on his grave. But the police dismissed her for some reason. So it could be that he WAS identified.
W: Especially because, at the time, the police initially thought it was a suicide, so they weren’t all that fussed.
C: The next step is to get the body exhumed, which the Attorney-General has to approve. I think there’s more a case now and this documentary might just be the final push.
Missing Pieces: The Curious Case of the Somerton Man, has its world premiere at Mercury Cinema on August 23rd at 7 pm. As of writing, this night is COMPLETELY SOLD OUT, but contact Wayne at [email protected] to be put on the waiting list, or make other inquiries about seeing the film.
It will also be available for purchase or rental on Vimeo, from Monday August 27th.