A graphic of the Somerton Man's face, a DNA strand and a book.

Somerton Man sleuth Nick Pelling steps up efforts to shed light on life of Carl Webb

When news articles refer to amateur sleuths who’ve dedicated time and effort to investigate the Somerton Man mystery, they’re referring to people like Nick Pelling.

The 57-year-old London-based computer programmer, author and researcher has never set foot in Adelaide, let alone on Somerton beach.

But that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing the case with the tenacity that one would expect from someone with his skills.

His blog Cipher Mysteries is a testament to his capacity to trawl through undigested records like those on Trove, the National Library of Australia’s freely accessible digital archive.

“History is a funny old thing,” he said.

“The stuff in archives is the stuff that didn’t get thrown away that day — it’s the stuff that survived somehow, just randomly.

“As a historian, you have to merge different types together because you only have scraps.”

Mr Pelling, pictured in 2014, shares his research into enigmatic cases at his blog Cipher Mysteries.(YouTube: Gamification World)

The Somerton Man is not the only enigmatic case to have captured Mr Pelling’s attention — but it is the one that has most recently made headlines.

Last week, Adelaide-based academic and long-time Somerton Man devotee Derek Abbott announced that he and a US-based colleague had solved the mystery.

They identified the man as Carl “Charles” Webb, a Melbourne-born engineer.

The breakthrough has spurred Mr Pelling to uncover more.

He believes the Webb hypothesis is a compelling one, and he wants to find evidence to corroborate it.

The beach at Somerton Park in Adelaide with houses behind a rocky shore and sand.
The beach at Somerton Park, pictured in 2018, where the Somerton Man’s body was found 70 years earlier.(ABC News: Carl Saville)

“My best-case scenario is that we find a picture of Carl Webb. He was married – people have wedding photos, it’s a big day,” he said.

“We may be able to find more records of what Carl Webb was doing in the year-and-a-half after he left his wife and before he died [in 1948].

“It’s not that long ago in the bigger scheme of things.”

Detective work and the Da Vinci Code

An open red suitcase with a white tag with numbers, its contents, including boot polish, strewn on the floor.
A suitcase and belongings found at Adelaide Railway Station are believed to have belonged to the Somerton Man.(Supplied)

For Mr Pelling, discovery is as much about pathways as epiphanies — the investigator never knows how much treasure is awaiting excavation.

“The idea of ​​Dan Brown and his ilk is that the archivist finds… one document that explains everything — it’s never like that,” Mr Pelling explained.

“[But] if you can ask the right questions of the right people, then all kinds of things open up.

“Things like photographs, diaries and journals all persist in attics and lofts.”

Over the years Mr Pelling has corresponded with Australian-based experts, including retired detective Gerry Feltus, who praised Mr Pelling’s endeavors.

“He’s got a massive website going, and people from all over the world have been contributing to that,” Mr Feltus said.

A head shot of an older gray-haired man, wearing a purple shirt, gray jacket.  Mannequins of police behind him.
Retired detective Gerry Feltus authored the book The Unknown Man: A Suspicious Death at Somerton Beach.(ABC Australian Story)

Methodical by nature, Mr Feltus is withholding judgment on the Somerton Man’s identity until police and Forensic Science SA complete their own investigations.

“They are both working on it at this stage,” he said.

“Because of what I know and what I believe, I’m just not prepared to sit back and say I’m satisfied that the person is Webb.

“If it comes back as being Webb, I’d have to say that’s great news, simply because it would clarify a lot of matters.”

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