Somebody’s Darling…

Hi all just a quick blog post today. I’ve got a trilogy of older blog posts set to run on the podcast in the coming weeks, so I thought I’d just write a little. 

Late in 2022, DNA evidence unravelled a couple of longstanding mysteries. First, we discovered the true identity of Australia’s Somerton Man. Second, Philadelphia’s ‘Boy in the Box’ was identified. If you’re unfamiliar with either case, the ‘Somerton Man’ was discovered deceased along Somerton Park Beach, Adelaide, on 1st December 1948. A dead man with no ID on him was odd enough – but rumours circulated the man died of poisoning. 

This happened in the early days of the Cold War. A strip of paper was eventually found in the fob pocket of his pants, which had been ripped from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – a book of poetry from Persia’s 11th Century ‘Astronomer Poet’ (who we briefly mentioned in our trilogy on The Assassins) and friend of Hasan-i Sabbah, Omar Khayyam. When the rest of the book was finally located, it had been disposed of, thrown onto the back seat of a stranger’s car. Strangely, it had a code and two phone numbers written in it – a code which remains unsolved to this day. Because of this, a lot of people jumped to the conclusion the man was a spy. 

Over the years, writers have commented that the man was muscular, and appeared to have the legs of a ballet dancer or acrobat. Others pointed towards the two phone numbers on the book. The owner of one of those numbers was a nurse named Jessica Thompson. Much has been made that when she was shown a photograph of the deceased, and was visibly shocked, but claimed not to know the man. Sure, a nurse has probably seen a dead body or two before so may be more hardened to the image than others – but it later emerged a mysterious man had allegedly been at her property asking for her. I’d say she had a right to be a little spooked – and it never stood she too was a spy, in shock at the loss of a comrade.

There were other theories, besides the ‘spy’ line. An ageing veteran named ‘Solomsen’ was suggested, as a local man was sure he’d been drinking with a veteran of that name, who looked like the deceased. A local man, E.C. Johnson was believed to be the Somerton Man – but he showed up at the police station two days later, alive and well. A 63 year old woodcutter named Robert Walsh was suggested – but dismissed based on the fact the body was in his early 40s, and his hands didn’t look like they swung an axe for a living. A missing American ship hand named Tommy Reade was suggested, and dismissed – as Reade looked nothing like the man. This seemed a reasonable guess, as the body was attired in American-made clothing. There were several others suggested, and discounted over the years, for various reasons. 

But the spy narrative remained in peoples’ minds. There was much speculation around Cold War espionage on both sides of the Tasman at this time on to the fall of the Iron Curtain. (something I may come back to some time.) Adelaide may have been of interest to a spy as Australia’s first Uranium mine, Radium Hill, was nearby. It had been discovered back in 1906, and was, in the Nuclear age, a valuable piece of land. A large rocket testing facility was also close, in Woomera – where a combined Australian/English crew were then testing missiles. 

His story, it turns out, had a whole lot less intrigue about it – but is, in my opinion, far sadder. 

Carl Webb was born in Melbourne, Victoria in 1905. The son of a baker, he worked at the family business until it went broke. After this, he trained to be an electrician. In 1941, Webb married Dorothy Robertson and the couple moved to their own house in South Yarra, Victoria. 

Their marriage was highly dysfunctional. Carl was solitary, moody, and violent. It’s been speculated Carl may have suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness, but the trigger was likely the loss of four close relatives over a seven year period. Besides several acts of physical and verbal violence towards Dorothy, Carl attempted, on at least one occasion, to kill himself. Dorothy worked at a pharmacy. Carl got hold of some ether, and attempted to overdose on the substance in 1946. Dorothy tried to nurse Carl back to health, but Carl, yet again turned violent on her. Wisely, Dorothy left – moving to a town close to Adelaide, South Australia. 

In 1947 Carl Webb falls off the radar. He abandoned his family home and became a drifter. It’s thought he had moved to Adelaide, and was trying to find Dorothy. In 2022, his body was identified by DNA samples linking him to living family members. 

It’s likely he was carrying a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam because he was something of a poet himself. Not unlike Khayyam, much of his poetry concerned death. Carl Webb was also a gambler who liked to bet on the horses – so the code possibly relates to horse names. To my knowledge no-one has yet tried to match the letters up to race days to try and determine his whereabouts on the day he took down the code. 

The Boy in the Box is still too new to write much on (as of time of writing this, 9th January 2023,) at least without repeating the mystery as it stood. The four year old boy was named Joseph Zarelli. Given the condition of his body (badly beaten,) and the possibility the person who beat him to death is still alive – police are withholding information on the case at time of writing. If charges are laid, then we may discover more. 

Anyway, these two cases got me thinking about several other stories that might be solved by DNA in years to come. One case which might be familiar to New Zealanders is ‘Somebody’s Darling.’

I needs must tell this story two ways. First there is the urban legend people tend to think of. 

Both tales are located on Horseshoe Bend, Otago in New Zealand’s South Island. This is a stretch of the Clutha river, New Zealand’s second longest river. The timeframe, early 1865. This was, and remains to this day, a remote part of the country – however, at the time Otago itself was in the midst of a gold rush. Gabriel Read, an Australian who tried his hand as a prospector in Victoria and California’s gold rushes in the 1850s, struck gold in the Otago settlement of Lawrence in 1861. Suddenly it was all on. Prospectors from all over turned up to try their luck out in the goldfields. Horseshoe bend itself had around 200 people living there at it’s peak in 1863, but it wasn’t as lucky a spot as others, and by 1865 only around 70 people remained. One remainder was said to be an Irishman named William Rigby. 

The urban legend has it at some time in February 1865, the body of a young man washed up on Horseshoe Bend – and that William Rigby discovered him. The legend states, try as the people of Horseshoe Bend might, they could not identify the young man. The man was buried near the river in Miller’s Flat, in an unmarked grave. According to legend, the fate of the young man played on Rigby’s mind – and he decided if the man could not be returned to those who loved him – at the very least he should be buried among them. It should also be acknowledged he was somebody’s beloved. 

So it was Rigby and a friend, John Ord, built a fence around the grave, then fashioned a gravestone out of black pine with the words “Somebody’s Darling Lies Buried Here.”

Some of this is true. On January 25th 1865 a man named Charles Alms drowned while herding cattle further up the Clyde river. He lived in the Nevis Valley, in the shadow of a mountain range known as The Remarkables (which is, FYI, MY happy place – I haven’t been back to Queenstown since just before COVID, but could happily gaze on the ever-changing Remarkables from a lakeside bar for hours.) He was a butcher by trade, and was officially ‘never found,’ except a public enquiry stated the body at Horseshoe bend was almost certainly him. For some reason, no-one ever came to collect him. 

Rigby heard of the lone grave at Miller’s Flat, and he was heartbroken for the man. A single man himself, who left Ireland for New Zealand after dropping out of a theological college – indications are he was prospecting near ‘Gabriel’s Gully’ in Lawrence when he discovered the grave. The fate of this lone man struck a chord with him, and as he too was a loner, and he worried when he too passed, nobody would tend to his grave. This was the impetus for his act of kindness. 

William Rigby’s act of kindness rubbed off on others. In 1902, the headstone looking much worse for wear, locals upgraded it to a stone marker with the same epitaph. 

Locals talk of the ‘Lonely graves’ there now. Other bodies are buried close to ‘Somebody’s Darling.’ Notably, a man driven to an act of kindness for a stranger. The gravestone next to the mystery man reads “William Rigby – The Man Who Buried Somebody’s Darling.”


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