In July 1994, a male body was found by a police boat in the North Sea, west of the German island of Heligoland.
- The gentleman’s body showed signs of trauma and had been weighed down with cast iron cobbler’s feet
- His expensive shoes and distinctive green, yellow and blue striped tie could be a clue to his identity
- Analysis by Murdoch University students has found he lived most of his life in Australia
The body showed signs of trauma and, intriguingly, had been weighed down with cast iron cobbler’s feet, a cobbler’s tool.
It was taken to the town of Wilhelmshaven in Germany for an autopsy and later buried, but the man’s identity remained a mystery.
He became known as The Gentleman because of his apparently middle-class attire: a wool tie, British-made shoes, French-made trousers and a long-sleeved blue shirt.
Now, 28 years later, a new piece of the puzzle has been uncovered thanks to criminology and forensic scientists in Perth.
You are what you eat
Murdoch University criminologists and forensic scientists may have helped solve the mystery after they ran new tests which suggested the man spent most of his life in Australia.
In the 1990s, investigators determined he was between 45 and 50 years old.
The discovery marks the final day of National Missing Persons Week, which aims to profile and raise awareness of long-term missing persons in Australia.
Scientists made the discovery following the “you are what you eat” principle by performing an isotope ratio analysis of The Gentleman’s bones.
Differences in climate, soils, and human activity across the globe change the isotopic composition of food, water, and even dust—reflected in the isotopic compositions of human tissue.
Analysis showed the man likely spent most of his life in Australia.
Researchers from overseas universities were also able to obtain a DNA profile of the man.
It is hoped it can match DNA collected as part of Missing Persons Week, which has prompted Australians to come forward for testing to help solve some of the country’s cold cases.
Brendan Chapman, one of the directors of Murdoch University’s Cold Case Review team, said it was an incredible discovery.
“What are the chances that from this small collection of universities working on this case, one would be from the country where the man is from?” he said.
He said the police had not previously looked in that direction.
“Without that, they didn’t know where to direct their inquiries and in fact they probably looked mostly around Europe because that’s obviously where he disappeared,” he said.
“What this can now allow the German investigators to do is to focus their further efforts on Australia and they are now able to use their international network to work with Australian law enforcement.”
Investigators have been slowly piecing together The Gentleman’s past for years.
The iron tools he was weighed down with were only recently revealed by the police.
Investigators have speculated whether his distinctive green, yellow and blue striped tie could signal that he belonged to a specific organization.