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Somerton Man practitioner Nick Pelling is stepping up efforts to shed light on the life of Carl Webb

Written by Javed Iqbal

When news articles refer to amateurs who have dedicated time and effort to investigating the Somerton Man mystery, they are 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 cause with the tenacity one would expect from someone of his ability.

His blog Cipher Mysteries is a testament to his ability 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 the archives is the stuff that wasn’t thrown out that day — it’s the stuff that somehow survived, just by chance.

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

A bald man wearing a headset, blue shirt, a string around his neck.
Sir. Pelling, pictured in 2014, shares his research into enigmatic matters on his blog Cipher Mysteries.(YouTube: Gamification World)

The Somerton man is not the only puzzling case that has caught Mr Pelling’s attention – but it is the one that has made the most recent headlines.

Last week, Adelaide-based academic and long-time Somerton Man supporter Derek Abbott announced that he and an American-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 compelling and wants to find evidence to confirm 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 we find a picture of Carl Webb. He was married – people have wedding pictures, 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 larger scheme of things.”

Detective work and The Da Vinci Code

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

For Mr Pelling, discovery is as much about trails as revelations – the investigator never knows how much treasure awaits unearthing.

“The idea with Dan Brown and his ilk is that the archivist finds … a document that explains everything – that’s never the case,” Mr Pelling explained.

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

“Things like photographs and diaries and journals all exist in attics and attics.”

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

“He has a massive website going and people from all over the world have contributed to it,” Mr Feltus said.

A headshot 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 History)

Methodical by nature, Mr Feltus withholds judgment on the identity of the Somerton man until the police and Forensic Science SA complete their own investigations.

“They’re both working on it at this point,” 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 have to say that’s good news, simply because it would clarify a lot of things.”

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Javed Iqbal

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