Amateur sleuthing has produced potentially tantalising new evidence in the hunt for a photo depicting the mysterious Somerton Man when he was alive.
- Last month, Somerton Man researchers identified engineer and instrument maker Carl Webb as the unidentified figure
- A photo of Swinburne Technical College’s 1921 under-16 football team lists a “C Webb” among the players
- But much remains unconfirmed, including which one is Webb and whether his initial “C” stood for “Carl”
A 1921 snap of the under-16 football team from Swinburne Technical College — the precursor of today’s Swinburne University of Technology — lists a “C. Webb” among the players.
Late last month, researcher Derek Abbott declared he and US forensic genealogy expert Colleen Fitzpatrick had solved the mystery, identifying the Somerton Man as Carl “Charles” Webb , a 43-year-old engineer and instrument maker from Melbourne.
Since that time, a veritable “face race” has ensued — enthusiasts across the globe have assiduously sought to discover a photo of Webb when he was alive, in order to compare it with the posthumous photos of the Somerton Man.
While the Swinburne photo, which has been published on Somerton Man online forums including Nick Pelling’s Cipher Mysteries and Professor Abbott’s Facebook group, falls considerably short of such a breakthrough, there are several facts in its favour.
The Somerton Man case has been no stranger to speculative theories over the decades, and the photo could be yet another red herring.
Not only do the listed names in the photo appear not to correspond with the order in which the boys are lined up, there is no clue as to what the initials of the boys’ first names stand for.
In this particular Webb’s case, the “C” could be for Carl or Charles, but also for Christopher, Connor, Cedric, Christian or Cameron, to name only several options.
Furthermore, Webb was not an uncommon name, and the number of “C Webbs” living in Melbourne and its surrounds during the early 1920s remains unknown.
But as bloggers have pointed out, there is some compelling circumstantial evidence in favour of the hypothesis that the right Webb could be among the rows of faces.
Carl Webb was born in November 1905, meaning he would have turned 16 in the year the photo was taken.
An item in the student journal, The Swinburnian, lists a C. Webb among the technical college’s 1921 scholarship students — notably in the field of engineering.
Also, there is strong evidence that the Carl Webb identified as the Somerton Man played Australian rules football.
Webb’s father was a baker , and an article from The Dandenong Journal from October 2, 1930, reports that a “Mr C Webb, of the bakery, fell and again injured his leg” during a game.
On his blog, Mr Pelling acknowledged that the hypothesis required investigation.
“It’s a great starting point, one that begged to be advanced further,” he wrote.
Cross-referencing efforts on Mr Pelling’s blog have suggested names for some of the boys in the photo.
Some commenters have suggested two figures on the far left — one in the middle row, the other in the bottom row — as potential candidates, speculating on physical similarities.
Mr Pelling has indicated he has sought further information from Swinburne archivists about whether a Carl Webb was at the college at the time.
The hypothesis will be harder to prove than disprove — if the initial “C” stands for something other than “Charles” or “Carl”, then the theory will have been refuted.
If, on the other hand, either of those names is confirmed, further work will be required to determine which of the boys is Webb, and whether he is the same Webb as the Somerton Man.
It remains unclear at this point in time if this is another false trail — or the start of an entirely new trail of discovery and revelation.