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Derek Abbott’s search for Somerton Man’s identity rules out connection to wife Rachel Egan, but uncovers new coincidence

A chance connection between the Somerton man and the professor who claims to have discovered his identity has emerged as previous theories are debunked.

Adelaide researcher Derek Abbott has been working on the Somerton Man case – one of Australia’s oldest mysteries – for decades.

Last week he announced that DNA and forensic genealogy had unearthed the unidentified man found slumped on an Adelaide beach in December 1948 as Carl “Charles” Webb, an electrical engineer and manufacturer of 43-year-old Victorian instruments.

In making the breakthrough, Professor Abbott also ruled out his own theory: that his wife was the man’s granddaughter.

Decades of research have created deeply personal bonds for Professor Abbott, who met his wife, Rachel Egan, through his investigations.

Rachel Egan and Derek Abbott at Somerton Man’s grave.(Australian History: Ben Cheshire )

Professor Abbott wrote to Ms Egan, asking to meet after finding out she shared several connections with the Somerton man.

As well as his biological grandmother’s phone number found among the Somerton man’s possessions, Professor Abbott also discovered that his biological father shared two rare genetic abnormalities with the man.

The couple quickly fell in love, got married and had three children.

But the bond that united them is now discarded.

‘We have also been able to rule out the possibilities suspected in the past… including that my wife is related to the Somerton man,’ Professor Abbott told the ABC last week.

“[We] can totally rule that out now, his DNA doesn’t match at all.”

The body of the unknown found on the beach at Somerton.
The stranger was found on an Adelaide beach in 1948.(Provided: Derek Abbott)

But in a bizarre twist, another connection between the family has been uncovered.

Professor Abbott and Charles Webb share the same profession of electrical engineers.

“It’s a coincidence, there are a lot of coincidences,” Professor Abbott said.

Typescript in a column on a diary page
The public notice published in The Age newspaper on October 5, 1951. (Source: Trove)

In 1951, Mr Webb’s wife, Dorothy Jean Webb, published a public notice in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper announcing that she had commenced divorce proceedings against her husband for “desertion”.

“Unless you appear before the Prothonotary’s Office, Melbourne Supreme Court no later than October 29, 1951, the case may continue in your absence and you may be ordered to pay the costs,” the statement reads. announcement.

Their marriage certificate shows that Carl Webb and Dorothy Jean Robertson were married on October 4, 1941 at St Matthews in Prahran.

At the time, Mr Webb was 35 and his wife 21.

According to the certificate, the couple lived on Domain Road in South Yarra.

A small digger in Adelaide's West Terrace Cemetery.
An excavator at West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide works to exhume the remains of the Somerton Man in May last year.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

Professor Abbott’s research into the case was carried out separately from a police investigation, which included an exhumation last year with the remains of the Somerton man transported from an Adelaide grave to a Forensic Science lab SA in hopes of harvesting DNA.

In a statement on Wednesday, South African police said they were “actively investigating” the coroner’s case.

“We are encouraged by the recent developments in this case and are cautiously optimistic that this can be a breakthrough,” he said.

“We eagerly await the outcome of further DNA work to confirm the identification which will ultimately be determined by the coroner.”

Professor Abbott said he would continue to be “interested” in the case as further questions about the man’s life and death needed to be answered.

“This is by no means the end of the story,” he said.

“Finding his name is really only the beginning of the story because now we need to find out more about this man and his story and what he was doing and fill in all the gaps.”