The mystery of a man dubbed ‘The Gentleman’, recovered from the North Sea 28 years ago, could finally be solved.
On July 11, 1994, a 6ft 5in body was found by a border patrol boat west of the small German archipelago of Heligoland.
The body showed signs of trauma to the head and upper body and had been weighed down with cast-iron cobbler feet, suggesting deliberate damage.
The man earned the nickname “The Gentleman” because of the “middle-class” clothes he was still found wearing – a striped pure wool tie produced by Marks & Spencer for the English- and French-speaking market, British shoes, French-made navy trousers and a long-sleeve siel collar shirt.
His body was taken to the German city of Wilhelmshaven for an autopsy and later buried.
Initial inquiries by German police in the 1990s suggested he was around 45 to 50 years old and of slim build, probably weighing 11 to 12 stone when he was alive – but his identity remained a mystery for almost 30 years.
It is hoped investigators could finally take a step forward to find out who the man was after a Cold Case Review Team including criminology and criminology students at Murdoch University in Perth made a startling discovery.
The team exhumed the man’s body and carried out isotope ratio analysis on a bone sample, which revealed he “very likely” spent most of his life in Australia.
The isotopic compositions of food, water and dust vary around the world due to variations in climate, rock, soil and human activity, as do the isotopic compositions of the tissues of people who ingest them.
Essentially, it gives researchers clues about where a person has been and how they lived their lives, showing what they ate, drank and breathed.
Murdoch’s team was also able to isolate a full DNA profile of the unknown man, which can now be checked against national and international databases.
The stunning twist was revealed on the final day of Australia’s National Missing Persons Week.
Cold Case Review team directors Brendan Chapman and Dr David Keatley are now using their law enforcement connections to help German authorities take the case to Australia in the hope the man can be identified and brought forward the case.
“It’s almost unbelievable,” Mr Chapman said.
“What are the odds that out of this small collection of universities working on this case, someone is from the man’s country of origin?”
Researchers have been gathering details about The Gentleman for the past three decades.
The iron castings, only recently discovered by police, were cast iron and measured approximately 24.5cm long, 8cm wide and 6cm high.
They were not a pair, but they were made for the same shoe size and were probably used for repair work on women’s shoes.
They were embossed “AJK” – the trademark of AJ Jackson of Kingswood, Bristol, which existed from the late 19th century to the mid-1960s.
The number 11 black or navy leather loafers he was found wearing were made by the relatively expensive English shoe manufacturer Church & Co Ltd.
The shoes had been refitted with Philipps soles and had replacement heels made by Dinky Heel PLC, Bristol, inscribed ITS Jubilee and a stylized crown.
Members of the public are asked to contact local police if they have information that could assist the investigation.