The mystery of a man dubbed “The Gentleman”, pulled from the North Sea 28 years ago, could finally be solved.
On 11 July 1994, a 6ft 5ins body was found by a border guard boat west of the small German archipelago of Heligoland.
The body showed signs of injuries on the head and upper body and had been weighed down with cast iron cobbler’s feet, suggesting intentional harm.
The man earned the nickname “The Gentleman” because of the “middle class” clothing he was found still dressed in – a striped pure wool tie produced by Marks & Spencer for the English- and French-language market, British-made shoes, French-made navy trousers, and a long-sleeve light blue shirt with collar.
His body was taken to the German city of Wilhelmshaven for a post-mortem and later buried.
Initial investigations by German police in the 1990s suggested he was aged about 45 to 50 years old and of slim build, probably weighing between 11 and 12 stone when alive – but his identity has remained a mystery for almost 30 years.
It is hoped investigators could finally take a step forward to finding out who the man was after a Cold Case Review team involving criminology and forensic science students at Murdoch University in Perth made a surprising breakthrough.
The team had the man’s body exhumed and isotope ratio analysis was carried out on a sample of bone, which revealed he “very likely” spent most of his life in Australia.
The isotopic compositions of food, water and dust differ across the globe due to variations in climate, bedrock, soil and human activity, and so do the isotopic compositions of the tissues of humans who ingest them.
Essentially, it gives investigators clues as to where a person has been and how they lived their life by showing what they ate, drank and breathed.
The Murdoch team were also able to isolate a complete DNA profile of the unknown man which can now be checked against national and international databases.
The surprising twist was revealed on the final day of Australia’s National Missing Persons Week.
Cold Case Review group directors Brendan Chapman and Dr David Keatley are now using their law enforcement connections to assist the German authorities to progress the case in Australia, with the hope The Gentleman may be identified and the case advanced.
“It’s almost unbelievable,” Mr Chapman said.
“What are the chances that from this small collection of universities working on this case, one would be from the country where the man originated?”
Investigators have been piecing together details about The Gentleman over the last three decades.
The iron casts, only recently disclosed by police, were cast iron and about 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 size 11 black or navy leather loafers he was found wearing were made by relatively expensive English shoe manufacturer Church & Co Ltd.
The shoes had been re-soled with Philipps soles and had replacement heels manufactured by Dinky Heel PLC, Bristol, with the inscription ITS Jubilee and a stylised crown.
Members of the public are asked to contact their local police if they have information that could assist the investigation.