When Trawlers Caught A Dead Body In Their Net, The Only Clue To The Mystery Was An Old Wristwatch

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A heavy fishing net tends to come as a welcome sign to trawlers – but today the crew has pulled in something terrifying. The body of a man has been found limp in the nets, and authorities have no way to identify him. However, everything changes when they realize he’s wearing a 25-year-old Rolex. The timepiece becomes the first clue in a case with more tangles than the net that caught the man’s body in the first place.

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Finding a body without any form of identification gave the police officers little to work with. Cops had initially assumed that the man must have committed suicide and perhaps hadn’t wanted anyone to know who he was. Nevertheless, the investigators didn’t give up on their John Doe, and the man remained unidentifiable for six weeks.

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Police started to look more closely at the single clue they had – the Rolex watch worn by the man found floating in a fishing net. As it turns out, the watchmaker kept detailed records of which pieces receive repairs and when. And finding out the Rolex’s repair history would not only lead investigators to its owner, it would also solidify the case against the person responsible for the man’s death.

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Teignmouth sits on a picturesque southern coastal corner of England, but the peaceful waters just off of the town’s edge would ripple on July 28, 1996. As we explored earlier, a Brixham trawler – a wooden deep-sea fishing vessel – caught a human body in its net. Furthermore, the drowned man had no identification on him.

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However, the police did have one aforementioned clue with which they could work. The deceased man plucked from the water was still wearing his 25-year-old Rolex Oyster watch. And because it still had a legible serial number, officers hoped it could be a clue in the case.

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So, to ensure police officers did their due diligence, they reached out to Rolex. The watchmaker kept extensive records of repairs done to their pieces. The investigative team then spent six weeks digging through them until they found evidence that the dead man had taken it to be repaired in the 1980s.

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Someone had gone to a Harrogate, England-based jeweler twice to have a repair made to the Rolex Oyster adorning the deceased man’s wrist. Cops believed the two people were the same, and they identified the body as 51-year-old Ronald Platt.

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Platt had served in the armed forces before changing gears and becoming a TV repairman. Police traced his last residence to Essex, and his landlord directed them to Platt’s best friend, David Davies. The latter told police that he had given Platt cash to start a business in France, but that he hadn’t heard from him since June 1996.

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According to his own admission, Davies came to England from the United States. He had a wife named Noel and she had given birth to two children. Police likely didn’t think much of any of this information at the time. However, that all changed when they went to Davies’ home in the cozy village of Woodham Walter to record a written statement from him.

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Cops accidentally knocked on the wrong door in the search for Davies’ house. And the stranger who opened the door gave them some shocking information about the man they had come to see. According to the Plymouth Herald, they said, “Our neighbor is called Platt, not Davies.”

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Armed with this new information regarding Davies’ supposed real identity, cops spent three weeks surveilling the man before arresting him in an armed raid. It would take another month for them to figure out who he really was, and why people thought he was Pratt. As it turned out, no one knew his true identity.

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Davies was actually a man named Albert Walker, who came to England not from the U.S., but from Canada. His life story read like any other – at first, anyway. Walker had dropped out of high school, but eventually got a job as a bank teller. And on the side, he had filed people’s income tax returns for them.

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Walker’s side job inspired him to start his own business – Walker Financial Services Incorporated – through which he provided bookkeeping services. His operation boomed and he eventually began running six branches and employed around 30 people. But things started to fall apart in the mid-1980s when one of his stock investments fell apart.

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Walker also defrauded his clients and managed to flee with the cash he had accrued over the years. He robbed approximately 70 of his clients of $3.2 million and escaped to Europe in 1990 – bringing one of his daughters with him. Meanwhile, Canada placed him at the top of their most-wanted criminals list.

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Interpol had an eye out for Walker, too – he had outstanding charges of fraud, money laundering and theft against him. But he managed to avoid police detection by taking on a new identity. He took the name David Davies from one of his former clients, and he and his daughter set up a new life in London.

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Eventually, Walker moved from London to Harrogate in northern England and started another business venture there. This brought him close to Platt – who worked in the area as a television repairman. He and his girlfriend, Elaine Boyes, inadvertently then helped Walker to create another sham business. That’s because the Canadian employed them for a front company through which he laundered money to himself.

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But even Walker’s personal life was a guise, as his daughter began posing as his wife, and she changed her name from Sheena to Noel. While standing in as her father’s faux spouse, she gave birth to two children. And the paternity of both babies remained a secret – even after authorities uncovered Walker’s true identity.

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Before that, though, Walker still had a few more unforgivable steps to take. According to the Independent, he found out that Platt had long been “obsessed” with Canada. The TV repairman had grown up there, and he’d long dreamed of returning to live in the country across the pond.

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So, as soon as Walker got his faux business off the ground – with Platt’s help – he gave the man a gift. The conman paid for Platt and his girlfriend, Boyes, to move back to Canada. There was just a bit of paperwork to be done, Walker said. So, he needed the former soldier’s driver’s license, birth certificate and a signature stamp.

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Platt left the required documentation behind, and he and Boyes moved overseas in 1992. With that, Walker had all he needed to assume his third identity – that of his friend, Roland Platt. He did so under the assumption that the real Platt would never return to England. However, within a year things started to unravel.

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First, Boyes came back from Canada in 1993, and she was followed by Platt who returned home two years later. The TV repairman had found it hard to make ends meet overseas and he’d returned home feeling disillusioned, according to the Plymouth Herald.

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Luckily for Platt, though, he had a friend to help him – Walker. In the former’s absence, the conman had assumed his identity. But he had also set up a counseling business in Chelmsford, which seemed to be a success, considering he provided Platt with support until his death in 1996.

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Ultimately, though, Platt’s return posed a threat to the life that Walker had built with his friend’s identity. And police knew this by the time they arrested Walker over Platt’s murder. In time, they dredged up even more evidence against the fraudster who, as we explored earlier, also had the Canadian authorities and Interpol on his tail.

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According to the Independent, Detective Superintendent Phil Sincock acknowledged that police cracked Platt’s case wide open after they’d made a mistake. He admitted, “There was one bit of luck in terms of the Essex policeman going to the wrong door…” Here, of course, he was referencing the neighbor who’d told police that Walker’s name was Platt – thus revealing his secret identity.

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However, Sincock went on to say that the police had done the legwork to solve the crime, too. He explained, “… Other than that, it was down to painstaking police work and some new groundbreaking scientific inquiries.” Importantly, a lot of that evidence came after police timelined what would be the last day of Platt’s life.

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Walker owned a 24-foot yacht called the Lady Jane, and he kept it moored in the River Dart. On July 20, 1996, he took Platt on-board for what he described as a fishing trip. However, once off the south coast of Devon, Walker knocked Platt out by striking him in the back of the head, Exeter Crown Court heard two years later.

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And with Platt unconscious, Walker apparently did the unthinkable. He tucked a ten-pound anchor into the belt loops of his friend’s trousers. Then, he threw Platt’s limp body overboard the Lady Jane. The heavy weight at his hip ensured that the TV repairman’s body wouldn’t bob back to the surface – or, so Walker thought.

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But, as we mentioned earlier, Brixham trawlers operated in the area. These fishing vessels typically drag their nets along the bottom of the sea, or they dangle in mid-water to catch fish. Either way, the trawler Malkerry found Platt’s body caught in its nets eight days after Walker dumped him in the ocean.

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Police built their case around this series of events, and they had plenty of evidence to back up their timeline. For one thing, Sincock said, they found some incriminating documents at the suspect’s home. He told the Plymouth Herald, “We seized a whole van load of documentation from Walker’s house and among it all was a two-inch square sales receipt which showed that he had purchased on a Barclaycard an anchor.”

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Platt’s body surfaced without the heavy anchor attached – he only had his identifying Rolex on, of course. But forensics allowed investigators to determine that he had been weighted down, and that an uncovered anchor had played a part in his death. Sincock explained that the tests “found zinc traces from the anchor on Platt’s belt and traces of leather on the anchor.”

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On top of that, the Lady Jane revealed that Platt had been onboard the yacht – thanks to DNA collection and testing there. Sincock explained, “Inside the cabin were some cushions on which we found some head hairs. DNA tests proved that they were from the deceased man.”

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Investigators also found that Walker had engaged in some pretty suspicious activity outside of the murder. They found that the conman had begun to convert his cash into gold bars. Incredibly, he had more than 15 and each was valued at more than £25,000. He had also stashed money in a few different hiding spots to wit.

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To Sincock, this seemed suspicious – he thought Walker might be planning ahead for an escape. The detective told the Plymouth Herald, “In case anything went wrong, he was converting a lot of his cash into gold bars and secreting them so that if he had to do a runner he would have had something to survive on in case his identity had blown out.”

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But some of the most incriminating evidence of all came from the Lady Jane’s GPS system – and from Platt’s Rolex, which he wore until the end of his life. Police used GPS to analyze the ship’s navigation system to show that it had been on the water when they suspected Platt’s body had been dumped.

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Sincock explained, “We proved that his yacht was at sea at the material time. For the first time in any case, we took the yacht’s GPS navigation system back to its manufacturers and they were able to plot coordinates. [This] gave us the time and date it had been switched off and proved it had been very near to where Platt’s body had been found.”

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And that’s precisely where the Rolex came in. To corroborate the ship’s GPS record, police looked at the time showing on the Rolex’s face. They found that it would have taken 44 hours for the timepiece to wind down and stop once and for all. When Platt’s body emerged from the sea on July 28, the watch was frozen on July 22.

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The date was significant, as it would indicate that the last time the Rolex had been wound was two days prior. That day would be July 20, the same one that Walker took Platt on a supposed fishing trip. And GPS coordinates put the Lady Jane at sea on that day, too – further corroborating that Platt had drowned while on that outing.

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In 1998 a jury in Exeter Crown Court then found Walker guilty of murder. The presiding judge, Justice Neil Butterfield, delivered a scathing response to the case he had just heard. According to the Plymouth Herald, he said, “It was in my judgement a callous, premeditated killing designed to eliminate a man you had used for your own selfish ends.”

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Justice Butterfield handed down a life sentence to Walker – but the conman’s reckoning didn’t end there. After serving time for Platt’s death, the U.K. extradited him back to Canada in 2005, where he’d face his theft, money laundering and fraud charges. The courts there later tacked an additional four years onto the felon’s pre-existing life sentence.

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Afterward, Sincock reflected on Walker, and he couldn’t understate the criminal’s innate power. The detective said, “He was very clever and was probably the most accomplished conman and persuasive person I have ever met. But at the same time it must be remembered that it was also a calculated and premeditated murder.” And, for now, Walker remains behind bars – he attempted to apply for parole in 2015 but subsequently decided to abandon his bid.

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Another fascinating true crime story unfolded in Australia in 1948. In fact, it’s the case that’s stranger than fiction – and one that nobody’s any closer to breaking. A body on a beach; a cryptic notebook but no identification; rumors of Soviet spies in a quiet Australian seaside town. No wonder the mystery of the Somerton Man endures to this day.

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It should have been routine – albeit grimly so – for Detective Sergeant Lionel Leane when a man’s body was found on the beach one morning. But there was nothing giving away the deceased’s identity, nor was it obvious how he died.

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The year was 1948, the place Somerton Beach – a popular vacation spot in the Adelaide suburb of Glenelg. It was at 6:30 a.m. on December 1 that police, having been alerted by the public, arrived on the scene. The officers stepped down from the esplanade onto the beach, where they found the body leaning against the seawall.

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Because there was no I.D. on the body, nor any clothing tags, the police couldn’t identify the man. The cigarettes, gum and watches that were found didn’t reveal much, but of more interest were the unused bus and train tickets, a U.S.-manufactured comb, and a piece of paper in a concealed pocket in his pants.

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What is more, the subsequent autopsy, rather than confirming how the man died, only threw up more questions. The mystery of the “Somerton Man” was getting deeper and deeper.

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Dr. Dwyer, the pathologist, concluded that the deceased man was in his 40s and in good physical shape. More specifically Dwyer found no sign of heart problems, though his report did note that “the spleen was strikingly large… [at] around 3 times normal size.”

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“I am quite convinced the death could not have been natural,” Dr. Dwyer concluded. The pathologist believed the Somerton Man had been poisoned, though he couldn’t identify what poison had been used – only that the victim’s digestive system was “deeply congested.”

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Yet if the cause of death couldn’t be ascertained, could the man at least be identified? Attention turned to that scrap of paper – on which the words “Tamám Shud” were written.

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The paper had been ripped from the last page of a book, entitled Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, of 12th-century Persian poetry. As for the two-word phrase, it translates as “finished” or “ended.”

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Police wanted to find the rest of the book, so they released a photo of the paper scrap bearing the cryptic phrase. And before long a local man came forward who said he’d found the book on his car’s backseat after leaving the windows open. His vehicle had been parked beside Somerton Beach.

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Written on the inside of the book’s back cover was a series of letters and inscriptions, all of them completely unintelligible – even to specially drafted-in codebreakers. Was there a hidden message, or were these nothing more than the scribblings of a man gone insane?

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As well as the indecipherable code was a series of digits. These turned out to be the phone number of Jessica Thomson, a Glenelg-based nurse. Her home, intriguingly, was just a short distance from where the man’s body was discovered.

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Despite suggestions to the contrary, Thomson denied having seen the Somerton Man before he died. The police moreover reportedly found her uncooperative – to the extent that she evaded certain questions. She was never, however, considered a serious suspect.

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A final clue came in the form of a brown suitcase left at Adelaide railway station. Among the contents of the case was some Barbour-branded waxed thread, something that wasn’t readily available in Australia. Could it have belonged to the deceased man? The police certainly believed so.

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Unbreakable code, a mystery poison, overseas attire; could the Somerton Man have been a foreign agent – possibly acting on behalf of the Soviet Union – who was killed in the line of duty? Many believe this to be the case. Many also reckon that Thomson, who died in 2007, was a spy who took her secrets to the grave.

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It was when the nurse passed away that Kate, her daughter, contacted police. Kate had, apparently, for a long while suspected that her Russian-speaking mom was a Soviet spy. She also held that her mom had intimately known the Somerton Man.

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Kate even speculated that the pair were lovers and that they had a child, Robin, together. In his youth, Robin, who died in 2009, was a ballet dancer – a career the pathologist thought the Somerton Man could have had owing to his stature and defined calf muscles.

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But even if the Somerton Man was a spy with local connections, his death still remains a mystery. Did he die on the beach, or was he killed elsewhere before his body was placed there? Moreover, why was he killed in the first place? And was he really a Soviet agent?

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The University of Adelaide’s Professor Derek Abbott is among those determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Abbott thinks DNA analysis could provide some conclusive answers, though any tests – which will involve the Somerton Man’s body being exhumed – will require the South Australia Attorney General’s permission.

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For now the Somerton Man remains buried in an Adelaide graveyard. His epitaph simply reads, “Here lies the Unknown Man who was found at Somerton Beach 1 Dec. 1948.” After seven decades, this is about all, it seems, that anyone can say for certain about this enduring mystery.

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