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DNA hopes for exhumed Somerton Man

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The exhumation of the “Somerton Man” is complete and his remains are in a “reasonable condition” according to SA Police, boosting hopes that DNA analysis can shed light on the 73-year-old mystery.

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Police on Wednesday morning began excavating the grave of the unidentified man who was found dead on Somerton Beach in December 1948, with the circumstances surrounding his last days still an open police investigation that has generated intense public interest.

The exhumation process at West Terrace Cemetery took 12 hours, with four pallbearers carrying a coffin containing his remains out of the cemetery under police escort late on Wednesday.

The Somerton Man has now been formally delivered to Forensic Science SA who will determine the most appropriate method of DNA testing to analyse the remains.

Detective Superintendent Des Bray said he “can’t predict” what DNA work will be done to analyse the remains but is pleased with how the exhumation went.

“Everything has gone smoothly and we’re happy that we’ve recovered the complete remains of the Somerton Man,” Bray said.

“The remains we’ve got today are in reasonable condition and we think that will give us a reasonable opportunity to obtain a DNA sample.”

Earlier in the day, Forensic Science SA Assistant Director of Operations Anne Coxon was cautious about the potential for the exhumation to provide a strong enough DNA sample to identify the man.

“With older remains, you need to look at the condition of the remains and whether there is DNA present,” Coxon said.

“Even if do actually find DNA present, we may not actually find a match.”

Flinders University Chair in Forensic DNA Technology Professor Adrian Linacre told InDaily that a “highly compromised” DNA sample would rule out the use of DNA analysis techniques used in the criminal justice system, as the regions of DNA being examined would fail to give a result.

He suggested a Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA analysis could be used if routine DNA typing techniques are ineffective.

Y-chromosome analysis can identify anyone with a common male ancestor, while mitochondrial DNA testing can establish common female relatives.

Coxon said Forensic Science SA has never “had a case … where we are considering as many different types of DNA testing that are available”.

The forensics centre will be consulting with experts from across Australia to conduct the analysis.

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