Since the book has been released, the interest level is obviously at an all-time high. I’ve received several emails and just want to urge you to be patient. I’ve been… it’s been a tough few years. It was time to get back into it a little.
I started this post a few years ago and have finally gotten around to completing it.
You don’t hear very much about Santorini Man anymore, which is surprising because its one of the most interesting and perplexing unexplained mysteries of the 20th century in my humble opinion.
On July 19, 1936, two swimmers reported a body that had washed up on Mesa Pigadia beach on the Greek island of Santorini. They reported their find to police, and the body was taken away in an official vehicle. According to interviews they later gave to an Athens newspaper, the dead man looked as if he had not been dead very long. He was of medium complexion, medium height, and medium weight, and had medium brown hair. He was wearing a gray suit, and also shoes. They looked in his pockets and found nothing except a page torn from a book, which they said was from a UK English edition of V. M. Straka’s The Black Nineteen. Their story caused a worldwide sensation but Greek officials were not forthcoming with any information.
In November 1936, a Swedish magazine published what it said was the report from Santorini Man’s autopsy. The report contained a blurry photo of the man’s face. Apparently the fingerprints were not taken, though it is doubtful they would’ve resulted in an identification because none of the fingerprints taken from any of the bodies that appeared later ever have. There were two references to the page from the Straka book, but one said it was p. 109-110 and another said it was p. 9-10. There was no determination about cause of death, which everyone thought was strange because the swimmers said the body looked like it was in perfectly good shape so how could it be anything other than drowning? No one has ever identified the man by his face, although hundreds of tips came in to the magazine and to a Santorini Man Society that had started up in London.
Greek authorities have to this day maintained that the autopsy report was a forgery and that no such body ever washed up at Mesa Pigadia in the first place.
Interest in the mystery of Santorini Man understandably faded a little during the war, but while it was going on more bodies washed up, all in different places but with similar details: the body not very much decomposed and no obvious injuries, fully dressed with shoes, no identification through face or fingerprints or dental evidence, no official explanations from any of the relevant governments involved. But all were allegedly found with pages from Straka books in their pockets.
The big question: WHY?
- Was the killer a Straka fan? (And was there more than one?)
- Or some person/organization that was out to get Straka & people he knew?
- Or was Straka himself doing the killing?
- And if he was—what about the ones that came after 1946? Did he fake his death at the hotel in Havana?
In 1952 the Santorini Man Society compiled a list of all the suspected Santorini-Man-like deaths. (They have more specific details about clothing, facial features, apparent ethnicities, etc. in that issue of their newsletter. It’s archived here.
(The First Wave)
March 1937 – Shizuoka, Japan (The Cordillera, French edition, p. 179-180)
December 1937 – Namibe, Angola (The Square, edition & page not noted)
April 1939 – Antofagasta, Chile (Triptych of Mirrors, German edition, p. 9-10)
September 1941 – Florence, Oregon, USA (Lopevi, UK English edition, p. 231-232)
August 1942 – Tumbatu Island, Zanzibar (Washington & Greene, edition & page not noted)
September 1942 – Egersund, Norway (Hanging the Dead, Swedish edition, p. 9-10)
April 1944 – Burnie, Tasmania (The Painted Cave, Czech edition, page # not noted)
May 1946 – Todos Santos, Mexico (Wineblood’s Mine, Portuguese edition, p. 379-380)
May 1946 – Abaco Island, The Bahamas (Miracle at Braxenholm, Dutch edition, p. 153-154)
October 1948 – Udupi, India (The Viper’s Humour, Spanish edition, p. 9-10)
July 1949 – Rio Grande, Brazil (The Santana March, German edition, p. 89-90)
October 1951 – Juist, Germany (The Night Palisades, US English edition, p. 9-10)
The Santorini Man Society, and I, and many others, have scoured the particular pages to try to find any codes, recurrences, other message, any similarities, but as far as I know no one has found anything that seems like a solution, although some of the theories are interesting. (There’s a compilation of them in the Society’s 1983 newsletter.) Obviously there are more examples of pages 9 and 10 than you’d expect, but it’s not obvious why. Maybe some kind of prearranged signal? It’s hard to say. One of the ideas that I think is interesting is that when you add 9 + 10 you get 19, and the number 19 is all over the place in Ship of Theseus. And Ship of Theseus is the 19th novel. But that doesn’t explain why there would have been 9-10s as far back as 1939, because Theseus wasn’t written until 1946.
The Second Wave
After the Juist body, things got quiet. People assumed that the SantoMan killer(s) had finished. But then there was a second wave that started twelve years later. Same details (body, suit, shoes, no injuries, didn’t drown, whole thing denied by government, documents leaked, etc.), with two notable exceptions: one was found encased in ice, and one was a woman.
April 1963 – Antofagasta, Chile (Triptych of Mirrors, German edition, p. 9-10)
November 1963 – Salalah, Oman (“Santorini Woman”) (The Black Nineteen, Norwegian edition, p. 217-218 )
December 1967 – Ningde, China (Coriolis, Portuguese edition, p. 693-692)
April 1971 – Quepos, Costa Rica (Miracle at Braxenholm, Spanish edition, p. 155-156)
February 1974 – Dikson, Russia (body found in pack ice) (A Hundred Aprils in Amritsar, Italian edition, p. 109-110)
October 1977 – Sidi Ifni, Morocco (The Winged Shoes of Emydio Alves, Korean edition, p. 9-10)
That makes 17 recorded Santorini Man deaths. (I wonder if there were two more that went unfound or unreported?)
Some see the Second Wave as a continuation of the First Wave, but some people think because of the 12-year gap that they might be the work of a copycat killer or killers—maybe all done by one person (or organization), but a person or organization that’s different from one responsible for the First Wave.
So what do I think? Here are some possibilities that have been put forward that I think are interesting.
1. Nunley’s “Labor & Capital” Theory
Milton Nunley was Vice President of the Society in the 1980s, and he thought the Santorini Men (People) were victims of some kind of coalition of industrial interests who used this as a way to “disappear” particularly dangerous labor agitators, etc. The unusual method was supposed to be intimidating—meaning, there would be some group of anti-corporate activists who’d recognize the signature killing (and maybe understand a message that the Straka pages contained).
This is mostly based on his belief that the first Santorini Man was in fact French labor activist Jerome Verdier, who wrote an account of the Calais Riot which quoted witnesses as saying that it wasn’t a riot but a massacre that had been carried out and covered up by people hired by factory owner Hermes Bouchard. Verdier disappeared in January 1937, last seen in Dover, England. (The manuscript wasn’t discovered until 1964, though, when it was found in an abandoned house in Gravelines, France, where he had once lived.) First Santorini Man looks a little like Verdier, but not a lot.
Jerome Verdier with his wife, 1934
First Santorini Man
Also, why (or how?) did Verdier go from Dover to Santorini?
Anyway, if Nunley’s theory is true then the Santorini Man deaths might not have involved Straka directly. If you believe F.X. Caldeira’s notes in Ship of Theseus, Straka had made similar claims about Calais in 1912, which would mean that he probably knew about this before Verdier. If you don’t believe that, then maybe Caldeira somehow knew about Verdier’s book and was trying to get its message out. (Although how would he have known about it?) Anyway: there’s a connection between Straka and Verdier in that they both may have written about Calais being a massacre, but that might be all. But the killer or killers might have decided to use Straka pages as a kind of calling card because of how famously (and maybe violently) anti-corporate Straka was.
2. Elimination of Possible Strakas
This one’s more straightforward, and it’s probably the most popular these days. It still involves some kind of conspiracy of wealthy and powerful people, but with a simpler goal: figure out who Straka was and kill him. Kill anyone who even might be Straka, to make sure you get him. So the pages are a calling card or taunt here, too. Maybe less likely that it’s a coded message?
But if Straka died in 1946, why would there be any Santorini Man after that? The only way it makes sense is if they didn’t believe he really had died in Havana. (Although the Bahamas isn’t that far away from Havana—so maybe they got the real Straka, and that’s where the body floated to? Or where they brought it?)
Also, it’s not like there were a lot of writers disappearing around the times that the Santorini bodies were found. At least not people who’d be recognized as writers—definitely not the ones we mostly think of today as the most likely to be Straka. So if this is true, then these people must have had reasons to think that Straka was an unknown—that he probably wasn’t someone who’d published a lot under another (real?) name. Which could be true—really, why does Straka have to be someone who’s famous (or at least recognized) for being someone else?
3. The Ship of Theseus Theory
Everyone who has read Ship of Theseus remembers the Interlude, where S. changes pretty dramatically (no spoilers here!). Some people think it's a thinly-veiled explanation of the Santorini Man phenomenon. It definitely looks like that—but couldn’t it just as easily be Straka taking something that was happening out in the real world and using it in a story? It seems strange, too, if Straka wrote about this (and died) in 1946—when only 7 Santorini Men had been found—and the killings continued for so much longer. Maybe it’s less strange if you think Straka faked his death in Havana, but he has to have died sometime.
4. The Fantastic Many-Strakas Theory
I couldn’t have made this one up. It appeared five years ago on an anonymous blog which doesn’t exist anymore. It says that every one of the bodies was Straka. Literally. That Straka wasn’t a particular person but some kind of regenerating phenomenon (cue sci-fi movie music). Some kind of Straka-ish essence adopts a form to be in, inhabits it for awhile, then leaves it and finds or generates a new one. Why? It was hard to tell from this guy’s “reasoning” but it seemed to involve some kind of otherworldly force that was an incarnation or embodiment of the act of storytelling (“true” storytelling, as opposed to something that Powers That Be tell you is true, which is something that Straka mentions a few times in Ship of Theseus). So Straka was that force coming down again and again to keep exposing the PTB stories as not the true ones. He didn’t say that this was some kind of alien sort of thing, but you could read it that way if you wanted to. And he thought that the Santorini Men hadn’t been killed by other people but shed—like a snake shedding skin or a crab molting a shell. Which is why no one could ever figure out a cause of death—the Santorini Men weren’t really dead because they weren’t really “people” in the first place.
It’s a little hard to follow and I don’t totally understand it, but I love this one. I don’t think it’s true—I’m not insane (even though a lot of people might tell you I am!)—but it’s bizarre and so much fun.
I wrote this in 2009 and I’ve been preoccupied since then (you don’t want to know, and it’s not as interesting as it sounds like it might be)—but some people are saying that there might be a Third Wave going on right now:
October 2011 – Barcelona, Spain (The Spotted Cat, Japanese edition, p. 145-146) (although one source says there were some injuries—like maybe the victim had been dropped from a plane, or had jumped off something—and another says it was pages 233-234)
January 2012- Ambergris Caye, Belize (The Brigade, Czech edition, p. 99-100)
February 2012 – Cameroon (The Black Nineteen, 1965 US English edition, p. 9-10)
March 2012 – Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (Ship of Theseus, Portuguese edition, p. 9-10)
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE! Someone has posted a photo they say is the Yarmouth Santorini Man—and that he looks a lot like an Irish writer named Kevin T. F. Kavanagh, who disappeared in December 2011 (last seen: Letterkenny, Ireland). Kavanagh’s only book was Something We Found Which Wasn’t There, a novel published in 2010 about a crew working on an oil pipeline that runs all the way through Afghanistan.)
Kevin T. F. Kavanagh, 2010
Purported Yarmouth Santorini Man