The Mysterious WWII Case Of The Body In The Cylinder

In 1941, at a time of mass carnage and destruction, a mysterious sealed cylinder was found along the side of the road in the city of Liverpool in Great Britain. It was the waning days of the Blitz, the merciless bombing of England during World War II, though the war itself would rage on for several years. Outside of London, Liverpool — an industrial center — was most heavily targeted by Nazi air raids, as National Museums Liverpool writes. Ignored for years, when the industrial object was opened in 1945, a man's decomposed dead body tumbled out.

Though some suspected the body was that of a British German bombing victim, the clothing on the corpse was all wrong. He was seemingly dressed from a time long before World War II — in the style of Victorian England from the mid-to-late 19th century. During the years between the end of the Blitz and when the cylinder was opened, locals said they noticed the object but thought nothing of it. It was sealed on one end and open on the other, and children had reportedly even played with it, as the Liverpool Evening Express wrote in 1945 (via Old Mersey Times).

A number of mysterious objects were also found

In addition to the dead body found in the cylinder, a number of others items were also recovered from inside the object: two largely illegible diaries, a postcard, and a signet ring, among other relics. What could be identified in the diary was the date 1885, the first major clue to establish the identity of the dead body, based on further Evening Express reporting from the '40s. At that point, what seemed certain was that whoever he was, he had somehow ended up in the cylinder some 60 years earlier. Apparent injuries to the skeleton's cranium were ruled not to be caused by violence.

As bulldozers cleared Blitz rubble from the streets of Liverpool (pictured above), the open end of the cylinder had been crushed. An oxy-acetylene burner was required to reopen it, and with little to go on, Liverpool police were confounded for weeks afterward. The fine-quality anachronistic clothing on the body ruled out a Blitz victim. It was considered that the cylinder began life on a seafaring vessel, which the person inside may have used for shelter — or possibly stowed away in. A readable document that was uncovered contained the words "T.C. Williams," possibly related to T.C. Williams and Co., a 19th-century Liverpool paint and varnish merchant. With those initials and that name, the mystery may have been solved.

T.C. Williams was in financial trouble

Based on the name "T.C. Williams," or Thomas Cregeen, it was theorized that Williams, who had no record of ever being buried, had attempted to flee financial troubles related to his business, hidden in the cylinder, and died. Supporting the maritime theory, at that time it was common for debtors to escape England to start over anonymously in a colony or foreign country. Not only were there no official records of Williams' burial, but he also showed up on no death records anywhere in the United Kingdom. Five account sheets, possibly related to business dealings, were also recovered with the body.

As compelling as that theory was, in August 1945, only about a month after the object was opened and the skeletal remains were found, the inquest into the true origin of the remains was officially closed with an open verdict. According to the coroner, whoever it was did die around 1885, but how he died could not be determined, nor could his exact identity, or even how he got in the cylinder or how long he'd been there. At that time, no living relatives were found, though Williams reportedly had one son, born in 1859. Notably, the signet ring recovered with the body in the cylinder was hallmarked that same year.