Cain’s Jawbone: The strange case of the unsolvable murder mystery book

Cain’s Jawbone is a literary puzzle and mystery book first published in 1934 and written by crossword puzzle creator Edward Powys Mathers under the pseudonym Torquemada.

The Telegraph called Cain’s Jawbone “the literary child of James Joyce and Agatha Christie” as it is terribly difficult and not for the faint of heart. The book contains no fewer than six murders in 100 pages: six killers and six victims. So what’s the problem then? The thing is that pages are printed in no particular order.

It’s up to the reader to accept the challenge, cut out the book’s pages, and arrange them in the correct sequence to solve the case. Who killed whom?
Since the first edition, readers were asked to detach the pages and rearrange them to build the story and discover the mystery. A mystery already complex in itself since the possible combinations are a number one hundred and fifty-eight digits long.

The history of Cain’s Jawbone

When it was published for Christmas 1934 a contest was held: for the winners a prize of 25 pounds. Only two people managed to collect that prize at that time: Mr S. Sydney-Turner and Mr W.S. Kennedy.
Over the years the book was gradually forgotten until 2016, when Patrick Wildgust, curator of Shandy Hall, Laurence Sterne’s house museum, found an old copy.  After working hard to successfully solve the riddle he talked it over with John Mitchinson, co-founder of Unbound, who decided to republish it in 2018 this time with a £1,000 prize.

The only one to collect the award, so far, seems to have been comedian and actor John Finnemore who explained that he read the book and got discouraged right away. But once the first lockdown began during the pandemic, he found time to fill his room with all 100 pages and start to experiment: it took him four months.
Finnemore thinks it would be impossible to solve the puzzle book without the internet: there are references to English culture and literary issues from the 1930s that would be incomprehensible today without Google.

A TikTok phenomenon

In mid-November 2021, Cain’s Jawbone became a worldwide phenomenon thanks to a TikTok video by a young documentary assistant from San Francisco. There are more than 10 million views on TikTok so far. This prompted hundreds of people to buy the puzzle book and try to solve it, and between 2021 and 2022 it was translated and published in several countries, continuing to sell out everywhere. 
Although there are posts on Reddit saying that they have solved the mystery, albeit without claiming the reward from Unbound, there are still no proofs or solutions online.

What about you? Do you think you’ll be able to solve Cain’s Jawbone mystery?

My hairstyle has a life of its own and likes to change a lot; My phone is always nearby but I still manage to miss every call; Netflix constantly asks me “Are you still watching?”. Passionate reader, restless writer.

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