crime

The Mystery of the Man Found Dead On Saddleworth Moor

The strange story of the man morticians called Neil Dovestone.
July 5, 2018, 8:30am
Images released by police.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

The people in the morgue called him Neil. They thought he looked like a Neil. He had that sort of face. Pete would have worked, too – he looked a bit like Pete Townshend, in that way everyone looks a bit like Pete Townshend if you look at your reflection in a spoon. Ken Bennett – a veteran journalist at the Oldham Evening Chronicle – thought he had a "northern face". It was the nose, "like an Easter Island head", said Bennett, who'd moved to the area from his Fleet Street beat to cover the search for the remains of the Moors Murder victims.

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The name Neil suited the face that was puzzling everyone – morgue staff, police, the media (an Australian news outlet had recently suggested the unidentified man was perhaps an international spy). It upset the morticians that the man had laid there so long, unclaimed and unnamed. They added the surname Dovestone, after the reservoir on the moor near where he had been found: Saddleworth, an hour east of Manchester – which, at the time of writing, has been ablaze for just under a week.

Saddleworth has secrets, few of them pretty, despite the undeniable beauty of the vast space. The rock formation known as Pots and Pans – a boulder with scooped out holes – is said to either be the product of weathering, or to have once been used to catch blood during Druidic human sacrifice. Yet it is the spectre of the murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley that continues to haunt the area, as they do the thoughts of any parent, child, police or journalist who lived through the pair's 1960s terror spree. Most of their victims' bodies were recovered from Hollin Brown Knoll, but the body of a 12-year-old boy called Keith Bennett – a little lad the couple lured to the moor to help look for a lost glove – still lies out there, alone and undiscovered.

However, the moor cast dark shadows long before Brady bought a train ticket from Glasgow to Manchester.

In 1832, at the Moorcock Inn – the ruins of which remain visible from the Dovestone reservoir – William Bradbury and his son Thomas were beaten to death, in an event so notorious within its era you could buy an ornamental plate to commemorate it. In 1857, the MP for Oldham, James Platt, died near the reservoir, after accidentally shooting himself with his own gun. In 1963, two climbers were taken by an avalanche in Chew Valley. And at the lower end of that valley, at a place the locals call Indian's Head, a British European Airways DC-3, flying from Belfast to Manchester, crashed in fog in the month of August, 1949. Twenty-four people died. The frame of the landing gear remains there to this day.

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Pop racist Morrissey, co-author of The Smiths' 1984 song "Suffer Little Children" – about the depravity committed on the moor by Brady and Hindley – spoke of Saddleworth in his 2013 autobiography. "It is the most barren, desolate, desperate place," he wrote. He claims he saw a ghost, too – a "grey" boy wearing just an anorak, running from the heather, pleading with the car Morrissey was in with friends to stop and help him. Morrissey and his friends drove to a phone box and called the police. 'We said, 'We have just driven down the Wessenden Road on Saddleworth Moor, and somebody has emerged from the side of the road and pleaded to the car. The police said, 'Keep an open mind.'"

The moor continues to confound. If Keith Bennett's five-decade long wait to be brought home remains Saddleworth's biggest tragedy, its greatest mystery remains the man Royal Oldham Hospital named Neil Dovestone.

In 2015, on the 12th of December, at around 10.50AM, a 67-year-old man – no identification, no personal artefacts – was found dead by cyclist Stewart Crowther. At first he thought the man was having a rest. "His head was uphill and his legs were straight downhill – perfectly straight. His arms were across his chest," Crowther told the BBC. But the rain was torrential. It was freezing. When the Mountain Rescue team came, they thought he might have had a heart attack. He was "of an age".

In the man's right pocket was £130, all in ten-pound notes. In his left, three train tickets from the morning prior. One was a single from Ealing Broadway to Euston. The other two a return from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly. Also inside his coat pocket was a small blue cardboard medicine box. Inside that was an empty container. It read thyroxine sodium, a drug normally used for the treatment of hypothyroidism. The label was printed in both English and Urdu. And the man wasn’t dressed appropriately for how a man should be dressed on the moors. For one thing, he was wearing loafers.

Neil Dovestone caught on CCTV

The tickets allowed police to retrace at least some of the man's last journey. CCTV caught him at Ealing Station on the morning of the 11th of December. Once at Piccadilly he perused the station's shops for almost an hour. He bought a sandwich from M&S. He talked to someone on the Information Desk for four minutes, though it isn’t known what he was enquiring about. Then, minutes after 1PM, he turned to walk to the city centre, out of range of the CCTV, and was never captured on camera again.

The man was seen, around an hour later, when he walked into The Clarence, the closest pub to Dovestone reservoir. He spoke to the landlord, Mel Robinson. He didn't want a drink. He did want to know how to "get to the top of the mountain". The landlord thought that was odd. Nobody referred to anything on the moor as a mountain. But he walked him to the door, explained how he could get to Chew reservoir, then warned the man that he wouldn’t get there and back before dark. The man asked him to repeat the directions and left.

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The man was seen one more time, just after sunset at around 4PM, by two staff from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Birds, close to a patch of grass named Rob's Rocks, where his dead body was found the next day. It would become apparent that he’d died from strychnine poisoning. Were this the plot of an Agatha Christie novel, or Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, that would be fine, but strychnine is a substance that's been banned in the EU since 2006. It was used to kill moles for a time, but it was deemed cruel. University Of Glasgow forensic toxicologist Dr Hilary Hamnett told the BBC that strychnine poisoning is "very unusual – I've never seen a case of it in my career". It is a terrible, violent way to die. It makes your muscles contract.

When the thyroxine sodium bottle the man was carrying came back from tests, it showed residual traces of the pesticide.

They know Neil Dovestone's real name now – David Lytton – though it took over a year for his real title to be returned to him. Mr Lytton wasn’t always thus. Born the 21st of April, 1949 as David Keith Lautenberg, at some point he'd changed his name, allegedly due to a family feud. Between his body being found and his true identity being revealed, he’d undergone three autopsies, the third of which recovered a titanium plate attached to his left femur. Most plates of this kind carry serial numbers. This didn't, but it did carry a name, Treu-Dynamic, a company based in Sialkot, Pakistan. Incidentally, strychnine remains legal in Pakistan. It's used to kill feral dogs. David Lytton had boarded a flight on the 10th of December, from Lahore, Pakistan, and flown 4,000 miles… for what?

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Many of the theories that were formed during the time David Lytton lay as Neil Dovestone have now been dismissed. For a while, it was suggested he might be a living survivor of the British European Airways DC-3 flight that crashed in 1949. When that theory was published, the sole living male survivor, a 72-year-old professor of pharmacology called Stephen Evans, contacted Oldham CID to say he hadn't ever been back to Saddleworth. Why would he?

Saddleworth Moor. Photo: Paul White / Alamy Stock Photo

There do remain unanswered questions. Like many things we don’t understand, they continue to be keenly dissected on Reddit. Why buy a return if he intended on never coming back? It also transpired he'd booked into a Travelodge for five nights in Ealing, staying just the one. Why Saddleworth? Why strychnine? And if he did kill himself – while outlandish, some maintain that his regular medication was either unknowingly replaced or he wasn't alone on the moor – what made David Lytton feel there was no place for him on Earth?

What we know only leads to more rabbit holes. Maureen Toogood, a former nurse, said that she and Mr Lytton – who at various times had worked as a croupier, as well as a baker and tube driver – had been in a relationship for 35 years. She'd fallen pregnant. She'd miscarried. He'd struggled with depression. They separated, Maureen married someone else, they remained friends. He ate every night, at the same time, at his local vegetarian restaurant. He owned few possessions. "He said he wasn't entitled to comforts," said Maureen. There was one Koran upstairs and one downstairs. In 2006, he left his home in Streatham, south London, with no fanfare, and moved, as it was later discovered, to Pakistan. He didn’t tell Maureen. She’d heard nothing from or about him, until police called her, 11 years later.

This year, a play concerning the events of David Lytton's last days is being performed. It’s called The Man On the Moor, and it stars just one man, writer and performer Max Dickins. It deals with the devastating truth of missing person cases. "The central emotion felt by those left behind by the long-term missing is not grief, but what psychologists call 'ambiguous loss'," Max told The York Press. "The person is physically absent, but psychologically present. With death there can be closure: a healing, a gradual forgetting. With missingness there can be none of that. It's the not knowing that’s the worst."

He continued: "After almost every show I have had an audience member coming up to me to share their story of missingness. This issue affects many more families than we think. In fact, 250,000 people go missing every year."

For all the horror Saddleworth has witnessed, it was just the final stop for the man on the moor. It wasn't what took him. What did appears to be something that could take any of us. Something we should protect ourselves and each other from, always.

@jamesjammcmahon