Intricate suicide? Or murder? The Mystery of Neil Dovestone

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4th April 2019  •  6 min read

The case of Neil Dovestone remains one of the most intriguing mysteries of modern British history, and the details are as confusing as they are tragic. What drove this elderly man to travel 4,000 miles to commit suicide on Saddleworth?

Intricate suicide? Or murder? The Mystery of Neil Dovestone

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Morbidology is a weekly true crime podcast created and hosted by Emily G. Thompson. Using investigative research combined with primary audio, Morbidology takes an in-depth look at true crime cases from all across the world.

Today we have an article from the wonderful and talented author, Sophie Brown. Sophie has been a true crime/mystery blogger for around 4 years now. She is extremely passionate about writing and would love to do it on a larger scale. She is the owner of the popular blog, bundyspook (previously bundspooks) but her blog was wrongfully terminated at 89,000+ followers. She has recently set up her own website so go and check that out too.

Saddleworth Moor upholds an unusual amount of serenity and natural wonder in the North-West of England. Its bleak landscape stretches for almost 30 square miles and its lakes lie still and silent, unless disturbed by the usual drizzle of the Yorkshire weather. Its beauty is a stark contrast from the dark history it has been tarnished with over the years. Beside those sickening Moors Murders of the 60’s, the peaceful moors are remembered by many locals for even further tragedies. In 1949, a Douglas DC-3 Aircraft crashed there, leaving 24 passengers and crew members dead. Travelling over the moors, the plane was suddenly enveloped in a thick fog and the helpless pilot clipped the peak of a hill. The aircraft was torn apart and burst into flames, falling onto land overlooked by the Dovestone Reservoir. That day of August 19, 1949 will be remembered by many; not only due to the disaster at the moors, but because only an hour later, a Proctor light aircraft crashed just 40 miles away from the first crash site. All 4 passengers died in that second crash, and the county of Yorkshire was hit with unexpected mourning.

Further forward into Saddleworth’s morbid history, is the case of Neil Dovestone. At first glance, the case seems like the plot of an elaborate Agatha Christie novel. From the subject’s name, the bleak location, to the poison found tucked in the pocket of his corpse, you would be forgiven for thinking this case was entirely fictional. However, the case of Neil Dovestone remains one of the most intriguing mysteries of modern British history, and the details are as confusing as they are tragic.

On December 10th, 2015, an elderly man boarded a plane from Lahore, Pakistan to London. After his 4,000 mile journey, the seemingly normal-looking man travelled a further 197 miles north to Saddleworth. He had no suitcase or hand-luggage and he was dressed simply, in a mac coat, plain trousers, and loafers on his feet. As he walked into the Clarence Pub at 2 p.m on December 11th, pub landlord Mel Robinson took notice of this; After all, the majority of his patrons were hikers, well-equipped for the long journey across the rugged terrain of Saddleworth Moor. Looking at the lone pensioner before him, who was a tall, white man, with receding grey hair, brown eyes and a prominent nose, something struck him as odd. He asked for directions to the “top of the mountain”, the summit of the 1,500ft peak above Dovestone reservoir. Despite his out-of-place appearance, he appeared to be acting normally, with no signs of confusion. He didn’t want a drink, not even a glass of water. “You won’t get up to the summit and back down before dark” may have been the last words spoken to this man. Ignoring his warning, the strange man simply thanked Mel and continued on his way through the misty rain on that cold winter’s afternoon.

For cyclists wanting a more challenging ride, the paths jutting through Saddleworth Moor are ideal. The steep inclines of the mountainous paths, along with the sudden descents are ideal for those wishing to test their skills. On December 12th, Stewart Crowther was doing just that. A few hours into his bike ride, Stewart was caught in a storm of freezing, torrential rain when he came across an unusual, slightly amusing sight. A man was lounging on the banks of the hill. Although wearing a waterproof mac, it was no match for the heavy rain and he was soaking wet. Calling out to him was useless, as the thundering rain deafened any voices. He was lying still, with his arms crossed comfortably over his stomach as if he was Cloud Watching. Edging closer, reality hit Stewart like a freight train. He discovered that the elderly man wasn’t resting at all, he was dead. When members of Saddleworth’s dedicated team of Mountain Rescue volunteers arrived on scene, they immediately suspected that the man had suffered from a heart attack after a long hike. When police arrived, they searched the man for any form of identification. In his coat pocket, £130 was discovered. This seemed an unusual amount of cash to carry around on the Saddleworth moors, especially due to the fact that he had no wallet to contain it in. An empty medicine box was found in his pocket. It was labelled Thyroxine Sodium and had writing in both Urdu and English on it. With no passport or driving license on him, the man’s identity was a mystery. For the first time in history, Saddleworth Moor appeared to have it’s very own John Doe. When transported to the Royal Oldham Hospital however, morticians affectionately nicknamed him Neil Dovestone, after the place he was found. Sympathy for the sweet old man quickly turned to sadness and intrigue, as the cause of death was revealed. It hadn’t been a heart attack, it was Strychnine poisoning. This particular poison, once used for pest control in the UK, remains a popular poison of choice in Pakistan where it is used to control the feral dog population. Once fatally consumed, the muscles of the animal slowly contract and death is slow and painful. Is this how Neil Dovestone really wanted to die? Did he think of himself as a pest that needed to be wiped out? As is custom with such cases of unidentified bodies, one mystery solved leads to a dozen more questions. Why had this man travelled all the way from Pakistan to commit suicide on a hillside? More importantly, was it actually suicide?

Intricate suicide? Or murder? The Mystery of Neil Dovestone
CCTV of “Neil Dovestone.” Credit: Evening Standard.

After working tirelessly, his identity was unearthed in the oddest way possible. It was noted during autopsy that Neil Dovestone had undergone surgery on his hip at some point in his life. Many surgical plates used in such operations are printed with a specific serial number, purely for the manufacturer’s benefit. Searching the database, investigators were able to find a massive clue: That the plate design was only legal in Pakistan, and that it was fitted in a hospital in Lahore. In January 2017, we could finally put a name to this unidentified face. David Lytton. He was 67-years-old at the time of his death, and was born to Jewish parents as David Lautenberg in London. After a family feud, David changed his surname, lived alone, before unexpectedly moving to Pakistan with a man name Salim Akhtar in 2006. Trying to build the case further, attention turned to David’s family and friends. His brother described him as a “bit of a loner” and his girlfriend of 35 years, Maureen Toogood, recalled how he suffered through “bouts of depression” after she miscarried David’s unborn child. Amateur sleuths on popular forum platform Reddit were keen to examine the bizarre case, focusing on some minor details that could prove important. When he arrived in London two days before his death, Lytton met with his long-time friend, Salim Akhtar. Akhtar dropped him off at a Travelodge in Ealing, where he booked to stay at the hotel for five days paying £307 in cash. For whatever reason, David had stayed in his room for just one night. There is also the question of his plane ticket; He purchased a return. Why would he buy a pricey return ticket, if he had intended on not coming back to Lahore?

Rumours quickly circulated that David Lytton had been a spy. In espionage, an L-pill is given to spies in order to avoid a torturous death should they ever be captured by the enemy. Normally a small capsule containing cyanide is swallowed by an agent resulting in a quick death. For many theorists at the time, this seemed a likely explanation as to what had happened. If David had intended to travel to London for a few days on some sort of secret mission and was compromised by somebody at the airport, then travelling up a cold, wet, hill to kill himself and confuse experts and amateurs alike, seemed like a pretty smart idea to protect his identity as an agent of espionage. Far-fetched as it seems, it is only fair to admit that anything could be possible in this bizarre case. Back in Pakistan, his neighbours recalled an incident that happened just a week before his death. In early December, David had frantically ran into a local travel-agents and demanded a one-way ticket back to London. Unusually, David was unable to speak a word of Urdu, despite having lived in the country for 9 years. Whatever it was, something had panicked the man so much that he wanted to return home, perhaps to safety. It seemed likely that David was either running from something, or someone…

Frustratingly, we still have no definite answers. After the inquest into David Lytton’s death in 2017, the coroner stated that “fundamental questions” remain unsolved and an open verdict was recorded. In other words, despite all the clues to the case, nobody truly knows what happened in the final few days of David Lytton’s life. The case is both frustrating, yet tragic for the immeasurably clever, quiet man, who once had dreams of becoming a psychiatrist. His brother Jeremy, reminisced back to their childhood and stated that David was “not of this century”. Whether he was a victim of his own mind, or of something equally as sinister, remains an open question that can never be answered.

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5 years ago

Really good read. Interesting case I hadn’t heard of. That cctv photograph of him broke my heart… to know shortly afterwards he died. He looked like a cute grandad…

Mazikeen Lebron
5 years ago

omg poor

5 years ago

This made me well up. To think of elderly people committing suicide is heartbreaking. Did he think he had nothing to live for? So sad.

4 years ago

Saddleworth moor is in the North West of England. It is part of Greater Manchester. It is NOT, in any way, part of Yorkshire. Yorkshire is in the North East of England.

3 years ago

I think they should look at who now lives in his London property ! He had a substantial house in London. He seems as if he was groomed and deliberately isolated from his family. He seemed vulnerable and was encouraged to go to Pakistan to live cheaply. I think he had run out of options.

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