Mar 12, 2023 I Brent Swancer

The Strange and Mysterious Case of Neil Dovestone

Every once in a while there is a strange case concerning a person who just seems to appear from the ether, only to die and leave behind nothing but cryptic clues. Such people populate history, taunting us with their enigmas and never able to be fully understood. One such case is that of a man who appeared one day on the foggy moors of England, springing out of the mist to then turn up dead and leave behind a compelling unsolved mystery. 

At around 2 p.m on December 11th, 2015, an unassuming, smartly dressed elderly man walked out of a cold, misty day into the Clarence Pub in Greenfield, located at a moorland in North West England called Saddleworth Moor, in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park. Something immediately seemed off about him, with his out-of-place appearance, as he was not dressed like the other hikers who frequented the pub, he kept to himself, had no backpack or bag of any kind, and he did not order a drink, not even a glass of water. His eccentric demeanor was made even stranger when he cryptically told the pub landlord, Mel Robinson, that he wanted to “go to the top of the mountain.” Robinson would say of the odd encounter:

It was cold outside, and going dark already. Overcast. It rained all day the day before, and it rained all day the day after. It being the quiet period after lunch, he was sitting at the end of the bar. He got up, but the stranger didn’t want a drink. He wanted to walk to ‘the top of the mountain’. It was unusual, the way he was dressed. He was wearing just a light mac, normal trousers and shirt, and slip-on shoes. The top of the mountain. That was unusual, too. Walkers often come in for directions, but this isn’t mountain country, and the locals don’t use the noun of even the highest escarpments. He didn’t say Indian’s Head, he didn’t say Dovestone reservoir. He just said ‘the top of the mountain’.

Saddleworth Moor

Seeing as it was already getting relatively late in the day and the mysterious stranger was not dressed or equipped for a hike out there in the moorland, Robinson advised against trying that day to go to the summit of the nearby peak at the Chew reservoir, which is what he assumed the man meant. The stranger said nothing to this, merely thanking him and heading out into the cold rain without another word. At the time it was all a bit weird, but Robinson was used to various slightly off-kilter travelers and hikers coming through his doors from all over the place, so at the time he did not think much of it. Little did he know that he would be one of the last people to see the stranger alive. The stranger was seen by two Royal Society for the Protection of Birds staff climbing up the Wimberry Stones, a rock feature known locally as "Indian's Head" overlooking the reservoir, after which he would walk right off into a strange unsolved mystery that has not really been solved to this day.

The next day, at about 10:50 a.m., a passing cyclist stumbled across the man’s dead body near the Chew reservoir, not far from where he had last been seen. The body was lying on its back, with his arms crossed comfortably over his stomach as if he was cloud watching, and by police estimates it seemed he had walked around 2.5 miles (4 km) from the pub, much of it uphill. In his right trouser pocket was £130 in £10 notes, and his coat pocket held three train tickets from the previous morning: a single from Ealing Broadway to London Euston and a return from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, although it was not clear how he had travelled the 11 miles (17km) from Manchester to Greenfield. Also found in a pocket was a medicine box made of card, and within this was an empty bottle of thyroxine sodium, a drug for the treatment of hypothyroidism, with a label printed in both English and Urdu. There was no ID, no wallet, and no cards, keys, phone, watch or driving license, no way at all to identify who he was. There was no sign of a struggle, the body was in a peaceful state, with no visible injuries, and it seemed almost as if he were just taking a nap. It was all pretty odd, and although police suspected he had died of a heart attack no one could figure out who he was or why he had been climbing around on that moor. It would later be found that he had actually died of a lethal dose of strychnine, which made it even odder still. What was going on here?

Police began trying to find out who the man, who was given the placeholder name “Neil Dovestone,” was, but this would prove to be easier said than done. Cross-referencing the man’s DNA against the national criminal intelligence and missing persons databases failed to provide a match, his fingerprints were not on record, and appeals to the public for information went unanswered. It was as if he were a ghost. Unable to figure out who he was, authorities began trying to track his movements in the days leading up to his death. The train tickets and CCTV footage tracked his journey from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston to Ealing Broadway, and at Piccadilly he went back and forth between the station shops for approximately 53 minutes, bought a sandwich, and spent about four minutes at the station information counter, although it is not clear what he was talking about there for so long. He left the station at around 1 p.m. and after this, there is no more CCTV footage and his movements are unknown. It wasn’t much help in determining what was going on or how he had come to arrive in Greenfield at that pub. Who was this guy and where did he come from? No one had a clue.

CCTV iumage of the mysterious stranger

Another perplexing mystery was why he had gone all the way out into that moor to turn up dead. One theory doing the rounds at the time was that Dovestone was actually a man named Stephen Evans, who was a survivor of an airplane crash on the moor in 1949 that had killed 24 of the passengers and crew on board. The idea was that he had for whatever reason come to that moor to pay his respects and to ultimately kill himself there, possibly over survivor’s guilt, but it would turn out that he was not, in fact, Evans because Evans would turn out to be very much alive and well. It was then thought he might be another of the only eight survivors of the crash, Michael Prestwich, aged two at the time of the disaster, but he was found to have died decades before. Another intriguing idea was that he was a spy who had gotten in over his head and been assassinated with the poison. However, why do that all the way out there on the moor? Why would he go out there? In the end, this was all pure speculation with nothing to back it up. 

It was purely by accident that a big lead would be found. It had been discovered during a secondary postmortem that Dovestone had at some point had hip surgery to install a metal plate, but what had been missed at first was that the particular type of plate in this case was only legal in Pakistan. This, plus the bottle with Urdu printed on it, heavily suggested that Dovestone had come to Britain from Pakistan. With this new information, police were able to track the plate down to a hospital in Lahore, and eventually they finally were able to put a name to the body. It was found that “Neil Dovestone” was actually a David Lytton, who was 67-years-old at the time of his death, and was born to Jewish parents as David Lautenberg in London, and in 2006 he had suddenly gone off to live in Pakistan. Now the body had been identified, but this did little to solve the overall mystery, and indeed it offered up even more questions than answers. For one, there could be found no known connection between Lytton and the Saddleworth Moor, no reason at all for him to be there or to want to go there. Then there was his long trip from Pakistan, and when this was added to the other odd clues such as his inappropriate clothing and mysterious death it begged the question- why come all the way from Pakistan to a moor he had no connection with and turn up dead there? 

At this point the main police explanation was that Lytton had committed suicide, and this makes sense in a way because he was found to have been prone to bouts of depression, but there are a lot of problems with this. The most obvious is why would he come all that way to climb up a remote peak in a moor he never been to in clothes completely unsuitable for the environment in order to kill himself? There is also the fact that he died of a fatal dose of strychnine, which is a slow and painful way to die, with death coming by asphyxiation as the muscles spasm and contract uncontrollably, so why would he choose that method of suicide? As a matter of fact, if he had really died an agonizing death by strychnine then why was his body in such a peaceful state as if he had been sleeping? It was also found that he had bought a return ticket to Pakistan while in England, so why do that if you want to off yourself? This was starting to get people talking about the spy theory again, with the idea being that a mission had gone south and he had either been assassinated or had killed himself with what is called an “L-pill,” given to agents to avoid torture or information falling into enemy hands. This could be why he carried no identification and also explain the fact that he had bought a return trip to Lahore, meaning perhaps he was trying to run from someone. Still, why that moor? Indeed, why England at all? If he wanted to kill himself, why not just do it in Pakistan?

In the end there are no real answers. Although we know who "Neil Dovestone" really was, he has truly left a mystery in his wake. What brought him out to that remote moor from faraway Pakistan? How did he end up dead and what is the meaning of all of the weird clues? Just what is going on here? We may never know for sure. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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