The Body on the Moor: Neil Dovestone, A Modern Case of Strychnine Poisoning
This week, the BBC Magazine is running a series of reports on the case of Neil Dovestone. This isn't his real name: Neil Dovestone is a John Doe, his identity remains unknown to the police, despite months of police investigation and media coverage.
If you're not familiar with Neil's case, here are the details. On the morning of December 11 2015, Neil Dovestone, an elderly man of between 65 and 75 years old, took the 10 am train from London's Euston Station to Manchester Piccadilly. Arriving just after midday, Neil spent 53 minutes perusing the shops at the station before travelling to Saddleworth Moor in Oldham. Here, Neil went into the Clarence pub and asked the landlord for directions to "the mountains" - though he did not specify a particular place. The landlord then took him to the door of the pub and directed him towards the Dovestone Reservoir (hence the name of this John Doe). Neil then left the pub, heading in that direction, and was not seen again until just after 3 pm. According to the witness, he was halfway up the Indian's Head, a 1500 ft peak. This the last confirmed sighting of Neil.
At 10:50 am the next morning, a cyclist was riding up the Indian's Head when he spotted Neil's body and called the emergency services. Neil was lying on his back with his arms by his side, prompting the cyclist to think that he had died of a heart attack. When the emergency services arrived, they found the following things on Neil's person:
Neil had no identification on his person, not even a wallet.
After the discovery of the body, a toxicology report showed that natural causes were not responsible for Neil's death: he had, in fact, died after taking a lethal dose of strychnine which readers of this blog will know is one of the deadliest substances known to man and was banned in the UK in 2006. Traces of the poison were also found on the empty bottle of thyroxine sodium in Neil's coat.
This case is both tragic and fascinating. It is so sad that nobody has come forward and identified Neil and that nobody can explain why he travelled over 200 miles to Saddleworth Moor to take his own life, a place synonymous with the crimes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. All of the police enquiries and public appeals have (thus far) drawn a blank. That being said, nobody can say definitively that Neil wasn't murdered. There is not enough evidence to say either way. Knowing what I know about strychnine, I find it hard to accept that anybody would willingly use it to commit suicide. Anybody of sound mind, anyway. Death by strychnine is an agonising process, as I learned through my research into Christiana Edmunds, and it is an extremely uncommon cause of death in the 21st century.
Here's an artist's sketch of Neil because someone out there might recognise him. You just never know.
Image courtesy of The Independent. Follow the case using #bodyonthemoor