Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Dovestone Man

On the 12th of December 2015 a passing mountain cyclist found the dead body of a man beside a track high up in the Peak District. He was lying parallel to the road, flat on his back with his legs straight together and his arms across his chest. He was wearing ordinary clothes, including a light jacket and slip-on shoes. The area is popular with hikers, but they have to wear proper boots and warm clothing, especially in the winter. The mountain rescue team at fist assumed he had got lost and died of exposure or exhaustion the night before. When Detective Sergeant John Colman of Greater Manchester Police investigated, he expected the case to be a standard one of a body turning up; a sadly common duty for a policeman. However he soon realized that this death was far from ordinary. The man had no possessions in his pockets except for about a hundred and thirty pounds in cash and some train tickets. Bodies can normally be identified from ID, bank cards, mobile phones or door keys etc, but this man had none of those. He was aged from approximately sixty-five to seventy-five years old and was tall and slim, about six-foot-one in height; but nobody had reported anybody missing answering that description. They circulated an artist's impression of his face in the local area, but could not find anybody who knew him. Nevertheless somebody did recognize him; the landlord of a local pub, The Clarence, came forward and told the police that the mysterious man had called at the pub the afternoon before his body was found and asked the way to "the top of the mountain". The pub is located in Greenfield, Greater Manchester at the foot of the path up onto the Dovestone Peak. The barman gave him directions, but warned him that it was too late to attempt the climb before nightfall and that he was inappropriately equipped; the man thanked him and left. The train tickets were vital clues to trace his journey. He purchased a single ticket at 9.04 AM at Ealing Broadway Underground in London to Euston in central London. There he caught a national railway train to Manchester Piccadilly where he arrived at 12.07 PM. He can be seen on CCTV wandering around the station shops and amusements. He bought a sandwich at M&S and then went to the information desk to ask the way to a taxi rank. He didn't leave the station until 1 PM. He headed into the city on foot and never caught a taxi. After that there is an hour of missing time in which nobody knows where he was. This I find hard to believe seeing as Manchester is almost as rife with CCTV cameras as London; I was there myself a couple of weeks ago. I know somebody who was tracked all the way by CCTV in his car from there to Oldham simply due to a minor public order offence. I wonder how in the case of a mysterious death more information is not available. All that has been publicly released is that one hour later at 2 PM the man entered the pub in Greenfield to ask directions. Two hours later at 4 PM two ramblers passed him on the track up to Dovestone but did not speak to him. By now it was after sunset and everybody should heading down the track not up it. These were the last people known to have seen the man alive. The next morning his body was found in Chew Valley, a local beauty spot in the Dovestone area.

When I went to Manchester the other week my coach travelled through the Peak District. It's just a twenty-minute drive from the metropolis, yet feels a million miles away. The road ascends sharply into another world. It looks very bleak and primeval; huge bare hills of moss and heather, not so much as a tree in sight. Even in the 21st century human encroachment is almost non-existent. The Chew Valley is a part of Saddleworth Moor, a place whose name still generates a sinister echo as it is the location where unspeakable acts of torture and murder were carried out on children by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in the early 1960's. The resting place of one of their young victims, Keith Bennett, remains unknown to this day, see: It seems somehow appropriate as a setting for dark acts of mystery. The enigmatic elderly man who died there last December has still not been traced at the time of writing. The police went to Ealing in London where his last journey began and made enquiries, but nobody who lives and works there seemed to know him. The man was picked up on CCTV at Ealing Broadway and does appear unfamiliar with the area. He wandered about aimlessly for a while like he did in Manchester. Did he come to Ealing from his home somewhere else? The mystery deepened yet further when his body was given a post-mortem. The man had died of strychnine poisoning. There was a medicine bottle near the body filled with strychnine pellets and it is thought that the man had brought them with him and swallowed them, making it a suicide. This is a highly unusual form of suicide though. Strychnine is used as a rat poison but is banned in the UK. The bottle was made in Pakistan where strychnine is still permitted. Death by strychnine poisoning is very unpleasant; the toxin causes agonizing convulsions and it's rare for people to use this as a suicide method. What's more, the man had bought a return ticket on the train; why had he done that if he intended to kill himself? There was another intriguing link to Pakistan; the man had had surgery. At some point about two years before he died, the man suffered a major fracture of the thigh and he was operated on to mend the cracked femur with a titanium plate. The plate had an identifying number on it indicating that it had been made and used in Pakistan. The man himself is racially Euro-Caucasoid and the landlord of The Clarence did not report any foreign accent in his speech. Therefore we can assume he spoke with a pure British English accent so he himself was probably from this country. So what was he doing in Pakistan? If he lived there it might explain how nobody in Ealing knew him. Yet a white British man living in Pakistan should stand out. The police hope to find out who he by asking the Pakistani police to help them find his medical records. At the time of writing this has not yet been accomplished, see: This is not the first time bodies have turned up that have not been identified, but it is still extremely rare; there are just forty-two identifications currently pending in Britain. I've written about several of them before. In 1975 one such incident happened in Oxford, where I live, see here from 35.48: In Australia there was an even more curious death, "Somerton Man"; this remains unsolved even though it happened long ago, 1948, see: In the case of "Dovestone Man", the answers may yet come. He might have been living abroad and travelled to the UK to kill himself for reasons only known to the deceased. If so he must have abandoned or destroyed his travel documents and passport. What about CCTV at the airports? He might have been a loner with no close family, as some old people sadly are. However, if the police enquiries continue to draw a blank, we might have to consider the conspiratorial angle, or even the paranormal one.

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