Mountainside "suicide" baffles investigators in England

Photo: Geoff Widdall

An old man lay by the path on a crag in the cold Peak District December. Dead, with a bottle of pills in his pocket and no identification, "Dovestones" sent investigators the other side of the world in search of answers. Who was he? Why strychnine? Why there?

The last person the man is known to have spoken to was the landlord of The Clarence pub in the village of Greenfield, where many walkers set off from.

He walked in at about 14:00 on the day before his body was found. “He just asked for directions to the top of the mountain,” says Melvin Robinson. “Just the top of the mountain.”

More, from William Atkins at The Guardian:

On 22 February, a routine toxicology report revealed an unusual alkaloid in his system: strychnine. Strychnine has been banned in the UK since 2006, when its only remaining legal use, in the killing of moles, was deemed unduly cruel. “There are very, very few deaths by strychnine poisoning,” Coleman says. “It’s a terrible death.” As a pesticide, it remains available in other countries, including Pakistan, where it is commonly used to cull feral dogs. When the empty thyroxine sodium bottle was analysed, it bore traces of the poison.

By interfering with neurotransmitters that moderate nerve function, strychnine causes muscles to contract uncontrollably. It is partly the violence of its effects that accounts for the poison’s regular appearance in Agatha Christie’s novels. The ultimate cause of death, which does not come quickly, is asphyxiation.

We can’t say for sure that Neil Dovestone knew what the thyroxine sodium bottle contained, or even that he was alone when he died (although alternative scenarios seem farfetched), but it’s fair to say that strychnine would not be the choice of someone who wished to go gently.