It was one of the strangest stories of 2015. Who was the middle-aged man who asked for directions in a pub near Oldham, climbed a nearby peak called Indian’s Head on Saddleworth Moor, then calmly lay down and swallowed a fatal dose of strychnine? His body was discovered a day later and police were initially baffled. The man carried no identification or mobile phone, so all they had to go on was his appearance and the clothes he had been wearing at the time of his death.
They traced his journey back to Piccadilly train-station in Manchester, where CCTV revealed that he had eaten some sandwiches – his last meal. CCTV also revealed him disembarking from a train that had travelled up from London. But that’s where the trail went cold. Who was he? Why had he committed suicide in such an unusual way? It wasn’t going to be easy to find out, but there were some clues. The strychnine he had swallowed had come from Pakistan, where it is still commonly used as a rat-poison and can be purchased over the counter.
Another clue pointing in the same direction was a titanium plate in the man’s left leg. It was stamped with the name of a medical firm based in Pakistan. The man was white, but it looked as though he had lived in Pakistan for some time. Slowly these and other clues were followed up and now the mystery had been solved. Or part of it, at least.
The man was a British citizen in his late sixties called David Lytton. He had been born in London in 1948 to Jewish parents, Hyman and Sylvia Lautenburger, but changed his surname in 1986. Perhaps that change of name was an early sign that he was trying to escape from his past. He had been a clever student when he was young, seemingly destined for a good degree and then a successful career in psychiatry or medicine. He took the first step towards that career, attending university in Leeds to study psychology and sociology, but he never finished the course.
He was moving towards the reclusive that was fully apparent by the time he reached middle age. He took a job as a driver on the London Underground, saying that he liked working by himself. He lived in London for three decades and one day he came to the assistance of a young woman called Maureen Toogood who had collapsed in the street. They became lovers and when Toogood fell pregnant, they were both delighted and eager to see the birth of their first child.
But she suffered a miscarriage. At the coroner’s inquest held into David Lytton’s death once his identity was established, she said that he had never recovered from this loss. Their relationship continued, but in 2006 Lytton suddenly vanished from her life. He had left not just London but the UK, travelling to Pakistan with a friend of his called Salim Akhtar. He seems to have lived in Pakistan for nearly a decade, but he never established permanent rights of residence and got into trouble several times with the Pakistani authorities for overstaying his visa.
At least twice he even jailed for it. That can’t have been a pleasant experience and may explain why, with visa trouble looming again, he left Pakistan in a hurry at the end of 2015. He flew back to London on a one-way ticket and met his friend Salim Akhtar, who thought he was ready to resume life in the UK. But renewed life wasn’t on his mind. A day later, he took a train to Manchester, climbed that peak on Saddleworth Moor, and swallowed that fatal dose of strychnine.
We know who he was now, but a lot of questions remain. Why did he feel the need to die? He must have made his decision in Pakistan, because that’s where he purchased the strychnine. And why did he choose that particular spot? He had no known connections with Manchester or with the moors. But perhaps that’s precisely why he chose to travel there. He may have hoped that he would never be identified. He certainly ensured that identification wouldn’t be easy. It’s a sad and strange story, one of hopes unfulfilled and despair finally triumphant, but the diligence of the police and the loving memories of his family and friends are patches of light amid the darkness.