On February 21, 1914, two farmers were hunting rabbits in a remote part of Dartmoor National Park when they came across a corpse lain face down atop a waterproof sheet next to a boulder.
The man was young and was wearing inadequate clothing for the wild, desolate moors. The weather had been frosty, with freezing rain and strong winds. He was wearing a light jacket and overcoat, as well as a loosened rubber collar, blue spotted tie, and a Swiss watch. Amongst his possessions were a Dartmoor guide book, £20 in gold coins (roughly £2000 in today’s money), and a cloakroom ticket dated Feb 4th from an Exeter railway station.
When the cloakroom ticket was redeemed by the police, a bag was recovered deposited under the name “Jones.” Inside the bag was a revolver along with 19 rounds of ammunition, a knife, a watch and chain, and a mourning ring inscribed 1817.
The body was identified as 33-year-old William Donaghy, who had gone missing from his home in Liverpool the previous autumn. Though he had been diagnosed with “morbid melancholy,” his relatives and coworkers claimed they never saw any signs of desperation in him. On the 21st of November, William bade his sisters good morning before heading to the Warrington Technical School where he taught science. He was present for his morning classes, but never appeared for his afternoon lessons. The same day James Donaghy, William’s brother, received a brief note that read, “I am going away. Please settle my affairs.” Donaghy was never seen again until his body was found on Dartmoor.
The question of why William disappeared and what he was doing on Dartmoor has never been answered. An autopsy revealed no trace of poison or foul play, and it is believed that William died of hypothermia. Why he left Liverpool with little warning and what he did in the months he was missing remains a mystery. If he intended to take his own life, why would he leave the revolver and knife at the Exeter station? What led him to the boulder at Dartmoor, roughly two miles from any kind of shelter?
Shortly after Donaghy’s funeral in Liverpool, the boulder beside which his body was found was engraved: “IN MEMORY OF — WILLIAM DONAGHY — OF LIVERPOOL — WHO DIED BESIDE THIS STONE FEBRUARY 1914.” There is no record of who ordered the inscription.
To add to the mystery, 20 years after Donaghy’s death another Warrington teacher was discovered dead on a marsh not far from where William was found. He was wearing the same spotted tie and Swiss watch.
Know Before You Go
Park at Postbridge. Follow the Eastern bank of the East Dart river northwards for roughly 2 miles. You will pass Hartland Tor on your right before arriving. The stone is up in some gorse at 364m. You might want to walk with someone.. and don't wear a spotty tie.