Investigations into the tragic death of Calbourne man Dennis 'Den' Tystrie have swiftly revealed the tortured tale behind what Police are calling the suicide of the bachelor Chief Egg-Grader, writes Hailey Tociss, Crime, Dentistry, Antiques, Coarse Fishing, Short-Wave Radio, Classical Literature, Victorian Engineering, Commodities, Tartan and Cortical Architectonics Correspondent.
Mr Tystrie, 53, who lived alone at Gotten Leaze, Calbourne, near the dark expanse of Brighstone Forest, was a Chief Egg-Grader at egg distributors Cracking Yokes Ltd of Crown Street, Newport. He lived with his mother, Mrs Lizzy Cissie Tystrie, until her accidental death in 1990. Mrs Tystrie died from complications after a bout of food poisoning and a subsequent fall involving a loose stair carpet and a throat wound from a carving knife she was carrying.
Mr Tystrie had been devoted to his mother, but had long nursed secret resentments based on childhood memories, along with a burning desire to become a collector of teeth. He was unable to pursue this hobby actively while his mother was alive, but, when she died, he was left alone in the house, with a spare room, spare time, and a small inheritance.
Over the next 20 years Dennis Tystrie worked as a Chief Egg-Grader and lived quietly at the Gotten Leaze cottage provided at a peppercorn rent by Cracking Yolks Ltd. Those who knew him - he had few close friends but was well-known to his neighbours - knew that he often travelled the island in his spare time, but they believed him to be a keen birdwatcher and archaeologist. What most of them did not realise was that 'Den' Tystrie was amassing a huge collection of false and original teeth, harvested from the corpses of recently-deceased relatives, colleagues, and, in latter years, increasingly from strangers who had lived all over the Isle of Wight.
This bizarre pastime - and more - finally came to light after Dennis Tystrie's corpse was discovered hanging from a beech tree deep within Brighstone Forest yesterday morning by neighbour and herbalist Gussie Firkettle of Rock.
I spoke to Miss Firkettle last night. She was clearly disturbed by her experience but she was able to reveal that Dennis Tystrie had spoken to her at length on Thursday evening in what amounted to a confession.
"I believe now that Den was unburdening himself before the end", Miss Firkettle told me, as we stood by Dennis Tystrie's cottage. The quaint dwelling faces onto the hedged road, but behind the cottage is a bare expanse of scrub leading up to the the mound of Brighstone Down. The Down is cloaked in the dense woodland of the Forest, within which Miss Firkettle made her macabre discovery. I gazed over to the Down and the dark brooding mass of Brighstone Forest, whose trees seemed to advance towards us like a kind of enchanted inanimate army, through the humid and heavy air. All was still. I shivered, though I was warm, and recalled Macbeth's words:
Do come to Dunsinane:' and now a wood
Comes toward Dunsinane.
It was in this sequestered spot - at once remote, beautiful and sinister - that Gussie Firkettle told me her extraordinary tale.
"I was coming back from Calbourne where I'd been putting a salve on the Vicar's pustules - 'I'm a martyr to my pustules, Gussie', Vicar says, 'but you're my salving Saint' - and there was Den at his gate, flagging me down. I was in a hurry but I had to stop or I'd have run him down. He was wearing a tartan cap, bottle-green moleskin trousers, a buff jerkin and brown galoshes. He was carrying the stuffed mongoose, the one he'd started carrying about. He called it 'Bartholomew Whiskers', after a cat he'd had when he was little.
"He said he had to talk to somebody about things that were on his mind. Now that was odd. I don't think I've ever spoke intimate, like, to Den. Nobody has, I guess. He was always quiet, self-contained, you know? But not Thursday he wasn't, oh no."
The warm, stifling breeze stirred the thistles before us. Great bruised clouds were heaped in the sky. To the west, the evening sun shone through a gash like an open wound. Gussie continued.
"He offered me a glass of Wincarnis. Now I was driving, but I'm just down the road, and he wasn't for me saying 'no', so I took a glass with him, and we sat in the back garden. It was a fine night, as you know. I don't like that back garden, looking up at the woods. It's got an atmosphere. Anyway, he told me it all, as we sat. He kept looking at them woods all the time, as if he thought something might be coming out of there, coming for him. That's the way I saw it. It was queer, the woods in the approaching dusk. Big black birds, like crows, flapping above the trees. Owls and things crying. Den looking and listening, anxious-like.
"So it came out as he spoke, and he talked more than I ever heard him speak before. He started with his mother's teeth. This is what he said, I remember every word:
------- 'I started with Mother's teeth. I had always admired them. Towards the end, when I helped her to take her teeth out at night, my hunger and frustration became quite unbearable. I used to go back into the bedroom after she was asleep. I would take the teeth out of the glass of water, and hold them, as Mother snored and her lips made a disgusting noise like a horse.
I would stand there and remember my childhood. How Mother had laughed at me that time I put my tooth under the pillow and waited for the tooth fairy to come. Next morning she had exchanged the tooth for a note, which said:
As I recalled the incident, I was already coveting the teeth I held. Holding her teeth as mother slept gave me a strange, powerful sense of power and freedom. She was buried sans dentures. I had the money. I had her teeth. It had begun.'-------
"Well, I didn't know what to think. He poured some more Wincarnis, and told me how it developed. At first it was one or two relatives, where he was able to get the false teeth before they were buried. But he wanted to expand, like. He said he came up with the idea of blackmailing or bribing some of the undertakers and the mortuary staff. He said he'd been in the Rotary Club and the Masons for a long time and he knew a thing or two about a lot of these folk.
"So they would, like, turn a blind eye, and he'd go in and get the teeth. Dentures were easy, he said, but originals took some extracting. Been doing this for 20 years he said, and he'd had shelving with baffles fitted in his mother's old bedroom, and he stashed his 'collection' as he called it, in there in cotton wool in boxes.
"He'd got them all labelled and that, he said. When he offered to take me upstairs to see them, I knew I'd had enough and I wanted to get away from there, but he got a bit uppity then, and to calm him down I had another glass of Wincarnis with him and he seemed to settle again.
"It was then he said as how he'd had a man bidding for him at this big auction in Norfolk, the one where Churchill's false teeth were up for sale. He felt that he'd gone as far as he could with island folk. He was running out of people to bribe or blackmail. He was feeling cornered, that was it.
"He kept on stroking old 'Bartholomew Whiskers' all the while. The sky was getting dark, like a purple colour over them woods. The owls, well, they were almost human, them cries. 'No wonder he's barmy', I thought, 'stuck out here on his own'.
"And he said, 'I didn't get Churchill's teeth. I was banking on it. They went for £15000. I'm desperate. All my money's gone. I'm finished on this island. I'm walled up, Gussie, walled up. Just me and 'Bartholomew' and the teeth in Mother's bedroom. I was banking on Churchill's teeth. The bugger I sent, criminal from Portsmouth, he's took my money. I don't know what I'm going to do.'
"Well, I says to him there's always a way, and to hang in there, and stuff. I says that he knows where I am and if there's anything I can do. But he just sits there, staring, as if he was staring into a point inside himself that nobody else could see, or looking over at them black woods, scared like.
"Well, I left him to it. I didn't know what to think. And then I found him, this morning. I saw his feet first. The moleskin trousers, the brown galoshes a-dangling there, by the tree trunk."
We stood, as the great dark cloudbank built up over Brighstone Down, and the evening shadows inked the closely packed trunks. Something seemed to be moving, within the massed ranks of the ancient trees. Was it the shifting of shadows? Was it branches, stirred by the sultry wind? Was it wild creatures scuttling in the fathomless deeps?
We will never know. Somehow the mysterious vastness of Brighstone Forest seems to conceal an even deeper and darker mystery, one that is as old as time and almost as sinister. One that seems to have reached out, one Thursday evening in July, and finally claimed the soul of Dennis 'Den' Tystrie.