There are many legends and myths associated with bridges across the world. They are often said in folklore to be places where spirits become trapped, being unable to cross over and becoming trapped between the physical world and the afterlife. Other legends tell that the souls of those that die by falling from bridges are cursed to haunt them forever. Others say that bridges are gateways for demons. These superstitions have given rise to legends such as the many “Devil’s Bridge” legends around the globe. As significantly dangerous places, bridges have also become the scene of many accidents and human tragedies, with one particular bridge in Scotland linked to more than most.
Overtoun Bridge is a picturesque construction that leads to the 19th century Overtoun House, the manor at a large country estate outside the small West Scotland town of Dumbarton. In 1994, tragedy struck the bridge when 32-year-old Kevin Moy threw his baby son, Eoghan, to his death, he was just two-week-old. Moy, who was suffering from severe mental illness, believed that he was the anti-Christ and his child was the devil. In his delusions, the father thought that a birthmark on his baby’s forehead was the mark of the beast, blamed them both for the Gulf War and feared that they were destined to being about armageddon by unleashing a plague upon mankind.
At trial, the court heard that Moy had been a lab technician until contracting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also called CFS or CFS/ME. Despite suffering from depression, relatives said that he showed no signs of the psychosis that was to come when he visited his wife Eileen and their son following Eoghan’s birth in September. At the time, Moy was staying with his parents as he recuperated from his depression.
However, on the family’s first outing, a sunny day trip to Overtoun Bridge, Moy suddenly dropped the boy to the bank of the river 42ft below. He gave no warning and was “pale and shaking, and his eyes were glazed”. He tried to jump off the bridge himself but was stopped by his distraught wife. Taken to the nearby Overtoun House he again attempted suicide, grabbing a kitchen knife and slashing his wrists. Eoghan died in hospital the next day.
“Over the past few days I came to believe I was the anti-Christ and my son was the devil and the two of us had to be stopped, or something terrible would happen to everyone because of me and my baby. My intention was to finish it.”
Kevin Moy, as quoted in The Herald
All four psychiatrists who spoke at his trial in 1995 agreed that Moy was insane at the time of the murder. He was found not guilty by way of insanity and ordered to be detained at Carstairs Psychiatric Hospital.
“This case either represents evil of such depth that it is beyond comprehension or alternatively it represents an illness which is also beyond the comprehension of ordinary human beings.”
Kevin Drummond QC for the defence
From 2005, reports began to surface online and in the British press of a peculiar phenomenon associated with Overtoun Bridge. That being reports that over 600 dogs had leapt from the bridge into the ravine below. The first known report of the incidents came from an unknown poster at Hidden Glasgow, a forum dedicated to all things Glaswegian. The comment was said to be second-hand knowledge, suggesting a local understanding of the phenomena had already been circulating. From there, the story appeared in The Daily Mail, a tabloid notorious for its low quality, sensationalism and lack of fact-checking. However, while the Mail’s reputation proceeds it, there does seem to be some basis for truth in the story. While the reports only began to surface online relatively recently, some say that cases of dogs leaping from the bridge stretch back sixty years, with one even featuring a dog who jumped and subsequently climbed the ravine to jump off a second time.
The Daily Mail story alleged that 50 dogs had died as victims of whatever ailed Overtoun Bridge over 50 years, adding that five of those cases had happened in the past six months. The dogs involved in the mystery were all described as long-nosed breeds such as Labradors, collies and retrievers. However, with no online reports before 2005, they add no evidence to support their claims. The article featured the testimony of Donna Cooper whose dog Ben leapt from the bridge in 2005, perhaps being the original inspiration for the Hidden Glasgow posting. Donna had been walking across the bridge with her husband and infant son when Ben suddenly leapt over the parapet to his death.
“His paw was broken, his jaw was broken, and his back was broken and badly twisted. The vet decided it wasn’t worth putting him through the pain, so we had to let him go.”
Donna Cooper, Daily Mail
The article would also publish a false allegation about Kevin Moy, Cooper stating that “rumour has it that he was on drugs, but he insisted the place was haunted and it does seem to have a strange effect on people and dogs.” The Mail would push the ghost angle, stating that “rumours have long circulated that the bridge and nearby Overtoun House are haunted”, even consulting a psychic for the piece.
Later retellings of the story weren’t satisfied with 50 dogs having died, alleging that there were 600 cases in all, the other 550 somehow surviving the 50-foot plunge. The absurd Daily Express, noted for publishing all manner of conspiracy theories, prophecies of doom and regular predictions of the return of Jesus, laid the blame for the mystery at the feet of “the apparition of a lonely dowager”.
“When Baron Overtoun, who built the bridge, died in 1908 she was said to have wandered the bridge grief-stricken for years. It is thought by some to be her presence that lingers here.”
Glasgow teacher Paul Owens who wrote a book on the mystery, Daily Express
However, there have been many more scientific suggestions as to the cause of the phenomena. Animal psychologist Dr David Sands investigated the case in Dumbarton and was granted access to a surviving dog, 19-year-old Hendrix. Walking the animal back over the bridge, Hendrix seemed fine until he approached the location of most of the suicides, becoming tense on the right-hand side near the end. The dog was clearly alert but too advanced in age to make any sudden movement. Sands eliminated the possibility that Hendrix had seen anything as there was nothing but stone within eyesight. He concluded that either a sound or smell had caused the alertness in the animal.
Armed with this information, further investigators visited the location, including acoustics and animal habitat experts. The initial suspicion was that perhaps a sound from telephone wires or even the bridge itself might be responsible, with locals questioning activity from the nearby HMNB Clyde nuclear submarine base at Faslane. However, the experts found no evidence that any sound was audible, even by the sensitive hearing of dogs.
Leaving smell as the third and final possible cause of the “suicides”, animal habitat expert David Sexton investigated the undergrowth and discovered mice and mink. Squirrel nests were also found in the structure of the bridge. Sexton performed an experiment to isolate which of the creatues’ scent was attracting the dogs. Using the breeds associated with the deaths, he discovered that 2/10 of the dogs showed no interest in any scent offered, yet 7/10 all went straight for the mink.
Happening on dry and warm days when the rain will have failed to dilute any smell, Sexton and Sands believe that the phenomena is caused by the powerful anal glands of the mink. The creatures were coincidentally introduced to Scotland in the 1920s but only began to breed in large numbers in the 1950s. This was when the “dog suicides” began to be spoken of locally.
“When you get down to a dog’s level, the solid granite of the bridge’s 18-inch thick walls obscures their vision and blocks out all sound. As a result, the one sense not obscured, that of smell, goes into overdrive.”
Dr David Sands, Daily Mail
While the explanation is logical and scientific, many still like to believe that more supernatural forces are at work on the bridge, feeding off those long-held superstitions surrounding bridges and dogs being in better communion with alleged ghosts than human beings. While Overtoun Bridge may not truly be haunted or possessed, the bridge and local surroundings stand at odds with the legends and deaths, being calm and tranquil. Serving as a magnificent example of Scottish craftsmanship and architecture, the bridge and area remains an idyllic corner of Dumbarton that is well worth a visit. However, should readers venture to this picturesque part of Scotland, they would be well advised to leave their dogs at home.