'Billy Neville' clue to mystery Dunedin drowning

  • 11/11/2015

She left a note saying she couldn't live without a mysterious drowning victim named Billy Neville, caught a late-night bus to the waterfront and was later found washed up on Dunedin's St Clair beach.

However, a coroner says there is not enough evidence to say 83-year-old Sylvia Neville committed suicide in February last year.

The death has been ruled accidental, in findings released today.

Ms Neville lived alone in a council flat in North Dunedin and her neighbours said she was quiet and private.

On February 25, bus passenger Hannah Morley thought Ms Neville looked out of place on the last service to St Clair when she saw her walking away from the bus stop.

"I thought she seemed out of it. She was staring straight ahead with her mouth open."

Ms Neville's body was found by a jogger washed up on the beach the next morning.

Police later found an undated note pinned to a dress in her flat. One side said "To wear in my coffin" and the other had a crossed out message "I can't live without you, Billy".

Ms Neville was born Sylvia Entwistle, changed her name to Johnstone when she married in 1961.

She suffered health problems and had spent time at Dunedin's Cherry Farm Psychiatric Hospital.

In 2013 she changed her name by deed poll to Neville.

Ms Neville had spoken to friends about moving to Dunedin to marry "Billy Neville" but that he had drowned at sea three years earlier.

However, police couldn't find anyone by that name or any records of a Billy Neville drowning in or near Dunedin.

"Sylvia Neville may have been planning to replicate his death," coroner David Crerar said.

However, he was not satisfied – to the standard of proof necessary – to say she committed suicide.

The notes could have indicated she was planning to take her own life, but because she was in poor health she may have also been wanting to put her affairs in order, Mr Crerar said.

It was possible she fell from steps and was knocked over by the incoming tide.