THE MYSTERY MAN
They say fact is stranger than fiction and in the case of mystery man Lynn Dello, it’s certainly true.
The story of the Irish man with Dundalk roots who changed his identity on joining the British Army, fell in love and married an English woman, and her search to trace his roots after his untimely death has all the ingredients of a block buster novel. Then there’s the sad tale of the Dundalk mother and brother who went to their graves not knowing what had happened to the young man who had simply disappeared after going to England. Add to that the chance connection between the widow and a retired fireman turned genealogist which led to years of searching before the Lynn Dello’s true identity was revealed.
Juile Hewitson was swept off her feet by the young man she met at a dance in Bournemouth.
‘It was October 1960 and he had just finished his basic training with the army. He was a really, really nice fellow,’ she recalls. ‘He was very gentlemanly and we hid it off straight away.’
‘He told me he was Lynn Dello and I remember saying ‘what a lovely name.’
At the end of the night, she wrote her address on his hand with lipstick as she hadn’t a pen, and on the Monday morning, there was a letter in the post.
Romance blossomed and they got married in April 1961. ‘We travelled to army bases all over Europe and Britain and had a lovely life together.’
Their son Chris was born in Germany in 1977 and Julie was widowed when her husband died suddenly in 1981.
‘Our little boy was just a few weeks over four years of age and I devoted my life to bringing him up with the help of my Mum.’
She then got interested in tracing her family routes, and while she could go back generations on her own side, she realised that she knew very little about her husband’s family.
‘I started thinking about Chris’ Irish connections and how it would be nice to find some cousins for him.’
She got out the box of letters which her husband had sent her and began to read through them.
‘He had never talked much about his childhood, other saying he was raised in Dundalk and fostered by a family called McCann and had three foster brothers. I had never pushed him about his family as I though he had been uphappy growing up and didn’t want to talk about it.’
She found a letter from Lynn saying that his foster father had died in 1960 and began searching for any Dello or McCann relatives.
‘I went to the Births and Deaths Registry office in Dublin and there were no matching records for Dello or McCann,’ she recalls. ‘I wrote to twenty-two McCanns in Dundalk but no one had heard of him.’
She set up a website looking for information about her late husband, got Simone Foster (nee McEvoy), Julie Dello and Jim Kerley. Below a photo of the deceased Lynn Dello.
in touch with local newspapers and went on the Gerry Kelly show on LMFM Radio.
After the interview Gerry mentioned that he knew someone who might be able to help her, as he had recently spoken to Dundalk man Jim Kerley who had retired after 35 years as a fire fighter and was now pursuing genealogy as a hobby.
Jim began the search with determination of a terrier hunting down a rabbit, following every lead.
‘Larry O’Hagan put up posts on the Dundalk Northend and Friends Facebook page, so we got lots of people willing to help out,’ he says.
With the dedication of an Agatha Christie detective, Jim poured through old records, looking at birth and death certificates which might yield a clue.
He began looking at McCann families or families who had fostered children.
‘Often it was a very sensitive business as we were asking people if their grandmother or grandfather had a child outside of marriage,’ he says.
‘People were very helpful but a lot of the information led to false leads.’
One suggestion was that Lynn Dello could have been a singer or musician but that too proved a dead end.
The setting up of DNA databases for those searching their family ancestry proved crucial in solving the mystery
Julie and Chris were both tested and slowly Jim began building up common links for Chris which could all be traced back to north Louth.
‘ The big break through came last November when a chap in Australia got his DNA tested and proved the closest relative,’ says Jim. ‘Peter Hendry was born in Scotland but his moth-
er was Mary McCann who was born on the Armagh Road, and her mother was a Catherine McEvoy from Barleyfield.’
Jim then began building up a family tree and decided it was time to reach out to positive relatives living in Dundalk.
‘ There were a number I could have got in touch with but luckily enough, one of the first was Simone Foster, nee McEvoy. ‘As soon as I told her the story, she said knew who I was looking for, that she had been looking for her granduncle for years.’
However, the man she was looking for wasn’t called Lynn Dello but Leo McEvoy.
Simone showed Jim a photo of her granduncle Leo as best man at her grandfather Jimmy’s wedding, and as soon as he saw it, he knew the search was over. ‘We had found our man.’
Together with Julie, they began putting the pieces of Lynn Dello’s story together.
Born in Stanley, Co Durham, to Irish immigrants Michael McEvoy from Dundalk and Alice McColgan, from Tyrone, Leo McEvoy was the youngest of a family of two boys and a girl. Julie remembers, he spoke with a soft Irish accent which he had inherited from his parents.
He did compulsory national service in the British air force in the 1950s, and spent time in Dundalk in the late ‘fifties.
After an unsuccessful attempt to join the British air force - he was turned down on medical grounds due to problems with his knee, he then decided to join the Army. However, as his previous application to the forces had been rejected, he feared his medical records would be pulled up and he would be turned down, despite the fact that the requirements weren’t as stringent.
And that was when he invented Lynn Dello. In the absence of a birth certificate, he made a sworn affidavit saying he was born in 1935 on board a ship travelling from Spain to Cork, that his mother had died in child birth and his father was unknown.
Why he picked the name Lynn Dello remains a mystery but parts of the story he told Julie were inspired by his time spent visiting relatives in Dundalk, where there are still cousins living today.
‘ This is actually quite common as people who make up stories often base them on reality,’ explains Jim. ‘He had cousins called McCann who had fostered children.’
He feels that once Leo had told Julie that he was Lynn Dello, there was no turning back. ‘If he told her the next time he met her that he hadn’t been truthful, she would probably have walked away.’
In tracking down Leo’s family in Dundalk, Jim also discovered that Leo’s grandfather, James McEvoy, is believed to be the world’s first victim of a car bomb as he was killed when Frank Aiken’s men exploded a lorry at Francis Street during the Civil War in August 1922.