Unsolved Scottish mysteries

Many mystery writers use Scotland as the setting for their novels, like The Balmoral Incident and Out of Bounds. Besides the many legends and myths about supernatural creatures, there are plenty of real events that remain unexplained today…

 

Dundee’s mystery hangman

 

Photo courtesy of Dark Dundee (2017)

 

A criminal gang known as the Black Band terrorised Dundee throughout the 1830s with break-ins, robberies and riots. An Irish member, Mark Devlin, was captured in 1835 and sentenced to death by hanging. Unfortunately, Dundee didn’t have a hangman, so they had to call for an executioner from Edinburgh. The executioner failed to show up, so officials were forced to ask for volunteers from the townspeople. The volunteer identified himself as local showman James Livingstone, but requested that he wear a mask during the execution. As it turns out, the real James Livingstone had been 15 miles away, in the town of Forfar, at the time of the incident. Needless to say, James was pretty upset, and gathered several reliable witness accounts to prove it wasn’t him. 180 yeas later, no one knows who hung Mark Devlin.

 

The Great Mull airplane mystery

 

Photo courtesy of Mystery Ink (2016)

In December 1975, former Royal Air Force pilot Peter Gibbs drank whisky and a bottle of bordeaux at a hotel in the small Isle of Mull. Him and his girlfriend left swiftly, announcing to hotel staff that he was going to fly a rented Cessna plane. The staff protested, worried that flying at night after drinking was unsafe, to which Peter responded:

 “I am not asking for permission, I just thought it was courtesy to let you know.”

Upon Peter’s instructions, his girlfriend Felicity remained on the ground and held up two torchlights to guide the airplane as there were no landing lights. He told Felicity that he would land once in Glen Forsa, to prove that night landing was possible, and then return to her after a few minutes. Two hours later, Peter had still not returned, and a 72 hour storm broke loose. Gibbs’ body was not found until 4 months later on a hillside, but apart from a small cut on his leg he had suffered no other injuries. He did not look like a man who had crashed his plane into a hill, nor was there any evidence to suggest his body had been in contact wit sea water. The aircraft was found between Mull and the mainland 11 years later, but the doors were locked and the engine, wheels and wings had been detached, suggesting a serious crash had happened. Many questions remain: why wasn’t his body found during the police search in the first 4 months? Mull is a very small island, making it relatively difficult to completely lose a human (let alone a plane). Why was the plane in such terrible condition, meanwhile Gibbs only suffered a small cut on his leg? Why did he decide to fly that night at all? To this day, the mystery remains unresolved.

 

 

Bluejacket Boy

Photo courtesy of Alistair Munro (2014)

In 1949, a woman found a stamped letter behind her fireplace in the Orkney Islands, although she had no idea how it got there. The letter was dated 1916 and was addressed to Wales, with the sender identifying himself simply as Bluejacket Boy. The intended recipient, John Williams, has been identified as a member of the navy in World War I. In the letter, Bluejacket Boy mentions several family members, and that he sent a handkerchief with a photo of a sailor on it to someone named Ethel.

Photo courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive

 

Decades later, the Orkney library conducted a search on the 1911 Census and were eventually able to uncover the identity of Bluejacket Boy: a man named Dai Phillips, pictured above. Dai’s granddaughter, Minnie, has also been traced and will be collecting the letter from Orkney one day. We still don’t know how the letter ended up behind that fireplace, but at least we finally know who Bluejacket Boy is.

 

 

Bible John & The Barrowland Killings

 

Photo courtesy of Ron McKay (2017)

 

In the late 1960s, three women named Patricia Docker, Jemima McDonald and Helen Puttock were picked up from the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow by an unidentified man, on separate occasions. The women were all raped and strangled with their own stockings. The most unsettling part of the story is that all three women were menstruating at the time of the murders, and their bodies were found with used sanitary towels and tampons near their bodies. The bodies were found in different locations, however they had all been murdered the same way, and gotten their handbags stolen – although their belongings were left by their corpses. Witness accounts allowed police to create a sketch of what they think Bible John might look like, but 50 years later, we still don’t know who was responsible for the rape and murders of the Barrowland Ballroom.