An ancient land with a rich and vibrant culture, Scotland is known for its outstanding landscapes, beautiful people, and storied past with a penchant for the dark and disturbing. It’s also the country that was home to the infamous grave robbers Burke and Hare, which has consequently made tourist attractions out of the creepy criminals. Scotland definitely has a twisted history that’s full of mysteries.
From unsolved murders to mysterious disappearances to serial killers who have never been caught, Scotland is a country that’s full of dark twists and turns. Let’s dive in and find out more—if you dare!
10 The Mystery Hangman of Dundee
You have to have a distinct kind of morbid curiosity to want to be a hangman, but in the 19th century, hangings were all the rage in Scotland, but not in the city of Dundee. Following the Jacobite rebellions and the mass executions, no one in Dundee wanted to hold the post of hangman. Understandable, right?
So from 1745 until 1835, Dundee did not have a hangman. That changed with the arrival of a troublesome gang called the Black Band, who were terrorizing the city. Eventually, one of the gang members, Mark Devlin, was captured and subsequently sentenced to death by hanging. The problem was that they needed the hangman to come all the way from Edinburgh.
With just hours to go and no sign of the professional hangman, the city decided to ask the locals for volunteers. One such man agreed, but under the proviso that he could wear a mask to conceal his identity. To this day, no one knows who hung Mark Devlin, but we know it was a morbid Dundee local who knew how much being a hangman would affect his reputation.
9 The Madeleine Smith Case
As history has repeatedly told us, forward-thinking and caring women are often treated horrifically. An aristocrat’s daughter, Madeleine Smith, decided to follow her heart and have an affair with an apprentice nurseryman named Pierre Emile L’Angelier. Oh, to be 20 again.
Obviously, her parents weren’t thrilled about the match. Instead, they set Madeleine up with a wealthy suitor. When she tried to break things off with L’Angelier, he threatened to publish some of the 250 letters she’d written to him and go to the press. With her family’s reputation, that was clearly not an option.
Following this, L’Angelier curiously and mysteriously died of arsenic poisoning. The police obviously found the letters and saw that Madeleine had recently bought arsenic and put two and two together. Cut to a scathing and popular trial that questioned a woman’s moral integrity more than it looked for evidence of a murder. As a result, there was not enough evidence to convict, but the damage was done, and Madeleine had to relocate to London. It’s tough being a woman!
8 The Murder of Marion Gilchrist
Prejudice is rife throughout history, and Scotland is no exception. After a well-known spinster named Marion Gilchrist was bludgeoned to death with a hammer by a home invader in 1909, there was a huge miscarriage of justice with a Jewish immigrant, Oscar Slater, being convicted.
As a neighbor interrupted the burglary, the killer only got away with a brooch. Later, Slater pawned a brooch and had a ticket to New York, and this was all the evidence that the biased judicial system needed at the time. He was supposed to be sentenced to death, which was later commuted to a life sentence.
There was a huge uproar about the case, with famous novelist Arthur Conan Doyle publishing a pamphlet about the lack of evidence. Slater was released almost 20 years later and given £6,000 in compensation. The creepiest part? The real murderer was never found.
7 Who Killed the Red Fox?
In another case of miscarried justice, the identity of the killer of the Red Fox, actually named Colin Campbell of Glenure, has remained a mystery for centuries. To be frank, Campbell was not popular. The whole clan was assumed to be doing the bidding of the English and were tax enforcers for other clans.
It was rumored that on the day of his death, Colin was about to kick a few Stewart families off their land and replace them with his Campbell brethren. However, he was shot and killed before that could happen. Within two days, the leader of the Stewart clan, James of the Glen, was arrested and tried for murder.
In what was the most biased jury of all time—predominantly made up of Campbell family members and presided by the chief of the clan—inevitably, James of the Glen was executed. However, it was clear that he was not the murderer. To this day, although it’s been rumored that it was the work of younger Stewart clan members, nothing has been verified.
6 The Mrs. MacRae Mystery
Fast forwarding through Scottish history to 1976, we have the Mrs. MacRae mystery. As the longest-running missing person’s case in Britain, it’s been a huge question mark for almost 50 years.
On her way to see her sister in Inverness, Mrs. MacRae and her son, Andrew, seemingly crashed their car. This has never been confirmed as the case but assumed by a passing bus driver who saw the car on fire. The bizarre and spooky thing? There’s been no sign of Andrew or Mrs. MacRae ever since—dead or alive!
William McDowell, Mrs/McRae’s alleged married lover, has long denied any involvement in the disappearance. He was eventually arrested for the murder of the mother and son in 2019; his trial was held in 2022. He was found guilty, although the defense argues that there was no evidence of a murder and that his client was not guilty.
5 The Fairy Coffins
What’s creepier than a stack of hidden tiny coffins in the hillside? Add in the mystery of not knowing who did it, why they’re there, or what they represent, and you start to get the spooky vibes associated with Edinburgh’s Fairy Coffins.
In 1836, a few boys were exploring the famous Arthur’s Seat hill in Edinburgh when they found 17 tiny coffins with little wooden figures in them hidden behind some slate. Although there wasn’t a ton of interest initially—in fact, they only sold the lot of them for £4—they’ve now been sold onto the National Museum of Scotland, where the conspiracies and mysteries are alive and well. Was it for witchcraft? Was it a ritual? Was it a message to do with Burke and Hare? Who knows.
4 Bible John
This list would not be complete without a serial killer, and Bible John became legendary in Glasgow in the 1960s. Stalking around the popular Barrowland Club, Bible John took to raping and strangling girls with their own tights.
Where did the name come from? Well, some witnesses claimed that he read bible passages, specifically from the Old Testament, to his victims as he attacked them. Creepier still is the fact the identity of Bible John is still a mystery, and justice has not yet been served.
3 The Lost 9th Legion
It’s no secret that there is a long and bloody history of war in Scotland, especially against England. In around AD 100–190, when the Roman Empire took over what was then known as Britannia, the emperor Augustus sought to also take control of Caledonia to the North––which was essentially what we now know as Scotland.
To complete this ambitious task, he sent the Ninth Legion to Caledonia to fight the clans. The Ninth Legion had been successful all across the empire, so confidence was high. However, the entire legion seemingly disappeared from all records. Being 2000 years ago, this might seem unsurprising, but the Romans were meticulous in keeping track of their military units.
The assumption is that they were annihilated in such an embarrassing display that no one wanted to commit it to the history book. It’s also rumored to be the fuel behind building Hadrian’s Wall.
2 The Flannan Isles Lighthouse’s Missing Keepers
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one lighthouse keeper may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. The Flannan Isles actually ended up losing three, for which Wilde had no response. This habit of missing lighthouse keepers has become a spooky legend throughout Scotland.
In the 1900s, all three lighthouse keepers who worked on a rotation system disappeared without a trace. A fourth lighthouse keeper was set to join them and was sailing across on the Hesperus. On closer inspection, they could see that no preparations had been done—that being the main job of a lighthouse keeper. Upon arrival, none of the three men could be found anywhere on the island and have never been seen since.
1 The Aberdeen Harbor Arm
A washed-up limb, a missing teenager, and a huge mystery to unravel. It sounds like the start of a Scandi-noir drama, but it was actually the real-life story of Elizabeth “Betty” Hadden from Aberdeen in 1945. After hearing a bloodcurdling scream on December 12, an arm was found in Aberdeen Harbor.
They deduced it was Betty’s arm and had been sawed off with a knife, but the murderer still remains a mystery. The leads were so cold that they got local girls to volunteer to scream in different areas of the city to work out where the attack may have happened. Alas, Betty’s remains were never found, and her killer was never brought to justice.