IN this penultimate part of my series on Scottish mysteries, I am writing about two disturbing cases that have baffled the police and public alike for decades.

I consider them to be two of the greatest Scottish mysteries of the 20th century. Neither has been totally resolved, although the intervention of the BBC has shed at least some light on what might have happened in one case.

As always in this series, I merely report the facts as known. While any mystery invites speculation, I leave it to the readers to draw their own conclusions. Later in this column,

I will be giving details that might upset some so please bear that in mind.

I will devote the latter part to the case of the Unknown Bairn of Tayport but first of all I will deal with the infamous 1938 case of the Headless Man of the Cairngorms.

At various times, the discovery of a body on the hillside of Ben Avon has been treated as a missing person case but also as a murder and it certainly caused a massive hue and cry in the late 1930s.

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It has always been known as “the Headless Man mystery” but that is actually something of a misnomer because part of the skull of the dead man was actually found a short distance from the body.

Technically speaking, though, the dead gentleman was headless, and he really was a gentleman, smartly dressed as if going to town on business. The body was found in September 1938 by a deer stalker working on the Invercauld Estate, ancient home of Clan Farquharson.

The location was quite far off the beaten track – at least 10 miles from the nearest road – so the first conclusion among local people was that the man had got lost or taken a wrong turn and died of exposure or hypothermia in that bleak area of Scotland where temperatures can plummet even on a summer’s day.

So far, so possibly explicable, but Aberdeenshire County detectives were summonsed and that’s when the mystery really began. Apart from his clothing, in which they found a bus ticket for a coach tour by an Aberdeen company – significantly dated March 14, 1938, some six months previously – there was nothing to identify the dead man.

He had a smart hat, his shoes were polished and he had a briefcase in which there were a pair of pyjamas, shirt collars and a razor. In other words, he was equipped for a night or two away from home, but not for hillwalking.

He carried no documentation at all, and his skull had been ravaged by wild animals so that facial recognition was impossible. The detectives theorised that it was something like a fox which had decapitated the man. The police examination concluded that the body had been there for some months, but it bore no sign of foul play.

There were no reports of any missing city gent in Aberdeen or elsewhere in Scotland. Appeals for information from the public drew a blank, and of course in 1938 there was no such thing as DNA testing, though it could be concluded he was not a criminal as there was no police record of his fingerprints.

In the absence of any evidence as to the man’s identity, and with no-one coming forward to claim the body, there was nothing for the police to do but to report to the procurator fiscal that the headless man could not be identified and was unlikely ever to be so.

That proved to be the case as the Headless Man remains unidentified despite a thorough re-examination of the case in a BBC documentary some years ago. The reporters did add some details to the knowledge of the case and some previously unseen police photographs were broadcast but not enough was averred to say that the mystery had been solved.

Documentary producer Angus Mackay said: “It’s an amazing mystery. Just how did a man dressed for the city come to die so far from civilisation?

“He was definitely not a hillwalker and the items in his briefcase were what a man would take with him for an overnight stay in a hotel. But no-one was ever reported missing from any hotels. There are so many unanswered questions.”

There have been repeated accounts of the Headless Man’s story, and a recent BBC podcast did the tale justice but no possible identity could be found. After 85 years, I doubt we will ever know the Headless Man’s name or how he died. That’s not the case with today’s second mystery.

The case of the Unknown Bairn found dead on Tayport Beach was a tragedy that shocked Scotland in 1971 and more than 50 years later, the mystery still remains as to who the boy was and how he met his end.

The BBC claimed to have solved the puzzle last year, but is not releasing the name as the boy’s mother is still alive.

Even if his name is known and his family has been identified, there is still a huge mystery from yesteryear to be solved – how did he die and how did his body come to be found on Tayport beach, across the Tay from Dundee?

Postman Ian Robertson was walking along the beach in north Fife with his five-year-old son Neil on May 23, 1971, when he noticed something floating in the shallow water. They approached and at first sight looked like a doll.

As they got closer, Robertson could see that it was the dead body of a young child. Sending his son home, he quickly raised the alarm. His first theory was that the child had fallen overboard from a passing vessel out to sea in the Firth of Tay but no report of a lost child was ever made.

Police officers raced to the scene and an investigation was soon under way which would eventually be led by the most senior CID officers in Fife Constabulary.

A post-mortem examination ascertained that the boy had been between two and four years old. He was approximately 2ft 9in tall and was not malnourished. There were no signs of foul play but the body had been in the water for up to two months, so any such indications of criminality would probably have been removed by decomposition.

Police later revealed details of what he had been wearing when found – a cotton long-sleeved shirt lined with fleece and decorated in blue oval and rectangular shapes, and a blue short-sleeved shirt with a pocket on the lower left side with “Achilles size 3” on its tab.

Most annoying for investigating officers was that the features on the boy’s face had eroded away due to contact with rocks.

Again it was strictly a missing person case, but the fear the body had been callously disposed of incited the police to greatly increase their efforts to find out what had happened. Most of the detectives involved were convinced they were looking at a murder.

Appeals were made to the public for information and there was a great outpouring of sympathy for the Unknown Bairn, as he quickly came to be called.

A fund was organised to pay for a proper burial and headstone for him, and donations came from all over Britain so that the cost of £350 was soon exceeded and the Royal Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children benefitted to the tune of £330.

The procurator fiscal, having approved a burial as there was no evidence of foul play – had there been so, the body would have been retained in a mortuary for further examination – the Unknown Bairn was laid to rest in Tayport Cemetery with a local Kirk minister, the Rev George Edington, conducting the service.

Ian Robertson was one of the first to lay flowers on the grave, a tradition that has carried on with local people placing floral tributes on the anniversary of the Unknown Bairn being found. Robertson died in 2007 and was buried beside the Bairn at his request.

With a local stonemason providing his services free of charge, a headstone was installed which stated: “Erected by the People of Scotland in memory of ‘The Unknown Bairn’ a wee boy between 2 and 4 years found on the beach at Tayport on May 23, 1971. Suffer little children to come unto me.”

Beneath that poignant verse from the New Testament is a space which was intended to be filled by the name of the Bairn if ever it was discovered.

Fife Police insisted the inquiry continues and suspicion fell upon the travelling community after two Travellers, a man and a woman, were overheard discussing her missing bairn on a bus. Both were said to be under the influence of alcohol, and the man was reported to have said something like, “shut up or you’ll get us both the jail”.

They were taken in for questioning after the effects of alcohol had worn off but it was quickly proved that her child was missing because it had been removed by the social services and they were released.

Police at the time recorded that Travellers did not come forward with any evidence about the Unknown Bairn, but that was a common attitude among the community given the problems they had with the police.

One possible breakthrough came months after the discovery of the boy when an Aberdeen-based trawler reported finding two toys in its catches made in the North Sea off the Firth of Tay. But there was no evidence to link them to the Unknown Bairn and the chances of those toys belonging to the Bairn must have been one in a million.

A spokesman for Fife CID at the time said: “The fact that there is any connection is purely speculation, but our file on this case will never be closed.”

The case indeed remains open but the trail went cold and although there would be frequent press stories about the Bairn for many years after 1971, usually on the anniversary of him being found, there was no revelation of any more facts – until 2018, when Bob Beveridge, a former policeman who had worked on the case, claimed that it was indeed linked to Travellers, and that he had a possible name for the Bairn.

Beveridge said: “At the time, travelling people were known to have been in the vicinity.

Today, forensic evidence – DNA – would be possible but at that time, it fell short of evidence, and the parents will be long gone now.

“I’m quite sure I know the identity of the child but it would be a shame to have him identified now because, you know something, every year, and sometimes from all corners of the world, people will come and have a special service for the Unknown Bairn on the anniversary.”

Last year a BBC podcast series called The Cruelty highlighted the case and the persecution suffered by the travelling community. What gives its verdict considerable veracity is that the investigation was led by Davie Donaldson, himself of Traveller origin.

He went deep into the archives and questioned many travelling people, and the podcast put together probable relatives of the child.

It’s well worth a listen and for me it does help solve some of the mystery – but not how the Unknown Bairn died.