The Two Disappearances of Ian Hamilton

The Stone of Destiny

Soldier. Activist. Lawyer. Rector. Scottish nationalist Ian Hamilton has worn all of these hats throughout his notorious career. Hamilton distinguished himself as one of those flitting gadflies who always shows up in the middle of some outlandish controversy.

Two episodes in his colorful life have attained legendary status: a pair of sensationalistic disappearances, both of which have links to the British government.

Hamilton embarked upon his first epic caper while he was still in college.
On Christmas Eve 1950, Hamilton, along with three other student Scottish nationalists, removed the Stone of Destiny from its place under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, London. Originally used for the coronation of Scottish monarchs, the Stone had been removed to England by Edward I in 1296 to bolster his claim to the throne of Scotland. After the Acts of Union 1707 between Scotland and England, it was used for the coronation of British monarchs. As such, Hamilton's action in returning the Stone to Scotland was applauded as a symbolic triumph for Scottish nationalism. The Stone was turned over to the Church of Scotland, which surrendered it to English authorities in April 1951. Hamilton and his accomplices were charged, but never prosecuted. The Stone was eventually returned to Scotland in 1996, with provision for subsequent use in the coronation of British monarchs.
Not only did Hamilton help pull off the historic heist, he did it in the grand style of classic crime films.
Ian Hamilton placed the small piece of Stone in the boot of the car and got into the passenger seat. As he did this, Kay Matheson noticed a policeman in the gaslight; Hamilton and Matheson immediately fell into a lovers' clinch.The policeman stopped and the three proceeded to have a conversation even though it was 5 A.M.Having shared some jokes and a cigarette, Matheson and Hamilton drove off to Victoria, Hamilton getting out on the way to walk back to the Abbey.
To be honest, the old pretending-to-make-out trick never struck me as realistic, but Hamilton was enough of a Chad to make it work.

But the Stone of Destiny's theft from Westminster Abbey wasn't the only high-profile disappearance Hamilton has involved with.

Much like Hamilton, Peter Gibbs was another character who could have stepped from the pages of a postwar British spy novel. A war hero and professional violinist who turned to real estate after a row with the conductor of the London Symphony got him sacked, Gibbs retained his love of flying after the war. It was while scouting locations to build a hotel in the Hebrides that he and his plane mysteriously vanished.

OK, that's not entirely true. Gibbs was flying in a snowstorm at night on an expired license with more than a few drinks in him, so his and the plane's disappearance isn't that mysterious. What is deeply strange are the circumstances under which Gibbs was found.
In April 1976, 4 months after the disappearance, Gibbs' body was discovered by a local shepherd, Donald MacKinnon. The body was found lying partway up a remote hillside about a mile from Glenforsa Airfield. The initial search for Gibbs had passed through this area at the time of the disappearance, but nothing had been found at that time.
The body was found lying across a fallen larch tree 400 ft up the hillside, not far from the road. Due to decomposition the only thing holding the body together was the clothing. The body was facing due north in a direction that indicated that Gibbs was walking down hill. The police had to cut a branch off the tree to remove the body.
The body was taken to Glasgow for the post-mortem. Gibbs' remains gave no clues to his cause of death.Only minor injuries were found and there was nothing to indicate a fall from a plane or any evidence that he died in another place and was left on the tree. According to the pathologists’ report the condition of the body was ‘entirely consistent with lying out there for a period of four months’. Forensic tests detected no salt or marine organisms in Gibbs' clothing or boots.In the absence of any other evidence, Gibbs' death was noted down by the pathologist as being due to exposure.
It gets weirder. The plane was equipped with a radio, but no distress call was sent. It carried no parachutes, yet Gibbs had no injuries consistent with jumping unaided from a plane. It's surmised that he may have bailed out over the ocean, swum ashore, and died of hypothermia while walking back to his hotel. But the lack of any sign that his body had been in the water, coupled with the failure of a trained athlete to recreate the fifty-four-year-old's conjectural feat, casts doubt on that explanation.

Bedtime Stories have done their usual sterling work on the story. Give it a watch!

Something else I bent the truth on: It wasn't his own plane that Gibbs took on his death flight.

The plane Gibbs flew that night--and which has never conclusively been found--belonged to Ian Hamilton.

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  1. Very, very strange.

    Thanks for this Brian. These are always my favorites. I remember being young with lots of time on my hands and reading Fortean Times all the time.

    Now I just rely on these tidbits.

  2. Athletic and WhitesplosiveApril 23, 2020 at 9:34 AM

    I wonder whther Pallides has ever commented on if this fits the missing 411 profile?

    And the old "pretending to makeout" being unrealistic I think is one of the peculiar effects of media whereby something that really happens becomes so over-used that it is regarded as a ridiculous trope. I suspect something similar happened to shouting "What's that behind you?!?"; that had to have worked more than a few times.

    1. I immediately thought of Paulides while researching this case. Apparently, the Great Mull Air Mystery is well-known in England but rather obscure in the States--kind of like Jonathan Ross.

    2. Pallides talked about it in one of his youtube videos a few months ago...can't remember if it was on his main channel or one of his podcast appearances.