"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Case For David Paulides

Wonderwest World in the 1960s, when it was known as Butlin's Ayr

Anyone who has a serious interest in Forteana and/or missing persons cases is probably familiar with the "Missing 411" series written by David Paulides. His books are a compilation of disappearances--largely in national parks--with particularly strange elements to them. The victim vanishes suddenly and very inexplicably. Usually, no trace of them is ever found again. Sometimes, however, the victim is later found dead--often either in areas that had already been carefully searched, or in an inaccessible spot far away from where the person was last seen. The bodies are often found nude, or at least missing their shoes and socks. The cause of death is either "exposure," or impossible to determine. In the rare cases when the person is found alive, they are unable to clearly say what had happened to them. Paulides' books are possibly the most unsettling things I have ever read.

As far as I know, Paulides has not covered the following disappearance, but it fits in the same eerie pattern.

September 17, 1988 was set to be one of the happiest days in the brief life of Stephen McKerron. The five-year-old from Hamilton, Scotland was on a week's holiday in Ayr at the home of his aunt and uncle, Lyn and Ian Sneddon. He was eagerly anticipating his visit to Ayr's Wonderwest World holiday park, a seaside amusement center featuring rides, games, entertainment, and all the other features guaranteed to thrill the heart of any lively little child.

For some three hours, Stephen had the time of his life at the crowded, merry park. And then, suddenly, the unthinkable happened. While the boy was playing on an escalator, the Sneddons--each thinking that the other was watching him--briefly lost sight of Stephen. Although he was only out of their view for a matter of seconds, it was time enough for him to vanish completely. The increasingly frantic Sneddons quickly searched the park, but found no trace of the child. They then went to the park's security team, who in their turn called police.

The hunt for Stephen McKerron was the largest missing-child search in Scotland's history. A six-mile radius around the park was searched by hundreds of officers and volunteers. His description was widely circulated. Divers searched local rivers and water tanks. A special helicopter was brought in that had "heat-seeking" equipment that could detect a body. It all did no good. Stephen appeared to have vanished into dust.

The publicity brought in several alleged "sightings" of the boy. One person claimed to have seen a "distressed" looking Stephen in a Wonderwest World cafe several hours after he went missing. He was in the company of a middle-aged man. Another park visitor said he saw a boy matching Stephen's description climbing Wonderwest World's seven-foot-high fence. A number of motorists believed they had seen Stephen walking alone along the Ayr-Turnberry road about a half-hour after the Sneddons last saw him. Whether those reports were credible or not, they were of little help in finding the child. After a few days had passed, the police admitted that they were "desperate" for leads. The assumption was that Stephen had been kidnapped--he was a happy child with no motive to run away--but that didn't square with the eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen him wandering alone. In any case, where was he?

Stephen's loved ones were left tormented by horrible suspense until over two weeks after he vanished, when their worst fears were realized. On the afternoon of October 2, a woman was walking her dog in open country near her home at Beoch, over six miles from the holiday park. She was stunned to come across the dead body of a little boy. He was lying in a fenced ditch about half-a-mile away from two farmhouses. When police arrived on the scene, they quickly confirmed that Stephen McKerron had finally been found. He was lying just outside of the search area. It was ruled that the child had died of exposure. There was no sign that anyone had harmed him in any way.

Authorities believed that Stephen had walked to the site alone--six miles over some of the most difficult and unappealing countryside in Scotland, full of marshes, hills, gullies, and thick woods. A local described it as "hellish territory." It would have been hard for a strong adult to walk so far through such an area. For a five-year-old, it seemed virtually impossible.

The police came in for a good deal of criticism for not making their search area a wider one.  A department spokesman retorted with "How far do you go?" Law enforcement pointed out that their search area had been based on previous experience, as well as professional estimates on how far the boy could possibly have traveled on foot. What happened to Stephen was, quite simply, beyond anything anyone could have imagined.

The puzzle of Stephen's disappearance and death was, of course, far from solved. His distraught family insisted that he would not, could not, have walked to this remote site on his own. They believed that someone must have abducted the child and then left him in that ditch to die. His father also highlighted the odd fact that when Stephen's body was found, his socks had been removed and were in his pocket. Mr. McKerron pointed out that his son did not know how to tie his shoes. Not only would it have made little sense for Stephen to take off his shoes, remove his socks, and then put his shoes back on, he could not have done it at all. (Of course, it makes no sense that anyone else would do it, either.) The question at the heart of the tragedy--namely, why Stephen would voluntarily leave the park at all--was also impossible to answer.

An official inquiry was held in March 1989 before the local sheriff, Neil Gow. After considering the various theories involving foul play--that someone had kidnapped Stephen and left him in this remote spot to fare for himself, or killed him and then dumped his body in the ditch--Gow ruled that the boy had simply died a strange, but completely natural death. Stephen's "enterprise and stamina" had been "seriously under-estimated by all concerned." The sheriff concluded that, for whatever unknowable reason, the boy had wandered away from the park and continued to hike until he collapsed and died. As far as the authorities were concerned, the case was closed.

"Case closed," however, does not necessarily mean, "Mystery solved."


  1. This may mark me as a candidate for an asylum; but, have you ever thought about the various land spirits of an area? Some people are known to be more sensitive to them and can be put into a vague state of hypnosis in order to follow them. Personally, I don't believe they mean to hurt the beings who follow them, but these beings are of a totally different sort of matter.

  2. The poor little boy. What a sad, unsettling end.

  3. Maybe Bigfoot or some supernatural entity is responsible for this and many other strange national park disappearances over past century. People are trying to find a logical explanation and maybe the answer is something beyond what we can comprehend..

  4. Definitely the same type of case as Mr.Paulides' examples.., and I agree, truly unsettling, (and deeply spooky).., but isn't the "unfamiliar" always "unsettling"..? Bigwill81 makes a very good point.., "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.."

  5. I think removing the socks is a sick joke and signal. It identifies he was taken by these "Aliens" to the higher ups.
    It's clear from research they have an agreement to allow abductions in exchange for alien tech.
    There are far more disturbing cases of full on human abduction and mutilation in remote areas on the UK.
    They are all skilfully hushed up.

  6. Hi Undine, what a fascinating, if truly harrowing, story, the poor, poor lad.

    While some of the more bizarre aspects of the cases in Paulides' books - which I read - may perhaps be explained by paradoxical hypothermia or paradoxical undressing, I am truly puzzled in this case by the detail of the socks, since the boy didn't know how to tie his shoes. Unless he had managed to remove and then put on his shoes again without untying them (but why?).

    I wonder if there has been a follow-up investigation, as since 1988-1989 we have made enormous strides in forensic science?

    Best regards,


    1. Yes, I found the socks to be the strangest single element of this horribly sad story. I can't even guess what it means.

      And no, as far as I can find, the case has unfortunately never been reopened.

    2. The authorities' cover story is part of the mystery

  7. Check great orme north wales for more similar cases

  8. I am far from a conspiracy theorist, but cases like this that are so strange and the police are so fast to say, "Well, that's it, case closed!" makes me think they know more about the case than they are willing to divulge for some reason. Maybe a crime committed by a police relative or something? Just makes me wonder...

  9. This fits exactly with what David has been researching for years now. He has gone thru 4 books detailing cases just as chilling as this little man. Someone or something is taking these people away and there is nothing one can do. The authorities on the other hand tell us only what we want to hear. Praise David for his tenacity and relentless work.

  10. Did the enquiry determine how long Stephen had been lying in the ditch before he was found?

    1. I never came across anything specifying that point. I'm not sure they knew, although his body was considerably decomposed when it was found, suggesting he died not very long after he vanished.

  11. He would probably take the socks off if his feet got wet while traveling over the moor. He slipped the shoes off, then back on since he didn't know how to re-tie them. My brothers and I used to play in a canyon near our home and we never had any difficulty going through rough terrain that would be difficult for me as an adult. Kids can do a lot more than we give them credit for.

  12. I remember my friend, who was a child and was also at Butlins Ayr on holiday at that time, telling me about this case. It clearly had really freaked him out at the time, and stuck in his mind

  13. Is there a folkloric history of "fairy" activity in that vicinity? I.e., the "good people" who had a habit of taking kids and sometimes wreaking mischief and/or havoc.

  14. I grew up in Ayr and know this area well. Beoch Farm is on the other side of Brown Carrick summit from Wonder West World. Here is a google street view from the gates of Wonder West World.
    Beoch Farm is about a mile over the other side of the summit (topped with the radio masts in the Google stree view). The summit is a steep 900-odd feet high - and remember this child came from sea level at the Fun Park).
    I know this very busy road and I cannot concieve of a 5 year old child managing to exit the park, cross the busy A719 coast road, climb Brown Carrick Hill and then fall down dead next to a deserted ditch near a lonely hill farm. All while a full-on Police and public search was going on in THAT VERY area.
    The minor road which climbs Brown Carrick and goes right past Beoch Farm road-end, starts a few hundred yards South of Wonder West World. I have the uncomfortable feeling that this child was driven on that journey out of the park and onto the other quiet side of the hill. Scotland had a child abductor and killer on the loose at that time. He took one poor little victim from an amusemnet park in Portobello. That was in 1983. He wasn't caught until 1990.


    1. Thank you for giving us a visual of the area. I have never been there as I'm not much of a traveler, but just from what you have shown us... I find it highly improbable that he reached that area on his own.


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