This week's Eye on Millig column tells the first half of a two-part story about the mysterious disappearance of a Rosneath woman 95 years ago.

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ROSNEATH was the starting point of one of the most unusual stories ever of a person’s disappearance. It happened in 1924 — and was never solved.

Margaret Maclaren, wife of Wilfred F.E. de Bois Maclaren, was — to say the least — a colourful and controversial character.

Her husband was the nephew of author, publisher, businessman and major benefactor of the Scouting movement, William Frederick de Bois Maclaren, of Armadale, Clynder.

William bought and presented the Gilwell Park estate near the Epping Forest to his friend Robert Baden-Powell, founder and first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts Association, for use as a scouting centre.

That happened in 1919, and five years later the drama of Mrs Maclaren unfolded.

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The Helensburgh and Gareloch Times reported that she arrived at Rosneath by the noon boat on a Monday.

Instead, however, of proceeding to Armadale, she booked a room at the Ferry Inn, stating that she would probably be staying there until the Friday, when she expected her husband to arrive.

Her luggage, which consisted of a square cardboard hat box and one small bag, bore the labels of a London hotel.

After checking in, Mrs Maclaren, known as Bunty, took a short walk, and it is thought that she placed a wreath on the grave of her husband’s uncle who died on June 3 1921.

She had lunch about 1pm, wrote a number of letters during the afternoon, and called at the Rosneath Post Office where she purchased two postal orders — one for four shillings and the other for seven shillings.

In the evening she said that she felt very tired, and she retired to bed early. Before going she requested that she should not be called in the morning, and she asked for breakfast at 9am.

Mrs Maclaren’s instructions were followed, and it was not until 10am that her room was entered and found to be empty. The main door of the hotel was found open at 6am.

The paper reported that no evidence was found in her room which would lead to any definite theory as to what had become of the missing lady.

Her luggage, said to be brand new, a purse containing some money, and one or two articles of clothing were found.

After some time had been allowed to elapse, relatives and the police were informed. The matter did not become public for several days.

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What added to the mystery of the disappearance was that in the ‘Weekly Scotsman’ of March 1 there appeared the following death notice:

“MACLAREN. — At Rosneath, Dumbartonshire, on February 25th, Bunty, wife of B Maclaren. No flowers by special request.”

However the death notice was not inserted by Mr Maclaren or any other member of the family.

During the early part of the week search parties scoured the Rosneath roads and hillside, and on the Saturday Rosneath Bay was dragged.

But the search was discontinued on the Sunday, and no further local searches took place.

The Times article then moved on to speculate: “In reviewing the happenings of the week, one is struck by the reticence of the police and the general difficulty experienced in getting at the facts.

“The main question is, of course — is Mrs Maclaren alive or dead? The only available clue in this connection is the mysterious death notice which appeared in the ‘Weekly Scotsman’.

“The statement that it was not inserted by Mr Maclaren or any other member of the family has not been denied, and therefore the only conclusion can be that it is the work, either of someone outside the known figures in the case, or of Mrs Maclaren.

“If it was inserted by an outsider, the affair assumes a still more complex nature, but if by Mrs Maclaren, then there is a touch of irony in the whole thing, especially in that ‘No flowers by special request’.

“The date in the death notice is given as Monday 25th. The hotel was closed at 10pm on that Monday night, and Mrs Maclaren, had she had any thoughts of suicide, would have allowed more than two hours to elapse before committing the act.

“This discrepancy between the date in the notice and the date of disappearance would appear to point to some solution other than that of suicide. It may be many years before the final chapter of this story is written.

“It is again improbable that a person intending to take her life would travel from London to Rosneath, eat a good dinner, order a hot bath, get into bed, and afterwards arise in the middle of the night, dress and go out into the February darkness to plunge into icy water.

“Police attention seems also to have turned towards inquiries outside the Gareloch district, a development which implies a sense of the possibility that Mrs Maclaren may be safe.

“They have, it is understood, opened communication with various parts of the country, in the hope that the mystery may be elucidated by the finding of the woman alive and well.

“That is regarded more than ever as a promising line of inquiry.

“It transpires that parties occupying a house near the road at Garelochhead heard light, hurrying footsteps on the road between four and five o’clock on the morning that Mrs Maclaren disappeared.

“She may have walked, it is now pointed out, all the way to Helensburgh, a distance of about 15 miles, in which event her departure from the district might easily escape particular observation when accomplished at such an early hour.”

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A report in the ‘Glasgow Evening News’ then added new dimensions and questions to the mystery.

“Is it possible,” the paper asked, “that Mrs Bunty Maclaren is the same woman as Mrs Helen Vera Maclaren, sentenced to six months imprisonment at Bournemouth for shoplifting in September last and released from Winchester jail a few days earlier?

“London newspapers of Tuesday morning appear to be convinced that there is no doubt about the women being identical, yet the question of ages may well occasion some dubiety.

“The woman sentenced at Bournemouth had a long previous career of crime, beginning in 1901. Mrs B. Maclaren, the Gareloch woman, has all along been described as little over 30 years of age.

“When the Bournemouth case was tried, the culprit’s previous convictions were brought up. The police stated that she was bound over for stealing in Greenwich in 1901, and again, five years later, at Westminster.

“Her first term of imprisonment was at the West Kent Sessions, when she received three months on charges of stealing jewellery. At Hants Quarter Sessions she was given twelve months for stealing jewellery from the Isle of Wight at the very time she had the entrée to exclusive clubs there.

“Mr Maclaren, it is stated, met his wife at Andover whilst she was running a war canteen there and he was stationed at the RAF camp.

“Last year they were living at Ardock, Upper Terrace Road, Bournemouth, when the woman was arrested and charged with stealing a silver bag and a fur coat, as well as clothing. She pleaded guilty

“It was stated that the husband was in complete ignorance of his wife’s past as well as of her habit of stealing.

“She was described to the Bournemouth court by her counsel as a woman with a ‘moral kink’. She has been described as a psychological mystery, as a woman liable to act on irrational impulses, and for whose actions there could be no accounting.

“In 1913 her photograph, purporting to be that of ‘The Hon. Miss Lloyd Mostyn’, who was among the debutants presented at the first Court of the year, was published, but the family repudiated her and declared she had no right to use the name.

“During the war the woman’s better self asserted itself. From managing a war canteen at Andover she rose to be commandant at the Red Cross depot at Devonshire House.

“Charming and well educated, she was immensely popular, and her assistance was widely sought.

“When released from Winchester last Saturday week she seems to have gone straight to London, where she stayed at the Thackeray Hotel.

“Next door, at the Kingsley Hotel, her husband was staying. He saw her and gave her money, but did not join her, and she travelled to Glasgow by the overnight train, probably without his knowledge.

“Stopping for a few hours at the North British Hotel, she wrote some letters — one to her cousin, in which she complained of feeling unwell, and said that if she felt no better she would call in a doctor.

“At Glasgow she bought a wreath, and, proceeding to Rosneath, on Monday morning laid it on the grave of her husband’s uncle.”

The ’Evening News’ reported that Mr Maclaren, the husband of the missing woman, was staying at Armadale, the residence of his aunt, Mrs A.J. Maclaren, whose dead husband left his nephew, Wilfred, and his elder brother Charles, as well as their sister, with sufficient means to allow them to live leisurely lives.

He was educated at Larchfield and in England, and for some time worked with a well-known Glasgow firm, gaining an insight into business methods. He then took a trip around the world, and on his return joined his uncle’s firm, Maclaren & Son Ltd., merchants, in Shoe Lane, London.

It was stated that Wilfred McLaren met his wife while he was an officer in the Flying Corps, and they were married in London towards the end of the war.

The paper added: “The people at Rosneath know little about them, beyond that they stayed at intervals at the aunt’s residence, and at times paid short visits when the family were away from Armadale.

“Mrs Maclaren is spoken of as being a very pleasant young Englishwoman who made friends quickly.”

Quite a cliffhanger — and the plot thickens. Read more next week.