Scottish officials are searching for the missing bones of a woman who was accused of witchcraft in 18th-century Scotland and buried under a large stone slab, possibly out of fear she would return to haunt the living.
In 1704, in Torryburn on the southwest Fife coast of Scotland, Lilias Adie died in prison, having been accused of being a witch.
Her accuser had been out drinking and felt delirious, and naturally assumed her neighbor, Adie, must have summoned Satan himself to cast a spell on her. Adie, believed to be in her 60s, was held in prison and interrogated for her "crimes", where she was forced to confess, including publicly stating that she had sex with the devil.
In prison, she was likely subjected to torture before she finally "admitted" to the accusations. Piecing together records from her accusers, it appears that during the interrogation she showed an enormous feat of courage and mental strength, and refused to name any other "witches", instead inventing details of ceremonies involving masked women, rather than subject anyone else to the same torture she went through.
"I think she was a very clever and inventive person. The point of the interrogation and its cruelties was to get names," historian Louise Yeoman said back in 2017, when researchers from the University of Dundee reconstructed her face from photographs of her skull.
"Lilias said that she couldn't give the names of other women at the witches' gatherings as they were masked like gentlewomen. She only gave names which were already known and kept up coming up with good reasons for not identifying other women for this horrendous treatment – despite the fact it would probably mean there was no let-up for her."
Before she could be strangled and burned at the stake, as around 1,500 women were during Scottish witch trials between 1590 and the final execution in 1706, it is likely that she died by suicide in prison. She was buried in the mud between the high and low tide mark under a heavy flat stone. The burial supports the theory that her death was suicide, as there was superstition at the time that people who died in this way could come back to torment the living. Placing a stone over her was likely in order to prevent her from being able to return.
Over a century after her death, some locals dug up her bones and claimed her skull, which they then sold on to buyers. Her head briefly ended up at St Andrew's University Museum where it was photographed in 1904, before it went missing once more.
The local government in Fife is now launching a campaign to track down her remains so that she can finally respectfully be laid to rest.
“Lilias is not forgotten, she has never been forgotten," West Fife and Coastal Villages councilor Kate Stewart told Scottish newsite The Courier. “We need to get her back. This has been a great injustice and we need to reverse that.”
“It’s important to recognize that Lilias Adie and the thousands of other men and women accused of witchcraft in early modern Scotland were not the evil people history has portrayed them to be, but were the innocent victims of unenlightened times," she added.
“It’s time we recognized the injustice served upon them."