Bible John is the nickname of a serial killer who is believed to have murdered three young women after meeting them at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, Scotland, between 1968 and 1969. The killer has never been identified although the known movements and modus operandi of convicted Glaswegian serial killer Peter Tobin suggests that he may have been behind the killings. However, this has never been proven and the case remains unsolved.
On 23 February 1968, the naked body of a 25-year-old nurse, Patricia Docker, was found by a man on his way to work in a lane behind Carmichael Place, Glasgow. The lane was only yards from her home in Langside Place. She had been raped and strangled. The previous night, she had told her parents that she was going out dancing at a nearby club, the Majestic Ballroom in Hope Street. Patricia had, in fact, gone to the Barrowland Ballroom for the over-25s night. It transpired that at some point during the night, Docker left the Majestic and ended up at the Barrowlands where it is thought she met her killer. It was several days after her murder that the police found out that she had actually gone to the Barrowlands. Focusing their investigation on the Majestic cost the police valuable time. Pat’s handbag and clothes were missing and despite months of investigation, neither were ever found.
On Friday, 15 August 1969, mother of three, Jemima McDonald, 32, also went for a night out at the Barrowland Ballroom. The next day Jemima’s sister Margaret heard rumours in the area that young children were seen leaving an old tenement building in MacKeith Street talking about “the body.” By the Monday morning, Margaret was so concerned that she herself, fearing the worst, went to the old building where she found Jemima’s battered body. She had been strangled, raped and beaten to death. Unlike Patricia Docker, Jemima was fully clothed when her body was found. Witnesses said that they had seen her leaving the club at midnight with a tall, slim young man with red hair. Police conducted door-to-door enquiries at the time and found a woman who remembered hearing screams coming from the same building in MacKeith Street, although she could not vouch for the time. Police considered the information of little use and the investigation was later wound down.
On 31 October 1969, 29-year-old Helen Puttock was found murdered in Earl Street in Scotstoun. She had also been to the Barrowland Ballroom on the night she was murdered; she had gone there with her sister, Jean, and had met two men called John. One said he was from Castlemilk while the other did not disclose where he was from. After being in their company for well over an hour, they left to head home. Castlemilk John walked to George Square to get a bus, while Helen, Jean and the killer hailed a taxi. They set off from Glasgow Cross and made a westward journey heading to Knightswood where Jean lived. It was during this journey that most of the crucial information about the killer became apparent. More significant were the conversations in the taxi that would later be used to create a psychological profile of the killer. Jean told detectives that he was a well-spoken man who quoted from the Bible. It was this information that led to the killer being given the nickname “Bible John” by the media. After dropping off Jean at Knightswood, the taxi then continued to Earl Street in Scotstoun where Helen lived. The next morning, Helen’s battered body was found in the back garden of her flat in Earl Street. She had been raped and strangled. The contents of her handbag had been scattered nearby but the actual bag was missing. It has been suggested that the killer took the bag as a trophy. Grass stains on Helen’s feet indicated that there had been a struggle in which Helen probably tried to escape her killer. She also had a deep bite mark on her leg.
The suspect was described by Helen’s sister Jean as being a well-dressed young man, tall, slim and with reddish/fair hair, and described as being polite and well-spoken. She said the stranger had given his name as “John Templeton” or “Sempleson” and that he had frequently quoted from the Bible during the taxi ride home. He was reported to have said: “I don’t drink at Hogmanay, I pray”, to have referred to Moses, and to his father’s belief that dancehalls were “dens of iniquity”. He was aged between 25 and 30, and approximately 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall.
Although Helen’s sister Jean said that the man was “slim, tall with reddish/fair hair”, the bouncers at the Barrowland Ballroom dismissed this description and said that the man Helen had left with was “short, well-spoken and had jet black hair”. Police at the time considered this to be a more reliable description as Jean was drunk the night of the murder and they had already discovered that the killer had not been quoting directly from the Bible, but had been referring to it. However, Jean attests to her sober state during the taxi ride with her sister and Bible John and a bouncer later stated that those who worked at the Barrowland Ballroom were not good with faces. The last possible sighting of the man was of a well-dressed young man matching Jean’s description, in a dishevelled state with possible scratch marks on his face, getting off a bus at Gray Street at Sauchiehall Street around 1:30 am. He was last seen heading towards the public ferry to cross the River Clyde to the south side of the city.
Each murder had common similarities which gave the police no doubts that the murders were the work of the same man. All victims had met their killer at the Barrowland Ballroom. Their handbags were missing. They were all strangled with their stockings and raped. All three were escorted home by the killer and murdered within yards of their doorstep, all had been menstruating at the time and all three had sanitary napkins or tampons placed on or near the bodies.
The investigation into the murder of Patricia Docker in 1968 went cold as police had little information, owing to a lack of witnesses. Eighteen months later, after the discovery of Jemima McDonald’s body, the police soon became aware of “similarities” to the first murder. They realised they were looking for a double murderer; and for the first time in a Scottish murder hunt, using eyewitness accounts, the press were given an Identikit picture of the man Jemima had left with. Two months later following the murder of Helen Puttock, police interviewed Puttock’s sister Jean, who became the key witness of the investigation. Jean remembered many of the details that have become part of the legend of Bible John: such as him calling the women “adulterous,” a hole in one at golf that he claimed his cousin had scored, and even overlapping teeth. However more importantly it was the man’s references to the bible that led to Evening Times journalist John Quinn coining the phrase “Bible John”. Furthermore, an additional Identikit of a red-haired man was painted using the testimony of Jean that became one of the most famous portraits in Scotland. Detective Joe Beattie asked the public to study the Identikit closely in case it resembled anyone they knew. As a result, more than 1000 suspects had been quizzed and cleared.
The police made a determined effort to hunt for the killer, now nicknamed “Bible John”, but although a number of suspects were questioned, no arrests were ever made, and no further victims have been attributed to him. The hunt for Bible John was Scotland’s biggest manhunt. More than 100 detectives worked on the case and over 50,000 statements were taken in door-to-door enquiries. In order to track down the killer, fearing that he would strike again, a team of 16 detectives were instructed to mingle with dancers at the Barrowland and other ballrooms in the city. In particular they frequented the Barrowland on Thursday and Saturday nights for the over-25s nights, where each victim was said to have been charmed by the killer. Despite the huge manhunt, there were no further developments and the case went cold. Many felt that he had died, been jailed, was in a mental hospital or that the police knew who he was but could not prove anything, or that he was still at large killing. It was speculated that he moved away and was living in the south of England. It was known that serial killer Peter Tobin (see below) who lived in Glasgow in the late 1960s moved regularly between Scotland and the South of England, a crucial factor in allowing him to remain beyond the reaches of the police. He would then live in Brighton permanently for 20 years from the late 1960s.
In 1983, a man claimed to have frequented the Barrowland Ballroom with the suspect and confirmed that he knew the killer. The man said that he grew up with the killer in Cranhill in the east end of Glasgow. Apparently he had read an article in the Evening Times five years previously and suddenly realised that his friend was Bible John. The alleged suspect was traced living in the Netherlands, married to a Dutch woman. Nothing more was ever heard from the man or the reputed suspect.
In 1996, police exhumed the body of John Irvine McInnes, the cousin of one of the original suspects, from a graveyard in Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire. McInnes, who had served in the Scots Guards, had committed suicide aged 41 in 1980. He was found in a pool of blood after slashing his brachial artery in his upper arm. According to a psychiatrist at the time, this unusual type of suicide was akin to psychopathy and he could have taken his own life in search of the “ultimate thrill”. Police ran a DNA test and compared it with semen found on Helen Puttock’s tights and announced it to be inconclusive. Lord Mackay, then the Lord Advocate, said there was not enough evidence to link the murders with McInnes.
In 2004, police announced they were to DNA test a number of men in a further attempt to solve the case. This followed the discovery of an 80% match to a DNA sample taken at the site of a minor crime two years earlier. The sample was enough of a match to lead officers to believe that the person who committed the offence was related to the killer.
Peter Tobin links
The 4 May 2007 conviction of Peter Tobin for the murder of student Angelika Kluk led to speculation that he is Bible John. This thesis was spearheaded by Professor David Wilson, an expert in criminal behaviour, who was struck by two key aspects of Kluk’s murder. Tobin was already in his 60s when the murder was committed, which is unusually late to start a killing career; and the fact that he attacked with such violence, then hid the body and ran away to London did not suggest the work of an amateur. There are striking parallels between Bible John and Peter Tobin. All three of Tobin’s former wives gave accounts of being imprisoned, throttled, raped and beaten by him. There are strong similarities between photographs of Tobin when aged in his 20s and the photo fit artist’s impression of Bible John. Tobin had moved from Glasgow in 1969 after marrying his first wife, whom he had met at the Barrowland ballroom the same year as Bible John’s known killings ended. It is alleged by his former wives that Tobin is driven to violence by the menstrual cycle, something which has long been suspected as the motive behind the Bible John murders. Additionally, Tobin was a Roman Catholic with strong religious views. Former detective Joe Jackson, who investigated the murders in the 1960s, said he suspected Tobin the moment he was arrested for Kluk’s murder in 2006. He said: “When I saw his photograph, I thought, ‘This is as near to Bible John as you are going to get. This looks a winner.’ He fitted the bill in every way and he had connections with religion.”
As a result of Operation Anagram (a police investigation started in 2006 to trace the movements and life of Tobin), a woman said she had been raped by Tobin after she had met him at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow in 1968, around the time of the Bible John killings. More than 40 years later, the woman said that her “legs gave way” when she recognised a magazine picture of a young Tobin and came forward after an appeal by the Crimewatch television programme in December 2009. Another woman also came forward in 2010 who claimed to have had a threatening experience at the Barrowland Ballroom. She said that Tobin introduced himself as Peter and pestered her to go with him to a party in the city’s Castlemilk area. When she recently saw pictures of a young Tobin, she said: “It was the man who came up to me so many years ago in Barrowlands. I am 100 per cent certain Tobin is Bible John.”
It is not universally accepted that the three killings were the work of the same person. It has been claimed that the gap of 18 months between the first two killings is unusual with serial killers, the later two may have been copycat killings, and the police may even have hampered their own investigation by prematurely jumping to the conclusion that they were the work of the same person.
Professor Wilson has stated that the 18-month gap is not unusual following a serial killer’s first murder; Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, did not strike again for nine years after his first killing. Wilson investigated the case for three years and believes the available evidence supports that Peter Tobin is Bible John. He has stated that the moment he believed Tobin was Bible John occurred during Tobin’s trial for the 1991 murder of Dinah McNicol. He compared the witness statements from McNicol’s accomplice David Tremlett with Helen Puttock’s sister McLachlan. Both witnesses emphasized the killer’s propensity to project a socially superior persona; that he was a “cut above everyone else”. Wilson is so sure that Tobin is Bible John, he states “I didn’t set out to prove Tobin was Bible John but I would stake my professional reputation on it.” Furthermore, Wilson states that Jean McLachlan’s assertion that “Bible John” gave his surname as Templeton or Sempleson is uncannily coincidental as one of the pseudonyms used by Tobin was John Semple. However, when discussing her sister’s killer many decades later, Jean dismissed Peter Tobin as Bible John stating emphatically that this was not the man she shared the taxi with.
In September 2010, the only witness ever to have come face to face with Bible John, Jean McLachlan, died aged 74, marking the end of the hunt for the killer. McLachlan, who shared a taxi with the mystery killer and her sister Helen Puttock, gave police the description used in the artist’s impression, which remains the biggest clue to his appearance more than 40 years later. Although DNA had been used to rule out a previous suspect, detectives believe a DNA link to Tobin is unlikely because of deterioration of the samples through poor storage.