WARNING MAY CONTAIN SENSITIVE INFORMATION.
Bible John is an unidentified serial killer who is believed to have murdered three young women between 1968 and 1969 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Each of the victims of Bible John were young brunette women between the ages of 25 and 32, and all had met their murderer at the Barrowland Ballroom: a dance hall and music venue in the city. The perpetrator has never been identified and the case remains both unsolved and also one of the most extensive manhunts in Scottish criminal history.
The murders committed by Bible John would prove to be the first time in Scotland in which the Crown Office authorised the publication of a composite drawing of an individual suspected of murder for public viewing.
This unidentified serial killer became known as “Bible John” due to his having repeatedly quoted from the Bible and to have condemned any form of adultery while in the company of his final victim. The known movements and modus operandi of convicted serial killer and rapist Peter Tobin have given rise to suspicions that he may be Bible John.
Extensive door-to-door inquiries in the area produced a witness who recalled hearing a female scream, “Leave me alone!” the previous evening. Little hard evidence was discovered at the crime scene. Nonetheless, an ambulanceman who retrieved the body informed investigators the victim had been a nurse who worked at Mearnskirk Hospital in nearby Renfrewshire. Consequently, the victim was formally identified by her father the following day.
Docker was a married mother of one but estranged from her husband. The night of her murder, she informed her parents she would spend the evening dancing at the Majestic Ballroom in nearby Hope Street, although for unknown reasons, she had chosen to spend the majority of the evening at the Barrowland Ballroom, likely to attend the over-25s night which the venue hosted each Thursday. When she failed to return home that evening, her parents assumed she had spent the night with a friend. Police inquiries would only determine several days later that in the late evening, Docker had left the Majestic Ballroom to attend the Barrowland, where she had likely encountered her killer.
A postmortem conducted by Gilbert Forbes at the University of Glasgow Medical School confirmed that the cause of death had been strangulation, and that Docker’s body bore no clear evidence of sexual assault. Furthermore, the stage of rigor mortis upon her body at the time of discovery indicated she had likely died shortly after she had left the Barrowland Ballroom. Investigators surmised the perpetrator had likely grabbed Docker before repeatedly punching her and kicking her in the face as she twice screamed, “Leave me alone!” He had then proceeded to rape Docker before strangling her to death, and leaving her naked body, with nothing but one shoe nearby, close to the doorway of the lock-up garage at Carmichael Place.
On Saturday, 16 August 1969, a 32-year-old mother of three named Jemima McDonald also opted to attend the Barrowland Ballroom to spend the evening dancing. McDonald was a regular attendee of the Barrowland, and as per family custom, her sister, Margaret O’Brien, took care of her three children in her absence. As midnight approached, McDonald was seen by several people in the company of a young, well-dressed and well-spoken man of slim build aged between 25 and 35 and between 6 ft 0 in and 6 ft 2 in (180 and 190 cm) in height. This individual had short, dark brown hair with fair streaks, likely spoke with a distinctive Glaswegian accent, and occasionally inserted brief biblical quotations into his conversation.
McDonald was seen leaving the Barrowland shortly after midnight on 17 August in the company of this individual, and was last seen walking towards either Main Street or Landressy Street, in the direction of her home, at approximately 12:40 a.m. O’Brien became concerned when her sister failed to return home. Later the same day, she began hearing local rumours that young children had been seen leaving a derelict tenement building in MacKeith Street discussing a body in the premises. By the Monday morning, O’Brien was so concerned that she herself, fearing the worst, walked into the old building. There she discovered her own sister’s extensively battered body lying face down, with her shoes and stockings lying beside her.
A postmortem concluded McDonald had been raped and extensively beaten, particularly about the face, before she had been strangled to death with one of her own stockings. Her murder had occurred approximately thirty hours before her body had been discovered. Unlike Docker, the body of McDonald was fully clothed, although her underclothing had been torn, and like Docker, she had been menstruating at the time of her death.
Police inquiries into McDonald’s movements on the night of her murder produced several eyewitnesses who were able to accurately describe the man with whom she had been in the company of at the Barrowland. Door-to-door inquiries on MacKeith Street also produced a woman who remembered hearing female screams on the evening of McDonald’s murder, although this individual could not recall the precise time. Consequently, police considered this information of little use to their inquiry.
Although the City of Glasgow Police noted several striking similarities between the murders of Docker and McDonald, including that both women had attended the Barrowland Ballroom on the evening of their murder, been beaten before being strangled to death with a ligature, were menstruating, and had their handbags taken from the crime scene, initially both murders were not considered to be the work of the same perpetrator.
Despite extensive public appeals, the investigation into the murder of Docker had quickly become a cold case. Police had little information, owing to both a lack of witnesses and hard evidence. The investigation had also been severely hindered by investigators discovering three days after her death that Docker had attended the Barrowland on the evening of her murder. Eighteen months later, following the discovery of McDonald, police became aware of remarkable similarities to the murder of Docker. Although police did not conclusively link both murders to the same perpetrator, they could not completely discount this theory. In addition, police were certain the perpetrator(s) held a high degree of local geographical knowledge. However, they may have been a stranger to the district, as none of the eyewitnesses with whom investigators conversed directly knew the man or men seen in the company of either woman prior to her murder.
The Barrowland Ballroom, seen here in 2011. Each of the women murdered are believed to have encountered Bible John at this dance hall.
For the first time in a Scottish murder hunt, a composite drawing of the man with whom Jemima had last been seen alive was given to the press, being widely distributed via both newspapers and upon television throughout Scotland in efforts to identify the suspect. Moreover, both male and female undercover police officers performed discreet surveillance at the Barrowland Ballroom in efforts to identify the suspect. Police surveillance at the Barrowland Ballroom would be terminated in late October 1969 due to the initiative failing to produce any suspects. Detectives were also blamed by proprietors for a sharp decrease in attendance figures.
On 31 October 1969, a man walking his dog discovered the body of 29-year-old Helen Puttock behind a tenement in the Scotstoun district of Glasgow. Her body was found beside a drainpipe in the back garden of her Earl Street flat. She had been stripped partially naked, extensively beaten about the face before being raped, then strangled to death with one of her own stockings. The contents of her handbag had been scattered close to her body, although the handbag itself was missing from the crime scene. Grass and weed stains upon the soles of Helen’s feet and shoes indicated that she had engaged in a ferocious struggle with her killer. She had evidently at one point attempted to scale a nearby railway embankment. Her body also bore a deep bite mark on her upper right thigh. As had been the case with the two previous victims, Helen had been menstruating at the time of her murder. Her murderer had placed her sanitary towel beneath her left arm.
The evening prior to her murder, Helen and her sister, Jean Langford, had been to the Barrowland Ballroom, where both had become acquainted with men named John. One of these individuals had said he worked as a slater who resided in Castlemilk, while the other individual had been a well-spoken man who did not disclose where he actually lived. After being in the company of these two individuals for in excess of an hour, all four left the Barrowland to head home. The individual named John who had been Jean’s dance partner walked to George Square to board a bus, while Jean, Helen, and the individual who had been Helen’s dance partner hailed a taxi. The trio set off from Glasgow Cross, making a 20-minute westward journey toward Jean’s Knightswood residence. There she exited the taxi, which then continued towards Helen’s Scotstoun residence. During conversations between the trio upon this journey, most of the crucial information pertaining to the killer’s psychological profile became apparent.
Jean later informed detectives that her sister’s companion had been a teetotal individual who repeatedly quoted from the Old Testament stories of Moses during the time she and her sister had conversed with him in the taxi. He had also referred to the Barrowland as an “adulterous den of iniquity”, and of his disapproval of married women visiting the premises as the quartet had retrieved their coats at the end of the evening. She had herself alighted the taxi at Kelso Street, before viewing the taxi turn towards Earl Street.
The suspect was described by Helen’s sister Jean as being a tall, slim and well-dressed young man with reddish or fair hair rounded neatly at the back, aged between 25 and 30, and approximately 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) in height. This individual had given his name as either “John Templeton”, “John Sempleson”, or “John Emerson”, and he had been a polite and well-spoken individual, having frequently quoted from the Old Testament during the trio’s taxi ride home, although he had indicated he was neither a Catholic nor Protestant individual. Jean would also state to investigators it had become increasingly clear to her as the trio had ridden in the taxi that this individual had considered her presence in the vehicle to be an inconvenience. At one point during this ride, this individual had explained to the women the reason he refrained from consuming alcohol was due to his being conditioned so by a strict parental attitude, before adding: “I don’t drink at Hogmanay; I pray.” He had also alluded to his father’s belief that dance halls were “dens of iniquity”, with any married woman who frequented these premises being “adulterous” by nature.
Although Jean Langford had informed detectives that the man accompanying Helen had been a “slim, tall” individual who had been dressed in a well-cut brown Reid and Taylor brand suit who smoked Embassy cigarettes, she also recalled this individual mentioning that he had been familiar with several drinking premises in the Yoker district of Glasgow, and that he had at one stage worked in a laboratory. She would also recall distinct facial features of this man, such as his having overlapping front teeth. (Bouncers at the Barrowland Ballroom dismissed much of this description, claiming that the man in Helen’s company had been a short and well-spoken individual with black hair.)
The last possible sighting of the suspect was made by both the driver and conductor upon a night service bus, who noticed a young man matching Jean’s description alighting a bus at the junction of Dumbarton Road and Gray Street at approximately 2:00 a.m. on 31 October. He was in a notably disheveled state, with mud stains on his jacket and a livid red mark on his cheek just beneath one eye. Both witnesses also recalled his repeatedly tucking a short cuff of one sleeve into his jacket sleeve (a man’s cuff link had been found alongside the body of Helen Puttock). This individual was last seen walking towards the public ferry to cross the River Clyde to the south side of the city.
Link to series
The murder of Helen Puttock held remarkable similarities to the two previous murders, further raising suspicions that all three murders had been committed by the same individual. All of the victims had been mothers of at least one child and had met her murderer at the Barrowland Ballroom. The handbag of each woman was missing. Each victim had been strangled to death; and at least two of these women had been raped prior to her murder. In addition, the three women had been escorted home by her killer and murdered within yards of their doorstep, and all had been menstruating at the time of her death. Each had had her sanitary towel or tampon placed upon, beneath, or near her body, leading to speculation that the women had been murdered for their refusal to engage in intercourse with their murderer excused by their periods.
“It is quite incredible that this man has eluded us. I am positive this man comes from Glasgow or nearby. He is between 25 and 30, between 5 ft 10 in and 6 ft tall, has light red hair, good features, blue-grey eyes and a smart modern appearance. I do not think he is a very religious man, but just has a normal intelligent working knowledge of the Bible which he likes to air … there must be many people who know someone who looks like this artist’s impression.”
Detective Superintendent Joe Beattie, describing the prime suspect in the Bible John murders (1972).
Within hours of the discovery of the body of Helen Puttock, an additional composite drawing of the suspect was created using the detailed description provided by her sister; this composite drawing would rapidly become one of the most famous facial composites in Scotland.[n 4] Detective Superintendent Joe Beattie asked the public to closely study this composite drawing, should it resemble anyone they knew. Due to the suspect’s hair being unfashionably short for the era, over 450 hairdressers in and around Glasgow were shown the updated composite drawing of the suspect, and all dentists in and around Glasgow were asked to examine their records to determine whether they held records of a male patient with overlapping incisors and a missing tooth in the upper right jaw. Both lines of inquiry would prove fruitless.
More than 100 detectives were assigned to work full-time on the case, and 50,000 witness statements would be taken in subsequent door-to-door inquiries. Ultimately, more than 5,000 potential suspects would be quizzed in relation to the murders in the first year of the inquiry alone, and Jean Langford would be required to attend over 300 identity parades, although she was adamant none of the individuals required to participate in these identity parades had been the individual with whom she had last seen her sister, and all would be cleared of any involvement. Fearing that the perpetrator would strike again, a team of 16 detectives were instructed to mingle with dancers at all dance halls in Glasgow. In particular, these detectives frequented the Barrowland on Thursday and Saturday nights at the over-25s events, where each victim was presumed to have met her murderer.[n 5]
Despite the extensive manhunt, no further developments would arise and the investigation into the three murders gradually became cold, with many individuals assigned to the case opining that the perpetrator had either died, been jailed for an unrelated offense, had been incarcerated at a mental hospital, or that senior police officers had known his actual identity, but had been unable to prove he had committed the murders. Others speculated that he may have simply moved away from the Glasgow district, or murdered whenever in the vicinity; this possibility prompted police to circulate multiple copies of the composite drawing at all British Army, Navy and Air Force bases in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Middle and Far East, although this potential line of inquiry also failed to produce any significant leads.
One former Detective Chief Inspector, Les Brown (then working with the Strathclyde Police), has supplied current investigators with details of the arrest of a suspect conducted in 1969 which he believes was of an extremely likely perpetrator, but which was dismissed simply because this individual did not have notably overlapping front teeth.
According to Les Brown, the man’s arguing with a young woman in the Barrowland Ballroom immediately prior to his arrest had greatly raised investigators’ concerns, yet—despite the fact the suspect had closely resembled the facial composite and had subsequently supplied police with a false name and address before revealing his true name and address in the Gorbals—was simply released. According to Brown, the simple fact of this particular suspect not having notably overlapping front teeth – despite one police sergeant’s acknowledgement of his being the best suspect yet – was sufficient enough for ordering his release.
Several years later, Brown extensively conversed with a detective who had taken the same individual to a hospital after arresting him outside the Barrowland Ballroom at the time of the murders. Although the suspect had needed several stitches in his head following an altercation, as soon as his handcuffs had been released, he escaped from the hospital. At the time of this incident, this individual had also falsely given his name to medical personnel as John White.
In addition to this basic circumstantial evidence, the “whole demeanour” of this individual had led Les Brown and several of his colleagues to believe this individual may have been the perpetrator.
John Irvine McInnes
In 1996, Strathclyde Police exhumed the body of John Irvine McInnes from a graveyard in Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire. McInnes, who had served in the Scots Guards, had committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 41, having severed the brachial artery in his upper arm. He had been the cousin of one of the original suspects in the series of murders. A DNA sample was taken from McInnes’s body for comparison with semen samples discovered upon the stockings with which victim Helen Puttock had been strangled.
The results of the testing conducted proved inconclusive, with then-Lord Advocate Lord Mackay stating insufficient evidence existed to link McInnes with the murder of Helen Puttock. The Crown would officially clear McInnes of any involvement in the Bible John murders in July 1996.
Several criminologists and investigators have suggested that convicted serial killer Peter Tobin may have been Bible John. Tobin was convicted in May 2007 of the 2006 murder of a Polish student named Angelika Kluk, who had been raped, beaten, then stabbed to death; he had relocated from Shettleston, Glasgow to England in 1969 after marrying his first wife, whom he had met at the Barrowland Ballroom the same year as the murders attributed to Bible John had ended. Tobin would subsequently live in Brighton for 20 years from 1969, although from the late 1980s, he would alternately reside in either Scotland or the South of England.
Tobin had been in his mid-40s when he committed the 1991 murder of two teenage girls whose skeletonized bodies would subsequently be unearthed from the garden of his home in Margate, Kent in 2007. He would be convicted of these murders—alongside that of Kluk—between 2007 and 2009. Commencing serial murderous offences of an extremely calculated nature at such an age is unusual—though not unheard of—for a male. Furthermore, the fact that Tobin had attacked Kluk with such violence, then hidden her body before absconding to London prior to his subsequent arrest in addition to the abduction, restraining and concealment known to have been exhibited upon the two 1991 murder victims unearthed from the garden of his Margate home did not suggest the work of an amateur in any of these three cases.
Striking contemporary visual similarities exist between Peter Tobin when aged in his 20s and the 1969 composite drawing of Bible John. In addition, all three of Tobin’s former wives have given accounts of being repeatedly imprisoned, throttled, beaten and raped at his hands, and each has stated he had been driven to extreme physical violence by the female menstrual cycle (a factor long suspected by investigators as being the perpetrator’s actual motive behind the murders). In addition, Tobin is known to have been a staunch Roman Catholic with strong religious views, and the alias Bible John had given to Jean Langford and Helen Puttock in 1969 is similar to one of the pseudonyms known to have been regularly used by Tobin: John Semple.
Criminologist David Wilson actively investigated Tobin’s case for three years and strongly believes the available evidence supports his theory 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 18-year-old Dinah McNicol, one of the women whose body had been unearthed from his Margate garden. The circumstantial evidence which Wilson uses to support this theory includes striking similarities between trial testimony from an acquaintance of Dinah’s who had been in her company on the evening of her abduction and the conversation with Bible John that Jean Langford claimed to have had on the evening of her sister’s murder; among the important points of overlap are both men mentioning they did not drink at Hogmanay and had a cousin who had once scored a hole-in-one in a golf match. This information—alongside other circumstantial evidence—has led Professor Wilson to state: “I didn’t set out to prove Tobin was Bible John, but I would stake my professional reputation on it.”
Although DNA testing has been used to clear several suspects, detectives believe obtaining a forensic link between Peter Tobin and any of the murder victims linked to Bible John is unlikely due to the deterioration of the physical samples owing to poor storage.
As a result of a police investigation named Operation Anagram, which was initiated in 2006 to trace the movements of Tobin throughout the decades and to determine his potential culpability in any other crimes, a woman informed investigators she had been raped by Tobin after she had met him at the Barrowland Ballroom in 1968, shortly after the first of the murders known to have been committed by Bible John. Another woman informed investigators in 2010 that she had endured a threatening experience with Tobin at the Barrowland Ballroom, claiming that Tobin had introduced himself as Peter, before pestering her to go with him to a party in the city’s Castlemilk area. When this woman viewed pictures of Tobin dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s, she stated: “[He] was the man who came up to me so many years ago in [the] Barrowlands. I am 100 per cent certain [that] Tobin is Bible John.”
No further murder victims killed in Scotland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom have ever been conclusively attributed to Bible John, and the manhunt for this murderer was one of the most extensive manhunts in Scottish criminal history. The murders of the three women remain unsolved, although the case remains open, with many investigators remaining certain that the perpetrator(s) of these crimes were highly likely to have been shielded by one or more individuals whom he had known.
No uniform consensus that the three killings were actually the work of the same person exists. It has been claimed that the gap of 18 months between the first two killings is unusual for a serial killer, and that the later two murders may have either been copycat killings, or the sole two committed by the same perpetrator. Criticism has also been levelled against the police for potentially hampering their own investigation by prematurely jumping to the conclusion that all three murders had been committed by the same person.
In 1983, an anonymous individual contacted Strathclyde Police. This individual claimed to conclusively know that his friend had been Bible John. According to this anonymous individual, both he and his friend had been raised in the Cranhill district of Glasgow, and both had frequented the Barrowland Ballroom in the 1960s. Allegedly, this individual had read an article in the Evening Times five years previously before suddenly realising his friend had been the perpetrator of the murders. The alleged suspect was traced living in the Netherlands, married to a Dutch woman. Nothing more was ever heard from the anonymous individual or the reputed suspect.
In 2004, police announced their intentions to genetically test a number of men in a further attempt to identify the perpetrator, with all individuals concerned being requested to submit blood samples. This endeavour followed the previous discovery of an 80% genetic match from the semen samples retrieved from the final crime scene attributed to Bible John with a DNA sample retrieved at the site of a minor crime committed 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.
The sole witness ever to have engaged in a lengthy conversation with Bible John, Jean Langford, died in September 2010 at the age of 74. Langford had given police the description used to form the second composite drawing created of the suspect, which continues to remain the most significant clue as to the perpetrator’s physical appearance. Despite Professor Wilson’s assertion that Peter Tobin may have been Bible John, when Jean Langford discussed her sister’s murderer many decades later, she dismissed this theory, stating emphatically that Tobin had not been the man with whom she had shared a taxi on the night of her sister’s murder.