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Bible John

by Les Hewitt

Taking away someone’s life is, without doubt, just about the worst act one person can perform on another. There can be many reasons as to why somebody has made a conscious decision to end another’s life. Some killers take a substantial amount of time to plan and consider a multitude of aspects about the murder itself. Others have instincts thrust upon him or her at the drop of a hat. Whatever the motivations, a dedicated squad of detectives are always chosen to diligently work all hours under the sun in order to bring the person or persons to justice.

bible john

The Barrowland Ballroom. Image credit: Finlay McWalter

The murder squad of 1960s Glasgow was no exception.

It was 22 February 1968 that local nurse Patricia Docker planned a night out at a local club called The Majestic Ballroom. Sometime during this evening, she either changed her mind or was persuaded to move onto another club closer to the centre of the city. This venue was a much more prominent one for the clubbers of Glasgow of the swinging sixties. The Barrowland Ballroom was hosting an over-25’s-night and tended to attract partygoers from all over the city. One of those was a sexual predator who was only there for one reason. The following morning, a man en route to work found the murdered young woman just behind Carmichael Place, mere yards from where Docker lived with her parents. She had been raped and strangled.

When the discovery was made, the investigation began. However, it took detectives several days to establish that the victim had ended up at the Barrowland Ballroom. Had this breakthrough been made earlier, then perhaps the investigation itself might have yielded better results. When she was found, Docker’s bag and clothes were absent from the scene. The detectives assigned to follow up on the missing items worked for several months trying to discover their whereabouts. Neither was ever found.

For the next 18 months or so, police continued to work on their investigation and, on 15 August 1969, their worst fears were confirmed. Another woman, 32 year old mother of three Jemima McDonald disappeared after a night out at the Barrowland Ballroom. The following morning, rumors of a group of children leaving an old tenement building in MacKeith Street mentioning something about ‘the body there’ reached Jemima’s sister Margaret. It was only on the following Monday, two days after rumors began and three after Jemima was last seen in the company of a red-haired young man, that Margaret was concerned enough to go and look for her sister. Margaret headed for the building at the heart of the rumors and discovered her sister’s body. Like Docker the previous year, McDonald was raped and strangled. Unlike Docker, McDonald was fully clothed and had been badly beaten by her killer. Door to door enquiries found a possible witness to the murder, a local woman who remembered hearing screams coming from the same building. The time of these screams could not be verified to a particular time and eventually the police realized that they couldn’t do much with the little information that they had. They wound down the investigation.

bible john

Comparison photo of young Tobin and police sketch of Bible John

On Hallowe’en 1969, a third victim was found. The victim was 29 year old Helen Puttock was found in Earl Street. Like the previous victims, she had spent time inside the Barrowland Ballroom. Perhaps due to the reputation that the Barrowland may or may not have got over the previous months, Helen was not alone during her visit. Her sister, Jean, went with her. Both met a man there and both identified themselves as John. One said he came from a place called Castlemilk. The other never identified where he came from. For over an hour, the four enjoyed each other’s company. When it was time to leave, Castlemilk John headed for George Square and a bus home, while the other three shared a taxi. The taxi ride proved crucial in the investigation into the serial killer, as what little was known about the man was discovered during the ride. John was well-spoken and quoted many passages from the Bible. The media of the time ran with this and nicknamed their serial killer Bible John. The taxi dropped Jean off at Knightswood before carrying on towards Earl Street. Helen was found the following morning. Her death occurred the same as the others but there were some differences as well. The contents of her bag were scattered around her body but the bag itself was missing and remains so to this day. There were signs of a struggle and Helen had suffered at least one bite from her attacker.

Bible John remains one of Scotland’s most notorious unsolved serial killers. Plenty of names have been proposed as John’s identity. One of the latest, and quite possibly the most logical, is Peter Tobin. In 2006, the mutilated body of Polish student Angelika Khik was discovered beneath the floor of a Glasgow church. Tobin was convicted of the murder and, as time went on, several other murders as well. Tobin was known to have spent time with Catholic priests and knew the Bible inside and out. In 2006, the mutilated body of Polish student Angelika Khik was discovered beneath the floor of a Glasgow church. His photograph and modus operandi were of significant interest to Joe Jackson, one of the original investigating team of the Bible John inquiry. Tobin also spent time at the Barrowland, meeting his future spouse there. The marriage didn’t last very long owing to Tobin’s volatile temper and frequent use of violence. An image of the elder Tobin is a close match to the identikit of Bible John, but an image of a more youthful Tobin has some convinced that John has been positively identified. The similarities, they say, are uncanny.

More proof can be offered by Tobin’s relocation to Brighton not long after Helen was murdered. The Bible John killings stopped and the case went cold. Tobin was incarcerated for a string of burglaries while he lived in Brighton. Some police officers dispute this though. Owing to the similarities of the canonical victims of John, it is generally assumed that one killer is responsible. But there were differences to all three victims as well. This could have been a deliberate ploy on the part of the perpetrator, but serial killers often find a method and stick to it. Only a single description of Bible John was made during the original investigation which doesn’t the same man to the other crimes attributed to John. It has even been suggested that Tobin’s religious links are nothing more than mere coincidence.

Another candidate for the Bible John killer was actually a former police officer of the time who was pensioned off. Although author and former policeman Paul Harrison couldn’t name his culprit publicly, he did reveal that the suspect was still alive during an interview in 2013. Harrison went on to suggest that Jean McLachlan, Helen’s sister, believed that the man they shared the taxi with was a police officer, as he allegedly showed them a warrant card inside the Barrowland. The other man calling himself John was believed to be another police officer but one working on an undercover basis. Before her own death in 2010, Jean claimed to have seen John often when she visited Marine Police Station to consider suspects. Bouncers at the Barrowland have independently confirmed Jean’s suspicions when a fight broke out involving a well-dressed man. This man produced a warrant card and issued warnings to ‘back off’.

Bible John has yet to be conclusively solved and the killer identified.


Daily Record 
Bloody Scotland

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