This week Zach we’re going back to the great year 1968. Back to the old Caledonia (better known to you non-romans as Scotland). More specifically to that Dear Green Place, the Red Clydeside, the shipbuilding capital of the world (better known to those of you who haven’t looked at the List of City nicknames in the United Kingdom wikipedia page as Glasgow, Scotland).
Before I get started I just want to put a little disclaimer here that 1. This is a case that involves crimes of a sexual nature and 2. Scottish newspapers are terrible and get super simple facts wrong all the time. Pretty much every article I found had some really small, slight contradiction that made it hard to research this mystery. So if I get some details wrong and you just some happen to be an expert on this case I’m sorry.
Glasgow in 1968 was a happening place. People just had to get their dance on. One such woman was Patricia Docker. At the time Patricia was 25 years old and worked as a nurse at Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary. She’s 5’3” with brown, wavy curls cut in a medium-short style. She was married and her husband was stationed with the British army in England. On the night of February 22, 1968, Patricia, and several of her friends, caught that dancing fever. They all went to an over-25 ballroom called the Majestic. According to police reports Patricia danced with several different men throughout the night and at some point left the Majestic and went (without her friends) the the Barrowland ballroom. Nobody knew exactly who she had danced with and who she might have left with that night.
The next morning a man on his way to work only a short walk from where Patricia lived. He turned down an alley and saw the naked body of Patricia Docker. Someone had raped and strangled her at some point after she left the Majestic. The killer had also taken her handbag and left her body only a few yards from where she lived.
The police interview people who were at the Majestic the night before, but, as I said earlier, no one could remember who Patricia had left with. It wasn’t even discovered until several days later that Patricia had actually left the Majestic and gone to the Barrowland. Eventually the police ran out of leads and the trail started to go cold. Her handbag and her clothes were never found.
18 months later on August 18th, 1969, a 32 year old single mother of three, Jemima McDonald, also caught that terrible rhythmic fever. She’s described as 5’ 7” with a slim build and shoulder length hair that had been dyed brown. Before going out she put on black pinafore dress (which is basically the overalls of dresses), a white frilly blouse, off-white sling backed heels, and a brown woolen coat. Mima, as her friends called her, also went to the Barrowland ballroom.
The next day when Mima’s sister, Margaret O’Brien, hadn’t heard from her she started to panic. Margaret started walking through the streets looking for Mima. Eventually she overheard a group of boys talking about “the body” they had found. It turns out that what the boys though was a tailor’s dummy was actually the body of Jimima McDonald. Jimima had been strangled, raped, and beaten to death and her body was left in an abandoned apartment building about a mile from the Barrowland ballroom and only a few yards from her home. Unlike Patricia, Mima was fully clothed but the killer had taken her handbag.
Police immediately sealed off the building and started their investigation. They knew that Jimima had been to the Barrowland but over 2000 other dancers had been there as well. They questioned as many as they could even going so far as having 20 detectives standing outside the Barrowland asking revelers if they had seen the missing woman. The ballroom even offered to interrupt the music so a detective could make an announcement. Several witnesses claimed that she had left around midnight with a tall man about 6 ft 2 with short reddish hair. He was reportedly aged between 25 and 35 years old with a slim build and wearing a “good” blue suit with hand stitched lapels and a white shirt. The police also conducted door to door interviews in the area and found a woman who reported hearing screams after midnight on the street where Mima’s body was found. The police even had a female detective walk the from the ballroom the the street Mima was murdered on while wearing similar clothes in the hope that it would jog someone’s memory.
The police quickly made connections between the murders of Patricia Docker and Jamima McDonald. Now the police knew they were looking for a double murderer who may strike again. For the first time in a Scottish murder hunt the police distributed an Identikit picture of the suspect and thousands of posters were printed. While this generated several leads eventually the trail went cold.
On October 30, 1969 29 year old Helen Puttock decided to go dancing, at the Barrowlands, with her sister Jean. The two had heard about the recent murders but they decided that they couldn’t come to any harm if they stuck together all night. At one point during the night Helen met an attractive, well spoken man at the hall’s cigarette machine. Apparently the machine had taken her money and subsequently jammed. The man, who said his name was John. helped her un-jam the machine and the two started to get along. He bought her a drink, they danced together, and, according to her sister Jean, they seemed to like each other. At the end of the night John suggested that he help ensure that the two women get home safely, because after all it had been a dangerous year. The man was good looking and charming. He was a stylish dresser and apparently a good dancer. The trio got in a cab together and during the ride he told the women that his parents had been very religious people. He said they tried to raise him and his sister in the same way but were unsuccessful. He could still recite passages of the Bible from memory and did so on several occasions.
The taxi took Jean home first and as the cab pulled away she saw her sister Helen wave goodbye to her through the back window. In the early hours of Friday, October 31, the body of 29 year old Helen puttock was discovered in a back court about a 10 minute drive from where she had left Jean. She was still dressed and lying face down. As with the other two murders Helen had been raped and strangled, as before her body was left by the killer only a few yards from her home, and as before her handbag was missing. This is the last information we have on Bible John other than a report of a well dressed young man matching Bible John’s description in a, “dishevelled state” with possible scratch marks on his face, getting off a bus around 1:30 AM. He was reportedly last seen heading toward the public ferry to cross the River Clyde to the south side of the city. After this the murders stopped and Bible John was never captured.
There were a couple more leads, however.
In 1983, a man claimed to have frequented the Barrowland Ballroom with Bible John and claimed that he knew who he was. He said that after reading an article about the murders he suddenly realised that his friend was Bible John. The police found the alleged suspect living in the Netherlands and married to a Dutch woman. The lead wasn’t pursued and was dismissed by the police.
In 1996 the police exhumed the body of John Irvine McInnes, who was one of the original suspects. McInnes had committed suicided in 1980 and was found in a pool of blood after slashing his brachial artery in his upper arm. Police ran a DNA test and compared it with semen found on Helen Puttock’s tights and announced it to be inconclusive. Investigators said there just wasn’t enough evidence to link the murders with McInnes. During the initial investigation McInnes was released because Jean was unable to pick him out of a lineup.
In 2004 the police announced that they were going to DNA test several suspects in an attempt to solve the case. Reportedly, DNA found on the scene of a minor crime was an 80% match to Bible John. Enough of a match to make investigators believe that the person who committed the crime was at least related to the killer.
Finally, in 2007 a man named Peter Tobin was convicted of the murder of a student named Agelika Kluk. This lead to speculation, spearheaded by a professor named David Wilson, that Tobin was in fact Bible John. Tobin was in his 60s when the murder was committed, an unusually late start to a killing career. Wilson claimed that the ferocity with which she was attacked and the way in which Tobin hid the body and ran to London did not suggest that this was his first time. There were also several 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 also strong similarities between photographs of Tobin in his 20s and the artist’s impression of Bible John. Tobin moved away from Glasgown in 1969, the same year as Bible John’s known killings ended.
Tobin’s former wives reported that he was driven to violence by the menstrual cycle which had long been a suspected motive behind the Bible John murders. Tobin was also a Roman Catholic with strong religious views.
During a subsequent police investigation a woman said she had been raped by Tobin after she had met him at the Barrowland Ballroom in 1968.
Another woman also came forward in 2010 who claimed to have had a threatening experience at the Barrowland. She said that Tobin introduced himself as Peter and pestered her to go with him to a party.
However, when discussing her sister’s killer several decades later, Jean dismissed Peter Tobin as Bible John and emphatically stated that he was not the man she shared the taxi with. In September of 2010 Jean McLachlan passed away at the age of 74. While DNA had been used to rule out a previous suspect detectives now believe that a DNA link to Tobin is unlikely because of deterioration of the samples through poor storage.