From February of 1968 to October of 1969, a serial killer tormented the patrons of the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, Scotland. His three victims were all young women with children, and were found in similar circumstances. Despite the evidence pointing towards multiple suspects, "Bible John" has never been identified.
September 23rd, 2017 Robert Cron and Micheal Whelan
The Barrowland Ballroom – sometimes referred to as simply the Barrowland - is in the East End of Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. Although it’s in an area with a rough reputation, it’s one of the major dance-halls in the city, and working class people flock to it from all around.
Dancing to live music was still a favorite pastime here, and the city had a whole host of clubs and music venues, including Green’s Playhouse, the Astoria, the Cameo, the Tudor, the Berkeley, the Majestic, and the West End Ballroom. But there was something special about the Barrowland – maybe it was the criss-cross pattern of the dance floor, constructed from specially imported Canadian Maple and rumored to be “sprung” with a thousand halved tennis balls underneath. Or maybe it was the showmanship of the bands, entertainers, comedy, and novelty acts that played there.
Though far from its counterparts in the more metropolitan London, the Barrowland, as a heart of nightlife for the city, had its own unique, carnival atmosphere and it enjoyed its own fair share of notoriety; it had been operating since 1934 and was gutted in a fire in 1958, but had been rebuilt and reopened in 1960 - on Christmas Eve, no less - to continue its dubious and, in the eyes of some, sinful life. Recollecting during his retirement, one former Glasgow policeman referred to it as “Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Thursday and Saturday were the “over 25” nights, and while the clientele age limit may seem a bit arbitrary to us now, it stood as a bit of an unspoken rule. Thursday nights from 8:00 PM to midnight at the Barrowland were called “Palais Night,” but the colloquial term commonly used by everyone for the “over 25” events was “Grab-a-Granny” Night. While some used the opportunity to simply get drunk, dance a bit, and flirt, many people attending Palais Night on Thursdays were married, but they might not have necessarily been going with their partners, and most wouldn’t readily admit to having been to the Barrowland for fear their spouses might find out.
“It was well known that if you wanted a bit more than a dance, then Thursday night was the evening to visit the Barrowland,” a Glasgow resident recalled years later. “I don’t think many used their actual name on a Thursday night, folk were cautious, anything that happened after dancing was finished was usually a one-off. You could tell who was wanting a fumble and who wasn’t, so it was easy pickings really.”
In fact, it was often said that people slipped their wedding rings off their fingers by the time they had walked through the doors. So it can be understood why 25-year old Patricia Docker, a married mother with a four year-old son, told her parents that she was going to the Majestic Ballroom, and not the Barrowland, on the evening of Thursday, February 22, 1968.
A nurse at the Victoria Infirmary, she had been staying with her mother and father for a short time, and by some accounts this was due to a recent separation from her husband Alex. Alex was serving with the Royal Air Force and was away on duty, south in England. Whether she did go to the Majestic, located on Hope Street, is uncertain, but at some point in the evening, she made her way to the Barrowland – and into its pulsating whirl and vibrant rush, where she would meet the man responsible for her death.
It was early on the morning of Friday, February 23rd, 1968, when 67 year-old cabinet maker and joiner Maurice ("Morris") Goodman found the body. He was taking a shortcut through Carmichael Place on his way to work, and at first he thought a drunk had passed out in the lane, but when he nudged the body with his foot, he realized this wasn’t the case.
“It was like touching a block of ice,” he would later remember. He raced home to phone the police, and for some reason that not even he could explain, he had originally thought that the body belonged to a man.
Thinking that this was just some vagrant who had died of exposure earlier that night, the police didn’t seem too concerned to rush to the scene; in fact, the first investigators to arrive were two local traffic police who just happened to wander into the area. By 8:00 AM, detectives had finally made their way to Carmichael Place, and at first glance they knew that this wasn’t some derelict that had died in the cold.
The woman was lying on her back, nude but for a single shoe, with her head turned to the right. Police would determine that she had been beaten, raped, and strangled; according to some accounts, the killer had used one of her stockings, but most reports state that no ligature was found and that the investigators initially thought that a belt might have been used due to the bruising and marks around her neck.
No clothing or handbag was found at the crime scene, and a sanitary napkin had been discovered lying near the body; it was presumably hers, and the coroner was later able to determine that the victim had been menstruating at the time of her death. Eerily enough, her body had been found just yards away in a lane adjacent to her parent’s home at 29 Langside Place.
A police canvas of the nearby houses revealed only a vague unsubstantiated report of a woman whose description matched the victim entering a car in the area, as well as a report of a neighbor hearing a woman cry “leave me alone” during the prior evening. A journalist was hosting a party in the neighborhood, and despite the substantial guest list, no one remembered seeing or hearing anything unusual that night.
Talk of the gruesome crime soon spread through the neighborhood, and the gossip eventually made its way to Victoria Infirmary. Some nurses wondered whether it could have been a patient who had wandered out of the hospital and died of exposure. Two of Patricia’s co-workers, the head matron and her assistant, viewed the body, but due to the severe facial trauma, they could not identify it. It wasn’t until an ambulance driver saw the corpse and recognized her as a nurse who worked there that police could begin to figure out who she was.
Patricia’s father, John Wilson, had read a description of the woman in the evening paper. Though he and his wife had been worried that Patricia had not yet returned from her night at the Majestic, they assumed she had remained out with her nursing friends and that she would be returning home at any moment. Armed with a recent photograph of his daughter, John made his way to the police station, where they took his information and asked him to view the body at the morgue, where he made an immediate identification.
Since Patricia hadn’t mentioned the Barrowland Ballroom to her parents the night before, police officials concentrated their efforts on the Majestic, the place she told them she was going. A witness did come forward to state that he had danced with Patricia at the Majestic that night, only to change his story several days later when he realized that he had confused the date with another evening. It would be days - perhaps even weeks - before they learned she went to the Barrowland Ballroom. By then, the trail had become cold.
This lapse in time between the initial inquiries and the discovery that Patricia had really been to the Barrowland would prove frustrating to detectives and family members. Whether this was a deliberate ruse on Patricia’s part or an impromptu change of plans can’t be said for certain; though she was apparently separated from her husband, she was still technically married, and the Barrowland’s reputation would certainly have been known to her mother and father. If it was a sin of omission, it can certainly be understood, and it’s a tactic lots of sons and daughters have used countless times on unwitting parents who might not know where their kids are really going.
However, if Patricia had been at the Majestic first and then continued on to the Barrowland, it could have been an entirely spur of the moment lark; the Majestic closed at 10:30 that night, but the Barrowland was open until midnight, so what better way to prolong the evening’s entertainment than by moving on to another venue? But for whatever reason, this misdirection would cost the investigation time and resources that would better have been used elsewhere, and which might have led to Patricia’s killer.
No one interviewed who had been at the Barrowland that Thursday night could remember seeing Patricia leave with anyone, though some patrons remembered seeing her dancing with several men, one of whom had red hair. Whether or not the hair color was significant at the time of the original inquiry is uncertain, but it would come to play an important part in the subsequent investigations. However, it’s not like the suspect in question had an eye-patch or a missing arm; red hair is not exactly uncommon, and young red-haired men attending a Scottish nightclub would not be a rare occurrence, particularly if they were dancing with a pretty, petite, dark-haired nurse out for a good time.
It was hoped that somehow Patricia’s clothing could be traced and found, but her knit-yellow dress and gray duffel coat with blue fur collar were never located. Policemen dredging the nearby River Cart did recover Patricia’s bracelet, part of a watchcase, and her missing handbag. For a brief moment, even Patricia’s estranged husband, on-duty in Lincolnshire, was considered a suspect, but he was easily cleared after he had been able to provide a solid alibi.
With the lack of any suitable evidence, and the fact that it was impossible to verify her movements after she attended the Barrowland that fateful Thursday, the trail went cold and the investigation was wound down after two weeks, with the police chalking it up as a case of meeting the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s Saturday, August 16, 1969, and 32 year-old Jemima McDonald is headed to the Barrowland Ballroom for a night of recreation. Called “Mima” in some contemporary newspaper reports, the unmarried mother of three has left her children in the care of her sister, Margaret. Jemima's three children, a 12-year old daughter named Elizabeth and two younger sons, Andrew and Alan – 9 and 7 years old, respectively – were dropped off at Margaret's home, whose flat was just across the landing from Jemima's own at 15 MacKeith Street, Bridgeton.
It has been eighteen months since the murder of Patricia Docker, and that unsolved crime is the furthest thing from Jemima’s mind. Her hair is still in curlers when she sets out; she has tied a headscarf over them, and plans on removing the scarf and curlers when she arrives at the dance hall ladies’ powder room. With her hair perfect to start off the evening’s dancing, Jemima is sure to have a good time.
Most of Jemima's friends were already married, so she often ventured out to the dance halls alone. This wasn't an odd occasion for her. However, her falling off the grid that night was very unlike her.
When Jemima didn’t return to collect the children that Sunday morning, Margaret became worried. That day, she overheard some of the neighborhood children talking about “the body” in a nearby abandoned tenement, though she brushed it off, not daring to think the worst. The tenement had a notorious reputation; by day, it was a place where children would play, but at night, it was rumored to be a place where prostitutes would bring their customers or a haven for vagrants to shelter from the rain.
But by Monday, August 18th, she became so frantic that she mustered up the courage to enter the dilapidated building at 23 MacKeith Street, less than thirty yards from her own home. There, she found what she first thought to be a discarded tailor’s dummy in a bed recess on the ground floor. But then she noticed the blood on the body’s instantly recognizable face.
Jemima had been beaten, raped, and strangled with a stocking. Her clothing was in disarray, with her black pinafore dress and frilled white blouse torn, and her underwear ripped as if in a frenzy. Her off-white slingback heels were also present at the scene, as well as her brown belted woolen overcoat, but (strangely enough) her black patent leather handbag and its contents were missing, including the headscarf she used to cover her hair curlers.
Like the crime scene of Patricia Docker a year and a half earlier, a sanitary napkin was found discarded near the body, and like Patricia, an examination of the corpse revealed that Jemima had also been menstruating.
Police were able to determine that on the night she disappeared, she had first gone to Betty’s Bar, just across the street from the Barrowland, where she enjoyed a few drinks and was seen chatting with a red-haired man.
She was later spotted at the Barrowland dancing with a person of the same description, and had left the dance-hall in his company; according to witnesses, he was a slim young man approximately 25 to 35 years of age. He was tall, perhaps as tall as 6’ – 2”, sharply dressed in a blue suit with hand-stitched lapels and a white shirt. He had reddish, auburn, or dark hair, and some thought his appearance was almost too polished or upscale for the other clientele.
He certainly wasn’t a regular, or if he was, it was thought that he didn’t live in the area, as he wasn’t recognized as a local.
The couple was seen turning right into Bain Street, then left into London Road, before walking on towards Bridgeton Cross; from there, they took a shortcut by way of Landressy Street and James Street. A later reenactment on the subsequent Saturday by a policewoman dressed in a similar fashion to the victim was made in the hopes that it would jog the memories of neighbors who might have seen something, and it would be determined that the whole trip was less than a mile and would take approximately twenty minutes.
One neighbor did report having heard screams from the vicinity of the tenement building on the evening of Jemima’s murder, but she could not remember the specific time of the occurrence.
Fearing not many witnesses would come forward due to the fact that the victim was connected to the “over 25”nights at the Barrowland Ballroom, the police announced that any tips or information that they might receive from the general public would be kept entirely confidential. This appeal was even made in person at the Barrowland two nights after the discovery of Jemima’s body; with the band temporarily silenced, officials announced that anyone with information about that night should contact them, no questions asked and no judgments made.
But despite the assurance that any infidelities might remain under the table and out of the public record, few people were able to provide anything more concrete that evening regarding Jemima or the sharply-dressed man with her, and for two months police attempted to track down every possible witness who might have been at the Barrowland that night. A 100 pound reward - a decent amount for the time – was offered by Jemima’s parents and six siblings... but still yielded no valuable information.
Ten weeks after the crime, police officials began to piece together the similarities between Jemima’s murder and the death of Patricia Docker over eighteen months before. It seemed more than just a coincidence. Both had apparently met their assailant at the “over 25” nights at the Barrowland Ballroom. Both were dark-haired mothers in the same age range. Both had been raped and strangled, and while the first victim was found nude, both victims’ handbags and their contents were removed from the scene. Both women had been menstruating at the time of death, and both had sanitary napkins left near their bodies. And both had been killed and left in the near vicinity of their homes.
Enlisting the aid of Lennox Patterson, the deputy director of the nearby Glasgow School of Art, the police assembled and released an identikit sketch to the press, based on what eyewitness testimony they could collect.
This would be a first in the history of Scottish criminal investigation, requiring special official permissions to be granted from the Crown Office in Edinburgh, but some within the police force worried that this would open the door for all sorts of legal challenges once they did identify their suspect and try to pursue a court case.
But even with a sketch of the assailant circulating the tabloids, no solid leads materialized.
Thursday, October 30, 1969 – it’s a Night of Mischief for many children and adolescents, but for Helen Puttock, it’s a chance to get out of the house and forget about the troubles of the day with her sister. She had just recently returned to Scotland with her husband George, a ten-year veteran and corporal with the British army; he had been stationed overseas in Germany, and they were temporarily living with her mother in her Earl Street flat in the suburb of Scotstoun. George wasn’t too keen on her going out dancing, even if it was just with her sister or her neighborhood friends, but they assured him that it’s something the girls had done frequently in the past, and not wanting to begrudge her this bit of fun, he relented. It would give his 29-year old wife an opportunity to unwind and enjoy herself, and he would spend the time looking after their two children, five-year old David and infant Michael.
When Helen’s married sister, Jean Langford - oftentimes referred to as “Jeanie” - arrived early that evening to pick her up, George gave his sister-in-law a ten shilling note; though they intended to catch a bus to the dance-hall, the money was for the luxury of a taxicab for their late night journey home. The two sisters had seen the handbills and police notices regarding the two strangling crimes, including the police sketch of the suspect in the McDonald murder, but they weren’t particularly worried – they planned on spending the entire night together, and would look after each other. Helen left wearing a black sleeveless dress and an imitation ocelot fur coat, and despite the two sisters’ assurances, George was still apprehensive.
As the evening wore on, he decided to wait up for his wife’s return; he would retire once she got in from her night out and his fears were assuaged. When she hadn’t returned by 2:00 AM, he began to really worry, but by 3:00 AM he had nodded off in a deep sleep waiting for her.
Early the next morning, while walking his dog, neighbor Archibald MacIntyre discovered the body of Helen Puttock, face down in a back garden of the Earl Street flat. Her clothing was torn, and she had been beaten around the face and head, raped, and strangled with a stocking. The contents of her handbag were strewn about the yard, but the handbag itself was missing. Grass stains on her feet indicated that there had been a struggle, as she had apparently attempted to fight off or flee from her attacker. There was a bite mark on one of her wrists, and a semen stain on the stocking ligature around her neck. And like the prior two victims, the woman’s sanitary pad was removed, this time placed directly under her armpit.
Some records indicate that this bite mark may have been on her leg, or her ankle, but most publications state that it was her wrist that was bitten.
Most accounts report a single, cheap cufflink was found near the body, but whether or not it belonged to the killer could not be determined.
George Puttock awakened that morning to find that Helen still hadn’t returned. Glancing out the parlor window, he noticed a police caravan parked on the street. He exited his mother-in-law’s flat and approached a nearby police officer, and without inquiring as to why they were present in the neighborhood, George explained that his wife had not returned from her night out and that she is missing. When the officer heard this, he immediately asked him what his wife had been wearing the previous evening, and when George mentioned her faux fur coat, the officer realized that he had inadvertently located the next of kin.
In the investigation that followed over the next few weeks, the police discovered that after stopping at a local tavern for a few drinks with some friends, the two sisters arrived at the Barrowland at approximately 10:00 PM and proceeded to enjoy themselves. At some point during their outing, they met up with two gentlemen, both of whom gave their first names as John. They laughed about it at the time, and Jean later admitted that since so many at the “over 25” nights were already involved or married, the two sisters didn’t seem too concerned that their partners might not have been exactly honest or forthcoming; they were just there to have fun and dance, after all.
Some accounts state that a sharply dressed red-haired man named John had bumped into Helen in-between dances and struck up a conversation with her; others state that Jean managed to lose some money inside a cigarette vending machine, and that this smartly dressed man had come to her aid, becoming belligerent with the Barrowland manager over the small sum lost. It was only ten pence, but he forcefully insisted that the Barrowland refund her the money; in an incident which would have normally ended in bouncers ejecting a regular at the Barrowland, the manager - perhaps due to the appearance and bearing of the man - deferred, stating that if he were to return the next morning when the cash was emptied from the vending machine, he would gladly refund the money owed.
Other accounts state that this cigarette machine incident had happened later in the evening, well after the foursome had already met and had been enjoying each other’s company, and just before they retrieved their coats from the cloakroom.
At the end of the evening, the two sisters and the red-haired John parted ways with the other John, whose attention had been mostly focused on Jean. This John left them at the entrance to the Barrowland and began walking to a nearby bus stop. The three remaining companions hailed a cab, which took Jean to her home in Knightswood first, then proceeded to Scotstoun.
The cab driver confirmed leaving the couple at an address in Earl Street at approximately 1:00 AM, with the red haired man paying the fare. A similar individual in a nice, though slightly disheveled, suit and possibly with a bruised or scratched face was then seen at approximately 1:30 AM exiting a bus and heading in the direction of the River Clyde ferry.
Even with this detailed account of Helen Puttock’s last night, it would be Jean Langford’s statement to the investigators that would provide the best portrait of the killer, in particular the details of this cab ride home.
Prior to the cab ride, Helen’s beau had not volunteered much information about himself, and the sisters and the two Johns had spent only approximately an hour together in each others company. However, according to Jean, this changed as soon as their journey had begun. The red haired man had told them his name was either John Templeton, John Sempleson, or John Emerson, that he lived in the Castlemilk area of Glasgow with a relative, that he was unmarried and employed with a lab.
He was approximately 25 to 30 years old, nearly six feet tall, slim, with red hair and blue-gray eyes, and with one tooth slightly overlapping another in his upper front jaw. His fingernails were neatly trimmed and his hands were very smooth, something which seemed out of place for working class Glasgow.
Jean remembered that his trousers had no “turn-ups” or cuffs, and that his wristwatch had a wide leather band. He also wore what she described as some form of metal badge or pin on his lapel, something he repeatedly touched or fingered, almost as if to hide it or shield it from view. She distinctly recalled that the brand of cigarettes he smoked was Embassy. He spoke with a Glasgow accent, but in a cultured and mannered way, and had a slight military air about him; one thing she did surmise was that he had been in military or police service at some point, as he had an authoritative and slightly condescending, judgmental air.. He spoke of playing golf, though not as well as a cousin of his, who at one time had managed to score a hole in one.
All of this would seem rather ordinary or mundane, but then the discussion veered toward religion, at which point their conversation took a decidedly weird turn – he said that he had been raised in a very strict religious background with his sister, but that their upbringing had somehow failed to make them as good or pious as his mother and father wanted. His parents were both fervent teetotalers, and he said that his father had called dance-halls “dens of iniquity,” and that married women who frequented such places were “adulterous.” He referenced or quoted scripture throughout the conversation, including mention of the Old Testament and Moses, and when the subject of celebrating New Years Eve was broached, he enigmatically stated, “I don’t dance at Hogmanay, I pray.”
For those that are as in the dark as to the meaning of the word “Hogmonay” as I was, it is a Scottish word for New Year's Eve.
The similarities between this murder, the recent murder of Jemima McDonald, and the much earlier killing of Patricia Docker were immediately noted by the authorities. With the detailed description of their suspect from the only living eyewitness who interacted with him that night, the police returned to Lennox Patterson, the same artist who had created the sketch of the killer of Jemima McDonald. This time, with substantially more to work with, Patterson produced a full color painting of the suspect which was released seven weeks after the Puttock murder. The picture was widely distributed throughout the United Kingdom, and police, thinking their suspect could be serving in the military due to his close-cropped hair and style of wristwatch, also released it to a number of foreign military bases and warships overseas.
With officials stating their belief that the three murders were connected and the publicity surrounding Jean and Helen’s cab ride discussion with the mysterious man, the press was eager for a name. Some claim that enterprising journalist John Quinn of the Evening Times dreamed up the nickname to describe the suspect, while others believe the first mention of the moniker was in the Daily Record. But whatever the case, they dubbed him with the name by which he would forever be associated, something suitable.
Short. Descriptive. And slightly eerie. This name was Bible John.
Investigators descended on the Barrowland Ballroom, attempting to find anyone who could corroborate Jean Langford’s story or provide additional details on the enigmatic Bible John. Some eyewitnesses remembered seeing Helen with a slim, red haired man, while others described a man wearing a flecked brown single-breasted three-button suit with high lapels, a white or blue shirt, and a dark tie with red stripes.
Others remembered Bible John collecting a short brown tweed or gabardine overcoat from the cloakroom at the end of the night, and still others remembered his wristwatch having a wide leather strap with a narrower strap threaded through it, similar in fashion to the non-slip variety that was favored by servicemen at the time.
And some others claimed that this man may have quoted or referenced scripture, starting some sentences with such phrases as, “well the Bible says…” though whether this was an invention of half-drunken patrons with overactive imaginations or story-hungry journalists, eager to substantiate the nickname and sell more papers, is hard to determine. It was hoped that the Barrowland bouncers and management could identify the man who had gotten into the heated discussion with them over Jean Langford’s ten pence which had been lost in the cigarette vending machine, but he never returned to claim the money.
The Barrowland became a stakeout point, too – sixteen police officers, two of whom were women, were assigned to the city’s dance-halls to survey the “over 25” nights, hoping to gain information to help catch the killer. This required a considerable effort –investigators working undercover needed to blend in, and that would encompass everything from looking the part to acting it. The press humorously dubbed them the Marine Formation Dance Team, and Joe Jackson, one of the detectives involved in organizing the group, said, “I learned a pretty mean samba through being involved in this aspect of the investigation.” Constable Bruce Forsyth commented to a local newspaper, “when this inquiry started, I could hardly dance a step. Now I get better every week.” Female officer Morag Cameron stated, “I must have been to hundreds of dances, and sometimes go to five ballrooms in one night.” And policewoman Catrina Lidell reported, “we try as far as possible to vary our dresses, and on dance nights go to a lot of trouble to get ready.”
Police attempts to trace the only other witness close enough to the events of that night, the other John who danced with Jean and left them at the Barrowland entrance, came up empty. All that was known about this dark-haired John was that he also claimed to have hailed from the Castlemilk suburb of Glasgow, where he lived with his father and brother and worked as a laborer while attending night school. But no such person would come forward or would be identified by anyone fitting that description or those circumstances.
The Barrowland wasn’t the only place that authorities would haunt in the days and weeks after the Puttock murder; by the time the investigation had ended, over a hundred policeman and detectives had searched Glasgow in an all-out effort to locate the killer.
They combed through official military and NATO records, thinking their suspect might have been in the armed services at the time due to his wristwatch and short hair style. This might also explain the lapse between the three killings, specifically the eighteen month gap between the Docker and McDonald murders; perhaps Bible John had been stationed elsewhere, and that his visits to the Barrowland coincided with periods when he was on leave or off duty.
The suspect’s red hair also lead police to interview over four hundred barbers in the city; it wasn’t an era known for men’s short-cropped hairstyles, and they hoped that someone might remember a regular customer who favored such a military style cut. Nearly two hundred and fifty tailors were also questioned, in an effort to locate someone who might have fitted or altered a brown-flecked single-breasted suit or a pair of trousers with no cuffs.
A survey of dentists’ offices in the city turned up over five thousand individuals whose dental records showed an overlapping front tooth in the upper jaw, but every single patient was cleared or exonerated. Jean Langford’s memory of the casual mention of the suspect’s cousin and his hole-in-one spurred the investigators to visit more than four hundred golf courses throughout Scotland, thinking that employees there might have remembered a red-haired man in the company of someone who had scored just such an achievement.
Honing in on the religious content of much of the cab ride conversation, police visited dozens of churches thinking that clergymen might remember a suspect resembling Bible John as a member of their congregation.
An unsubstantiated report casting suspicion on the Masons sent a number of investigators to various lodges in the area, causing a great amount of upset in some professional circles whose members happened to be influential and important brethren.
The efforts of the press also compounded the work for authorities – detective Joe Jackson later lamented that news coverage of their undercover dance-hall efforts was probably enough to scare their suspect away.
The Scottish Daily Record invited Dutch psychic Gerard Croiset to Glasgow in early 1970, in order to help find Bible John. Despite pinpointing the suburb of Govan and describing particulars about the building where he lived, the psychic’s information was not helpful, and the door-to-door inquiries by the police in the area yielded nothing, with Detective Superintendent Joe Beattie describing the entire affair as a waste of time.
If you're familiar with the podcast, you'll also recall that Croiset was called out to provide his psychic opinion for the missing Beaumont Children in Australia, another search effort that came up with nothing.
The two police sketches, in particular the second full-color painted portrait, became undeniably etched in the minds of investigators and the public in the months after Helen Puttock’s murder. So convinced of a passerby’s resemblance to the police sketch of the killer, one off-duty police officer obsessively leapt from his car and chased the man down the street. Smartly dressed slim red-haired men were eyed cautiously, as was anyone who might even casually mentioned scripture in the nightlife scene. Leads poured in to the police headquarters, and in all, over fifty thousand tips were investigated and followed up on. By the time the inquiry was shuttered, over five thousand different suspects had been identified, interviewed, and cleared.
It was Scotland’s largest manhunt, but by the end of it, the police were no closer to finding him than when they had begun. With no subsequent sightings or further murders, Bible John disappeared, fading back into the rhythm and rush of the Barrowland from where he had emerged.
So, what happened to him? As suspected by some police, he could have been serving with the military at the time and sent away, far from Glasgow.
Maybe his circumstances suddenly changed, like getting married or switching careers, or he could have just simply moved from the area. In that regard, he could have been apprehended or arrested for some other crime and locked up in prison, or maybe even put away in a mental hospital.
Or maybe he got cold feet, and realized that being identified by Jean Langford and having his likeness distributed everywhere would cause his capture.
Or maybe, as some researchers claim, there wasn’t only one murderer, one singular Bible John.
You could make a compelling argument either way whether or not these crimes were the work of the same killer. Maybe the slight differences between the crimes show an evolution of Bible John’s style and m.o. All three victims had met their killer at the Barrowland Ballroom, all three were raped and strangled near their homes, all three had purses or handbags that were missing from the crime scenes, and all had been on their periods at the time of their deaths, with sanitary napkins left on or near their bodies. But while there are some very striking similarities, the subtle changes in the circumstances between the crimes lead us to a lot more questions.
The timeline of the three murders is unusual - an eighteen month gap of time between the first two killings is not common in multiple murderers, and the second and third murders occurred in much more rapid succession, within three months of each other.
Also, only the first victim, Patricia Docker, had her clothing removed from the crime scene, as well as the ligature which was used to strangle her; perhaps there was a reason for this. At the third crime scene, Helen Puttock’s sanitary napkin had been placed underneath her armpit – at the other two murders, the sanitary napkin had been discarded near the bodies.
We could easily come to the conclusion that the police were too eager to link the first two crimes, inadvertently creating a serial killer where there really wasn’t one. And if that’s the case, it could be that the second or third murders were copycat crimes, in some ways mimicking the killing of Patricia Docker. And finally, if these crimes weren’t really connected and multiple killers were responsible, this could be the reason why the Bible John murders stopped.
Two of the signatures that link the Bible John killings are the missing handbags and the sanitary napkins. It’s unclear why the three victims’ handbags were taken from the crime scenes; in the case of the first two killings, the handbags and their contents were absent, while with the murder of Helen Puttock, the contents of the bag were emptied and strewn near the body, but the bag itself was gone.
Only Patricia’s handbag was found, tossed into the River Cart near where she was killed, whereas with the later killings, the handbags were never recovered.
Some investigators think that these might be some form of grim souvenir or trophy, or perhaps they were removed and discarded because they contained evidence of the victims’ identities, and doing so would help throw the police of the killer’s trail. Perhaps if the police had also combed the areas near the later two crime scenes, the purses might have been recovered after all.
The fact that all three of the victims were menstruating and all three had sanitary napkins left near or on their bodies is also noteworthy; maybe the killer expected to “get lucky,” only to be sexually denied by his victims because they were on their periods, and it spurred him to attack in such a furious way. If that’s the case and they hadn’t been menstruating, these might have been just simple assaults or rapes, and not ended in murder.
Or maybe the victims were targeted and killed specifically because of this, like some form of weird fetish, as if the very fact that they were menstruating pushed Bible John over the edge to kill.
All of this leads to the ultimate question – who was he? We know a lot of suspects were interviewed and cleared – thousands of them, in fact – we just don’t know a lot about who they were. Many of the more recent developments name suspects who weren’t tied to the crimes during the official inquiries, or if they were, there’s no mention of them in the press or in the records available.
In early 1996, the body of John Irvine McInnes, a furniture salesman and former member of the Scots Guard, was exhumed under the suspicion that he might have been the infamous Bible John. A cousin of one of the original suspects who was investigated at the time of the murders, McInnes had committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 41, having died from massive blood loss after he slashed the brachial artery in his arm in what police psychologists called a search for the “ultimate thrill.”
An examination of cold cases the year before had linked the DNA sample taken from Helen Puttock’s tights to a member of the McInnes family. However, due to the body’s decomposition over the prior sixteen years and the possible degradation of the original DNA sample from decades earlier, subsequent tests proved to be inconclusive. It was hoped that McInnes’ dental remains could also be matched to the bite mark on Helen Puttock’s wrist, but there was insufficient information about the wound which prevented a positive match.
Further testing was done in 2004, when it was announced that authorities had collected DNA samples from as many ten different suspects who had been questioned during the original investigation more than thirty years prior. No names were ever released, but one of the men, the 58 year-old brother of a British rock star, admitted to voluntarily submitting the sample but denied having been Bible John. Police were able to determine that a DNA sample of one of these suspects, originally taken from a minor criminal offense in 2002, was an 80% match to that taken from the third Bible John crime, leading forensic experts to believe that if the Puttock sample had retained enough integrity over the many years in police storage since Helen’s murder, her killer would be related to this suspect in some way.
However, after further investigation, no additional samples were taken from other suspects and no subsequent testing was done.
Recently, retired Glasgow detective Bryan McLaughlin stated that he was convinced that the second suspect portrait - the one based off Jean Langford’s description - is wrong, and that the former Barrowland manager described an altogether different man with Helen Puttock. This manager had gotten into the altercation with Bible John concerning the ten pence lost in the cigarette machine. McLaughlin says that the manager and bouncers remember the man having darker, jet black hair, not the red hair described by Jean Langford.
But this could have been the manager referring to the other John in their company, who Jean described as having dark hair, and who left them on his way to a nearby bus stop while the remaining three hailed a cab.
This manager also stated that Jean Langford was excessively drunk that night when they exited the Barrowland, a claim that Jean vehemently disputed. She admitted to drinking on the night in-question, but not in excess. Not so much that she couldn't recall memories from the night of Helen's murder.
But if Jean had been in a heavily intoxicated state, this calls into question her entire detailed account of the cab ride and the conversation with her sister’s killer. This might also explain why it was nearly two months after the murder that police finally took a comprehensive statement from Jean, at which point the details of the cab ride emerged and which prompted them to create and release the second, more detailed police portrait of Bible John. It could have been a situation that Jean’s memories of that night had either been dulled by the effects of alcohol or the passage of time. However, if McLaughlin is quick to dismiss the general character of eyewitness testimony, it could be said that in downplaying the importance of Jean Langford’s account, he might be overstating the importance of just such testimony from the Barrowland manager, who he claims was “very impressive” as a witness.
After all, most witnesses at the Barrowland that night distinctly remember Helen Puttock’s companion having red hair, while the management insisted he had jet black hair. And after numerous questionings and interviews, lead investigator and Detective Superintendent Joe Beattie became an outspoken defendant of Jean Langford’s testimony and eyewitness account.
One thing that isn’t clear about the original police investigation is to what degree Jean’s story was verified by the cab driver who had driven the three of them home on the night of Helen’s murder. After all, this man was the only other living eyewitness who could possibly have overheard the suspect’s conversation with the two sisters, and he could have easily corroborated the details of Jean’s story, whether or not she was drunk.
Sometime after the murders, Helen Puttock’s widower George sought out and interviewed this cab driver who had driven his wife, her sister, and Bible John on that fateful night.
The driver’s story as recounted to George Puttock was a little more elaborate than what had apparently been told to the police before. According to the cabbie, he had been only driving with the trio for a short period of time and was unfamiliar with the area. When this had become evident during the ride, Helen grew frustrated with the situation, and after they took a wrong turn, she insisted that he stop the cab before they reached her Earl Street address, and that she would leave from there; the suspect quickly paid the fare after she exited, then followed her across the street and appeared to get into an altercation with her. Thinking it was only a lovers’ tiff, the cab driver did not intercede and drove on.
Coincidentally, early in his career, this same retired detective who discounts Jean Langford’s description of Bible John was involved in the arrest of a Castlemilk resident named John Edgar during the original investigation after Helen Puttock’s murder in 1969. Edgar had been apprehended outside the Barrowland Ballroom and charged with loitering and suspicious behavior, but had escaped from police custody by jumping through a hospital plate glass window. He was eventually tracked down and exonerated, but a 2005 book naming him as the prime suspect in the killings prompted an irate 63 year-old Edgar to make a direct appeal to the press, in which he willingly offered a DNA sample for authorities to clear his name.
Author Paul Harrison claims in his book Dancing with the Devil that Bible John had been a Glasgow police officer at the time of the murders. Harrison, himself a former policeman and one of the first UK officers to cross-train with the FBI's profile units at Quantico, said he could not reveal the name of his suspect. This suspect, who Harrison said was still alive as of 2013, was continuing to draw a police pension.
According to Harrison’s research, on the night of the Puttock murder, Bible John had flashed a warrant card to the management and bouncers at the Barrowland Ballroom after they had gotten into the heated discussion at the cigarette machine. He also states that Jean Langford had at one point caught a glimpse of this warrant card, and that there was evidence to believe that the other John, who had courted and danced with Jean throughout the evening, had also been a police officer who was working undercover. This might explain why the management didn’t eject Bible John from the Barrowland after the argument over the lost money, and why no one ever came forward claiming to be the other John who had spent time with the suspect and the two sisters that night.
Harrison also makes the claim that Jean Langford had seen the other undercover policeman John on numerous occasions at the Marine Police Station when she had been asked to view police lineups of possible suspects.
For some, the most compelling suspect for the Bible John murders has been Peter Tobin, the notorious Scottish rapist and serial killer, who was convicted of three murders between 2007 and 2009. Criminologist David Wilson, who co-authored a book connecting Tobin to the Bible John killings, claims that the murders for which Tobin was found guilty may not have been his earliest, and that it is highly likely that he had killed much earlier in his life.
Tobin’s first murder conviction was for a killing he committed in his early sixties, which most experts say is a late age for someone to begin killing, especially one who would go on to commit additional murders afterwards. Wilson also claims that the murder of Patricia Docker could have been Tobin’s first, and that the eighteen month gap between her killing and that of Jemima McDonald would not be uncommon if this were the case, citing serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer, who also had a significant gap of time between his early murders.
Tobin had been living in Glasgow as late as 1969 before marrying and moving to Brighton. Shortly after the Puttock murder, he was arrested and sentenced to a term of thirteen months.
According to his first wife Margaret, who he had met in a Glasgow dance-hall, he was a very smart dresser, charming and suave at first, yet eventually he became sadistic, manipulative, and cruel. Margaret also stated that Tobin’s sexual appetite was not dulled by the fact that his partner might have been on her period; “in fact, it gave him more of a kick,” she told one Scottish television program in an interview.
When Joe Jackson, who had been part of the original dancing squad of detectives assigned undercover at the dance-halls in 1969, learned of Tobin’s arrest, he noted a distinct facial similarity between him and the sketches of Bible John.
At the same time as the Bible John murders, Tobin had a tooth removed from his upper jaw, causing a noticeable gap, which some authorities thought might explain Jean Langford’s description of the suspect having an overlapping tooth. And one of Tobin’s preferred aliases was John Semple, which Jean Langford might have misheard as the Templeton, Sempleson, or Emerson surname during the cab ride on the night of the third murder.
Yet despite these similarities, there are some glaring differences between Tobin and Bible John. Though both had a slim build, Tobin’s height of 5’ – 6” is nowhere near the 6’ – 0” that Barrowland witnesses and Jean Langford described, nor is his hair color auburn or red.
Also, at the time of the murders, Tobin would only have been 22 or 23 years of age, slightly younger than the mid 20’s to early 30’s of the witness statements; this would make him younger than all three of the Bible John victims, whereas Tobin’s confirmed rape and murder victims were mostly adolescent or in their late teen years.
All three of Bible John’s victims were killed near their homes and left in public places to be found soon afterwards, whereas Tobin concealed the bodies of his three murder victims. All three of the Bible John victims had been strangled, and Tobin had been known to use a knife during his attacks.
However, a change in murder weapons is not uncommon in some serial killers; Peter Kürten, the Vampire of Dusseldorf, deliberately switched from knife to scissors to hammer in an effort to throw the police off his trail and convince the authorities that his attacks were not related.
Though he had been raised in a Roman Catholic household when he was a boy, Tobin’s former wives maintained that he had no interest in God or religion, not once quoting or referencing scripture in their presence.
And while the timeline of Tobin living in the area of Glasgow matches up with the Bible John killings, his first wife stated that they were away from the area on their honeymoon at the time of the McDonald murder, and that their move to Brighton occurred before the death of Helen Puttock.
Tobin has notoriously avoided interviews with researchers and journalists, and refuses to cooperate with the police on any investigations of possible crimes to which he hasn’t been connected or charged.
Despite appeals to decency and for closure for the family members of his other potential and unproven victims during one interrogation, he callously sneered “I don’t give a fuck about them.”
In 2015, in what some might characterize as rough justice, a fellow prisoner (himself a convicted child rapist) slashed Tobin with a razor, leaving an eight inch scar across his face and permanently disfiguring him. As of 2017, Tobin refuses to leave his prison cell for fear of subsequent attacks, and prison authorities have described the once infamous Scottish serial killer as a frail, frightened old hermit.
Jean Langford, Helen Puttock’s sister and the only living eyewitness to encounter Bible John, died in 2010; Jean adamantly denied that Tobin was the man with whom she shared the taxicab ride on the night of her sister’s murder. According to her eldest son Paul, she admonished five days before her death that Tobin was indeed Bible John; the rest of the remaining family discounts this claim, stating that Paul made up the entire deathbed confession. “My dad’s talking rubbish,” Paul’s daughter told reporters, and referencing her recently deceased grandmother, she said, “she never talked about Tobin.”
In that same year, a 63 year-old woman named Julia Taylor claimed she was “one hundred percent certain” that Tobin approached her at the Barrowland Ballroom and asked her to dance during the same time period as the killings, and that she only just recognized his picture after having seen news reports of criminologist David Wilson’s book linking Tobin to the Bible John killings. She remembers being separated from her friends that night, and that Tobin (neatly dressed and seeming slightly out of place) approached her, introducing himself as Peter and pestering her to accompany him to a party he was attending in the suburb of Castlemilk. He insisted on dancing with her in the more private, quieter upstairs ballroom instead of on the main, more crowded dance floor, and that when she declined his many offers, his behavior became menacing and odd. Upon deciding to leave, he shadowed her to the entrance of the Barrowland in a threatening manner, and glared at her as she left in such a hurry that she couldn’t properly don her overcoat; she hid on the bus on the ride home in fear of him following her.
Also in 2010, another woman claimed that when she was fifteen years old, she had met Tobin at the Barrowland in 1968, the same year Patricia Docker was killed, and that he had sexually assaulted her.
The Barrowland Ballroom still stands today, and it continues to be a premier venue for music acts in the city. Despite some cosmetic changes, the owners and management have made a dedicated effort to retain and preserve much of the interior since it reopened after the fire over fifty years ago. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said one manager in a newspaper interview about the longevity of the place.
Local folklore has it that when David Bowie was scheduled to play there once, a porcelain star became dislodged from the ceiling décor and nearly fell on him during an afternoon sound check before the show; the musician casually picked it up and pocketed it. Years later, when asked about the souvenir, Bowie claimed to have kept it in the bathroom of his home in France.
The grim specter of Bible John still hangs over Glasgow in the decades since his disappearance, gone but certainly not forgotten. He has become a bogeyman of sorts, the kind of legend whose visit parents would threaten their children with when they misbehaved. One former bouncer at the Barrowland reminisced, “I think the memory of Bible John still haunts the place all these years after. He’s an unwanted part of the folklore, if you like. For years after, every night I worked there would always be one lass who saw Bible John or recognized his face on a punter.”
Years after the murder of Jemima McDonald, a resident of the suburb where she lived remembered the profound effect it had on the city. “All these years later, I don’t think MacKeith Street can be mentioned anywhere in Bridgeton and other parts of Glasgow without Mima MacDonald being remembered,” the neighbor recalled. “I know it’s Bible John who gets most mentions, but Mima was a lovely girl, a smashing lass who didn’t deserve the life she had or to die in such terrible circumstances. She was a loving mother with three lovely kids. Life can be so cruel sometimes and it makes it all the more distressing to think that her killer got away with doing what he did. People ‘round here will never forget. If they ever do catch him, then I hope he gets his just rewards. It might be twenty-five years since it happened, but that man is still the most despised character in this city.”
To this day, the identity of the figure known as Bible John is unknown, and this story remains unresolved.