The polite, fair-haired man ... and his lust for murder
THE TALL, well-dressed handsome stranger didn't say much - but what he did say earned him the most chilling sobriquet in Scottish criminal history. More than 35 years after his killing spree, mere mention of the name Bible John is still enough to send a shiver up the spine. In late 1960s Glasgow, when his identikit image stared from every newspaper and wanted poster in the land, he provoked fear to the point of hysteria.
"I don't drink at Hogmanay, I pray", he was heard telling his third known victim, Helen Puttock. The quote was frighteningly eerie, like a line from a horror film. Whether he meant "pray" or "prey" was a matter of conjecture but other references to Moses, his strict religious upbringing and his father's belief that dance halls were "dens of iniquity" led the media to dub him Bible John.
He did call himself John, that little is known about him. Beyond that, his identity was - and remains to this day - a mystery. Police in Glasgow, faced with genuine terror among citizens, launched a massive manhunt - but after three murders the killer never re-surfaced. Theories abounded that he had killed many more women by changing his modus operandi or that he had moved to another part of the UK. The truth is no-one knows what happened to him. Bible John may well be alive today, living somewhere in Scotland and likely in his 60s.
His reign of terror centred on Glasgow's Barrowland Ballroom, a hugely popular East End dance venue in the 1960s. On the night of 22 February 1968, Patricia Docker went to the hall for a night out, leaving her parents to babysit her son. She had been at another ballroom, the Majestic, but friends remember a man escorting her from the Barrowland. The following day the naked body of the 25-year-old woman was found in a lane near her home. She had been strangled with her own pantyhose.
By August of the following year, 18 months had passed and the investigation into Docker's death had drawn a blank. Her murder had been largely forgotten.
Jemima McDonald, 32, felt perfectly safe as she left her three children in the care of her sister and set off for a night at the Barrowland. Friends remember her dancing most of the evening with a tall, well-dressed man with light hair and wearing a blue suit. The pair were seen leaving the dance hall together.
McDonald was found dead the following day in an abandoned building near her home, strangled with her own nylons. There were other similarities to the two killings. Neither woman had been sexually assaulted, both had been menstruating at the time of their deaths, their handbags were missing and both had been discovered near where they lived.
A sense of unease - even mild panic - began to set in. That soon turned to hysteria two months later when the body of the 29-year-old Helen Puttock was found in exactly the same circumstances. She had been at the same ballroom, left with what sounded like the same man and was found strangled in the same fashion. The handbag was also missing and she too had been menstruating. This time, however, the killer had left a bite mark on her body and – most critically - semen stains on her clothing, the scientific clues police had been seeking to help in their investigation.
Jean Puttock had accompanied her sister Helen and John in a taxi before Jean was dropped off, and it was some biblical passage she remembered him quoting that brought on the nickname. A sketch of the killer was distributed to the media; John was said to be around 6ft 2in, with short, sandy hair and one front tooth overlapping another.
Business fell dramatically at the Barrowland and many of those who did attend the dances were undercover police officers. Dozens of men who remotely fitted the killer's description were issued by the police with cards saying, "I am not Bible John". Hundreds were questioned, but after the death of Helen Puttock there was nothing. The killer seemed to vanish.
In 1996 the body of John McInnes, a furniture salesman from Stonehouse in South Lanarkshire, was exhumed in the hope that police could link his DNA to that of the semen found on Puttock’s clothes. The tests proved inconclusive and McInnes, who had committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 41, was re-buried and an apology offered to his family.
Police are still hopeful of a breakthrough and just last year announced that DNA samples taken from the scene of a crime committed in Glasgow in 2003 allegedly provides an 80 per cent match with samples taken from the Puttock murder scene.
As time passes, however, it becomes more likely that the identity of Bible John will never be known and he will remain arguably Scotland's most notorious serial killer.
If you enjoyed reading this, you may want to read:
Burke and Hare: murder for money?
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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