Interview: Detective Superintendent David Swindle, The Jigsaw Man

Share this article

He's spent the last four years piecing together the life and crimes of the most evil man he's ever investigated – Peter Tobin. Gareth Rose meets him

• David Swindle in his Strathclyde office. Pic: Neil Hanna

MOST men David Swindle's age have pictures of their wife, children, or even grandchildren at work, as reminders of what matters most in life. Instead, hanging over the 55-year-old Detective Superintendent's desk are a dozen images of one man – notorious serial killer Peter Tobin.

Over the last four and a half years, Mr Swindle and his team have hoarded pictures of the 64-year-old murderer like manic art collectors. Tobin scowls, glares or sneers down at them, but never smiles.

A disturbing collage features pictures of his young victims – Angelika Kluk, 23, Vicky Hamilton, 15, and Dinah McNicol, 18 – placed on a map of Great Britain at the places they were last seen. Next to each is a picture of how their bodies were discovered. Surrounding the three are yet more pictures of Tobin. Next to the map, four wall panels have been covered with black bin liners, because they hold sensitive information on the current investigation.

It is all a long way from the corridors and classrooms of Stevenston Higher Grade, in Ayrshire, where Davie, as he refers to himself, went to school as a youngster. He was "brought up in a good family and respected authority", but never thought about becoming a police officer in those days. Instead, he showed a flair for science and, when he finished his studies, got a job in another school as a science technician, setting up the labs and supporting experiments.

By the age of 22 he was a senior technician but, unable to progress higher, he became frustrated and started looking around for a new challenge.

"It was just at that time when I was becoming an adult," he says. "I'd never thought about police at school, but your life changes, you move on, and I wanted a new challenge. It was the best move I ever made in my life."

He believes it was his "methodical mind" which drew him to science and then served him well in the police force as he rose through the ranks from beat bobby in Paisley, to the old Scottish Crime Squad, and, ultimately, in charge of CID in Strathclyde.

He also gained a degree in police studies at Strathclyde University, postgraduate qualifications in alcohol and drugs studies from Paisley University, and forensic medicine at Glasgow University, which all further fuelled his passion for policing.

"It was great. Times have changed dramatically, but the core purpose remains looking after the public, and identifying the bad people – so to speak."

They do not come any worse than Tobin. When asked if he is the most evil person he has ever encountered, Mr Swindle simply says: "Aye. Yes. Yes." He knew Tobin's nature from the minute Angelika Kluk's body was found, hidden beneath floorboards near the confessional box of St Patrick's Church, in Glasgow, in September 2006.

She had been stabbed, tied up, raped, and beaten to death with a table leg days earlier. Mr Swindle knew then he was dealing with a serial killer. He took the key decision to not only investigate her murder but – after Tobin had been arrested – launch a separate inquiry into his entire life. Had he not done that, the murders of Vicky Hamilton and Dinah McNicol may never have been solved.

By the time the Angelika inquiry was gathering pace Mr Swindle, who admits to being "driven", was a man possessed. "All the time," he admits, when asked how often Tobin was on his mind. "I'm always thinking about it, even when I'm not working. Particularly during the very early stages, when I was running the Angelika Kluk inquiry. At all times of the day I'd be thinking about a new idea – we could try this or try that. Even on days off I'm thinking about it – I'm phoning colleagues to find out what is happening, what else we've got."

He sends text messages to himself with ideas for the investigation, and keeps a pen and pad of paper beside his bed for thoughts that come to him in the middle of the night.

He goes skiing three or four times a year, but even holidays are not Tobin-free zones. Mr Swindle says: "I think that when you are under constant pressure every day of your working life, you sometimes think of a good idea when you're on holiday or relaxing or whatever."

Nothing like Operation Anagram had ever been tried before in Scotland.

Hidden beneath the glare of the Angelika Kluk investigation, and the media frenzy that engulfed it, a team of experts started charting Tobin's entire life.

Mr Swindle deflects a lot of credit for the inquiry from himself to his team, or Chief Constable Stephen House who runs the force.

In the small Strathclyde office which became the hub of a UK-wide investigation, a small team began tracing Tobin's story from birth to the day he was arrested on suspicion of murdering Angelika.

Focusing on the life of a misogynistic serial killer take its toll when you do it every hour of every day. "I've got 34 years' experience in the police, most of which time has been spent in CID. I've worked on lots of murder investigations and this is one of the most despicable individuals. When you see what he has done to people – we know he has killed, and committed other crimes – it's upsetting, no matter how much experience you've got.

"That a human could do that to another human, the fact that he is so cool and calculated – he has no conscience. He is still in denial for the crimes he has been convicted of. People should never underestimate that we are human and we have feelings about what murderers do, and it's even worse when someone is so cool and calculating."

Amazingly, for someone who, by his own admission, has spent four and a half years inside Tobin's head, Mr Swindle has never met him in person. Specialist interviewers have conducted the marathon sessions of cat and mouse, including one that lasted ten hours during the summer after Mr Swindle took part in a Crimewatch appeal.

When asked if there is a part of him that wants to sit face-to-face with his nemesis and grill him, he smiles wryly. "Aye, that's what they do on Taggart, isn't it? He sits opposite all the bad guys and asks the questions. But that's TV and this is reality."

Not that Tobin has ever told detectives anything useful. "He talks about his favourite subject, which is Peter Tobin. He boasts about himself, but he never admits to any offences. A lot of what he says is lies. Maybe he will eventually decide to come out and admit to what he has done. I would hope that he will. I would hope that he does before he dies, for the sake of other people out there."

He is thinking about revealing the names of murder victims and missing persons who have been linked to Tobin, but who the team know from their inquiries that he did not kill. He does not believe there is any evidence to suggest Tobin is the true identity of the serial killer 'Bible John', a theory which has been heavily backed in other quarters. Bible John murdered Patricia Docker, 25, Jemima McDonald, 32, and Helen Puttock, 29, in the late 1960s.

The inquiry may in time be scaled down, but it will not be closed. And all the timelines and information that the team have gathered around Tobin like a web will stay in place for ever, waiting to trap him. Mr Swindle thought that moment had come last year when Avon and Somerset police searched two homes in Brighton and dug up their back gardens.

From the outside it seemed the search only brought disappointment – nothing was found. Mr Swindle says: "Now we know there's nothing there at least that is closure for the families."

He adds: "It's a search for the truth. We will never bring back the family's loved ones. But I hope they appreciate that what we are trying to do is find out what else Tobin has done. People say 'why?,' but if it was their daughter or sister or mother, they would want to know. I don't doubt that Tobin has done more. How many? There's only one person who knows that, and that's Tobin."Timeline that may unveil lost victims of Peter Tobin

POLICE have examined 66 murders, missing persons and rapes to see if Peter Tobin was responsible.

A wall of the investigation room is broken down into squares for each year of Tobin's life, up until his arrest for murdering Angelika Kluk in 2006, and includes where he lived and worked, as well as unsolved crimes from across the UK.

Some of them have been linked to Tobin, 64, in the media, and police do not believe he is responsible.

However, in each case they are kept there in case new information emerges, such as something suggesting he was living in a different part of the country than previously thought.

The timeline includes his first arrest, for theft when he was nine, and the year 1978 – when nothing was known about his movements other than a statement from the Inland Revenue which said he left a job in November, but did not say after how long.

Police are able to rule Tobin out of crimes committed between 1993 and 2004, when Tobin was in prison serving time for the rape of two juveniles.

Others crimes are considered extremely unlikely, where the locations do not match his known movements, or the victim does not fit the profile of the women he targeted.

Yet Tobin travelled so extensively, using so many different aliases and cars, that it is impossible to know for sure – and there may even be more, unknown, potential victims.

Mr Swindle says: "Because of the way he has operated, being a loner, and the people he will have targeted, if there's a missing person in an area, a young woman with no relatives or friends, a runaway, who's going to report her missing?"