Bible John And The Barrowland Ballroom Murders

Bible John was the moniker given to a serial killer who took the lives of three women in Glasgow, Scotland in the late 1960’s. A smartly dressed and handsome young man was said to have been seen at the Barrowland Ballrooms with all three but the man was never identified and the killer never caught.

Bible John Victims

Patricia Docker

On February 22, 1968, 25-year-old auxiliary nurse Patricia Docker decided she needed a night out, to take a break from her hectic routine. She left her young child with her parents, put on her glad rags and told them she was off dancing at the Majestic Ballroom.

Patricia Docker

For reasons unknown Patricia actually ended up at an over 25’s night at the Barrowland Ballroom instead of at the Majestic. Not a great deal is known about her movements that night or why she ended up at the Barrowland but what is known is that Patricia never returned home to her young child.

On February 23, 1968, Maurice Goodman, of Carmichael Place (not far from Patricia’s home), was heading towards his garage when he got the shock of his life. Lying in the doorway was a naked body. Maurice ran indoors, still shaking from his discovery and immediately called the police.

The young woman had been strangled with a ligature. As no ligature was found with the body of the victim the pathologist, Dr James Imrie, could only speculate but his belief was that the murder weapon may have been a belt or the woman’s own nylons.

Although the body was found naked there were no signs of a sexual assault. Despite a search of the surrounding area police found none of the victims clothing or personal belongings. This lead police to believe there was a strong possibility the murder took place elsewhere before Patricia’s body was dumped.

It was also discovered that Patricia was menstruating at the time of her death. Police made a note of this but thought little of it, it would only be revealed to be of greater importance later on.

Police lost valuable time at the beginning of their investigation. Due to the belief that Patricia had been at the Majestic, the police focused their attention on that venue. It was only several days later that police discovered they had been focusing on the wrong Ballroom.

Locals were questioned and asked if they had seen or heard anything out of place on the night of the murder. Although one neighbour reported hearing a scream in the early hours it was of little value to the investigation and nothing was learned.

Divers were sent into the River Cart in the hope of recovering some of Patricia’s belongings. Again it proved fruitless as nothing was found.

Despite continued investigation police were left with little to go on. The unsolved murder of Patricia Docker would be almost forgotten until a year and a half later when the killer who would go on to be known as Bible John struck again.

Jemima McDonald

On August 16, 1969, 32-year-old mother of three, Jemima McDonald left her kids with her sister Margaret as she headed for a night out dancing at the Barrowland Ballroom.

Jemima McDonald

Jemima was seen during her night out on the dancefloor with a man in a blue suit. The man was described as tall with short fair hair and was aged in his late twenties to early thirties.

Jemima was seen leaving the Barrowland Ballrooms with the same man slowly strolling away into the night. It was the last time Jemima would be seen alive.

Jemima’s sister Margaret was starting to become a little concerned the following morning as Jemima had failed to come and collect her children. As the day passed Margaret overheard some of the children from the neighbourhood talking about “the body” they had discovered at a derelict building nearby.

Margaret got directions from one of the local kids and made her way to the abandoned building. She made the discovery she dreaded as Margaret found the dead body of her sister Jemima.

Like Patricia Docker, Jemima had been strangled, possibly with her own tights. Jemima though was not found naked, she was fully clothed, but her handbag was missing. Police also discovered that Jemima was menstruating at the time of her death, just like Patricia had been.

Police again questioned both locals and individuals that had attended the Barrowlands on the night Jemima went missing. Unfortunately, this turned up very little information.

Jemima’s siblings tried to do what they could and even offered a cash reward for any information leading to an arrest. Again this led to no real information.

Police took the step of a re-enactment next to try and get somewhere with the investigation. They dressed a female officer in similar clothing to which Jemima had worn on the night and retraced her final known hours. Sadly this once again failed to lead to any tangible suspect.

For the first time in the history of a Scottish murder investigation police decided to take the step of releasing a sketch of the suspect to the media.

Bible John

Whilst still very much at the height of the investigation into the murder of Jemima McDonald though Bible John would strike again.

Helen Puttock

Despite a warning from her husband to be careful due to the recent murder, Helen Puttock seemed to have no concerns whatsoever about going to the Barrowland on a night out.

She was sure she would be fine, even more so as she wasn’t going alone. Her sister Jean was going on the night out with her and the pair were sure they wouldn’t be separated.

Helen Puttock

On October 30, 1968 the two sisters made their way to the Barrowlands and enjoyed an evening of dancing. According to Jean, her sister spent much of the night dancing and in conversation with a tall young man.

As midnight approached Jean and Helen decided it was time to make there way home. It was at this point the mystery man offered to see the pair home in a taxi.

During the ride home the man revealed his name was John. He also stated that he had been raised in a very religious household. Due to this upbringing, he was able to quote scripture off by heart. Jean also recalled that “John” claimed he had a sister. He also mentioned a cousin who had recently hit a hole in one at golf.

As the taxi dropped Jean off she said goodnight to her sister and waved her off as Helen and “John” drove away into the night. It would tragically be the last time Jean ever saw her sister alive.

The next morning a man walking his dog discovered the body of Helen Puttock. Like Patricia and Jemima, it was revealed that Helen had been strangled with a ligature, once again possibly her own nylons. Helen was also menstruating.

Helen had been left in a similar way to Jemima, fully dressed and with her handbag missing. However there was one major difference, the killer had decided to remove Helen’s sanitary towel and place it under one of her armpits.

Bible John had also left his first real clues with the murder of Helen Puttock. Firstly he had left a bite mark on her body. Secondly, he had also left a semen stain on her clothing.

Sadly as these murders took place in the late 60’s the evidence wasn’t as great a lead to the detectives at the time as it would be nowadays. They were however preserved and would be used years later.

The Investigation

The Hunt Continues

Helen’s sister Jean was questioned by the investigators. She gave them as much information as she could in the hope it would lead to the apprehension of the killer.

The investigators released as much information as they could on the case to the public and press in the hope of getting a lead on the killer the media were now calling Bible John.

Police visited golf courses in the hope that the hole in one story would ring a bell with someone and may help them in tracking down the killer. Police also visited dentists as Helen had mentioned the man in the taxi had an overlapping tooth. Sadly neither lead to the identification of Bible John.

It was reported in a few newspapers at the time that the detective in charge of the murders, Joe Beattie, was actually of the opinion that Bible John was a media creation and he believed that the murders were not by the same hand and that there was never any evidence to directly link the three murders to one man. However, when you look at the three victims they shared some striking similarities:

  • All three had last been seen in or leaving the Barrowland Ballroom.
  • All three women were menstruating at the time of their deaths.
  • All three victims handbags were missing when the bodies were found.
  • All three were strangled with a ligature, which in all cases was likely to have been their own tights.
  • All three victims bodies were found close to their homes.

The Sketch Of A Killer

Due to witness statements police released a description of the individual they were looking for and released a sketch based on descriptions given to them.

bible john
The sketch of the Bible John suspect police released

Police Description:

  • Male
  • 25-30 years old
  • Medium build
  • 6 feet tall
  • Short light reddish hair
  • Blue-grey eyes
  • An overlapping tooth in the upper right of the mouth
  • Military style wristwatch

The image and description led to more than 4000 tip-offs from people claiming to either know or have seen the man suspected of being Bible John.

Jean, the sister of the final victim, was asked over 250 times to take a look at suspects that they believed may be a match for her description but Jean was unable to positively ID any of them as the man she had shared a taxi with on that fateful night.

In all police took over 50,000 statements on the case, did a re-enactment for TV and had over 100 officers working on the case at one point or another. This included many of the younger officers going undercover in the Barrowland Ballrooms, acting like partygoers, in the hope of being able to ID a suspect.

Barrowland Ballroom
The Barrowland Ballroom, where all three victims visited on their last night alive.

However, as the 60’s came to an end so too did much of the interest in the murders from the public. With no arrests made and very little in the way of leads, the Bible John murders would remain unsolved.

Fresh Hope

Strangely though new hope was given some 14 years later in 1983. A Glasgow man who used to attend the Barrowlands claimed he knew who the killer was after only recently reading an article with a description and the police sketch of the man suspected of being Bible John.

The man claimed that an old school friend who he had grown up with, and frequented the Barrowlands with, was the killer who had eluded the police in the late 1960’s. The man hired a private investigator to look for his former friend and he was eventually tracked down.

The suspect in question was now living in the Netherlands and supposedly he was questioned about the murders. The suspect however was seemingly able to prove he had nothing to do with the murders and no further mention was ever made of either the suspect or the man who suspected him.

A Suspect Emerges

It would be a further 13 years until the police would reveal another suspect for the murders that had been on their radar. It was revealed in 1996 that a man known as John M. was a man they strongly suspected of being the man responsible for the three murders. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the man police were looking for and was even paraded before Jean during the original investigation.

Despite her failure to pick John M out as the man who shared a taxi with her and her sister Helen, he remained a person of interest in the eyes of the investigators even after his suicide in 1980.

Due to the advances in DNA technology police tested the semen DNA against that of one of John M’s siblings. Unfortunately for the police, these test came back inconclusive. However, Police held such a strong belief that he was their man that they took the step of requesting that the body of John M be exhumed so they could take a direct sample for comparison.

Police were given the permission they had sought and went on to exhume the body of John M. Unfortunately during this time John M’s real identity was leaked to the media and suddenly it was big news throughout Scotland.

The man’s children and family were hounded by the media and every little bit of dirt was dug up on John M and gleefully put in the press. Press basically declared John M as Bible John as if it was a matter of fact.

Testing took longer than expected, much to the dismay of the family thrown under an unwanted negative spotlight, but after several months police revealed that the DNA testing had failed to provide a link to the suspect John M.

The government issued an apology to the family of John M for the pain and suffering caused by the events. Jean also released a statement shortly after saying that she had repeatedly told police John M was not the man that she shared a taxi with and went on to kill her sister Helen but that they ignored her.

A New DNA Lead

Eight years would pass before the Bible John murders hit the newspapers again. In December 2004 it was revealed that DNA taken from a recent arrest was an 80% match to the semen DNA left on the clothing of Helen Puttock.

The name was never released (probably due to what happened with the press when John M’s identity got out) but it was believed the man arrested wasn’t himself a suspect but that police strongly believed someone in the individuals family may well have been Bible John. DNA samples from several family members were taken but no suspects came of the testing and no arrest was ever made.

A Known Serial Killer Becomes A Suspect

In 2007 Peter Tobin was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Angelika Kluk in Glasgow in 2006. He was further convicted of two further murders, those of Vicky Hamilton and Dinah McNicol.

Peter Tobin

After setting up Operation Anagram to look into the movements and life of Tobin several links were made to the Bible John murders. One woman came forward to say that in 1968 she had met Tobin in the Barrowland Ballrooms and he went on to rape her.

Another woman also came forward to say she too remembered a meeting with Peter Tobin in the Barrowlands when he became aggressive and threatening towards her when she refused to leave the Barrowlands and go to a party elsewhere. Another interesting point on Tobin is that he met his first wife in the Barrowland Ballrooms, and in the same year that the Bible John murders ended.

Regrettably, due to poor storage, the police believe that the DNA samples they have are unlikely to link Tobin due to their deterioration. Jean McLachlan, the sister of Helen Puttock, also dismissed Tobin. She was adamant he was not the man that dropped her home and drove away with her sister on the night of her murder.

Bible John The Police Officer

In the book Dancing With The Devil author and ex police officer Paul Harrison claims he has evidence that Bible John was a serving police officer at the time of the murders.

Harrison states that the officer in question was under investigation by Joe Beattie, the man in charge of the Bible John enquiry. However, Beattie was told to drop the investigation into the officer by those above him.

The author also states in his book that Jean McLachlan was certain the man that shared a taxi with her on the fateful night her sister was murdered was a police officer. Harrison also says that several witnesses from the Barrowland Ballrooms said that the man seen with the victims had been seen with a police ID badge.

The writer also states in his book that he doesn’t believe the killings stopped with Helen Puttock and that he was responsible for more deaths. Paul Harrison now believes he has uncovered the name of the officer in question and has apparently handed this information over to the police. As of writing nothing further has come from this.

Case Closed?

Sadly in 2010, at the age of 74, Jean passed away. Her death and the news that the DNA samples are no longer likely of any use, unfortunately, means that there is little chance of the murders ever been solved and the man they called Bible John being caught.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the last paragraph it now looks unlikely these murders will ever be solved barring a confession from the killer himself. Although some believe otherwise I personally think the murders are all committed by the same perpetrator given so many similarities in the murders

It’s a real shame that the DNA evidence is now pretty much unusable, especially as on paper Peter Tobin is such a good suspect in many ways. It’s even more of a shame as it now means the victims and their loved ones will probably never get any justice.

Further Reading

Dancing With The Devil: The Bible John Murders

The Lost British Serial Killer

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