In late 1960s Scotland, the Barrowland Ballroom in the East End of Glasgow was the place for young people to go to dance and socialise. That was until an unknown man began picking up girls there and killing them. The crimes terrified Scotland; and the killer has never yet been found.
On February 22, 1968, 25 year old Patricia Docker went to the regular Thursday night dancing. The following morning she was found strangled in a nearby doorway. Eighteen months later, on August 16, 1969, Jemima McDonald (32) disappeared. She was last seen leaving Barrowland Ballroom with a tall man, about six foot two, slim and with red hair. The next day she too was found strangled.
Later that year, on October 30, Helen Puttock (29) and a friend met two men both called John at the ballroom. When one of the Johns went off on his own, the three of them rode home together. Puttock and the strange man got out together, and the following day her dead body was found. However, her friend was able to give an excellent description of the man. She said he was polite and considerate, well-dressed with short hair; he had said his name was Templeton or Emerson or something similar. Although she was happy to let Puttock go off with the man, Puttock's friend had been a little bemused by strange remarks he had made about the Bible, particularly Moses. This gave the police the nickname by which the killer is now universally known.
All three murders were strikingly similar. The victims were strangled with their own stockings, and seemed to have been punched and kicked in the face, possibly after death. Their bodies were left in doorways, in differing states of undress. None of them had been raped or sexually assaulted. And curiously, all the women were menstruating at the time they were killed.
Then the killings stopped. Police had no leads, and to date no one has ever been brought to trial for the crimes. However, there have been numerous theories and a number of suspects. Much attention has been focussed on the fact that it is highly unusual for serial killers to stop killing once they have begun. Therefore, many people believe that Bible John either died soon after the third murder, or may have moved away. Some think there may be a connection between the Bible John murders and those of Helen Anne Scott and Christine Eadie, killed in 1977 after leaving the World's End pub in Edinburgh with two men; or even with Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.
Recent advances in forensic science have brought police back to the case. In 1996, police exhumed former Scots Guard John McInnes, who had killed himself in 1980, for DNA tests. However, they found the Stonehouse, Lanarkshire man did not match a semen sample taken from Helen Puttock's underskirt.
In the year 2000, police had a new suspect, when an American man suggested that his cousin might be the murderer, and that the murders stopped when his cousin moved south. The suspect had been living in Lanarkshire, east of Glasgow, and his behaviour had changed in the late 1960s; in particular he had started staying out all night quite regularly. Then in 1970, the suspect put his house on the market and moved to England. However, this too proved to be a false lead. It now appears likely that the killer will never be found.
The cultural impact
The murders have resonated deeply through Scottish culture until the present day. Many people still remember the fear all of Glasgow had for Bible John, and even those born since have been fascinated by the combination of mystery, violence and religion. Therefore it is no surprise that Bible John has cropped up repeatedly in Scottish arts and media. Glaswegian author and journalist Andrew O'Hagan wrote about the murders in his book The Missing (1996), a loosely-themed meditation on murder victims, runaways, missing persons and those who had otherwise gone astray. The book was adapted for radio and television as Calling Bible John.
Scottish crime novellist Ian Rankin fictionalised the story of the Bible John murders in his novel Black And Blue (1997), in which a murderer whom the press call Johnny Bible is recreating the notorious crimes of 30 years previously. Rankin's hero Inspector Rebus investigates both the current fictional crimes and the real Bible John, finding a solution to the murders. The book was adapted as part of the Scottish TV series Rebus starring John Hannah and made by Hannah's company Clerkenwell.
The murders were also part of the subject of a 1999 play, Blood on the Thistle, adapted by Kenny Miller from David Skelton's book about Scotland's most notorious murderers. According to critic Joyce MacMillan, the play was a failure: the production never "develops into an event purposeful enough to justify the horrible material on which it dwells", being little more than a catalog of horrors. (Review from The Scotsman Online, quoted at http://members.aol.com/glasgocitz/plays99/gcthistl.htm). It seems that Bible John is turning into Scotland's own Jack the Ripper, a figure of endless speculation and symbolism, while his victims lie dead and unavenged.
- http://www.observer.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,382712,00.html (case reopened)
- http://www.timeout.com/glasgow/sight/barras.html (Barrowland Ballroom)
- http://www.minotaurbooks.com/minotaur/catalog/blackblue.html (Ian Rankin)
- http://www.ala.org/booklist/v94/adult/oc1/32rankin.html (Ian Rankin)
- http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/archive/17-11-1999-23-37-24.html (Black and Blue on TV)
- http://members.aol.com/glasgocitz/plays99/gcthistl.htm (Blood on the Thistle)