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Thriller Thursday: Bible John

Since my upcoming mystery/suspense novel, TIN GOD, deals with religion and betrayal in the deep south, today we’re talking about the unidentified serial killer known as Bible John.

Between 1968 and 1969 in Glasgow, Scotland, three young women were murdered after meeting a mysterious man at the Barrowland Ballroom.


25-year-old Patricia Docker was found strangled to death on February 23, 1968. She’d told her parents the night before she was going dancing at the Majestic Ballroom, but instead went to the Barrowland, a club catering exclusively to the over 25 crowd. By the time police found this out, her murder was eight weeks old and most of the patrons didn’t remember her.

Her handbag was later found in the River Clyde, leading authorities to speculate her killer may have been from that area of Glasgow.

Jemima McDonald, 32, disappeared on August 15, 1969. She’d also gone dancing at the Barrowland. Her body was discovered in an old tenement building by her sister after hearing rumors of a dead woman having been dumped. Jemima had been strangled, raped, and beaten to death.

This time, police were able to question witnesses at the Barrowland, and many stated they saw Jemima leaving at midnight with a tall, thin man with red hair. They also interviewed a woman who remembered screams coming from the building, but she couldn’t pin down the time.

A few months later, on Halloween, 29-year-old Helen Puttock was found murdered. She’d been the Barrowland Ballroom the night she was killed with her sister, and had met two different men named John. One said he was from the nearby town of Castlemilk. He later left to get a bus, while Helen, Jen, and John got a taxi. Jean got out and then the taxi continued to Earl Street where Helen lived. Her body was found the next morning in her back garden. Like the others, she’d been raped and strangled. Her handbag was missing. Grass stains on her feet indicated she’d tried to escape.

A bite mark and semen were left with Helen’s body and would later become the focus as DNA testing came into its own.

When Jean was questioned about the man her sister had been with, she clearly remembered his ability to quote scripture, leading the media to assign him the “Bible John” moniker.

There were several similarities between the victims: all three had been strangled with their own pantyhose, all were menstruating, and all three had sanitary napkins or tampons near the bodies. All three were also missing their handbags.

This, along with the killer’s mode of operation and pattern, made Peter Tobin, a (later) convicted Scottish serial killer and rapist who was known to have abducted in the Barrowland Ballroom area, a suspect.

Peter Tobin

Peter Tobin’s ex-wives all gave accounts of being beaten and raped by Tobin. There are also similarities between Tobin during the years when the crimes were committed and artist’s renditions of Bible John. He also met his first wife at the Barrowland. All three former wives said their menstrual cycles drove Tobin to violence, a suspected motive in the Bible John murders.

A man known only as John M. was another suspect and viewed by Helen’s sister for possible identification. He also bore remarkable resemblance to the police sketch and he continued to be a prime suspect even after his suicide in 1980.

In the 1990s, DNA results failed to link John M. to semen left with Helen’s body. When the news broke, Helen’s sister Jean told the media she’d always known John M. wasn’t the killer.

Police are actively collecting DNA and claim science will solve the killings.

What do you think? Will DNA eventually solve the case, or has too much time passed? Could Peter Tobin be the real killer?

For much more in depth information on the case, visit TruTV’s Crime Library.

TIN GOD has earned amazing reviews from early readers, and I’m giving away three signed print copies via Goodreads. Contest ends the 7th, so be sure to sign up!

8 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: Bible John”

    • That’s what I couldn’t find out, Shannon. I assume they have, but perhaps it hasn’t been tested? Or maybe they don’t. DNA is usually left behind, but he committed his crimes so long ago it may have been lost and/or degraded.

  1. Anna Erishkigal

    Scary stuff. Which is why I make my girls take martial arts even though they’d much rather be in dance class. Hopefully it -is- the guy they finally locked up for similar crimes because it’s scary to think someone like that might still be out there.

    • It really is. My gut tells me it is Tobin, but who knows. And martial arts classes are a great thing for girls. Good for you!

  2. How creepy that the women menstruating drove him to a rage. I wonder how he knew those 3 victims were menstruating before he chose them? That is even creepier in itself! Your posts always give me chills, Stacy! Good luck with the release of TIN GOD! Congrats on all the awesome early reviews!

    • Thanks so much, Donna. I can’t believe it’s almost here. I have no idea. I suppose he didn’t. Maybe he only planned on sleeping with them, and then the rage came when he couldn’t/menses. It’s very chilling.

  3. So much for the “all Scottish men are sexy” meme. Three and stopped? Does sound like it had to be someone who was caught and jailed, or died, because they don’t usually stop, do they?

    • No, they don’t usually stop, and Peter was jailed, so that lends itself to the theory it was him. But I think this is one case where we will never know. Thanks!

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