barrowland ballrooms

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The Hunt For Bible John

“Bible John” is the popular nickname given to an unidentified serial killer who was active in Glasgow, Scotland between 1968 to 1969. The centre of the case is the Barrowland Ballroom- a popular dancing venue for courting couples -where all three of the victims danced before meeting their deaths. 

Bible John struck first on February 23, 1968, on a frigid winters night at the Barrowlands. Twenty five-year old Patricia Docker went along for a night of dancing with her sister, and got so drunk her sister could not support her on the walk home. As they waited for a taxi, a young man with reddish hair approached Patricia and offered to walk with her home. The drunken woman agreed and left with the man, leaving her sister behind at the ballroom. 

The next day a road builder found Patricia’s naked corpse lying in a door yard,  just feet from her home. She had been raped and strangled. Her clothes and purse were missing, but one detail stood out; Patricia had been menstruating at the time she was murdered, and the sanitary napkin she had been using had been quite deliberately placed next to her body. Though her sister gave police a reasonable description of the man’s appearance, her testimony was considered unreliable because she had been drunk when she saw Patricia’s killer. Months went by, and the case went cold.

Nearly eighteen months later, the killer of Patricia Docker again prowled the Barrowland Ballroom. This time he chose Jemima McDonald, a pretty young secretary who agreed to walk with him home after a night of dancing. Her sister went to her house the next day to drop off her purse, but there was no sign that Jemima had come home the previous night. Frantic, her sister waited for news, but then she saw something odd; a group of children running out of an abandoned building nearby, screaming about a body. She hurried over to the house, and in an empty room she found the hideously beaten body of her sister.  Jemima had been choked and beaten around the face, and again a used sanitary napkin gad been positioned next to her corpse.  Like Patricia, she had been violently raped.  

Police immediately noted the similarities between the Dockery and McDonald murders, and warned the young women of Glasgow that a killer was on the loose. Nobody got a good look at the man who accompanied Jemima home, but the crime scene evidence was in strong favor of a single offender having committed both murders. The killer would strike a final time, and then seemingly vanish into thin air.

On October 31, 1969, Helen and Jean Puttock went to attend a birthday bash at the Barrowland Ballroom. As they worked the room, Helen noticed a tall man with red hair following her; he bought her a drink, and the two appeared to hit it off. The man politely introduced himself to Jean as “John”, and when the ballrooms closed John accompanied Helen and Jean to the taxi stand. While they waited another man - ironically also named John - chatted to Jean, and this man would later tell police that “John” was very well spoken, appeared educated, and seemed to disapprove of ballrooms. Jean, Helen, and John took the same taxi home, and during  the ten minute trip home Jean got a good look at her sisters companion. She described John as being twenty five years old, clean shaven, with short cropped red hair and a slim build. During the trip he quoted from the Bible and spoke about praying instead of dancing (it’s this pious attitude that earned him his famous nickname) Jean bade goodbye to her sister and John when the taxi arrived at Helen’s house, and Continental on her way. 

The next morning a postman collecting mail noticed a white shape spread-eagled on her back in the back garden. Upon closer inspection the shape was revealed to be the partially nude body of Helen Puttock. Like the other two victims she had been raped and strangled, and a sanitary napkin was placed near her arm. Her bloodied clothes were scattered about the garden, but her handbag and stocking were missing - most likely taken as a trophy by her murderer. Jean Puttock immediately met with a police sketch artist and created a very good likeness of Bible John. He was profiled as a power-reassurance killer with a fixation on menstruation, a confident killer who carefully planned his murders and took care of evidence. A poster bearing the police sketch and his mannerisms was circulated throughout the Glasgow region, but despite thousands of tips police were no closer to catching the killer. The case faded from public memory, and eventually grew cold.

Nobody has ever been charged with the Bible John murders, though investigators currently believe serial killer Peter Tobin may be responsible. Tobin was in his mid twenties during Bible John’s active period,  and the police sketch is a good fit for his appearance at the time. However, with no concrete evidence available, police haven’t moved to officially charge Tobin with the murders. The case is still open.