Casefiles

Peter Tobin and Glasgow’s Bible John Murders

Three unsolved murders in the late 1960’s in Glasgow, Scotland terrorized those in the area. A killer was on the loose and they were calling him Bible John. In the mists of the UK’s history of serial murderers, Peter Tobin is a man with a dark past. Convicted of the murder of three women across the UK, and an earlier brutal attack on two teenage girls, Tobin is currently serving three life sentences with a recommendation that he is never to be released.

This is a man who travelled around the country, used up to 40 aliases to avoid detection and anyone discovering his previous crimes. Caught for murder aged 60 years old, authorities’ fear he has been operating for more than 40 years and could be responsible for many more deaths.

Peter Tobin was in the Glasgow area at the time of the Bible John murders and known to frequent the Barrowland Ballroom where all three victims met their killer.

His appearance at that time bears a striking resemblance to the artist’s impression of Bible John. He has connections to religion and he was jailed for burglary and forgery right at the time the Bible John murders stopped. Could Peter Tobin be Bible John?

The Bible John nickname was coined from the behaviour of the only suspect in this case, a man who shared a taxi with the last victim and her sister who said his name was John and quoted from the Bible.

Two previous murders of local woman had shocked the city and the longer the suspect remained at large the more frightened the residents became. There was no doubt these murders of women in the Glasgow area had been carried out by the same individual. All three were women and all three were strangled and beaten. Then all of a sudden, in 1969 the murders stopped, and the trail of the so called Bible John went cold.

A Serial Killer in Glasgow

Glasgow is a vibrant city and the largest in Scotland.  Situated on the River Clyde, is has its historic roots in shipbuilding and engineering. In the 1960’s, Glasgow was a social hub with its streets populated by bars and dancing halls. Weekends were about meeting friends, dancing and enjoying yourself.

The Barrowland Ballroom in the East End was a popular venue allowing for nights of fun and laughter. The Ballroom however soon became famous for a different reason, one of terror and fear as all three victims attended this Ballroom on the night of their murder giving rise to the notion that this where they met their killer.

Patricia Docker was a 25 year old nurse out for a night of fun with her friends in February 1968. She never returned home and her body was found the next morning by an unsuspecting labourer on his way to work. She had told her parents she was going to a different ballroom that night, losing the police valuable time before they discovered her true whereabouts. When she was found, her clothes and handbag were missing and have never been recovered.

A year and a half later, Jemima McDonald aged 32 went for a night out at the Barrowland and again a young women did not make it home.  She was found days later in a derelict house by her own sister who by this time had become desperately worried about her and followed up on rumours from children that they had seen a body in the house.

Once again the beaten and strangled body of a young women had been found with no clothes or belongings after a night out at the Barrowland Ballroom.

Just two months later, 29 year old Helen Puttock enjoyed a night out with her sister in the East End of Glasgow in October 1969. They had met two men that night and shared a taxi home. After her sister left the taxi at her own house she waved off Helen fully expecting to see her the next day as arranged.

Helen never did arrive home and was found the next morning in the same manner as the previous two victims.

25 year old Patricia Docker (left), 32 year old Jemima McDonald (middle), 29 year old Helen Puttock (right)

In Glasgow’s longest running and most high profile of unsolved crimes, the mystery of Bible John had the city whispering and questioning on who he could be.  Despite a reported 50’000 statements being taken regarding the murders, no one has ever been caught and brought to trial for the crimes.

Related: DNA Crime Investigations: Solving Murder and Serious Crime [Book Review]

One theory on his identity has risen to the top and it firmly points to Peter Tobin being the mysterious Bible John killer of Glasgow.

Was Peter Tobin also Bible John?

In 1993 Peter Tobin carried out an attack on two 14 year old girls.  After enticing them into his flat in Hampshire, he drugged and raped them, stabbing one and leaving them in the flat with the gas turned on for them to die.

He then went on run, hiding out in Coventry, Brighton and London but both girls survived the attack and he was tracked down and arrested. He pleaded guilty to the attacks and spent 10 years in prison. After being released in 2004 at 58 years old he returned to Scotland and settled in Paisley. In 2006, homeless he began visiting the soup kitchen held at St Patricks Roman Catholic Church in Anderston in Glasgow, eventually proving himself useful as a handyman for the church.  It was here, under the false name of Pat McLaughlin, he met 23 year old Polish student Angelika Kluk who was living in the house adjoined to the church.

On 24 September 2006 Angelika disappeared and five days later her battered body was found under the floorboards of the St Patricks Church. Last seen in the company of Tobin who had once again fled the area, police tracked him down and with overwhelming forensic evidence against him, he was convicted of her murder, receiving a life sentence with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 21 years.

Angelika Kluk had died a brutal death. She had been beaten, raped, tied up and stabbed 19 times before being dumped underground.  Forensic scientists indicated she had been alive when placed in that space under the floorboards.

Psychologists and criminologists have long understood the development of those who kill and the murder of Angelika Kluk did not indicate this was Peter Tobin’s first murder. They knew he had done this before. It is very rare for a middle aged man to suddenly commit a murder so brutal and detailed. This is a developed behaviour and this type of murder generally starts at a younger age, around late teens to early twenties.

This suggests Peter Tobin may have been killing for 40 years. Police launched Operation Anagram to examine his past, his movements and his history and compare them with unsolved murders across the UK.

Related: Criminal Psychology and The Criminal Profile

Their investigations led them to the bodies of two teenage girls, murdered by Peter Tobin and buried in the back garden of his former home. Peter Tobin was on the Violent and Sex Offenders Register, he moved around the country from place to place always giving a different name and rarely informing the authorities, as he was meant to do, of his whereabouts.  He was free to roam and with false names, he was free of his past crimes.

In 2007 police began investigating Tobin under Operation Anagram for the disappearance of 15 year old school girl Vicky Hamilton in 1991.  Last seen in Bathgate, West Lothian waiting for a bus, Peter Tobin, it was found, lived less than a mile away.

Very soon after her disappearance, he had left the Bathgate area for Margate in Kent. Police launched a search of both houses. When police searched his house in Margate, they found the remains of Vicky Hamilton buried in the back garden.  He had taken her body with him when he left the Bathgate area.

The knife used to kill Vicky was also found in his former home linking him directly to her murder. He was again charged and convicted of murder and given a second life sentence.

“Yet again you have shown yourself to be unfit to live in a decent society. It is hard for me to convey the loathing and revulsion that ordinary people will feel for what you have done.” – Judge in Vicky Hamilton murder trial.

Dinah McNicol was 18 years old and in August 1991 she was hitch-hiking back from a music festival when she disappeared. In 2007 a second body was found in the garden of the house in Margate which was confirmed to be Dinah McNicol.

The post-mortem examination of both Vicky Hamilton and Dinah McNicol revealed traces of the drug amitriptyline, the same drug Tobin used in the attack on the two girls in 1993.

15 year old Vicky Hamilton (left), 23 year old Angelika Kluk (middle), 18 year old Dinah McNicol

In 2009 Tobin went on trial for a third time charged with the murder of Dinah McNicol.  His defence offered no evidence and he was found guilty after less than 15 minutes of deliberation.  A third life sentence followed with a recommendation that Peter Tobin should never be released.

In the continuing Operation Anagram investigation, police were particularly interested in Peter Tobin’s links to Glasgow and whether he could have been the killer who took three women’s lives in the 1960’s and who had been labelled Bible John.

Tobin has never been cooperative with police or criminologists looking into his case. He has reportedly bragged in prison that he has killed 48 people. He has refused most interviews and has not been forthcoming with police in information about his past and his movements over the years prior to the Angelika Kluk murder.

Tobin, it was discovered, has a long history of violence against women.  After his convictions, his ex-wife came forward to tell of being raped and stabbed by Tobin and being left for dead. This is man with little regard for women and a man who uses violence to achieve dominance and power.

Evidence from the original Bible John murders was examined, however it was found not to be good enough quality for DNA samples to look for a match with Tobin.  These crimes were committed in the late 60’s in Scotland when procedures, processes and available resources were not as advanced as they are today.

The sister of the final victim, Helen Puttock, is the only person to have met and had a good look at the man believed to be Bible John. Jean McLachan shared a taxi home with her sister and a man understood to be her sisters killer. She gave police a detailed description which led to the now so well-known artists impression of the Bible John killer.

In 2010, Patrica Chambers came forward to give evidence that she was attacked and raped in Glasgow in 1968 when she was 15 years old. Patrica Chambers met a man at the Barrowland Nightclub in Glasgow who introduced himself as Jim McLaughlin. She set up a date with him and believes he spiked her drink.  She was dragged into an alleyway with her attacker screaming obscenities at her.

She put up a fight firmly believing her life was in danger and her attacker stamped on her face, leaving scars she still has today, 42 years later. Passers by came to her rescue and her attacker fled.  She believers her attacker was Peter Tobin and she may have been one of his first victims.

The surname McLaughlin is a name known to have been used a number of times by Peter Tobin in the following years. The details of the attack and where she met her attacker match the pattern used by Bible John and she believes Peter Tobin was Bible John.

Detective Joe Jackson, who went on to become Head of Glasgow’s CID, was involved in the original hunt for Bible John and he saw the details of Peter Tobin on the news after the Angelika Kluk case.  It struck him just how many similarities there were between Tobin and what they knew of the Bible John killer. Tobin looked like the Bible John e-fit; his modus operandi was the same, his lifestyle and movements around the UK and his interest in religion all link back to the Bible John murders.

Jacksons book Chasing Killers details the hunt for Bible John and the exhaustive effort of officers involved.  For months they attended dance halls trying to catch a glimpse of Bible John, interviewing dancers and trying to find more leads in the case.

There are certainly a number of elements which match Peter Tobin with the Bible John identity and the murders of 1968-69:

  • Tobin met his wife at the Barrowland Ballroom
  • He was at the right age when he frequented the Ballroom to fit the profile of an emerging serial killer at 21 years of age
  • Photographs of a younger Peter Tobin are strikingly similar to the artists impression of Bible John
  • He was living in the Glasgow when the first two Bible John murders took place
  • Tobin was souvenir collector, he liked to take items from his victims and keep them such as jewellery and clothing.  All victims of the Bible John murders where found without thier handbags and personal belongings
  • Just after the last victim, Helen Puttock was found, Tobin left the area moving to Brighton
  • Soon after arriving in Brighton, Peter Tobin was jailed for bulgary in forgery charges and at the same time, the Bible John killings stopped
Artists impression of Bible John (left), Peter Tobin aged 27 (middle), Peter Tobin aged 60 (right)

Criminologist Professor David Wilson, who has studied both the cases of Peter Tobin and the Bible John murders, has stated he firmly believes Peter Tobin is Bible John, to the extent he has published a book with his findings; The Lost British Serial Killer.

For Professor Wilson there are too many coincidences and similarities between the crimes of Peter Tobin and the Bible John murders.

“I am as convinced as it’s able to be. As far as I am concerned the case is closed.” – Criminologist Professor David Wilson

However, while there are similarities between the cases and their identities, there are also differences.  All the victims of Bible John were older than 25 years of age and Tobin is known for attacking younger girls in their teens and very early twenties. Furthermore, some have suggested the killings in Glasgow were not carried out by one man and this myth of Bible John may be inaccurate.

The description of Bible John and the subsequent artists impression, came from the final victims sister. This applies to the final murder but there is no evidence for this to apply to the first two murders as there are no witnesses and no descriptions for the murders of Patrica Docker and Jemima McDonald.  There have been alternative theories put forward for the identity of Bible John, one of which is that he was a police officer in Glasgow.

Related: The 1946 ‘Lipstick Killer’ William Heirens – Was He Innocent?

Was Bible John a serving Police Officer?

A theory that Bible John was the killer of all three women and was a serving Glasgow police officer is one suggested explanation for why he has evaded capture. According to retired police officer and author Paul Harrison, a local police officer was under suspicion by the investigating officer in the Bible John case, Joe Beattie, but he was ordered to shut down that line of enquiry by higher bosses.

Mr Harrison believes he has uncovered the name of this officer and has offered this information to police. In his book, Dancing with the Devil – The Bible John Murders, Mr Harrison details his search for the truth about the identity of Bible John and he claims the killer was a serving police officer at the time of the murders.

He claims he knows the area this man now lives and is concerned he may have killed again. Paul Harrison was one of the first police officers in the UK to train with the FBI on criminal profiling techniques. His own research and investigation into the Bible John murders is extensive and provides some additional information to the case.

Harrison makes a number of claims in his book including that the sister of the final victim was sure the man she met that night was a police officer. He also claims through interviews with people at the Ballroom, he has uncovered a number of witness statements which describe a man showing a police identification card who fits the description of the so-called Bible John.

Theories on the identity of Bible John have been rife, with speculation continuing today, over 40 years after the murders.  Each year that passes is another year that the families of the victims do not have the answers on who cruelly and brutally took their loved ones away before their time.

Forensic science has developed greatly since the murders, however the evidence collected at the time has not proved to be good enough quality to firmly rule in or out any suspect.

Peter Tobin is in prison, serving a sentence he is unlikely to ever be released from. While the circumstantial evidence pointing to him as the Bible John killer is great, no firm evidence linking him to the murders had been found, and therefore he is unlikely to ever be charged with the murders.

Someone out there knows the truth.  Someone knows what happened on those three nights in Glasgow and someone knows who Bible John really is.  Whether this is Peter Tobin it appears will never be revealed conclusively and it may be that the true identity of Bible John will forever remain an unknown and the murders of three young women will remain unsolved.

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