Bible John: Scotland's Creepiest Uncaught Serial Killer

By Grace Taylor

Night view in the rain of one of Glasgow's many cobbled alleyways.The chruch spire on the left belongs to St. Columba Church in St. Vincent Street. (ClickAndPray Photography/Getty Images)

In the late 1960s, the city of Glasgow, Scotland was turned upside down by a Bible-thumping maniac who targeted women and terrorized the community. His first known victim was Patricia Docker, a 25-year-old nurse and mother who was separated from husband and living with her parents in summer 1968. All dolled up in a bright yellow dress, Patricia decided to visit a popular dance venue in the city, the Barrowland Ballroom, where she met with friends and danced most of the night away with a mysterious new man. He was in his late twenties with ruddy-colored hair, and according to witnesses, he was good looking and well dressed. The two left together, and Patricia was never seen alive again.

The next morning, a neighbor found her outside his garage, dead, beaten, and partially stripped. The young woman had been dead for hours, killed by strangulation with an undetermined ligature. Her purse was missing, but the police investigation was fast and she was quickly identified thanks to one of the EMTs recognizing her, as she'd worked as a nurse in the same area. They questioned those who had seen her leave with the man that night, but no one could describe any defining features or provide clues that might point the investigation in the right direction. After only a few months, the case turned cold.

Then, in 1969, a shockingly similar murder occurred. Jemima McDonald, also a mother who left her kids with family for a night out on the town, also decided to tear up the dance floor at the Barrowland Ballroom. The next morning, her dead body was discovered by a group of children next to her home. She had also been beaten and strangled, her purse was also nowhere to be found, and she was also seen last with a tall, good-looking, well-dressed man with reddish-brown hair. However, her friends were a little more keen, detecting his accent, noting his fixation on the Bible (as he often slipped quotes into conversation), and remembering that he'd introduced himself as John. The police weren't entirely sure both women were killed by the same man but began to suspect a serial killer was in their midst and released a police sketch based on eyewitness descriptions.

The Barrowland Ballroom in 2011. Each of the women murdered is believed to have encountered Bible John at this dance hall. (Stephen Sweeney/Wikimedia Commons)

As is typical with serial killers, the time between attacks began to shorten, and Bible John struck again only a few months later on October 31, 1969. Mother of two Helen Puttock decided to leave the kids with her husband for a night out with her sister, and they spent the night dancing with two men, both of whom were named John. Afterward, they decided to save money by sharing a taxi. The first John went on his way, but the second claimed to live next to Puttock, and unfortunately, both women believed him. Puttock's sister left the two in the cab alone, and Puttock's body was found near her own front door, beaten and strangled to death.

This time, though, the police noticed a strange detail. The killer had taken her purse but left one sanitary pad tucked into her underarm. They realized then that, according to the coroner, all three women had been menstruating when they were killed and began to wonder if there was significance to that, given the token the killer left behind. Unfortunately, forensic technology had not yet advanced enough by the '60s that the bite mark and traces of semen on her body led to any usable data, and police never received any concrete leads.

The killer's M.O. was too obvious to be ignored, however, so the local papers warned women of the dangers of "Bible John," as they called him, given his penchant for quoting scripture. The police received more than 4,000 tips from the public, and the finger-pointing hit such a fever pitch that they had to begin giving out physical clearance cards just so accused men could prove they'd been questioned and cleared of any suspicion. Police went undercover at the Barrowland Ballroom and other venues to look for a man fitting Bible John's description and reached out to dentists to see if any recognized the bite pattern, but every lead went nowhere, and Bible John was never caught.

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Grace Taylor

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