‘I see him walking his dog in the park’ – how serial killer Bible John traumatized Glasgow

Tthroughout the 1960s, Scanian, booted and carefully undressed Glaswegians flocked to the Barrowlands, the city’s largest ballroom, to escape the mayhem via an exuberant combination of colour, glitter, dance and debauchery. By the end of the decade, however, a shadow was cast over the venue, after the bodies of three women were found in the street, on each occasion within hours of leaving the dance hall. Glasgow was – and still is – haunted by the man believed to be their killer: Bible John.

“The city that loved dancing was suddenly living in fear of a killer who was picking his victims on the dance floor,” says glasses-wearing woman Audrey Gillan, who was two weeks old when the first victim was murdered. “They’d see an artist’s sketch of him and think, ‘That’s the guy at the corner store.’ Or, ‘I see him walking his dog in the park.'” It changed the way women felt—and kids like me grew up thinking that he was a bogeyman.”

Gillan, a former Guardian journalist, knows more than most about the man behind the mystery: she has just launched a podcast series, Bible John: Creation of a Serial Killer, on BBC Sounds. But far from just being morbidly fascinated by the killer, the podcast explores the little told stories of the three women – Patricia Docker, Jemima McDonald and Helen Puttock – while dispelling the misogyny with which their murders were met by the press, police and public. Gillan says she shares the shame of this treatment, having previously covered the story for a Scottish newspaper 26 years ago.

Patricia Docker, 25-year-old nurse, was murdered after leaving Glasgow's Barrowlands with a man later known as Bible John.
Little Told Stories … Patricia Docker, a 25-year-old nurse who was murdered after leaving the Barrowlands in 1968. Photo: PA

While cutting her teeth as a reporter, she published an exclusive claim that – after new DNA findings and an exhumation – Bible John had finally been identified. In the end, it turned out that this was not the case. But that’s not what Gillan is trying to fix. “The story I did was about this guy, and the women were just a sidebar,” she says, her voice clearly full of regret.

During the lockdown, Gillan decided to go back over all the documents she had obtained on the case. “Because I was older,” she says, “and now had a different perspective, I looked at them and thought, ‘These are so awful!’ It was so misogynistic.” It was time to rethink history. On the Ground, Gillan’s exciting and disturbing 2020 podcast about being embedded in Iraq for this newspaper during the war, was nominated for a Foreign Press Association award. Gillan thought Bible John would be a perfect fit for the podcast format, its freedoms allowed her to dig deep and include more voices in the story, as she had great impact in On the Ground.

According to Gillan, police made notes about how the victims “liked the company of men”, labeled them as “promiscuous” and described one as “an only child and quite spoiled”. All the women were menstruating when their bodies were found. Their used sanitary products linked the murders, but they also prompted a general cry of, “Imagine having the audacity to go out dancing while on your period!” They were sentenced for that, says Gillan. “Imagine if the victim was a man – the notes would not be written that way. I think it was a big failure.”

Never caught ... portrait of the man believed to be the Bible John.
Never caught … portrait of the man believed to be the Bible John. Image: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

As bleak as it all sounds, Gillan brings light into the series by painting the people of Glasgow vividly and celebrating the community, focusing on the three women: Pat, Jemima and Helen. “I wanted to know what these women were like. What color lipstick did they wear? What did they sing in the shower?”

To find answers, she turned the microphone over to family members to talk about their loved ones’ lives rather than their deaths. A bonus episode is given over to Alex Docker, son of Patricia, who was too young to really remember his mother, but remembers memories of his father and aunt. He talks about family time in Cyprus with the pet dog, his parents’ separation, bath times in the two-story apartment building above a shop, and his mother’s laughing face.

Inevitably, we’re also told what is known about the killer, which actually isn’t much. The name was coined because witnesses said they heard him quote passages from the Bible. But every gripping true crime podcast has to come with a bombshell reveal, and from episode one, Gillan recounts a “dynamite parallel” story she may have missed while covering the case. “I can’t tell you about it,” she says, explaining that more will be revealed in further episodes. “I don’t want to ruin it for you.”

Can there ever be a satisfying ending to the story, given that the killer has never been found and is probably long dead? “People can feel frustrated,” says Gillan. “But they’re going to find out more about these women than they’ve heard before. It’s not our job to solve these murders. I’m a journalist. I’m not a detective.”

Bible John: Creation of a Serial Killer is now available on BBC Sounds

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