DANCING WITH DEATH; CHASING KILLERS: RETIRED COP JOE JACKSON ON THE 60s MURDERS THAT REMAIN A MYSTERY I was part of the Marine Formation Dance team - cops sent to ballrooms hunting the serial killer they called Bible John.. but did he ever exist?
Two had attended on Thursday "over 25s" night, when married men and women often turned up without their spouses.
It was unkindly known as "grab a granny" night.
The first victim was Patricia Docker, 25, an attractive dark-haired nurse at the Victoria Infirmary. Separated from her soldier husband, she and her four-year-old son lived with her parents in Langside Place, a quiet street on Glasgow's south side.
One night in February 1968, she told her parents she was going dancing at the Majestic (known to cops as the Magic Stick), in Hope Street, slightly more upmarket than the Barrowland.
When she had not returned the following morning, her parents reported her missing.
They didn't know a young woman's naked body had already been found in a lane near where they lived.
It was, of course, their daughter.
It was some days before we learned she had gone to the Barrowland. Centring on the Majestic cost us valuable time.
The Docker case remained unsolved.
The woman's name faded from the newspapers and minds of the public.
Only her loved ones remembered her.
No one knew this woman's name was to become forever linked with a series of murders that haunt Glasgow to this day.
In August 1969, another partially clothed body was found in a derelict tenement in MacKeith Street, Bridgeton. This turned out to be unmarried mother-of-three Jemima "Mima" McDonald.
She was last seen alive at the Barrowland Ballroom.
Officers gleaned enough to draw an Identikit picture of the man last seen with the victim and the image was released to the Press - the first time such a step had been taken in a Scottish murder probe.
Nevertheless, the trail ran cold.
The murder of Jemima, so similar to that of Patricia, although not officially linked, remained unsolved.
I was not involved in this inquiry. However, that was about to change.
In October 1969, two months after Jemima was killed, another woman was found murdered, at the rear of a close in Earl Street, Scotstoun.
Again, the body was partially clothed. Again, the victim had been at the Barrowland.
This time, though, the police had a witness.
THE dead woman was Helen Puttock, 29, who had gone out for the evening with her sister Jean Langford.
Helen left the dance hall in a taxi with Jean and two men, both called John.
One said he came from Castlemilk and was Jean's "lumber".
He got out near Glasgow Cross, leaving Helen, Jean and the other man.
Despite appeals, Castlemilk John never came forward.
The trio in the taxi continued to the west side.
The man provided some biographical details. He also made references to parts of the Bible.
This was released to the Press and some very smart reporter labelled him Bible John.
The name has stuck.
Jean was dropped off, leaving Helen and the man alone.
The following morning, Helen was found strangled three closes away from her own home.
That made three women in 18 months who attended the Barrowland had been raped and strangled. Some top CID officers felt there was definitely a link.
The officer in charge of the so-called Bible John inquiry was Detective Superintendent Joe Beattie.
I first met him as a detective sergeant. He was always smiling and joking. But now he seemed to take himself very seriously.
By the time of the Bible John case, he liked to be known as Mr Beattie. He worked round the clock and was totally obsessed.
The Bible John HQ was in Partick Police Office - known as The Marine. The station covered the area in which Helen Puttock lived and died.
Around January 1970, it was decided to bring in fresh detectives. I was one - and would spend a year on the hunt.
Jean tried her best to help and spent many hours with detectives going to dance halls throughout Glasgow in an attempt to spot Bible John.
Her description on which the famed artist's impression was based was not weighed against the statements of others.
Barrowland bouncers, for instance, had a discussion with the suspect while he was at a cigarette machine in the foyer.
I don't know why their rather different description was summarily discounted.
Sometimes, I had the feeling we were going through the motions because of the strength of character of the person leading the inquiry. Sometimes, an officer would produce a more reasonable suspect but would be dismissed with a shake of Beattie's head. This was most discouraging. I formed part of what the Press called the Marine Formation Dance team - detectives assigned to attend dance halls.
Our brief was to dance with customers and question them while showing nifty footwork.
Even the ugly detectives proved popular dance partners, as the ladies felt safe with them.
It was a dirty job but someone had to do it - and I learned a pretty mean samba.
On another occasion, I was asked to collect a man from Lennoxtown, Dunbartonshire, and take him to Partick, where Beattie and Jean were waiting. This chap claimed to be a medium.
He'd had a vision that Bible John was in the Birmingham area in a flat above a shop with a woman and a young child. He told me this as I drove.
Quite honestly, I did not know why we were wasting our time on such a wild goose chase.
He was interviewed by Beattie in Jean's presence but the meeting ended acrimoniously with the medium hurtling out through the door, his feet never touching the ground.
This was not the only brush with the supernatural.
Dutch psychic Gerard Croiset became involved while in Scotland at the request of the Daily Record to investigate the disappearance of a young woman in Dumfries and Galloway. The information he provided regarding a street in Govan revealed very little.
Personally, I've never had much time for all that psychic malarkey - dealing with such off-the-wall characters has nothing to do with proper detective work.
BEATTIE was totally dedicated but was grasping at straws. I felt he was too narrowly focused.
I did learn from this and made sure in later years when running major inquiries that I listened to the views of all the detectives and incident room staff, to make sure I covered not just one but all angles.
This is the proper way because you can be totally focused on one suspect when another one will be unearthed through the hard work of good young detectives.
Sometimes, young people have a clearer view and this should not be ignored.
It's my belief too much information was issued in this case, including the nugget that the suspect quoted the Bible.
The Press is a valuable tool but the release of too much information can help suspects cover their tracks Reporters were even told about the dance hall squads - by alerting the Press we also alerted the killer. There was no hope of him turning up at the halls. DESPITE the descriptions, witnesses, Identikits, photo fits and oil paintings, thousands of man hours and acres of coverage, no one has been charged with these three killings.
I would never discount the efforts of Joe Beattie. Good cop though he was - he died a few years ago - in this case, he was blinkered and would not accept views that differed from his own.
I believe these murders should have been separated and dealt with by different senior investigating officers, who could then have compared results.
This would have ensured any perceived link was genuine and not created by one man's obsession or by Press hysteria.
We can speculate on how many killers there were.
But the fact they were investigated as one from the outset of the Puttock case left no room for manoeuvre.
As for Bible John, if such a multiple killer ever existed, he has slipped almost into legend. He became a sort of bogeyman whose name would appear whenever there was an unsolved killing of a woman in Glasgow.
A few years ago, DNA technology was used to link one-time suspect John McInnes with the death of Helen Puttock.
A semen stain had been found on the dead woman's tights and there was a bite mark. With genetic fingerprinting, it was thought a match could be found.
The failure of the exercise does not surprise me. Evidence was poorly stored and preserved.
However, it was felt there was enough match between it and the DNA samples given by relatives of the suspect to merit the exhumation of McInnes.
I would have had to have been 100 per cent before taking that step.
DNA is a great tool but that's all. It should not take the place of proper detective work.
The investigation was much publicised but ultimately failed to lay the ghost of Bible John to rest.
No clear DNA match was found and even the comparison bite mark and his teeth were inconclusive.
OBSESSED: Joe Beattie outside the Barrowland balllroom. Below, Joe Jackson; THE VICTIMS: From top, Patricia Docker, Jemima McDonald and Helen Puttock were all murdered. Right, the Daily Record campaign; MURDER SCENE: Police in the lane where Patricia Docker was found
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2008|
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