Saturday, 31 December 2016

Peter Manuel 4: The Murder of Sydney John Dunn

Often described as ‘the forgotten victim of Peter Manuel’, the 1957 murder of Newcastle taxi driver Sydney John Dunn is a crime that sits uneasily in the series of Manuel’s crimes - it was the only crime to take place outside of Scotland, the victim male rather than female or a family, with no apparent sexual motive or element of stealth burglary – and even though he was convicted for the crime in 1958, for nearly 60 years there have been rumbling doubts as to whether Manuel actually innocent.

Newcastle Central Station 1950s

In the early hours of Sunday the 8th of December 1957 two taxi drivers were waiting under the portico of Newcastle Central Station. The two taxi drivers were Thomas Green and Sydney John Dunn (36), the pair were friends and neighbours – both living on St Thomas Crescent, Newcastle. Thomas Green noticed two men emerge from the station at the same time, one of the men asked to be taken to the Newburn area, six miles away, and the other to a village called Edmondbyers in the moors of County Durham, 22 miles away. Green chose the shorter fare and directed the second man to Dunn’s cab. Green would later describe Dunn’s passenger as approximately 24 years of age, 5 ft 8 inches tall, swarthy, with greased black hair parted to the left, medium build, wearing a single breasted dark suit, no hat, a light shirt, dark tie, and dark grey loose overcoat. Green would later tell police that he had followed Dunn’s cab until they parted company at Scotswood Bridge, what happened after that is still as much a mystery as it was in 1957.

A Pre War Austin 18, the same model driven by Dunn

Dunn’s cab would be found some hours later and several miles away, abandoned in a gulley off the main road to Stanhope. A police cyclist came across the abandoned vehicle which was left at a right angle to the road, both the interior and exterior lights were smashed, and both the front and rear driver’s side doors were lying open. There was blood on the steering wheel and a scarf and a peaked cap lay on the grass besides the car. The policeman initially believed that the scene was nothing more ominous than a traffic accident – and cycled the two miles to Edmondbyers to check whether there were any reports of an accident or anyone admitted to hospital with head injuries – but drew a blank on both.

The desolate Edmondbyers moorland

A search team was quickly assembled and soon a tracker dog found the body of Sydney John Dunn lying in the heather about 150 yards north of the car. He had clearly been dragged to the spot by the tails of his coat, which had been pulled up and left over his head. His wallet lay nearby, but there were no signs of robbery. A pencil, a lighter, and some coins were also found near the body. A post-mortem would later reveal that the cause of death was a bullet wound to the head. The bullet was thought to be either a .32 or .38, of British make, which had likely been fired at a distance of at least 12 inches from a ‘very worn’ revolver. The blood splatters in the car suggested that the shot had been fired from the front passenger seat. After inflicting the fatal shot to the head, the killer had also exacted a 5 inch gash into Dunn’s throat.

Door-to-door enquiries in Edmondbyers and Stanhope lead nowhere, nor did a search of the surrounding moorland. In particular no one came forward to tell of either seeing, or giving a lift to, an inappropriately dressed man walking along the side of the moors in the midst of a gale - for there was a very real risk of exposure for anyone attempting to walk from where the car was found to a place of shelter. Police were at a loss to explain how the killer had left the scene and even suggested he may have fallen into a peat bog and died. They were equally puzzled as to why the killer had not driven away in the car after dumping the body – could it be that the killer was unable to drive, or somehow unable to restart the car after the murder?

So how was it that the murder of a taxi driver in Newcastle came to be attributed to Peter Manuel, a killer who usually limited his crimes to Glasgow and its outskirts?

Peter Manuel, 1958

Well, Manuel had been in the area at the time of the murder, attending a job interview in Newcastle for British Electrical Repairs Limited on the morning of Friday the 6th of December, the day before the murder. And when a serial killer with a preference for using guns happens to be in the same vicinity as a seemingly motiveless shooting, it takes no great leap to draw a connection between the two. Furthermore, the scattering of Dunn’s belongings recalls similar ‘scatterings’ in Manuel’s earlier crimes.

There were several other important pieces of evidence that were used to convict Manuel of the murder. Grass found in the turn-ups of a pair of Manuel’s trousers was found to be ‘similar to’ that found on the Edmondbyer moors. A button with thread attached recovered from the floor of the cab was ‘similar to’ those of a coat belonging to Manuel. Two red fibres and a yellow thread entwined in that button were thought to have possibly came from clothing belonging to Manuel. And we do know that Manuel committed the Watt murders with a .38 revolver, but it could not have been the same weapon as Manuel disposed of that particular gun immediately after the crime. But most convincingly, the taxi driver Green, who had spoken to Dunn’s passenger, was able to identify Manuel as that man.

Case closed? Well, not quite. If Manuel was indeed the killer, the crime stands out so singularly as being the only one of his murders committed out of his ‘comfort zone’ of Glasgow and its outskirts. Unlike his other crimes, there was no apparent sexual motive, or burglary element. Dunn’s passenger was described by Green as 24 years old, 5 ft 8, with greased black hair, and while Manuel certainly had greased black hair he was also 31 at the time, and 5 ft 4. While the identification by Green seems convincing, police did admit to showing Manuel’s photographs to witnesses in Newcastle, and this may have, perhaps unconsciously, influenced Green’s identification.

For what it’s worth, Manuel himself was adamant that he had been misidentified, after he was questioned about the murder at Barlinnie prison, he reportedly turned to a fellow prisoner and asked ‘What the f*ck was that all about?’ Manuel’s mother, while accepting his guilt on the other murder charges, would later single out the Dunn murder as the one in which she was convinced he was innocent. Manuel himself would never confess to the crime during his life, while confessing to all of the others he was convicted of. While awaiting execution in June 1958, Manuel would write to his friend complaining that he was in the frame ‘for every unsolved murder since Cain killed Abel’ and of the Dunn murder specifically he ambiguously remarked: ‘I wonder where I was that night?’

And so lingering doubts as to Manuel’s guilt in the death of Sydney John Dunn remained for nearly 50 years, until Manuel himself appeared to silence them from beyond the grave. In 2009 a poem composed by Manuel while awaiting his execution was unearthed in the personal papers of Duncan MacKenzie, the former Governor of Barlinnie Prison. In it Manuel described himself as ‘the foulest beast on earth’ and ‘Scotland’s Frankenstein’ – but he also confesses, for the first and only time, to the murder of Sydney John Dunn, writing: ‘I murdered Isabella Cook/And young Anne Knielands too/ Shot the Watts and shot the Smarts/ And Sidney Dunn I slew.’

Monday, 26 December 2016

Peter Manuel Part 3: The Watt Family Murders

The Watt family had moved into No. 5 Fennsbank Avenue, Burnside on Glasgow’s south side on the 13th of July 1956, and had looked forward to moving to an area which they considered a step up the social ladder. A mere two months later, on the 17th of September 1956, 3 members of the Watt family would be murdered in their beds as they slept, in a horrific and apparently motiveless crime. In the house that night was Marion Watts (45), her daughter Vivienne (17), her sister Margaret (41) and Vivienne’s friend Deanna Valente (19). Deanna had spent the evening with Vivienne listening to the ‘Hit Parade’ on Radio Luxembourg, but left the house at about 11.40pm. Luckily or unluckily, Marion’s husband William Watts, the owner of Denholm Bakeries in London Road Glasgow, was absent on the night of the murders as he was enjoying a fishing holiday at the Cairnbaan Hotel, near Lochgilphead.

Two days before the murder of the Watt family, Peter Manuel had broken into a neighbouring house, No.18 Fennsbank Avenue, owned by retired sisters Margaret and Mary Martin. While stealing very little, he enjoyed turning the house upside down, dirtying their beds with his boots, burning the carpets with a cigarette and poured a can of soup over the floor, before stealing a pair of nylon stockings which he would later use to cover his hands in his next endeavour.

Marion Watts and her daughter Vivienne standing by William Watts maroon Vauxhall with labrador Queenie

Margaret Brown

Vivienne Watt

Using the Martins house as a base, Manuel crept over to the Watts home in the early hours of the 17th of September. After smashing the front door glass panel he proceeded to Marion Watt’s bedroom and shot her in the head with a .38 revolver. He then fired two shots into the body and head of her sister Margaret Brown who was sleeping next to her, the second shot suggesting that she had stirred after she heard the gunshot that killed her sister. Mrs Watt’s nightdress had been pulled up and her sister’s pyjamas trousers had been torn. Manuel then moved on to Vivienne’s room, where there were signs of a struggle, it is probable that she had awoken at the gunshots the killed her mother and aunt. Vivienne had been battered around the head before being shot, her hands had been tied behind her back and her pyjamas bottoms had been ripped. Before leaving the home Manuel covered each of the bodies with bed sheets and calmly smoked a cigarette before trampling it into the carpet.

Police guard the Watt house

The bodies lay undiscovered until Mrs Helen Collison, 47, the Watt’s domestic help arrived at 8.45am and could not get in – she told the press: “I usually just walked in because he door was not kept locked. But to-day the back door would not open. I went to Vivian’s window and knocked on it. There was no answer.’ It was then that Mrs Collison discovered that the glass of the front door was broken, she then alerted the next door neighbour, Mrs Valente, Deanna’s mother. The two women ran back to the Watts house where they encountered the postman, who put his arm through the broken panel and unlocked the door from the inside. It was then that the terrible crime was discovered, one officer described the scene as ‘absolute butchery.’

After the police were called, it was discovered that there had been a break-in at No.18 as well. Police made the reasonable assumption that whoever had broken into the Watts house had most likely broken into the Martins also, and the Martins crime scene had all of Manuel’s hallmarks. Police went straight to Manuel’s home with a search warrant for the .38 revolver. As usual both Peter and Samuel complained about police harassment and denied any knowledge of the crime, and the police turned up nothing in their search. Meanwhile the newspapers reported every gory detail of the crimes breathlessly, and several neighbours of the Watts fitted extra bolts to their doors, terrified that the unknown killer might strike again.

When news of the murders began to break, before police could officially notify the family of the victims, a journalist managed to get hold of the home number of the husband of murdered Margaret Brown, who was at work and did not yet know of the tragedy. Perhaps it was the same tactless journalist that called the Cairnbaan hotel claiming to be a business associate of Mr Watt. Luckily, Watt’s brother John was able to get hold of William and break the terrible news to him before the journalists could. He reportedly broke down before being driven back to Glasgow by police. It was during this drive that police began to become suspicious of William’s demeanour in the face of such a devastating tragedy. One detective reported that instead of the broken man he expected to see he found instead ‘a man with a smirk on his face and no tears.’ 

This was to compound police suspicions that Watt was somehow complicit in the murder of his family. On September 24th the Evening Times reported the police’s belief that the victims had somehow recognised their killer, laying the seeds for a monumental decision they would make in 4 days’ time. On the 28th of September 1956, only 3 days after he had attended the funeral of his family, William Watt was charged with the murders of his wife, daughter and sister-in-law. During his brief appearance at Glasgow Sherriff court, Watt did not speak. When he emerged to be taken to Barlinnie prison he was greeted by a 200 strong crowd booing loudly, many of whom had waited seven hours to catch a glimpse of the man they thought responsible for the horrific triple murder.

Why then did the police belief that it was possible that William Watts, who although he admitted to several instances of infidelity during the course of his marriage was by all accounts a loving father, could have driven 180 miles overnight to coldly murder his family as they slept in their beds, before driving back to the hotel to play the part of the grieving widow and father?

The Cairbaan Hotel

On the night of the murder Watt spent his time fishing, meeting friends and watching television before having a dram or two of whisky with owners of the Cairbaan hotel. The day before the murders Watt had filled his car with seven gallons of petrol, an action that may have seemed suspicious considering he had arrived at his destination and had no plans to return home for several days. However he also informed the mechanic of faults with the engine and lights of his car, conditions which would have been less than ideal for a lengthy clandestine over- night drive. During his holiday he had called home every couple of days, and on the night of the 16th he did so again and spoke to his wife, Marion, who told him that her sister, Margaret, was staying with them overnight, and they discussed whether William should stay another week at the hotel. He told police that he had sat drinking with the hotel owners until around 12.30am before borrowing and alarm clock from the kitchens and setting it for 6am, with the intention of doing some fishing in the morning. One of the hotel waitresses reported seeing Watt at his window at around 1am. Watt would tell police that he had turned off the alarm clock in the morning, but this was later found to be wrong. Watt had either been innocently mistaken, had slept through the alarm, or, as the police suspected, simply wasn’t in the bedroom when the alarm sounded, as he was miles away murdering his family. After the sighting by the waitress at 1am, Watt was next seen at 8.10am by a waitress at the hotel clearing frost from his windscreen, something that might have been unlikely had the car been running all night.

1956 model Vauxhall Zephyr

In an effort to prove Watt’s guilt, a police driver was later able to demonstrate that it was possible to cover the route from the hotel to the Watt family home in two hours and four minutes, affording Watt just about enough time to wipe out his family before driving back to the hotel to pretend he had never left. However, the police did not use a Vauxhall Velox for the test drive, but a Ford Zephyr instead.
If the 1am sighting by the waitress is to be believed then police must have supposed that Watt had somehow slipped out of the hotel unseen at some point after 1am, bundled his pet Labrador into the car, had driven 180 miles home, murdered 3 members of his family one by one, before breaking the glass at the front door to stage a break-in and driving all the way back to the hotel, slipping in unnoticed in time to appear again in the morning as if he had never left. It also appeared that if Watt had really driven the 180 miles back to Glasgow, he had done so without lowering the fuel level. All garages in the area were checked to see whether he had filled up but none reported seeing him, and supposing that instead Watt carried a secret supply of fuel cans, none of them were found either. Police frogmen also dredged the Crinan Canal in the hopes of recovering the murder weapon or bloodstained clothing, but neither were found, for the gun used to kill the Watt family was actually lying in a different stretch of water 90 miles to the South. A spot of blood found on Watt’s hotel bed became the focus of intense police suspicion, but Watt explained it away by telling police it came from a corn on his foot.

Renfrew Ferry from Yoker

Convinced of Watt’s guilt, police appealed to the public for anyone who had seen Watt during his 180 mile homicidal journey to come forward – and two duly did. The ferryman on the Renfrew Ferry came forward to report that he remembered taking a lone male driver across the Clyde at around 3am on the 17th September 1956. If Watt did leave the hotel at 1am then the sighting on the ferry would almost be perfect timing. Furthermore, according to the ferryman there was a black dog in the car, and Watt had his pet Labrador Queenie with him on holiday. Even more convincingly, the ferryman picked out Watt’s Vauxhall Velox out of a line-up of 24 cars before following that feat up by identifying Watt himself out of a line-up of 9 men. Of course, these details, the make of the car, the fact that Watt had a dog, could have been gleaned from the newspapers, something that the ferryman strenuously denied. Despite the extensive press coverage, he claimed to have never seen a photograph of Watt or his car. However, Taylor was later to change his story and claim that it was in fact a Wolseley, and not a Vauxhall, that he had carried across the river that night. When the police drivers conducted the test-drive from Watt’s hotel to the Watt home in Burnside to determine whether it was possible for him to have committed the murder, the route they took did not include the Renfrew Ferry, which, if the ferryman sighting was indeed Mr Watt, would have been the route he took. If they had included the ferry it would have added a considerable portion of time to the journey, and, supposing that Watt was driving into Glasgow with the intention of murdering his family, why would he risk contact with potential witnesses by taking the manned ferry?

With Taylor’s sighting falling apart, police appealed for anyone else to come forward with any sightings of Watt on the night of the murder. They were approached by a man named Roderick Morrison who told them that he had been travelling north to Fort William with his wife and driving along Loch Lomondside at around 2.30am on the morning of the 17th, when he noticed a car speeding southwards towards him. The speeding car suddenly disappeared, Morrison thought it may have crashed off the road before he saw it parked at the roadside with its lights off. Morrison stopped his car and approached the other vehicle, inside he saw a lone male occupant smoking a cigarette who shielded his face from the glare of Morrison’s headlights. Before he could get close enough to speak to the driver, the car suddenly switched its lights back on and sped off. Morrison thought that the car he saw was either a Standard or a Vauxhall, and police mused that one explanation for the car suddenly pulling over was that the car’s lights had temporarily failed – the same fault that Watt had reported to the mechanic the day before. Morrison identified Watt out of a 30 strong identification parade due to the fact the Watt was the only one to hold his cigarette in the same peculiar manner to the man Morrison had encountered. However, he did later admit that he had never actually had a clear view of the face of the driver.

William Watt

Yet Despite the lack of motive, evidence, reliable witnesses or means, William Watt was arrested and charged with the murder of his entire family and sent to Barlinnie prison to await trail, he would eventually be released without charge when collective sanity was resumed. But at the time Peter Manuel must have thought the stars were aligned in his favour. He had wriggled out of the Mary McLachlan rape trial, police had failed to pin the Anne Kneilands murder on him, and now police seemed to be determined to pin the murder of the Watt family on the innocent William Watt. Manuel must have felt cockier than ever, and so - sure of his ability to outsmart the authorities - he determined to insert himself into the investigation and taunt both the police and William Watt.

Peter Manuel

Manuel wrote to the police claiming he knew who had committed the murder, he also contacted several newspapers claimed to have insider knowledge of the crime. He even arranged to have a meal with Watt and his lawyer at Glasgow’s Whitehall Restaurant to discuss the case. He claimed that a criminal associate, who he was conveniently unable to name, was responsible for the crime, while simultaneously providing an impressively detailed description of the Watt home, a description which he claimed had been passed on to him by the perpetrator.  In one piece of bizarre behaviour, during one of these meetings with Watt, Manuel produced a photograph of his first murder victim Anne Knielands, asking Watt if he knew her, before ripping the photograph to pieces.

While both the police and William Watt were suspicious of Manuel’s intentions, and suspected that he knew more about the crime that he was telling, equally, they supposed that it was possible that the information he was taunting the authorities with was simply gleaned from the newspapers, there was no physical evidence against him after all. And so Manuel was free to go on and murder 5 more people, and to wipe out a family in their beds as they slept one more time.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Peter Manuel Part 2: The Murder of Anne Kneilands

When we left off Peter Manuel had just been acquitted of the rape of Mary McLachlan and despite that acquittal there is little doubt that Manuel resolved never to risk leaving a witness able to identify him in court. 
Anne Kneilands, 17

On Thursday 5th January 1956, newspapers reported a brutal murder that had taken place on East Kilbride golf course, and as such the crime was quickly nicknamed the ‘5th Tee Murder.’ The victim was a 17 year old machinist from nearby High Blantyre named Anne Kneilands. Knielands had been missing from the 2nd of January until her battered body was found on the golf course on the 4th. She had been brutally raped and murdered. 

Police search the golf course where Anne's body was found for evidence

Anne Kneilands was five feet ten inches tall, fair haired and pretty, and the second eldest of six children. She worked as a machinist at a factory in Howard Street, Glasgow. Her family told detectives that on the night she went missing she was planning to meet a man whom she had met at a dance in East Kilbride Town Hall the previous Friday. Her sister Alice had also been at the dance and was able to provide police with a description of the man. The would-be date was no under immediate suspicion. That night the two sisters had danced with two men in particular, who had seen them home after the dance was over. Alice had been escorted home by a James Harrow and Anne by a Private Andrew Murnin of the Parachute Regiment. Anne had told Alice that she and Andrew had arranged to meet again at Capelrig bus terminus at East Kilbride at 6pm the following Monday, with the intention of catching the 6.15pm bus to Glasgow.
On the evening in question Anne left for her date at around 5.20pm, but when her date failed to show up, she decided to wait and catch the next bus at 6.45pm, hoping perhaps that her date was only running late. With some time to kill before the later bus arrived, she decided to visit family friends The Simpsons at nearby Capelrig Farm. She explained to them that she had missed her bus, but was going to catch the next one. Mrs Jean Simpson recalled Anne leaving at 6.40pm that night. Anne did not tell any of the Simpson family that she had been stood up, so for a while after her body was discovered police were unsure of her movements that night. They initially assumed that she had gone dancing anyway, and the following Friday, dancing at the Cooperative Hall in Blantyre was interrupted by a detective asking for any information as to the movements of Kneilands that night. But no witnesses came forward – for Anne Knielands was never there. They would later discover that Anne could not have even afforded to go dancing that night – she only had four pence in her purse when she left home. 

When traced, Private Andrew Murnin was quickly cleared of any involvement in the murder. Having celebrated Hogmanay in traditional style, he was simply too hungover to keep his date with Anne. His movements were confirmed by friends and family. Anne’s parents had gone to Glasgow on the night she disappeared and were not unduly concerned when she did not return that night, they assumed she was merely spending the night at a friend’s house. When she did not return by the 4th, however, they did begin to worry and reported her disappearance to the police. Later that day they were told of the terrible news that her body had been found, discarded on a golf course that they must have driven past on their way home from Glasgow.

Anne’s body was discovered at 3pm on the 4th of January by George Gribbon, who was in the habit of walking his dogs on the golf course while collecting lost golf balls. At first he thought that he had seen someone lying sunbathing on the grass, but the bitterly cold weather made this unlikely. Once he got closer he realised that what he had taken for a sunbather was the corpse of Anne Kneilands. Anne had been attacked so brutally that her skull had been broken into pieces, a further fifteen pieces of it were found at another spot of the golf course. One of Anne’s ballet-style shoes was found embedded in the mud not far from her body, indicating that she had tried to escape from her killer but had been chased down.

The evidence points to a terrifying version of events that night - in an attempt to flee from her pursuer Anne had lost her right shoe in the mud, then in the darkness had ran into a barbed wire fence causing multiple lacerations to her face and arms, she had then lost her other shoe before eventually running in terror across the muddy field in her bare feet, as evidenced by the bare footprints in the mud – before finally being caught and subjected to a sustained and brutal attack. There could be no doubt where the murder took place, the ground was saturated with blood and littered with skull fragments, but the body was not found at this spot, indicating that the killer had either spent some time beside the body before moving it, or that he had returned and moved the body to a more secluded spot in the time between the murder and the time when the body was discovered. The killer had scattered his victims possessions around the area, her blood-stained headscarf, her watch, an earring, some beads and a French five centime piece were found in different places up to 340 yards from her shoes.

Police search the snow covered golf course where the body was found

On January 4th one of the Simpson daughters found Anne’s purse hidden at the back of the Capelrig Farm. Had the killer stalked Anna from when she left the farm that night and returned after the crime to leave the purse in order to focus police suspicion on someone inside?
Detectives composed a list of potential suspects, and Peter Manuel was on that list. Besides the scratches on his face that week, something else should have focused police attention on him. At the time of the murder he was working on a construction project alongside the golf course on which Anne Knielands was murdered. Manuel was interviewed by detectives but was adamant that he had an alibi for the night of the murder, he had been at home all night, and his ever loyal father told police exactly the same thing. And so he got away with murder, for a while at least, and would go on to kill again.

When Manuel was finally arrested in 1958 he finally gave this confession of the murder:

‘On the first of January 1956 I was in East Kilbride about 7pm in the evening. At about 7.30pm I was walking towards the Cross when I met a girl. She spoke to me and addressed me as Tommy. I told her my name was not Tommy and she said she thought she knew me. We got talking and she told me she had to meet someone, but she did not think they were turning up for the meeting. After a while I asked if she would like some tea or coffee. She assented and we went into the Willow Café. I do not remember how long we were there but it was not long/. When we came out, she said she was going home and I offered to see her home. She said she lived miles away and I would probably get lost if I took her home. I insisted and she said ‘All right.’ We walked along the road up to Maxwellton Road. From there we went along a curving country road that I cannot name. About halfway along this road, I pulled her into field gate. She struggled and ran away and I chased her across a field and over a ditch. When I caught up to her I dragged her into a wood. In the wood she started screaming and I hit her over the head with a piece of iron I picked up. After I had killed her I ran down a country lane that brought me out at the General’s Bridge at the East Kilbride Road. I do not know where I flung the piece of iron. I then ran down to High Blantyre and along a road that brought me to Bardykes Road. I got home about 10.15pm.’

Whether any of this is true is anyone’s guess – Manuel was never one for the truth. And like his version of events in the Mary McLachlan rape case, he minimises his own responsibility for the crime, emphasising instead the recklessness of his victim – after all, hadn’t she approached him first? And when she started to scream he just panicked and picked up a piece of iron that just ‘happened’ to be lying there. The real truth was that this was a brutal and opportunistic attack on a defenceless young girl. The murder of Anne Knielands, with the benefit of hindsight, be seen within a gradual escalation of violent behaviour, starting with petty crimes, graduating to rape and then murder, that would go on to claim the lives of at least 8 other people.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Peter Manuel Part 1: Early Life and First Crimes

Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel was born in Misericordia Hospital in Manhattan, New York, on the 15th March 1927. His parents had left Lanarkshire for the United States in 1925 leaving Peter’s elder brother, James, then two, with relatives, intending to send for him once they got settled. Peter was born in 1927, and the Manuel’s lasted a few more years in the states before the Great Depression brought them back to Motherwell in 1932. The Manuel’s had one other child, a daughter named Teresa in 1934. In the 1930s Samuel moved his family to Coventry in search of work and it was there that Peter, aged 12, had his first of many run-ins with the law when he was convicted of shop breaking and larceny, between 1939 and 1946 he appeared variously at a succession of youth courts in all over the country, from Coventry, Ely, Cambridge, Darlington, Manchester, Southport, Hull, Beverley, Market Weighton, Chatham to Glasgow, mostly for breaking into shops and houses. Of this spree of petty crimes two in particular stand out as a portent of what was to come.

On June 24th1942, aged 15, Manuel appeared at Southport Juvenile Court on three charges of housebreaking and one charge of unlawful wounding, he had broken into a house where he made his way to the bedroom of a sleeping girl. He viciously attacked the victim with a hammer which he had wrapped in a handkerchief to prevent leaving fingerprints, before stealing her purse and leaving the home. Not only was this Manuel’s first conviction for violence, it was the first instance of a nocturnal assault on a sleeping victim, something that was to become a signature of his later crimes.

After at least two previous unsuccessful attempts, Manuel committed, and was convicted of his first rape in 1946. At the time, Manuel was only at liberty to commit the series of sex attacks because his indulgent father had stumped up the not inconsiderable sum of £60 for his sons bail on charges of housebreaking. There may have been others, but it’s now considered fact that Manuel carried out three attacks in 1946. The first attack occurred when a women was walking with her three year old child along an unlit path between Mount Vernon Avenue and Carrick Drive at night. Manuel was waiting in the shadows and grabbed the woman as she passed, but the woman fought back, screaming hysterically and Manuel ran off, before suddenly running back to repeatedly kick the woman until she fell to the ground, before running off again. Significantly, Manuel would go on to murder Isabelle Cooke on this very footpath 11 years later in 1957.

Four days later at around 9.30pm, a young nurse finished her shift at a local hospital and was walking along Calder Road, Bellshill, about six miles away from the site of the previous attack. Manuel struck the woman in the face, covering her mouth and warned her not to scream, in the struggle the pair of them ended up on the ground against a hedge at the side of the road, and at this point she managed to scream. At that moment the attack was interrupted by the sound of a passing motorcycle, which caused Manuel to run off into the nearby woods.

Only twenty four hours later, the victim wouldn’t be so lucky. Only two miles away from the attack on the nurse, a 26 year old woman alighted from a bus and started to walk along Fallside Road to her house on Ferry Road, Bothwell. Her husband expected her return at any time. She had seen Manuel waiting at the bus stop but had no cause to suspect him of anything. A few minutes later she realised that someone was walking behind her, glancing back she saw the same young, well-dressed man she had seen at the bus stop. Suddenly, he ran up behind her, punched her and pulled her to the ground, holding his hand over her mouth he growled for her to be quiet. When she bit his hand, he became furious and smashed her head against the ground several times. She pleaded that if it was her money he wanted, he could have it. But it wasn’t her money that he wanted.

He pulled the woman up from the ground and forced her over a fence to a railway embankment. Once there he threw her to the ground, tore off her clothes and raped her. He then tied her scarf around her eyes and ran off. The victim was able to give a description matching that of Manuel, and when police called at his house on March 9th he was arrested for the crime. The victims of the previous two attacks also identified Manuel at their attacker.

Despite the fact that all three women identified Manuel as their attacker, and despite the fact that all three attacks occurred in the same area, a few days apart, and were of a similar character, the Crown made the strange decision to proceed only with the rape allegation from the 8th of March 1946. Had the crown proceeded with all three attacks together, and achieved a conviction on all three, it is likely that Manuel would have been imprisoned for a much longer time that he actually served, and at least some of his later crimes might not have occurred. As it was, Manuel appeared at Glasgow High Court, on the 26th June 1946, and the 19 year old Manuel, full of self-conceit, elected to represent himself in court.

During the course of the investigation, detectives recovered a broken dental plate belonging to the victim from the crime scene, along with two distinct sets of footprints tracing to an area of flattened grass, thereafter the two sets of footprints set off in different directions – all apparently corroborating the victim’s version of events. Furthermore one of the set of footprints matched a pair of shoes belonging to Manuel, and fibres resembling those from the scarf of the victim were found on Manuel’s clothes, and when his shoes were examined, a mixture of dust and dirt consistent with that of the vicinity of the crime were found. All the evidence at least appeared to confirm Manuel’s presence at the crime scene.

The jury agreed – and Manuel was convicted and sentenced to 8 years, set to commence at the end of the 12 month sentence for housebreaking which he was currently serving. But Peter Manuel would be back on the streets in a mere 7 years. Peter Manuel was released from Peterhead Prison in 1953 at the age of 26, and it seemed that perhaps he was really was a reformed man when he met and became engaged to a young woman named Anna O’Hare in 1954. Anna worked as a us conductress at the bus terminus at the Mossend goods yard where Manuel worked, and knew nothing about his criminal past. Manuel was by every account a generous and loving fiancé, well –dressed, well-spoken and well-liked by Anna’s family, they were engaged on the 20th of May 1955 with a wedding date set for the 30th July that year. But that wedding wouldn’t happen and that date of the 30th of July would take on a more ominous meaning.

What split up Anna and Peter was his lack of religion, the O’Hare’s were devout Catholics, and although Manuel’s family were Roman Catholics too, he had long given up the pretence of actually practising any religion. As a consequence, Anna called off the engagement, and from there, Manuel rapidly gave up on any notion of social compliance.

On the date on which Peter was meant to marry Anna O’Hare, July 30th 1955, Manuel abducted and assaulted a 29 year woman named Mary McLachlan. Mary was travelling home from a failed rendez vous at a local dance in nearby Blantyre, sometime around 11pm that night she made her way into Lucy Brae, only a few minutes’ walk from her home, it was here that Manuel sprang out, covering her mouth and holding a knife to her throat. He made Mary climb over a fence into a field, warning that if she screamed he would cut off her head. Manuel made her lie with him for over an hour with his knife pressed against her throat, while he groped and threatened her. At one point Manuel stopped the attack, apologised, explaining that he was drunk, he had lost control, and overcome with the desire to kill someone. In true Manuel style he defected responsibility for his actions, he explained that he was meant to be married that day but his fiancé had left him the day before, that he thought about drowning himself in the Clyde before he remembered he could swim, that he had seen her and she bore such a strong resemblance to his fiancé with her red hair, if her hair had been any other colour she would have been safe. He offered her a cigarette, mused that they must travel on the same bus, and even offered to see her home.

Mary McLachlan would go to the police about her ordeal, and although she didn’t know her attackers name, she did recognise him as travelling on the same bus as her. Manuel was identified and charged. The case gained strength when his knife, complete with his fingerprints, was found in the field, and even more so when Mary McLachlan’s blood was found on his clothes. Once more, Manuel arrogantly elected to represent himself on court, giving him the opportunity to cross-examine his own victim in court. Manuel claimed that yes – he did know the victim, they had been seeing each other but had had a falling out. Yes – he had met her on the 30th, and in the course of an argument had hit her, splitting her lip and thus accounting for the blood found on his clothing. In short, he portrayed Mary as a vengeful, scorned ex-girlfriend out for revenge.

And it worked – Manuel received the peculiar Scottish verdict of ‘Not Proven’ and walked free. While Mary McLachlan was shunned by her neighbours, faced gossip and prejudice and was spat on by Samuel Manuel at a bus stop, and Peter Manuel learned not to leave witnesses, and he never would again. 

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Sensational Story of Madeleine Smith

Madeline Smith has been sensationally dubbed ‘the Victorian Amanda Knox’, treated in the Victorian tabloid press as Scotland’s own Lucretia Borgia, journalists rhapsodized over her apparent good-looks and salaciously hinted at the defendant’s voracious sexual appetite. Then, as now, sex and death sell, and in 1857 the tale of passion, and poison, made for a tabloid sensation.

Madeleine Smith

Madeleine Smith was born 29th March 1835 to James Smith, a prominent architect, and Elizabeth, the daughter of the famous neo-classical architect David Hamilton. The family were wealthy, living between their townhouse at No.7 Blythswood Square, Glasgow and their country property, ‘Rowaleyn’, located near Helensburgh. Madeleine had been educated in England and on returning to Glasgow in her late teens, she found the city rather parochial for her tastes. Nevertheless she amused herself by attending balls and parties, and often sauntering along Sauchiehall Street on the arm of her sister Bessie. It was on one of the jaunts that Madeleine Smith caught the eye of Pierre Emile L’Angelier. At 28 years old, L’Angelier was 10 years Madeleine’s senior. He claimed to be a Frenchman, and boasted that he descended from the French aristocracy, but in fact he was born in Jersey, his father was a nurseryman who fled France during the revolution. Pierre was dandified in his clothing, often wearing ornate waistcoats and sporting a twirling moustache, yet he earned only 10 shillings a weeks as a clerk at a seedman’s office in Bothwell Street. After Madeleine came to his attention, L’Angelier asked his friend Robert Baird to walk with him up and down Sauchiehall Street until they spotted the two sisters, and fatefully the two were introduced, soon after Pierre began sending single red roses to Madeline’s house in Blythswood Square.

Pierre L'Angelier

Soon after Madeleine and L’Angelier met, the Smith family moved permanently to their country seat in Helensburgh, returning to Glasgow only when business or society demanded. It was the beginning of April 1855 when Madeline penned her first letter to L’Angelier, it is impossible to know how many letters the pair sent between them, but at least 198 letters from Madeline were found in L’Angelier’s lodgings and office after his death. This rabid correspondence would go on to form an important part of the murder trial, sixty of these letters were read as evidence of her guilt. In her letters Madeline alluded to the fact that her father didn’t approve of the courtship, ‘Papa was very angry with me for walking with a gentleman unknown to him’, but she was defiant: ‘I don’t care for the world’s remarks so long as my own heart tells me I am doing nothing wrong. Believe me, yours most sincerely, Madeleine.’

Her father’s anger at the courtship with, not only a foreigner, but a penniless clerk, seemed to have an effect in April 1855 when Madeline wrote to L’Angelier desiring to end the correspondence: ‘I think you will agree with me…that for the present the correspondence had better stop.’ While the correspondence may have stopped, the lover continued to meet, L’Angelier took to hanging around Blythswood Square, and if the coast was clear, Madeline would let him into the house. In the middle of July, Madeleine’s father discovered that the liaison between his daughter and the Frenchman was not over, and forbade Madeline to see L’Angelier. When Madeline passed on this message,  L’Angelier wrote back angrily: ‘I did not deserve to be treated as you have done. How you astonish me by writing such a note without condescending to explain the reasons why your father refuses his consent…Never, dear Madeleine, could I have believed you were capable of such conduct…What would you think if even one of your servants had played with any one’s affections as you have done?.’

This break up, like the first, was not permanent, as soon the lovers were back in contact. On December 3rd 1855 Madeline posted this letter to her lover. This letter was one which shocked the Victorian court as it alluded, quite openly, to sex. In the letter she refers to L’Angelier as ‘My own darling husband’ and speaks of the ‘pleasure…of being fondled by you’ and ‘tender long embraces’. In another letter, after a clandestine meeting in the garden of Madeline’s Helensburgh house, she wrote to L’Angelier, ‘if we did wrong last night it was the excitement of our love. Tell me, pet, were you angry at me for allowing you to do what you did – was it very bad of me? We shoud, I suppose, have waited till we were married.’ She was adamant that she did not regret their physical union, ‘I do not regret that – never did, and never shall.’

It was this absolute honestly about sex on Madeleine’s part that worried the Victorian’s so much when her letters were read in court and then published in the newspapers. L’Angelier, for his part, was less honest. His reply to Madeline’s letter is full of contrition and self-absolution, blaming Madeline almost entirely for what happened: ‘I am sad at what we did, I regret it very much. Why, Mimi, did you give way after your promises? My Pet, it is a pity. Think of the consequences if I were never to marry you.’ When Madeline next wrote to L’Angelier she warned him not to ‘give ear to any reports you might hear. There are several I hear going about regarding me going to get married – regard them not.’ There was some substance to these reports that Madeleine mentioned, she was being courted by an eligible Glasgow bachelor called Billy Minnoch. Minnoch moved in the same society as Madeline, he had an income of £3000 a year, and most importantly, Madeline’s father approved of him highly. But Madeline still preferred her penniless clerk. While Minnoch was paying polite addresses a Rowaleyn by day, L’Angelier was meeting Madeline in the garden at night. But soon Madeline’s letters to L’Angelier started to cool off and become less frequent. In September she wrote, ‘Mr Minnoch has been here since Friday – he is most agreeable – think.’ Yet the correspondence continued with L’Angelier dropping his letters through the bars of the basement windows of Madeline’s bedroom, in the pretence of tying a shoelace. L’Angelier not only posted notes to her down through the window, he would also wait in the winter darkness and talked with Madeline once her sister Janet was asleep. Now and again Madeleine made cocoa and passed a cup through the window to her lover.

The Smith home on Blythswood Square

Floorplan of the basement of the Smith home
Balancing her relationships with L’Angelier and Minnoch and maintain her double life was becoming more and more difficult. By the time there was what the Victorians called ‘an understanding’ between her and Minnoch, an assumption of an engagement in the near future. But at the same time she was allowing L’Angelier to think that they were going to elope and marry in secret. On January 28th Madeleine Smith accepted Billy Minnoch’s proposal of marriage, unknown to L’Angelier. Her letters grew colder and colder, she wrote to him simply and coolly, ‘my love for you has ceased’. Obviously aware of the danger of being blackmailed, and how disastrous such a reveal would be to her new engagement, Madeline demanded that L’Angelier return all her letters at a prearranged spot and time. But L’Angelier did not appear. She wrote to him suggesting a new date. This time L’Angelier did reply, telling Madeline that he regarded her as his wife and that he would show her letters to her father to prove it. While she had burned most of his letters to her, he has kept most of hers, and particularly those which proved ‘the criminal intimacy’ between them. Madeline wrote back desperately: ‘Emile, for the love you once had for me do nothing till I see you – for God’s sake do not bring your once loved Mimi to an open shame.’ She wrote on and on in this vein, imploring her lover not to reveal the extent of their relationship, she writes ‘I grow mad, I have been ill, very ill…I feel as if death indeed would be sweet.’ But she didn’t make clear whose death would be sweet.

The very next day she sent the page boy to get her some prussic acid, giving him a note explaining that she required it for cosmetic purposes, but the doctor refused him, explaining that his mistress needed a physician’s line to make the purchase. On the very same day, L’Angelier started a diary of sorts, one entry a few days later reads: ‘Thurs.19 Feb - Saw Mimi a few moments was very ill during the night. L’Angelier’s landlady found him violently ill, vomiting green bile. He explained ‘On the road coming home I was seized with a violent pain in my bowels and stomach, and when I was taking off my clothes I lay down upon the carpet and thought I would have died.’ The following morning Madeleine Smith left the house in Blythswood Square and visited Murdoch Brothers druggist in nearby Sauchiehall Street. She explained that she wanted to buy a sixpence worth of arsenic, the pharmacist explained that she would have to sign for it, and asked what she needed the arsenic for. Madeleine explained that it was needed for the garden and the country house, and the assistant made up the ounce of arsenic, charging it to James Smith’s account. L’Angelier’s diary for that day reads ‘Sat.21st.Feb – don’t feel well.’ And the next day ‘Saw Mimi in Drawing Room…Taken very ill.’ He would later tell his landlady ‘I can’t think why I was so unwell after getting that coffee and chocolate from her’ he went on to prophetically add ‘It is a perfect fascination, my attachment to that girl. If she were to poison me, I would forgive her.’

One month later Pierre L’Angelier was dead. On March 21st he alarmed his landlady by returned to his lodging clutching his stomach and groaning in pain, a doctor was sent for who assured the patient that there was nothing seriously wrong, to which L’Angelier replied, ‘I am far worse than the doctor thinks.’ When the doctor returned to check on his patient later in the morning, L’Angelier was lying dead on the sofa. His landlady was reported to have observed, ‘I heard he was going to be married, how sorry the lady will be.’

On searching the deceased clothes, a love letter from Madeline was found folded in his pocket. The next day L’Angelier’s landlady travelled to the Smith family home in Blythswood Square to inform Madeline that her fiancé has died. On the same say an autopsy was performed which determined that Pierre L’Angelier has died from poisoning, medical experts found enough arsenic in his body to kill forty men. L’Angelier’s employer arranged for his body to be buried in his family lair in the Ramshorn kirkyard on Ingram Street, but it did not lie there long. Five days later it was exhumed in order that investigators, who know suspected foul play, could make a fuller investigation.
That afternoon Madeleine Smith was arrested and charged with the murder of Pierre Emile L’Angelier, in her initial statement to police she denied having seen L’Angelier in the three weeks preceding his death, denied that the victim had visited her the night he died (as per the letter found in L’Angelier’s clothes). She admitted that, yes, she had been in the habit of buying arsenic, but it was merely used as a cosmetic.

Three months after she made that statement Madeleine Smith went on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, the decision to hold the trial in Edinburgh instead of Glasgow had been made due to the intense public feeling in Madeleine’s native city. Public feeling was divided, those who were in favour of Madeleine thought that L’Angelier had likely committed suicide, or if there was any chance that Madeleine had poisoned him, it was only what the blackmailing French seducer deserved. Those who were against Madeleine painted her as a rich girl who ruthlessly got rid of a poor but honest lover in order to marry a rich man. On his part, Billy Minnoch stood by Madeleine throughout the trial, declaring that they would marry as soon as the trial was over.

Court illustration of Madeleine Smith

One journalist described the defendant in court: ‘Madeleine Smith, a very young lady of short stature and slight form, with features sharp and prominent, and restless and sparkling eye, stepped up the stair in to the dock with all the buoyancy with which she might have entered the box of a theatre. Her head never sank for a moment, and she even seemed to scan the witnesses with a scrutinising glance. Her perfect self-possession, indeed could only be accounted for either by a proud consciousness of innocence, or by her possessing an almost unparalleled amount of self-control.’

One of the prosecution’s medical experts explained his theory was to how Madeleine Smith administered the vast amount of arsenic to the victim: ‘Cocoa or chocolate are substances in which a considerable doze of arsenic might be conveyed. I have found by actual experiment that when thirty or forty grains of arsenic are put into a cup of warm chocolate, a large portion of the arsenic settles down to the bottom of the cup, and I think a person drinking such chocolate would suspect something when the gritty particles came into his mouth. But when the same or a larger quantity of arsenic is boiled with the chocolate, instead of stirring it in, none of it settles at the bottom.’

Everyday crowds gathered outside the court hoping to catch a glimpse of the prisoner as she arrived or departed, while the newspapers were flooded with details of Madeline’s every movement in court. Throughout all the mass excitement, it seems that only Madeleine Smith remained unmoved. That is, until the prosecution started reading out some of the more explicit love letters, at this point, Madeleine was said to bow her head and blush. On the sixth day the defence made their case, arguing that L’Angelier was the sort of man who would commit suicide, and also arguing that the prosecution could not prove that Madeleine and L’Angelier had met on any occasion after she had bought the arsenic. Interestingly, there was some evidence that L’Angeleir had spoken of suicide before, an acquaintance from Edinburgh stated that he often spoke of being tired of his existence and occasionally referred to suicide explicitly. In one letter he wrote, ‘I never was so unhappy in my life. I wish I had the courage to blow my brains out.’ The defence also produced three chemists as witness who claimed to have sold arsenic to a man matching L’Angelier’s description.

The defence lawyer portrayed Madeleine as a pure and innocent maid who had been seduced by a foul older man, who then turned blackmailer, and who then likely committed suicide as a result of Madeleine attempting to break off the relationship. It is crucial to know that the damning evidence of L’Angelier’s dairy that documented his deteriorating health, which often coincided with meetings with Madeleine, was not entered as evidence in court. This may go far to explain the jury’s verdict.
That verdict was as follows: Not guilty on the first charge of administering poison and Not Proven on the charge of murder. The court erupted into applause and cheering. The jury’s vote was two for guilty, and thirteen for not proven. It was later learned that most of the jury did in fact think Madeleine was guilty, but felt that the prosecution’s evidence was too weak.

Following the verdict, Madeleine Smith fled Scotland, and far from marrying straight after the trail, Billy Minnoch never saw his once fiancé again. The Smith family were ruined socially, they fled Glasgow and soon after Mrs Smith took to her bed and became an invalid for the rest of her life. Madeleine’s younger sisters never married. Madeleine herself left Scotland for London, then Plymouth where she met a young drawing teacher named George J. Wardle. They married in London in 1861. With her first name changed to Lena, the Wardles settles in the bourgeoning bohemian set in Bloomsbury, were introduced to William Morris, George Bernard Shaw and other intellectual socialists, and Lena Wardle became a renowned Bloomsbury hostess. In a bit of a bizarre aside, it has been said that it was Lena Wardle who originated, at her society parties, the trend of place mats on a bare dining table. The Wardles had two children, Tom and Kitty. Thirty years after she had been tried for murder as Madeleine Smith, Lena Wardle because treasurer for a splinter group of the Socialist League, run by Karl Marx’s son in law, Edward Aveling. George Bernard Shaw would later write of his coffee mornings with Lena Wardle: ‘One day someone  rushed in to tell me that Mrs Wardle was Madeleine Smith and that we should all be poisoned…but to me she seemed an ordinary, good-humoured, capable woman with nothing sinister about her.’ George and Lena broke up in 1889, and former died in 1910 (through natural causes, it must be added). At this point Lena/Madeline drops out of sight for years, before emerging again when she emigrated to the United States in 1916. In America she married again, to an elderly man named Sheehy.

In 1919 writer Somerset Maugham recounts meeting Lena Wardle in 1907: ‘my next door neighbour was a very quiet prim old lady, becoming acquainted with her, I gradually connected her with the heroine of a celebrated murder case which had excited the world fifty years before. She had been tried and found not guilty but the evidence was so damning that, notwithstanding the verdict, the general opinion was that she had in point of fact committed the crime. She discovered that I had found out her identity and presently said to me, ‘I suppose you want to know whether I did it or not. I did, and what’s more, if it were to happen again, I’d do it again.’

This apparent confession, however, did not appear in print until long after Madeleine’s death. She died in the Bronx, New York on April 12th 1928 of kidney disease. She was 92 years old. On her simple tombstone is the name ‘Lena Sheehy’.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Bible John Part 4: The Tobin Theory

Following the final murder of Helen Puttock in 1969 a flurry of police activity and media speculation soon dwindled as police ran out of leads and the case eventually went cold, with no suspects publicly announced to this day. However, in 2006 speculation surrounding the identity of the man known as ‘Bible John’ was renewed when a 60 year old man named Peter Tobin was arrested and charged with the murder of a 23 year old Polish student, Angelika Kluk. The media almost immediately speculated that they had found their man after all these years.

St Patrick's Church, Anderston, Glasgow

Peter Tobin was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire in 1946 (making him 22 at the time of the first Bible John murder) but moved to England in the early 1970s.  Although he was convicted of rape and assault in 1994, Tobin’s crimes did not come to public prominence until his murder of Angelika Kluk in 2006. At that time Tobin was working at a handyman at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Anderston, Glasgow under the assumed name of ‘Pat McLaughlin.’ Kluk was a 23 year old student originally from Skoczow, Poland, who was working as a cleaner at the church in order to fund her studies. On the 24th of September 2006 she was attacked by Tobin in the garage attached to the church, she was beaten, raped, stabbed and her body was concealed in an underground chamber beneath the floor of the church. Forensic evidence suggests that she was still alive when she was placed beneath the floorboards. Police discovered her body on the 29th of September and Tobin was convicted of her murder six weeks later. 

Angelika Kluk, Vicky Hamilton, Dinah McNicol

Following his conviction in the Kluk murder, detectives searched Tobin’s old house in Bathgate, West Lothian in connection with the disappearance of 15 year old Vicky Hamilton who was last seen on the 10th of February 1991 as she waited for a bus home to Redding, near Falkirk. Tobin is reported to have left Bathgate a few weeks after the murder, relocating to Margate in Kent. Tobin was arrested in July 2007, and a search of a home previously occupied by Tobin in 1991 revealed human remains buried in the back garden that were later confirmed as belonging to Vicky Hamilton. In 2007 a second body found at the same house in Margate was confirmed as belonging to Dinah McNicol, an 18 year old girl from Essex who was last seen alive hitchhiking home from a music festival in 1991. Following his convictions in these murders, Police launched ‘Operation Anagram’ to trace Tobin’s past movements and his possible involvement in a further 13 unsolved murder cases, including the Bible John Murders. Tobin is reported to have boasted in prison of having been responsible for the deaths of 48 victims 

Tobin’s conviction in these crimes led to widespread speculation that he was responsible for the Bible John murders, this thesis was spearheaded by Professor David Wilson, an expert in criminal behaviour who declared that he was willing to stake his professional reputation that Tobin was the killer. There is compelling evidence on both sides of the debate, supporting the claim that Tobin was John is the fact that he moved from Glasgow in 1969 (the year the killings officially ended) with his first wife, who he is reported to have met at the Barrowland Ballroom. It was also alleged by his former wives that Tobin was driven to violence by the menstrual cycle, something which has long been suspected as a motive behind the Bible John murders, as all three victims were menstruating at the times of their deaths. As a result of Operation Anagram, a woman came forward claiming that she had been raped by Tobin after she had met him at the Barrowland Ballroom in 1968, around the time of the Bible John killings. Another woman also came forward claiming to have had a threatening experience with Tobin at the Barrowland Ballroom, she said that Tobin had introduced himself as Peter and pestered her to go with him to a party in the Castlemilk area of the city. When she saw a photograph of Tobin from the 1960s she said ‘It was the man who came up to me so many years ago in the Barrowlands. I am 100 per cent certain that Tobin is Bible John. Former Detective Joe Jackson, who investigated the murders in the 60s was similarly convinced, he said: ‘When I saw his photograph, I thought, “This is as near to Bible John as you are going to get. This looks a winner.” He fitted the bill in every way and he had connections with religion.’

Yet despite these persuasive evidences that Tobin was indeed the John that stalked the Barrowland Ballroom in 68 and 67, perhaps the most damning evidence against this theory comes from the last victim, Helen Puttock’s sister, Jean McLaughlin. Jean, we must remember, spent an evening in close company with the killer, she shared a taxi cab with him, and by all accounts in a reliable and astute witness who claimed, for years, that she would be able to spot her sister’s killer if she ever saw him again. She is adamant that the man that murdered her sister was not Peter Tobin, when showed pictures she emphatically declared that Tobin was not the man she shared a taxi with.

Further evidence against Tobin being the killer is the difference in age between the suspect and Tobin himself in 1968. At the time of the murders, witnesses estimated the age of the killer to be anywhere between 25 – 35, but most accounts place him in his late twenties to early thirties. At the time of the first murder, Tobin was only 22 years old. Comparisons between pictures of a young Tobin and the artist’s impression of Bible John seem to work both ways, while some are adamant that they are identical, others see little resemblance. When the Kluk murder was discovered in 2006, speculation that Tobin might be responsible for the Bible John killings was fuelled by the, correct, observation that a murder so vicious and carefully executed was unlikely to be Tobin’s first murder at the age of sixty. We know now that it was not his first murder, and it is likely there are crimes, excluding the Bible John murders, that may still be attributed to Tobin prior to the killings of Hamilton and McNicol in the 1990s. To put my armchair detective hat firmly on, one thing that strikes me about the differences between the known Tobin murders and the killings of Bible John is the profound lengths taken to conceal the bodies in the later cases (Klux was concealed under the floor of the church, McNicol and Hamilton buried in the garden, Tobin even transported Vicky Hamilton’s body all the way from Bathgate in Scotland to Kent in England to put distance between himself and the crime) and the apparent disregard for concealing the murders in the Bible John murders, where all the bodies were left where they were killed, unconcealed and on display. We might put this down to a killer honing his skills, developing as a killer, but such a dramatic change in M.O demands attention.

It has been nearly 10 years since police launched an inquiry into any connection between Tobin and the Bible John murders, with detectives seemingly no closer to making an arrest. DNA from the Bible John case has eroded so much due to time and poor storage that it unlikely that any comparison could be made. Tobin is, no doubt, an evil man, but whether he is Bible John is