Friday, 26 February 2016

The Bible John Murders - Part Two

Born in 1937, Jemima (known as Mima) McDonald was one of seven children, four girls and three boys. In 1969 she was a 32-year old single mother to three children, Elizabeth (12), Andrew (9), and Alan (7). Mima had suffered at the hands of the men in her life, experiencing domestic violence at the hands of more than one, but she, perhaps naively, still believed that the right man for her was out there, somewhere. By all accounts, she was a great mother who always put her children first and was determined to give them every opportunity to develop and prosper.

Mima MacDonald

Standing 5ft7inches tall, Mima had a slim figure and striking dark, shoulder length hair which she was particularly proud of. Like most women of her era, Mima liked to go dancing, but because most of her friends were married, she often found herself treading the dancefloors alone or with acquaintances she had met on the night.

Mima lived in a tiny flat, consisting of only one main room and a kitchen, at 15 MacKeith Street, Bridgeton. Mima was well known in the area, often seen doing her errands in Curleys or having a drink at the local Blue Bird CafĂ© on Main Street. Mima enjoyed living in Bridgeton, despite it’s bad reputation at the time, she described Bridgeton to a friend as: ‘a tiny city where everyone looks after their own, within a bigger city where nobody cares.’


Mima’s older sister Margaret, lived in the same tenement as Mima did, just across the landing. The sisters would look out for each other, with Margaret looking after the children if her younger sister had a date or wanted to go out to the dancing. A friend of Mima’s later reported: ‘The weekend Mima was murdered, she had been busy and was out jiggin’ at the Barrowland on the Thursday, Friday as well as the Saturday night. She never admitted as much but we believe she had met a fella who she was keen on and wanted to get to know a bit better. Some folk who knew her said they had seen her with a new man; he was handsome looking by all accounts and she seemed to be captivated by him…Such a nice looking man, well-groomed and smartly dressed, was rare to most of us in the East End. Anyone who dressed like that tended to be something to do with the police.’

And so it was that on Saturday 16th August 1969 Mima got ready for another night of dancing at the Barrowland Ballroom. After giving the children their tea, she put on her make-up, her favourite black pinafore dress, a while frilly blouse, a brown wool coat, and a pair of cream slingback hells, dropped the kids at her sisters, kissed them each goodbye and left. On the way she called into Betty’s Bar, located just across the street from the Barrowland, for a few drinks and to chat with fellow revellers. In those days the Barrowland didn’t sell alcohol, so the bars in the general vicinity were always teeming with people getting a few drinks in before making their way to the venue. It was later reported that Mima was seen talking to a well-dressed, good looking young man in Betty’s Bar. She was seen dancing with the same man in the Ballroom, he was a tall man with short, light red hair and she seemed happy to be in his company. Mima MacDonald never returned home that night, her partly-clothed body was found on Sunday 17th August 1969.

Betty's Bar, Gallowgate

On the morning of Sunday 17th August, Mima’s sister Margaret went across the landing to knock on Mima’s door. There was no answer, but Margaret assumed that Mima might still be asleep, nursing a hangover, and wasn’t unduly concerned. Margaret knocked again in a few hours and again there was no answer. By Sunday evening, Margaret started to think that perhaps Mima had met someone, and decided to spend a few nights with that person, but Mima had never left her kids for this long without at least contacting to make arrangements. Nevertheless, she decided to leave it until Monday morning before making the usual checks with friends and family. So it was that on the Monday morning, with no sign of Mima returning, Margaret decided to call on her neighbours who she knew to be regulars at the Barrowland, in the vain hope that they might have seen or heard something of her sister. 

Barrowland Ballroom 1960s

As Margaret left the tenement, she heard groups of children whispering about a body that lay on the ground floor a derelict tenement nearby, 23 MacKeith Street. The tenement was gaunt and eerie, with no electricity, some of the windows to the lower floors had been boarded up by the council while others had been smashed clean out. The abandoned building had become a playground for children during the day, by night it provided a roof to tramps or a private place for an illicit sexual liaison.

Children playing in an abandoned tenement Maryhill

It was now after 10am and an unsuspected Margaret became curious and asked the children where this body was and if they recognised who it was. A man who claimed to be one of the children who found the body later reported: ‘I had seen drunken tramps sleeping in that block, it wasn’t fit for human habitation but desperate people used it for their own devices…It wasn’t normal to see a woman sleeping in the rooms though I know people who did see couples having sex in there. I didn’t recognise the woman lying in the flat, none of us did…At first I thought it wasn’t a real person, it looked like some sort of tailor’s dummy or model, it was only when someone said it was a woman and she was bleeding on her face that we realised something was different…When I saw the body, the woman was laid face down, she had some of her clothes pulled up and some were torn and ripped...Her head was facing to one side and her hair was covering part of it. I remember thinking she looked like she was sleeping.’

One of the children must have reported the gruesome find to their parents as soon dozens of residents were crowding in to have a look at the body, disturbing a crime scene and perhaps destroying vital evidence. Some even attempted to move the body before the police arrived, although this was done with good intentions, they were trying to identify the woman and inform her family, it only made the police’s job harder when they were eventually called.

Meanwhile Margaret made her way through the crowds in the building, only to find the body of her younger sister lying dead in the bed recess. She had been strangled with her stockings, and her face was bloody and beaten. Police soon arrived on the scene and cordoned off MacKeith street, it was determined that Mima’s black handbag was missing from the crime scene, it was also noted that she had been menstruating at the time of her death, estimated to be about 30 hours earlier. This was confirmed by several children who reported having seen the body lying there the previous day. It was later confirmed that Mima had died in the early hours of Sunday 17th August 1969.

Door-to-door enquiries revealed little, it appeared that the killer had entered like a ghost and vanished in the same manner. One witness reporting seeing Mima talking to a man outside 23 MacKeith street around 12.40am, Police searched the wasteland surrounding the abandoned tenement searching for Mima’s missing handbag, but nothing was found. The police then moved their enquiries to the Barrowland ballroom, where they spoke from the stage microphone about the murder of Mima McDonald and appealed for witnesses who might have seen her to come forward. Two witnesses did come forward, each having seen her with a man, 25-35 years old, 6ft-6ft2 inches tall, slim with a thin pale face and reddish fair hair. It was believed he was wearing a stylish, good quality blue suit with a white shirt and tie. Another witness reported seeing the couple in London Rd at the junction with Abercromby Street at around 12.15am. In an effort to jog people’s memory, a police woman dressed in similar clothing to those worn by Mima on that fateful evening, retraced her walk home from the Barrowland but the reconstruction provided no new evidence.

Despite the obvious similarities between Mima’s murder and the murder of Patricia Docker 18 months earlier, the police did not initially link both crimes. It was not until the 21st of August 1969 that the police confirmed that they were looking closely at the two crimes. A Senior detective told press: ‘There are one or two similarities between both murders…I cannot say more on that point at the moment.’ Detective Tom Goodall made the unprecedented decision of having a portrait drawn up of the likely killer, with information drawn from eye witness reports. The painting was done by the deputy director of the Glasgow School of Art, G.W. Lennox Patterson and published in the press on Tuesday 26th August 1969 and that image would haunt Glasgow for decades.

Meanwhile, attendance at Glasgow’s dancehall’s was declining, seemingly as much a result of the increased police presence in the venues as a mysterious unnamed killer in the midst. Pressure was put on the police force to wind down their operations in the dancehalls as it was effectively putting customers off. As in the case of Patricia Docker, with few new leads the search for the killer began to slip from the police agenda and the from the front pages. In an effort to maintain public interest, Jean, Mima’s oldest sister, offered a £100 reward for the capture of her sister’s killer. It was never claimed.

Years later a resident of Bridgeton remembered the profound effect the murder had on the district: ‘All these years later I don’t think MacKeith Street can be mentioned anywhere in Bridgeton and other parts of Glasgow without Mima MacDonald being remembered. I know it’s Bible John who gets most mentions but Mima was a lovely girl, a smashing lass who didn’t deserve the life she had or to die in such terrible circumstances, she was a loving mother with three lovely kids…People round here will never forget, if they ever do catch him then I hope he gets his just rewards. It might be 25 years since it happened but that man is still the most despised character in this city.’

That despised character was to strike again only two months later.

To be continued.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Bible John Murders - Part 1

It was a cold, frosty, February morning in 1968, when 67 year old joiner Maurice Goodman left his home at 27 Carmichael Place, Battlefield, to make the short journey to his garage lock-up located in a narrow, cobbled lane running between Overdale Street and Ledard Road, named Carmichael Lane. It was barely light and Maurice noticed nothing out of the ordinary until he reached his garage, where he observed something laid across the front of the garage door, blocking it. As he got closer he realised it was the naked body of a woman, lying on her back, with her head turned to the right. There was no clothing nearby, but, thinking that perhaps the body was only a sleeping drunk Maurice nudged it with his foot, he would later recall ‘It was like touching a block of ice, I instinctively knew that it was a dead person.’

Maurice immediately rushed from the lane, returning home to call the police and report the gruesome find. Somehow, despite the body being naked, perhaps due to shock, Maurice incorrectly identified the body as that of a man to police. At this point, the police did not suspect the death to be suspicious, they negligently assumed that the body was probably a vagrant or a drunk who had died of exposure in the cold February night. This perhaps explains why the first police officers to eventually arrive at the scene were two traffic policemen who happened to be in the area. Unpractised in a murder case, unfortunately, the two traffic policemen did not preserve the crime scene or follow the forensic protocol that was required.

At approximately 8am two detectives, Detective Sergeant Andrew Johnstone and Detective Constable Norman MacDonald, arrived at the scene. It was clear to the detectives that the circumstances surrounding the death were suspicious, there was no sign of any clothing surrounding the body save for a pair of tan sling-back shoes that were located nearby. Also located near the body was a used sanitary towel. The detectives observed dark bruising on the woman’s neck, suggestive of ligature strangulation, as well as various cuts and bruises indicating that the victim had been violently beaten.

It took almost an hour for the crime scene to be locked down and for crucial evidence preserved, Detective Superintendent Elphinstone Dalglish ordered the erection of a tent to preserve the body and allow for closer examination of the remains. A mobile police caravan was set up on Ledard Road to serve as a point of contact for concerned local residents who were already flocking around the scene. The police surgeon noted the ligature marks and pronounced the likely cause of death to be manual strangulation, he also noted that rigor mortis had set in but determining a time of death was complicated by the heavy frost which would have speeded up the lowering of body temperature, he could only say with confidence that the woman had been dead for some hours.

The press soon swarmed on the scene, and, to their credit, did what police should have done hours before and began canvassing neighbours in the hope of identifying the murdered woman, forcing the police to intervene and demand that the press stop in case it harmed their own investigations. Almost two hours after the discovery of the body, the police’s own door-to-door enquiries began, and it soon became apparent that no one had seen or heard anything. The crime, if it had happened where the body was found, seems to have occurred in absolute silence. The police assumed the body to be of a local person, but the house to house enquires revealed no missing or absent residents from any of the surrounding streets.
News of the gruesome find was the talk of the area, and soon spread to the nearby Victoria Infirmary, where staff discussed between themselves whether the body could be that of a wandering patient or a hospital worker. Two nurses, Matron Ishbel Cameron and assistant Matron Elsbeth Bissett viewed the body but were unable to identify it, later an ambulance driver viewed the body and told police that he recognised it as a nurse from the hospital but was unable to give police a name. At around 12pm the body was removed from the lane, with police no closer to an identification.

A post-mortem examination confirmed the manner of death as strangulation, she had also been raped and viciously beaten before her death. It was also confirmed that the discarded sanitary towel found near the body belonged to the victim, doctors believed it had been removed by the killer before he raped her. With door to door enquiries still on going, a woman who lived nearby reported that she’d heard screams in the early hours of the morning: ‘I heard a woman shout out, twice in quick succession “Let me go.’ It was brief and I never heard it again. I thought nothing of it at the time. It was not followed by any kind of screams or any sort of commotion really…It all happened so quickly.’ While this statement didn’t offer up any real information as to the identity of killer or victim, it did, if it was correct, suggest that the murder did occur in the lane, and that the lane was not merely where the body was dumped. Devoid of any other options and no closer to identifying the victim, the police released a description of the victim to the press: Medium height, short, dark brown wavy hair, hazel eyes, snub nose, wearing a wedding ring on her right hand.
 John Wilson (63) of 29 Langside Place (less than one minutes’ walk from the crime scene) read the description that day in the evening paper. He lived with his wife Pauline, their daughter Patricia, and Patricia’s four year old son Sandy, and for a moment he considered the whereabouts his daughter Patricia who had gone out for the evening and had not yet returned. Although he was concerned, he knew Patricia was a sensible girl and supposed that she was still with her nursing friends who she said she had gone out with the night before. After discussing his worried with his wife – John made his way to the Ledard road incident caravan and informed police that his daughter, Patricia Docker, had not returned from an evening dancing the night before. He had taken a recent photograph of Patricia with him, but due to the intensive facial bruising on the body an identification couldn’t be made, he was asked to view the body at the morgue instead where he recognised the body as that of his only child, Patricia (25).

It was revealed that Patricia and her son Sandy had been living with her parents at Langside Place since returning from Cyprus in 1967. She had separated from her husband Alex, an army corporal, who was now living in Lincolnshire. Patricia was an auxiliary nurse at Mearnskirk hospital, who usually worked nightshift. On her days off she was a keen dancer, a regular at the Locarno, the Majestic and the Barrowland Ballroom. Her parents believed that on the previous evening she had gone with some friends to the Majestic Ballroom on Hope Street. She had left around 8.30pm wearing a mustard woollen dress, a grey duffle coat with a blue fur collar, and brown slingback shoes and carrying a brown handbag.

The Locarno Ballroom

Police immediately suspected Patricia’s ex-husband of the murder, the fact that the serviceman had been on annual leave at the time of the murder strengthened their suspicion. However Alex Docker was able to prove that he was elsewhere at the time of the murder.

The Majestic Ballroom, since demolished

Nevertheless, Police now had the information that she had spent the Thursday evening at the Majestic Ballroom to work from, and issued an appeal for fellow revellers to come forward with information. Police began to believe that Patricia had been driven from the ballroom to the lane by her killer, as there were no sightings of her on any public buses that night. Furthermore, the fact that all of Patricia’s clothing had been removed from the scene suggested that the killer had a car, as surely a man carrying a bundle of women’s clothes, including a hand bag would be noticed walking through Glasgow. Officers were dispatched to search local yards, bins, garages and rivers in search of the missing items. In the murky depths of the river Cart, officers found Patricia’s bracelet, part of a watchcase, and her handbag.

Majestic Ballroom
The Barrowland Ballroom

Police canvassed the Majestic ballroom, speaking to everyone who attended the following week. Armed with photographs of Patricia, they interviewed management, door staff, cloakroom attendants as well as patrons. A blown up picture of Patricia was shown on the ballroom’s screen, and a police spokesperson spoke on stage and asked for assistance in tracing Patricia’s killer. However, despite their best efforts, the police’s hunch that Patricia had remained at the Majestic all evening was mistaken. A witness who knew Patricia said they had seen her dancing at the Majestic but that she had left when it closed at 10.30pm to go to the Barrowland Ballroom which was open until midnight. This information meant that police had lost valuable time canvassing the majestic when it seemed likely her killer had picked her up at the Barrowland instead. Later the witness who said he had seen Patricia that night at the Majestic retracted his statement, saying he had been mistaken, it was another night, this, coupled with other witnesses placing Patricia at the Ballroom earlier than 10.30, led police to believe that she had never been to the Majestic at all that night. Several people came forward to say they had seen Patricia dancing with several men at the Barrowland, and that one of the men had light red hair, but this was little for police to go on and soon the trail went cold. Gradually press and public attention fell away and the police investigations ground down, until, that is, another woman was found murdered after an evening’s dancing in August 1969.

To be continued.