Hallie Rubenhold sent shock waves throug the true crime community, and specifically riperologists, those who specalise in the crimes of Jack the Ripper, by writing about the infamouse Victorian case and focusing on the victims. It doesn’t sound terribly revolutionary, but given people still question why women are interested in true crime in puzzeled and disbelieving tones it fits with the macho hangover that interest in crime has.
Journalist Audry Gillen follows in Rubenholds footstep focusing on one of Scotlan’d most famous cold cases, Bible John. In the 60s in Glasgow dancing was the thing to do and the most famous dance hall of all was the Barrowlands. People came from all over the west coast to dance, flirt, dance some more and in modern parlance, hook up. Not everyone at the ballroom was single, but then not everyone was looking for any more than a dance. However, the fun time had by all was punctured when in ’68 and ’69 three women, all petitie and brunette were found dead, after meeting a man called John at the Barrowlands, and going home with him.
Even though the ’60 is seen as a progressive and boundary breaking time, the reality is that outside of the most cosmipolitan areas of the biggest cities most ordinary people were still struggling with patriarchal attitudes towards sex and women. The attitudes displayed by police towards the murdered women is similar to those we also saw in the Jack the Ripper case almost a hundred years before, and the Yorkshire ripper just fifteen years later – so enamoured are we culturally with the madonna whore dichotomy.
The case was not Scotland’s first serial killer, but it did see Scotland’s largest man-hunt at the time, and the first ever composit drawing of a suspect by an artist. Scotland being a small country even our large cities have something of the feel of a community to them, and the country was shocked, but slowly the case became colder and colder. With the window in which a someone living can be arrested and tried begining to close there have been many theories and people suspected, most well known of which is Peter Tobin, a serial killer and rapist who died in jail.
Through the decades of speculation all the focus has been on the who of the killer, not the who of the women, who were easily dismissed and almost faded into the background while the mysterious Bible John, became bigger than life in the way that unsolved mysteries often do.
Gillen has been interested in the case for a long time. She spends time finding out more about the victims, Patricia Docker, Jemima McDonald and Helen Puttock, and along the way she paints a full portrait of the women, their lives, families loves and troubled. This in itself is a welcome new chapter however it does not stop there. While putting the pieces together with her journalist friend Cello, Gillen starts to see another picture, another possibile to the solution of “who was Bible John, and can we bring him to justice.” It is the most suprising, but at the same time a highly reasonable conclusion and one that could only be come to by someone who decided to view the murders, not as crimes with the male purpetraiotor at it’s centre, but rather crimes that were about the women who were killed.
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