Day of revelation approaches in hunt for 'Bible John'

Sixties killer: Body of man believed to be triple murderer is exhumed for DNA tests
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The Independent Online
JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

At dawn the jack hammer began to smash the frozen earth. As the mist cleared, the pneumatic thumping, followed by the clang and clatter of shovels, echoed around Stonehouse cemetery near Glasgow. A quarter of a century after the murders of three women on Clydeside, police began to exhume the remains of the man they believe is "Bible John".

The five-hour operation began at first light when the two constables who have guarded the cemetery since detectives announced a breakthrough in the 26-year-old murder mystery abandoned their makeshift camp after enduring a night in temperatures as low as minus 10C. Boiler-suited policemen moved in and erected a plain white tent around the grave of John Irvine McInnes.

As the headstone reveals, the former furniture salesman died in 1980 - slashing his wrists shortly before his 42nd birthday. He is buried in a family plot along with his father Robert, who died in 1954 aged 60, and his mother Elizabeth who died in 1987, aged 91. Carved on the bottom of the gravestone are the words "till He come".

He did arrive yesterday. Not God, but Detective Chief Inspector James McEwan of Strathclyde Police, who has been on the trail of Bible John for years. Det Chief Insp McEwan believes he is on the brink of solving Scotland's most infamous murders. He was there to get his man.

Bible John terrorised Glasgow in the Sixties. The serial killer, who liked quoting the scriptures, raped and strangled three women he picked up in the popular Barrowland Ballroom in the east end of the city. First to die was Patricia Docker, 25, followed by Jemima McDonald, 32. Little evidence has survived in these cases.

The third killing provided the forensic breakthrough which led to yesterday's exhumation - the first in Scottish criminal history. Helen Puttock, 29, was killed in October 1969. At the time, police believed she was Bible John's third victim but despite interviewing 5,000 people - including McInnes - detectives failed to identify the killer.

Last year, however, modern genetic fingerprinting techniques established a link between Puttock and McInnes. Forensic scientists re-examining unsolved murders, performed DNA tests on a sample of bodily fluid found on Puttock's tights. They compared the results with similar tests carried out on McInnes's living relatives. When they found a near-perfect match, police applied for a special licence to recover McInnes and conduct DNA tests on his remains.

The digging began after the local procurator fiscal granted permission. Police officers first found Elizabeth McInnes's remains. They were taken to a local undertaker for reburial. With the sweat freezing on their backs in the sub-zero conditions, officers then dug out John McInnes's body. They placed the remains in a new coffin which was taken to the Glasgow police mortuary in a hearse.

Over the next three weeks forensic pathologists from Edinburgh and Glasgow universities will examine McInnes's hair, skin and bones. DNA profiles can be recovered from remains up to 40,000 years old and police are confident the scientists will find enough evidence to confirm the link between McInnes and Puttock. That would enable Det Chief Insp McEwan to submit a report to the Scottish prosecution service naming McInnes as the most notorious killer in Scottish criminal history. Twenty-six years after he stalked the Barrowland, the man dubbed the "Dance Hall Don Juan" may be unmasked.

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