All-female cast brings Bible John murders to the Edinburgh Fringe

Scotland’s notorious Bible John murders are to be turned into a play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer – half a century on from the killings.

Saturday, 4th May 2019, 08:43 am
Updated Saturday, 4th May 2019, 09:00 am
Bible John uses a real, unsolved series of murders that occurred in Glasgow at the Barrowlands Ballroom in the late 60s to interrogate the current cult of true crime and notions of victimhood. Picture: Contributed

An Edinburgh-born writer is turning the real-life riddle over the unsolved crimes into an exploration of the “current cult of true crime stories”.

An all-female cast will take the audience back to the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, where the killer preyed on his victims in 1968 and 1969.

Caitlin McEwan’s play, which is billed as a “riotous, furious and joyful exploration of violence”, will examine the growing popularity of documentaries and podcasts recalling true crimes, particularly among women.

In 1969, three women were murdered by an Old Testament-quoting serial killer, nicknamed Bible John. He has never officially been caught.

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Patricia Docker, 25, Jemima McDonald, 32, and Helen Puttock, 29, were all raped and strangled. One eyewitness recollected a man quoting an extract from the Bible.

The play, which will be staged at the Pleasance Courtyard in August, starts off in the modern-day era when four young women become increasingly obsessed with trying to crack the case which left generations of detectives baffled.

However it will develop into an exploration of why there appears to be growing “morbid fascination” with serial killers, and the “ethical implications” of deriving entertainment from something with the exploitation and victimisation of women at its heart”.

Bible John, which is being staged by the female-led company Poor Michelle, was snapped up by the Pleasance for support from its Charlie Harthill Special Reserve Fund, which was created 15 years ago to help bring brand new theatre to the Fringe.

As well as penning the script for Bible John, McEwan is also appearing in the show, alongside fellow actors Ella McLeod, Laurie Ogden and Lauren Santana.

McEwan, who is currently based in London, said: “I’ve always had a bit of fascination with true crimes – I’ve been weirdly interested in it. I’d been reading a few articles about the Bible John murders around their 50th anniversary, which coincided with a desire I had to write more about Scotland.

“I don’t live there now, but as a Scottish artist I really wanted to write something with Scotland at its core, especially for the Fringe, where there aren’t enough Scottish shows by Scottish artists.

“I was really interested in the fact it is mainly women who are interested in documentaries and podcasts about serial killers, and why that is, particularly when women are more likely to be the victims. Part of it seems to be about what society has told men and women about violence. For women, it also seems to be about self-protection and that listening about women in really extreme situations can help you be more vigilant.

“Bible John is such an interesting case, it is uniquely Scottish and it is obviously still unsolved after 50 years. It’s really interesting writing a play about something real that doesn’t have an ending yet.

“The characters in the play become so obsessed with the Bible John case to the extent that they try to become armchair detectives and it starts to consume their whole lives.

“It will mimic the rabbit hole people can fall down online by taking these women back to the Barrowland Ballroom.”