“a man of no recognisable humanity”
Crown Office verdict on Peter Tobin
After he raped and killed, Peter Tobin sometimes sought sanctuary in religious groups. With a killing history that stretched from Glasgow to Brighton, could police have caught not only the Scottish 1960s ‘Bible John’ serial killer but also the English 1980 child murderer of the ‘Babes in the Woods’? And with 1,400 separate outstanding lines of inquiry for the police still to follow, could Peter Tobin be the UK’s most prolific sexual serial killer?
Peter Britton Tobin was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, an area South West of Glasgow. He was one of eight children, with four brothers and three sisters. By the age of seven, a disruptive nature sees him sent to reform school and a minor conviction later lands him in a young offender’s institution. But he grows into smart and handsome man and finding work as a chef in Glasgow, he spends his weekends dancing, frequenting a club called, ‘The Barrowlands’. It was there that aged 22, he met his first wife, Margaret Mountney, just 17. At first, he’s a true romantic, taking her for long drives along the banks of Loch Lomond, and introducing her to his polite, but now frail and elderly parents.
Everything changes when they move into their East Glasgow flat. Their union is marked by repeated rapes, beatings and house arrest. Tobin cuts the throat of his wife’s puppy, ‘just to stop it yelping’, and when she complains, he beats and rapes her at knifepoint. He later uses the knife inside her, cutting her so deeply that neighbours are alerted when she bleeds through the ceiling. Their intervention saves her life but her internal injuries are so severe that she will never have children.
Margaret’s one small consolation is that she hasn’t suffered the same fate as others who frequented clubs like ‘The Barrowlands.’ During the dying days of the sixties, a serial killer, nicknamed ‘Bible John’ used this club as his hunting ground to stalk and slay three women. The nickname came from a taxi driver who drove the killer with his last victim in 1969 and remembered the man quoting from the Bible. Tobin is familiar enough with the Bible that he’s able to ingratiate himself with the clergy, finding both work and cover with church groups throughout his life.
In 1969, the couple move down to Brighton but the marriage ends when he’s jailed for forgery and burglary. The ‘Bible John’ killings end shortly before his imprisonment in Barlinnie prison in September 1971. On his release in October 1972, he moves to Brighton, his base for the next 20 years. Within three weeks, he’s married to his second wife, Sylvia. It’s reported that the couple had two children but one died of breathing difficulties. Sylvia manages to escape to a refuge after one session too many of simulated strangling with Tobin, his preferred method of sexual arousal.
Tobin disappears from official view for most of the 80s though police now suspect that he was part of a biker gang called the Rising Sun.
In 1989, he marries his third and final wife, Cathy Wilson. She’s 16, nearly half his age. They already have a son, Daniel. Predictably, Tobin is at first charming. But he soon reveals his true character. He uses their son to control her, threatening to throw Daniel down the stairs if she leaves. Trapped, Cathy is forced to watch as he brings prostitutes home and abuses them. He picks particularly thin and emaciated women, probably because they look pre-pubescent. He excites himself by choking and releasing them. In March 1990, Cathy finally manages to escape the house. Just 11 months later, Tobin would dig a grave in their garden.
In 1993, after a move to the Hampshire town of Havant in the South of England, Tobin uses his son as bait to lure two 14 year old girls to his flat on the pretext of babysitting. Once inside, he threatens them with a knife and forces them to ingest a drug, anatryptaline, an antidepressant that can cause drowsiness and dizziness. He then sexually assaults one and buggers the other. After being interrupted by his son, he turns on the gas, and taking his son with him, he leaves them to die. Miraculously, five hours later, one of them wakes. Despite having her wrists and ankles tied, she manages to ring the police.
Tobin evades capture by changing his name to Peter Wilson and hiding in a religious community called the Jesus Fellowship. But his callous crime is highlighted on the BBC programme, ‘Crimewatch’, along with his photo. His new community report him and he’s arrested. In 1994, Winchester Crown Court hears how he treated the girls as “cruelly as a cat would treat a mouse”. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to 14 years in jail.
The authorities believe they have dealt with and detained a sex offender. They have no idea that they have let slip through the system, a serial killer who has killed and will kill again.
In May 2004, he’s released and moves to Paisley, Scotland, near to where he grew up. Being a registered sex offender, he avoids detection by changing his name. He finds work at a church. It is here that he will commit one last savage crime. It’s the discovery of this that will reveal his true history of violence.