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Scottish Serial Killers that Shocked the World

I hope you all know MOODY’S SURVIVORS by now? They’re a great group of like-minded (I think!) Facebook folk who met online (and increasingly offline) through talking about my books. I love these guys. Seriously. They’re endlessly supportive, and there’s a huge amount of talent within their ranks. You can become a Survivor yourself – just click hereOver the coming weeks and months, I’m going to be hosting a series of guest posts written by members of the Survivors about all manner of subjects. First up today we have John Milton (follow him on Twitter @JohnMiltonAE) and, as you can see, his chosen subject is Scottish serial killers. Over to John…


Scotland. A country believed to be first populated by man approximately 13,000 years ago, with prehistoric settlements dating back around 10,000 years still in existence. A country that has fought the Romans, causing them to build Hadrian’s Wall. A country that warred with the invading Vikings. A country whose clans clashed with each other for centuries. A country that has produced the inventor of the television and telephone. The Tourist Board in Scotland would be happy to perpetuate the stereotype of Scotland full of wild mountains, bagpipes playing, ruined castles and hospitable ginger natives wearing kilts who are fiercely proud of their heritage. Although much of that description is factual, there is a far darker side to the country that you won’t see advertised…

Various shocking monikers have been given to the country and its cities, such as “The most violent nation in the developed world” and Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, has been called “The Murder Capital of Western Europe”.  These are not simply headlines for the tabloids; the titles are based on figures provided by the European Commission and United Nations; and I would suggest that this is not a new phenomenon.

Within the horror genre, fictional mass murderers are popular: Norman Bates, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Hannibal Lecter, Michael Myers, and TV’s very own Dexter. However, many of these characters have at least some of their backstory rooted in fact: Ed Gein, H.H.Holmes, John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy are all truly terrifying examples of real-life horror. However, all of the names I have mentioned originate from the United States, a country with a population currently more than 311 million. Scotland, with a population of approximately 5 million, which is roughly 2.5 million less than the city of London, seems to produce a disproportionate amount of notorious serial killers…

Christie Cleek
Christie Cleek was a Scottish cannibal. During a famine in Scotland in the mid-14th century, a butcher from Perth called Andrew Christie allied himself with a desperate group who scavenged in the foothills of the Grampian mountains. Legend has it that when one of the party died from starvation, Christie put his skills as a butcher to use and thereafter, the party developed a taste for human flesh and they began to ambush those who would travel through the passes between the mountains; and then fed on the flesh of the unfortunate travellers and their horses. It is thought that thirty or so riders met their end at the hands of Christie and his associates. There is a suggestion that Christie Cleek is the foundation for the tale of Sawney Bean. Legend has it that Christie escaped capture by the authorities but at that time and according to court records,  a husband and wife were executed for cannibalism in Perth. Perhaps this was Christie and his partner; or perhaps cannibalism was more widespread at the time than the records show…

Christie Cleek is very much in the distant past of the country and it could well be argued that what happened more than 600 years ago is not relevant today. Let’s step a little closer to the present day then…


Burke and Hare
The story of Burke and Hare has been adapted for film and TV numerous times- but do not lose sight of the fact that these two men were serial killers. Between November 1827 and October 1828 in Edinburgh, Burke and Hare killed 17 people for the purpose of selling their corpses to Dr Robert Knox for dissection. They would smother their victims in order to leave the body in the best condition possible. The pair were caught and tried, whereupon Hare was offered immunity from prosecution if he testified against Burke; an offer which he accepted. Burke was hanged and ironically, his body was dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College. To this day, Burke’s skeleton, death mask, and items made from his tanned skin are displayed at the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomy Museum.


Dr Thomas Neill Cream
Born in Glasgow in 1850, Cream became known as the Lambeth Poisoner and has five known victims (who were, unsurprisingly, all poisoned). Cream’s victims, due to his travels, were in the US and England. However, it is suspected that he committed more murders in Scotland and Canada. Cream’s story is lengthy and varied, including a reported marriage at gunpoint, bribery, blackmail, adultery and of course poisoning. For many, Cream will be remembered for what is in effect an unsubstantiated rumour that on the gallows in 1892, his last words were “I am Jack…” and at the time, it was suggested that he was alluding to being none other than Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately for those who ascribe to that particular school of thought, Cream was in prison at the time of the Whitechapel murders in 1888.

If that all still seems a little historical, let’s look at post World War II…


Peter Manuel
Born in 1927 in New York to Scottish parents, Manuel returned to Scotland at the age of five. As a young man, he was noted by the local police for being a loner and a petty thief. Manuel served nine years in prison for sexual offences and others for rape before embarking on a killing spree in 1956 which held the city of Glasgow in fear. Manuel bludgeoned, shot and strangled his eight victims and despite not being tried for them, he confessed to the murders of eighteen victims. Manuel was hanged for his crimes and has been described by noted advocate Donald Findlay QC as “one of the most evil men in Scottish criminal history”. Brian Cox (The Ring, Braveheart) loosely based his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter on Peter Manuel.


Archibald Hall
Hall went by the more exotic sounding name of Roy Fontaine. Born in Glasgow in 1924, by the age of fifteen, he was a thief and burglar. In prison, he studied etiquette and the aristocracy and on his release, found work as a butler; and ended up returning to prison numerous times for further thefts. Hall/Fontaine progressed from stealing jewellery to murder; and shot, suffocated, strangled, drowned and poisoned his five victims. The tabloid press dubbed him “The Monster Butler” and he too was serving a whole life tariff until his death in 2002. On a personal note, Hall was born and raised one street away from where I grew up. In fact, I have played in the house he was born in, entirely unaware of the history of its previous occupant. Malcolm McDowell (Clockwork Orange, Doomsday, Rob Zombie’s Halloween) was attached to star as Hall/Fontaine in Monster Butler, a Canadian produced film about Hall’s life which was slated for a 2013 release but appears to have slipped off the radar somewhat…


Dennis Nilsen
Where the Americans had Jeffrey Dahmer, at roughly the same time, Dennis Nilsen was commiting murders of a similar ilk in London. Nilsen was born in Fraserburgh, Scotland and between 1978 and 1983, he killed at least fifteen men and boys by strangling and drowning; and then butchering their bodies in order to assist with their disposal. However, this dismemberment was not always immediate, with Nilsen keeping the bodies in order to engage in necrophilic acts. Nilsen was caught after his disposal methods blocked the drains and sewers round his home with human remains. Sentenced to a minimum of 25 years imprisonment in 1983, in 2006 the Home Secretary imposed a whole life tariff with no further chance of parole.


Peter Tobin
As of today, Peter Tobin has been tried and convicted of three murders; those of Angelika Kluk, Dinah McNicol and Vicky Hamilton. In 1993, Tobin was convicted of attacking and raping two 14 year old girls at knifepoint in England. On his release in 2004, he returned to Scotland. He took up work as a handyman at St Patrick’s Church in Glasgow and in September 2006 within the church, he beat, raped and stabbed to death Angelika Kluk and hid her body in a chamber beneath the confessional of the chapel. Subsequent investigations into Tobin’s affairs revealed the bodies of Dinah McNicol and Vicky Hamilton buried in the garden of his Margate home. Both girls had last been seen alive in 1991. On convicting Tobin of Vicky Hamilton’s murder, Lord Emslie stated: “You stand convicted of the truly evil abduction and murder of a vulnerable young girl in 1991 and thereafter of attempting to defeat the ends of justice in various ways over an extended period… Yet again you have shown yourself to be unfit to live in a decent society. It is hard for me to convey the loathing and revulsion that ordinary people will feel for what you have done… I fix the minimum period which you must spend in custody at 30 years. Had it been open to me I would have made that period run consecutive to the 21 year custodial period that you are already serving.”

In an interview with a psychiatrist, Tobin has admitted killing 48 other women but when questioned about this, simply stated “Prove it”.

There are many who believe that Peter Tobin is in fact Bible John; who in the late 1960s in Glasgow strangled to death three young women and who was never apprehended. Police investigations continue into Tobin’s past movements in an attempt to determine if there is any truth behind his claim of more victims.

An artist’s impression of Bible John and Peter Tobin in the late 1960s.
An artist’s impression of Bible John and Peter Tobin in the late 1960s.

The individuals mentioned here are not to be celebrated. They raise serious questions about the human condition and what people are truly capable of; and possibly of paramount importance to me, why has this tiny country produced so many depraved killers who shatter lives, kill without conscience and are the embodiment of true horror.

About John Milton:

John Milton

A self-confessed voracious consumer of horror, my introduction to the genre began at an early age… I can remember quite vividly being shown, at the age of four, the transformation scene from ‘American Werewolf in London’ by my Dad and Uncle. They thought this was hilarious. I, on the other hand, was terrified! This terror developed into love as I eventually got a TV in my bedroom and found Hammer horror movies, in particular their monster offerings, to entertain me late at night. My love of monster movies still continues and in addition to this, I have a particular penchant for zombie flicks and post-apocalyptic world-gone-to-hell-in-a-handbasket type fayre. For me, horror novels tend to be far superior to their celluloid offspring.