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The most infamous Scottish serial killers

Robert Black
Image: Making A Monster

Scottish serial killer Robert Black is featured in Making Monster (E4) which is available to stream on Crime+Investigation Play.

Scotland is a proud nation with a fascinating history and truly stunning scenery. Yet there’s an altogether darker side to the country. For a country so modestly sized, Scotland has produced more than its fair share of psychotic serial killers.

Dennis Nilsen

Fraserburgh-born Nilsen is the most notorious of all Scottish repeat murderers.

Infamously known as ‘The Muswell Hill Murderer’, as his moniker suggests, Dennis Nilsen moved south of the border to carry out his illegal activity.

Jailed for life without parole back in 1983, Dennis Andrew Nilsen spent five years stalking the streets, pubs, and clubs of London picking up young men and killing them in two different flats. By the time his reign of terror was over, between 12 and 15 men had been strangled or drowned at Nilsen’s hands.

He was alarmingly frank in his confessions to police on arrest. It was - now a central piece of serial killer lore - human flesh caught in his drains that led to the Scotsman’s eventual capture. He died in May 2018 of a pulmonary embolism aged 72.

Peter Tobin

Between 1991 and 2006, Peter Tobin sexually assaulted and murdered at least three young women. That’s the number of victims that police could prove, but it seems likely that Johnstone-born Tobin was responsible for many more murders.

A career criminal and psychopath, Tobin had more than 40 aliases and claimed to have killed almost 50 young women. The reviled killer has been linked to dozens of open investigations, but investigators are yet to be able to categorically prove that Tobin was responsible for any of them.

The 75-year-old is currently serving a whole life order at HM Prison Edinburgh.

Angus Sinclair

Christine Eadie and Helen Scott were last seen alive leaving The World's End pub in Edinburgh on the night of 15th October 1977. Both girls were beaten, tied up, gagged, raped, and strangled. Their bodies were found the next day; Christine's on a hill, Helen's in a field.

Angus Sinclair was not found guilty of the murders until some decades later. Sinclair had already killed his eight-year-old neighbour Catherine Reehill in Glasgow in 1961 when he was just 16 himself. He was found guilty of The World's End Murders while serving a life sentence for the rape of 11 children.

It's thought by many that Sinclair was also responsible for the murders of six other young women in Scotland in the 1970s and early '80s. Sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2014 at the age of 69, Angus Sinclair died in March 2019.

Peter Manuel

On 11th July 1958, Peter Manuel was hanged at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. He was the second-to-last prisoner to die on the Barlinnie gallows and the third-to-last person to be executed in Scotland.

Few people mourned the execution of the man known as ‘The Beast of Birkenshaw’. Thief, rapist and murderer Manuel killed seven people during a two-year spell of viciousness in Lanarkshire in the 1950s. He would go on to leave a permanent scar on modern Scottish history.

Ian Brady

Along with his girlfriend Myra Hindley, Ian Brady kidnapped and killed several young children in the early to mid-1960s. Famously, the pair disposed of their victims’ bodies on the Yorkshire Moors. However, not everyone knows that Brady was, in fact, Scottish.

Born in Glasgow in 1938, Brady was an advanced pupil who attended Shawlands School, an educational institution for gifted children. Although clever and well educated, Brady grew up in the Gorbals, renowned for being Glasgow’s toughest slum neighbourhood.

Smart, but adamant that his intellect was best suited to a life of crime, a series of petty crimes carried out under his father’s roof saw a Scottish court send the young Brady to go live in England with his mother and stepfather. Just a few short years later he met Hindley and a vile legend was born.

Robert Black

The depraved figure of Scottish child rapist and serial killer Robert Black is one of the most detested men in British criminal history. And with good reason. An unrepentant sadist who took at least four young girls’ lives but destroyed many more as well.

An 18-year spree of child kidnappings, rapes and murders were finally over in 1990 when he was caught and sent down. It came after one of the most exhaustive British murder investigations of the 20th century. Black was eventually convicted of four murders, although it seems likely that he was responsible for more. He died from a heart attack in 2016 aged 68.

Bible John

We’ve featured some truly terrifying names on this list of Scottish serial killers. Yet one of the country’s most reviled killers doesn’t have a name. Or, at least, not a known one.

‘Bible John’ attacked and killed three women in Glasgow between 1968 and 1969. One victim was raped, while sanitary products were prominently placed at the scene of all three murders by the killer, suggesting some kind of sexual motive.

Several e-fits were created, and eyewitnesses reported a man matching the murderer’s description aggressively quoting adultery-based Bible passages around the time of the killings. Yet police never tracked down the man responsible.

DNA from the scenes has diminished now to the point that it’s almost entirely unusable, so it seems that Bible John’s identity will likely never be discovered. Although many true crime enthusiasts and investigators believe that John could be none other than Peter Tobin, who lived in Glasgow at the time of the murders.