A.K.A.: "Smelly Bob"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Child molester - Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 4 +
Date of murders: 1969 - 1990
Date of arrest: July 14, 1990
Date of birth: April 21, 1947
Victims profile: Susan Maxwell, 11 / Caroline Hogg, 5 / Sarah Harper, 10 / Jennifer Cardy, 9
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life in prison (minimum 35 years) on May 19, 1994
Fostered by foster parents in their 50's, Jack and Margaret Tulip. Black was not a popular child. To his classmates at primary school Robert - or 'Smelly Robbie Tulip' as he was known - is remembered as having been an aggressive and slightly wayward boy. Getting involved in petty crime from a young age.
As well as the petty violence, Black was also developing a pexculiar sexual self-awareness. As confessed by Black years later to a prison psychologist,
"I used to push things up my anus". After his arrest in 1990 police found photographs that Black had taken of himself: one showed him with a wine-bottle up his anus, another with a telephone-handset, yet another with a table leg. Black also remembers fantasising about excreting on his hands and then rubbing the faeces in. He also always had an uneasy feeling that he would have preferred to have been a girl. But he was not homosexual in his desires.
His foster mother, Margaret Tulip died in 1958. Black was only 11, and was once again deprived of a mother.
It was decided that Black would go to a Children's Home near Falkirk, close to where he was born. It was during Black's time there that his fascination with sex, and particularly with the vagina, finally drove him across the line from childish experimentation to criminal behaviour.
At the age of 12, Black made his first inept attempt at rape. He was moved several times, finally being moved to a school in London. Once in London he tried out as a footballer, failing due to bad eyesight. He eventually became a lifeguard, he was a keen swimmer and this was great for his pedophilic fantasies. He loved swimming and had the choice of two local pools, over 20 years later a little girl called Caroline Hogg was to be abducted from Portobello, and later murdered. Caroline’s house was on the route between two swimming-pools.
In the summer of 1962 when Black was fifteen, his time at the children's home was up. Black got a job as a delivery boy and found a room to rent in a boys’ home in Greenock, outside Glasgow. He later admitted that while he was doing his delivery rounds he molested 30 or 40 girls.
Black's first conviction came shortly afterwards. The charge was for 'lewd and libidinous' behaviour with a young girl. Black, who was now seventeen, had approached a seven-year-old girl in the park, asking her if she would like to go with him to see some kittens. The girl trustingly followed him as he led her to a deserted building.
When he left the girl in that derelict building he didn't know - nor, it seems, care - whether she was unconscious or dead. She was later found wandering the streets: bleeding, crying and confused.
Black left Greenock and return to Grangemouth to make a new start. Here he got a job with a builders' company and rented a room. He also met his first real girlfriend, Pamela Hodgson, and he fell in love, developed a sexual relationship and decided to get engaged, but, she broke off the engagement not long after, and told him it was over.
In 1992 after Black had been served with ten summonses, including three for the murder of three little girls, in an attempt to shift the moral responsibility he told officers: "Tell Pamela she's not responsible for all this." This, of course, implied the opposite: that the break-up of their relationship had left him so devastated that she had driven him to murder.
30th July 1982, 11-year-old Susan Maxwell
8th July 1983, five-year-old Caroline Hogg
bodies were found within 24 miles of each other - 300 miles from the abductions.
26 March 1986, ten-year-old Sarah Harper
14 July 1990 attempted abduction of Mandy Wilson.
Trial - Wednesday 13 April 1994 Moot Hall in Newcastle.
Thursday 19th May 1994 jury find him guilty of three murders
Black not eligible for parole until at least 82, in 2029
This child killer is now serving 10 life sentences for the murders of three girls.
Black is most famously known for his connection, or not, to the disappearance of 13 year old Genette Tate, and several others.
In July 1994, a meeting was held in Newcastle to consider the possibility of Black’s involvement in similar murders. As well as possible murders in France, Amsterdam, Ireland and Germany, there were up to ten unsolved abductions and murders in England which have Black’s MO:
April Fabb Norfolk in 1969
9-year-old Christine Markham Scunthorpe 1973
13-year-old Genette Tate Devon 1978
14-year-old Suzanne Lawrence Essex 1979
16-year-old Colette Aram Nottingham 1983
14-year-old Patsy Morris 1990
Marion Crofts 1990
Lisa Hession 1990
Robert Black (born 21 April 1947 in Grangemouth, Scotland) is a Scottish serial killer and child molester. He kidnapped, raped and murdered three girls during the 1980s, kidnapped a fourth girl who survived, attempted to kidnap a fifth, and is the suspect in a number of unsolved child murders dating back to the 1970s throughout Europe. On December 16th 2009, Black was charged with the murder of Jennifer Cardy, a 9 year old girl whose body was found at McKee's Dam near Hillsborough, County Down in August 1981.
Robert Black was born in Grangemouth, about 20 miles from Edinburgh, on the Firth of Forth. His natural mother (Jessie Hunter Black) refused to put a father's name on his birth certificate and had him fostered. She subsequently married Francis Hall, had four more children and died in 1982, but Black never had any further contact with her or his half-siblings. He was raised by Jack and Margaret Tulip in Kinlochleven, near Glencoe in the West Highlands.
Locals and neighbours report that Black was often frequently and heavily bruised during his childhood and acquaintances from primary school say he was "A bit of a loner but with a tendency to bully." He preferred to spend time with younger children and was known for committing random, sudden acts of violence.
Aside from a propensity for violence, Black developed a sexual awareness at an early age. He claims to have compared genetalia with a girl around the age of five. He also claims to have begun inserting objects into his anus at the age of eight and, when arrested later in life, to have had a life-long feeling that he should have been female.
While living with the Tulips, Robert Black developed sexual self-awareness at a young age. He later said that from the age of eight he would often push objects up his anus. This was a practice that he would continue into adulthood. As a young child, he also had an interest in the genitals of other children. At the age of just five, he and a girl both took off their clothes and compared each others' genitals.
Black first attempted rape at the age of 12 along with two other boys. They attacked a girl in a field, but found themselves unable to complete the act of penetration. The authorities were notified and Black was moved to the Red House in Musselburgh. While there, a male staff member sexually abused him. It was while Black was at Red House that he also entered Musselburgh Grammar School where he developed an interest in football and swimming.
At 15, Black left Red House and found a job working as a delivery boy in Greenock near Glasgow. He later admitted that, while on his rounds, he molested 30 to 40 girls with various degrees of success. None of these incidents seem to have been officially reported until his first conviction at the age of 17 when he lured a seven-year-old girl to a deserted building, strangled her until she lost consciousness and then masturbated over her body. He was arrested and convicted of "lewd and libidinous" behaviour for this offence, but received only an admonishment.
After this, Black moved back to Grangemouth and got a job with a builders' supply company. He also found a girlfriend, Pamela Hodgson, fell in love and asked her to marry him. Black was devastated when she ended the relationship several months later.
In 1966, Black's inappropriate manifestation of his sexual desires resurfaced when he molested his landlord and landlady's nine-year old granddaughter. The girl eventually told her parents. They took no legal action but Black was ordered to leave the house.
At this time, Black moved to Kinlochleven where he was raised. He took a room with a couple who had a seven-year-old daughter. As before, Black molested the girl. This time, however, when the sexual abuse was discovered, the police were notified and Black was eventually sentenced to a year of borstal training at Polmont.
On his release, Black left Scotland and moved to London. His abuse of young girls subsided for a time when he discovered child pornography — when police searched his home after his arrests for murder, they discovered more than 100 magazines and 50 videos. In London, Black found work as a swimming pool attendant and would sometimes go underneath the pool, remove the lights and watch young girls as they swam. Soon, a young girl complained that Black had touched her and while no official charges were brought, Black lost his job.
While Black lived in London he spent a lot of time in pubs playing darts. He became a reasonable player, and became a well-known face on the amateur darts circuit. Darts world champion Eric Bristow knew Black vaguely during this time, remembering him as a "loner" who never seemed to have a girlfriend.
In 1976, Black began working as a van driver. It was while working as a driver that he developed a thorough knowledge of some of the UK's roads, particularly its minor roads.
Murder of Susan Maxwell
On July 30, 1982, 11-year-old Susan Maxwell from the village of Cornhill on Tweed, on the English side of the English/Scottish border left her home to play a game of tennis across the border in Coldstream. Several local witnesses remembered seeing her until she crossed the bridge over the River Tweed, after which there were no sightings of Susan. Nobody saw it happen, but at some point between the river and Coldstream Susan was abducted by Black. He raped and strangled her and dumped her body by the side of a road near Uttoxeter, about 250 miles away in central England.
Murder of Caroline Hogg
In the evening of July 8, 1983, five-year-old Caroline Hogg from Portobello on the outskirts of Edinburgh went out to play near her home for a few minutes. She never returned. Many witnesses reported seeing a scruffy-looking man watching a young girl, believed to be Caroline, in the playground near her home, then holding hands with her in a nearby amusement arcade. The man was Black. Caroline's body was found 10 days later in a ditch in Leicestershire, around 300 miles from her home. The cause of death could not be determined due to decomposition (as had been the case with Susan Maxwell), but the absence of clothes suggested a sexual motive.
Murder of Sarah Harper
Three years later, on March 26, 1986, 10-year-old Sarah Harper went missing from Morley in Leeds after leaving her home to go to the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread. The shopkeeper remembered Sarah coming in to the shop, but she never returned home. The last sighting of Sarah was of her walking towards the snicket that she used as a shortcut. Black kidnapped, raped and murdered her. Her body was found dumped in the River Trent near Nottingham a month later.
The three bodies were found within 26 miles of each other, and police already believed that the murders were linked. Detectives also thought that, because all three victims had been left long distances from where they had been taken, that the killer travelled as part of his occupation - possibly a lorry driver. The police faced great pressure to solve the crimes, as some newspapers compared them to the Moors Murders. It was one of the first inquiries to widely use the HOLMES computer system, following recommendations in the aftermath of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation.
Capture and first trial
Black was arrested on July 14, 1990, near Stow, Scotland. He was seen snatching a six-year-old girl off the street and bundling her into his van. An alert member of the public called the police who chased after the van and subsequently apprehended Black.
The little girl's father was actually one of the police officers on the scene and was the one who discovered the child in the back of the van, tied up, gagged and stuffed into a sleeping bag. Apart from suffering from shock, the girl was uninjured. A search of Black's home revealed a large collection of child pornography.
The following month, Black was convicted of kidnapping the girl and given a life sentence.
The police suspected Black of the murders of Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper due to his occupation as a van driver, which gave him opportunity to travel far and wide, as the killer of those children had evidently done, not to mention his recent and past convictions.
They checked his petrol receipts which placed him in the appropriate locations and eventually charged Black with all three murders, in addition to the attempted kidnapping of a 15-year-old girl who had escaped the clutches of a man who had tried to drag her into a van in 1988.
In the spring of 1994, Black stood trial. He denied the charges. The prosecution were able to place him at the scenes and show the similarities between the three killings and with the kidnap of the six-year-old girl who had been rescued (juries are not usually allowed to know of a defendant's current or past convictions, but in this case the judge allowed it.)
On May 19, the jury found Black guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment and told that he should serve at least 35 years behind bars before being considered for parole. This would keep him behind bars until at least 2029, when he will be 82 years old if he is still alive.
Police have asked Black about the disappearance of up to nine other girls whose fates remain unknown, but have not made progress. The files on these missing children all remain open.
by Anna Gekoski
Sudden Mindless Violence
Robert Black never knew his parents. When Jessie Hunter Black gave birth to her son on 21 April 1947, she refused to put his father's name on the birth certificate. And Jessie, 24 and unmarried, earning a meagre amount as a factory- worker, was really in no position to care for an illegitimate baby, still a stigma in 1947. Within days of Robert's birth, Jessie decided to have him fostered. Years later Robert Black, by this time a man in his forties, told psychologist Ray Wyre, "I don't know whether it was pressure from her parents or whether she just didn't want me. I don't know. I was fostered at six months."
Within the year, Jessie had married. She and her husband, Francis Hall, were to have four children together - none of whom were told they had a half-brother - and to emigrate to Australia, where Jessie died in 1982. Francis Hall's niece, Joyce Bonella, recalls that Jessie "didn't like it to be generally known that she had had a child out of wedlock. I don't think she ever told anyone who the father was." From the time that she gave Robert up, Jessie never had any contact with her son again.
While Jessie was settling into married life, Robert was being cared for by his new family. Jack and Margaret Tulip were both in their fifties, and had fostered children on several occasions previously. Robert had been born in Grangemouth, about 20 miles from Edinburgh, on the Firth of Forth; the Tulips lived in Kinlochleven, near Glencoe in the West Highlands. Robert lived here for the next eleven years, the majority of which were spent in the care of Margaret Tulip, as Jack died when Robert was just five. Black claims to have no memory of him, indeed, no memories at all before the age of five. To Ray Wyre, this unusual memory block suggests the presence and repression of some sort of emotional or physical trauma Black had been subjected to as an infant, probably at the hands of his foster-father. After all, Wyre says, "most of us can recall something, some vague, impressionistic sense of who we were" before we were five.
Although locals remember how Robert Black was frequently heavily bruised as a boy, Black himself cannot recall how he got these injuries. He recalls no abusive behaviour from Jack, though he does remember how Margaret used to lock him in the house as a punishment for bad behaviour, or alternatively, pull down his trousers and underwear and spank him with a belt. At nights Robbie was scared that there was a monster under his bed waiting to get him, and used to suffer from a recurring nightmare featuring a "big hairy monster" in a cellar full of water. When he awoke he frequently found that he had wet the bed, which invariably provoked a beating.
To his classmates at primary school Robert - or 'Smelly Robbie Tulip' as he was known - is remembered as having been an aggressive and slightly wayward boy. "A bit of a loner but with a tendency to bully", was how one old primary school mate, Colin McDougall, put it. It seems that Black didn't "mix in with the normal playground games", preferring to spend time with children younger than himself whom he could easily dominate. As Colin McDougall also remembers, "We had a gang but he insisted on being leader of his own gang. The members were always a couple of years younger than him." Another classmate, Jimmy Minnes, remembers an incident where Black gave a boy with an artificial leg a beating: "He gave the poor lad a terrible hammering. He just jumped on top of him as he was walking over the bridge to school one day. Black just punched and kicked him for no reason." Sudden, mindless violence perpetrated against those physically less able than himself was typical of Black as a boy.
The "Dirty" Part
As he grew older his reputation as a bit of a ruffian grew. The local bobbie, Sandy Williams, later said that Black was a "wild wee laddie" who "didn't give a damn - no respect for authority. He had a dangerous spirit" and "needed a smack round the ear to keep him in line." Having said this, in the period that he was living with the Tulips, Robert never really got himself into any serious trouble: he had childish fights, played up at school, and bullied the younger children, yet he seemed to avoid anything more serious than a rebuke from Williams for swearing in front of ladies.
In addition to this propensity for petty violence, Black was also developing a precocious sexual self-awareness. Years later Black remembers the emergence of a practice which began while he was living with the Tulips and would continue, and intensify, as he matured: "I used to push things up my anus," Black told Wyre, "I was eight years old." When asked what objects he would use, Black replied - holding his fingers about eight inches apart - that it was usually "a little piece of metal". After his arrest in 1990 police found photographs that Black had taken of himself: one showed him with a wine-bottle up his anus, another with a telephone-handset, yet another with a table leg. Black explained to the incredulous officers that he wanted to see just how much he could fit up there. At around the same age Black also remembers fantasising about excreting on his hands and then rubbing the faeces in. He also always had an uneasy feeling that he would have preferred to have been a girl - although there was certainly nothing feminine about his behaviour - he simply hated his penis and would have preferred to have had a vagina. We have here a nice inversion of the usual Freudian model, wherein women envy men the presence of the penis, whereas the lack, or absence, that Black experienced all of his life was that of the vagina. His life-long practice of self-penetration seems to have been an enactment of this vagina-envy.
But he was by no means homosexual in his desires. Not only did his auto-erotic sex life begin early, so did his experimentation with the opposite sex. His first sexual experience, which is one of his first memories, was when he was only five. Black vividly recalls himself and a little girl undressing and looking at each other's sexual parts. Then at the age of seven, at his Highland Dance classes, he remembers being far more interested in lying on the floor and looking up the girls’ skirts than dancing. At the age of eight while looking after a neighbour's baby, he took off her nappy to look at her vagina. Both vaginas and anuses fascinated him, and he was obsessed with discovering how big they were, how much they could hold.
It is interesting to speculate what he was looking for - what could the orifices hold that he might discover? To search the vagina for some large hidden content is like a regressive version of the fantasy of searching for the origins of the self. If one looks up there, knowing how much it will hold, might one not encounter the ultimate secret: the baby, oneself? For one who had never known his parents, never had access to his birth-mother, and may subsequently have been abused, what a compelling obsession, to look into that darkness to see what it might have contained.
There is the further fascination, of course, with the anus, which may be thought of as the Thanatos to the Eros of the vagina. But a child’s first fantasies are cloacal, it is the hole that fascinates, and the functions are not so closely differentiated in infantile fantasy. As the child grows more self-aware, the anus, of course, is differentiated as the remover of waste, though it may continue to exercise its old childish fascinations - so much so that Freud calls an entire personality type, formed round a matrix of characteristics such as tightness and the tendency to withhold emotion, the anal personality type. That Black was universally characterised as messy and smelly his entire adult life, also suggests some further manifestation of his compulsion to play about with the 'dirty' part of himself.
Dominance and Submission
Margaret Tulip died in 1958. It was the worst possible thing that could have happened. Black was only 11, and was once again deprived of a mother. Although a local couple offered to take him in, it was decided that Black would go to the Redding Children's Home near Falkirk, close to the place of his birth. It was during Black's time there that his fascination with sex, and particularly with the vagina, finally drove him across the line from childish experimentation to criminal behaviour. The fascination with the secret of birth, the hidden contents of the womb, was clearly exacerbated by the loss of the second mother. At the age of 12, Black made his first inept attempt at rape. He told Ray Wyre: "Me and two other boys went into a field with a girl the same age. We took her knickers off, lifted her skirt and all tried to put our penises in." Finding that they couldn't complete the act of penetration, the boys contented themselves instead with touching the girl's vagina. When asked if she was consenting to this, Black told Wyre: "I was forcing her, like, you know?" The incident was exposed and the authorities decided that Black would be better suited to a home with stricter discipline, not to mention an all-male environment.
Black was on the move again, this time to the Red House in Musselburgh. Here, having been sent away as an abusive bully and potential rapist, Black swiftly found that he had changed roles. For at least a year, possibly two, out of the three that Black was at the Red House, a male member of staff - now dead - regularly sexually abused him. The man's custom, apparently, when the time approached for his current victim to leave, was to force him to recommend another boy to take his place. Robert Black was recommended. Black later described the form that the abuse took: the man, he said, "Made me put his penis in my mouth, touch him, you know... He did try to bugger me once, but he couldn't get an erection." Even before his time at the Red House, Black had associated sex with dominance and submission. This association was now cemented in his mind. Now in the position of victim himself, he empathised and identified with his abuser: from the abuse perpetrated upon him, Black concluded that it was acceptable to take what you wanted without regard to other people's feelings.
During this time Robert had obtained a place at Musselburgh Grammar School. He was slightly above average academically, but it was sport that he was really interested in, especially football, swimming and athletics. When he later moved to London, in his early twenties he was given a trial for Enfield Town. Unfortunately his poor eyesight put a career in professional football beyond his reach. His love of swimming continued throughout his adult life, and he even worked as a life-guard for a time which was ideal fuel for his paedophilic fantasies. As a boy at the Red House Robert often walked from Musselburgh to nearby Portobello where there were two swimming-pools in which he would practise. Over 20 years later a little girl called Caroline Hogg was to be abducted from Portobello, and later murdered. Caroline’s house was on the route between the two swimming-pools.
Prelude to Murder
In the summer of 1962 when Black was fifteen, his time at the Red House was up. With some help from the authorities, Black got a job as a delivery boy and found a room to rent in a boys’ home in Greenock, outside Glasgow. He later admitted that while he was doing his delivery rounds he molested 30 or 40 girls. He told Ray Wyre that if "there was a girl on her own in the flats where I was delivering, I'd like sit down and talk to her for a few minutes, like, you know, and try and touch her: sometimes succeeded, sometimes not." Amazingly none of this behaviour seems to have been officially reported, and it was not until a year later that Black's first conviction came about. The charge was for 'lewd and libidinous' behaviour with a young girl; it should have been for attempted murder. Black, who was now seventeen, had approached a seven-year-old girl in the park, asking her if she would like to go with him to see some kittens. The girl trustingly followed him as he led her to a deserted building. Black told Ray Wyre that:
"I took her inside and I held her down on the ground with my hand round her throat... I must have half-strangled her or something because she was unconscious...When she was quiet I took her knickers off and I lifted her up so as I was holding her behind her knees and her vagina was wide open and I poked my finger in there once."
He then "laid her down on the floor and masturbated" over her inert body. Her lack of consciousness, far from detracting from his pleasure, enhanced it. When he left the girl in that derelict building he didn't know - nor, it seems, care - whether she was unconscious or dead. She was later found wandering the streets: bleeding, crying and confused.
The case was bought to court and astoundingly Black was given an admonishment, a verdict particular to Scottish law which is effectively no more than a warning to be on good behaviour in the future. A naive psychiatric report had been prepared for the court which said that the event was an 'isolated' one, highly unlikely to recur or to mar Black's normal development. Thus by the time he was seventeen, Black had attempted to rape one girl, left another for dead, molested many others, and got away with it.
Unlike the psychiatric report, however, the Social Services probation report viewed the incident as more serious and it was decided that Black should leave Greenock and return to Grangemouth to make a new start. Here he got a job with a builders' supply company and rented a room with an older couple. He also met his first (and last) real girlfriend. According to Black, Pamela Hodgson and he fell in love, developed a sexual relationship and decided to get engaged. Years later he still remembers the 'devastation' he felt when a letter arrived from Pamela after some months telling him that it was over. Perhaps she had heard some of the gossip that was circulating about her boyfriend and his sexual preferences. Or, indeed, that she was beginning to experience them at first hand.
In 1992 after Black had been served with ten summonses, including three for the murder of three little girls, in an attempt to shift the moral responsibility he told officers: "Tell Pamela she's not responsible for all this." This, of course, implied the opposite: that the break-up of their relationship had left him so devastated that she had driven him to murder.
Although Black claims that while he was seeing Pamela he did not molest any girls, he was forced to leave Grangemouth for just that. Black's mounting obsession with little girls, and his fascination with their vaginas, would not have disappeared during his relationship with Pamela - although he may have had less opportunity to act out his desires - and they resurfaced in 1966. This time the victim was the nine- year- old granddaughter of his landlord and landlady. The abuse took the same form as it had previously, with Black looking at, touching, and putting his fingers inside the girl’s vagina. She eventually told her parents, yet it was decided that the police would not be called. It was felt that the girl had been through enough and Black was ordered to leave the house.
Cycle of Fantasy
Gossip spreads quickly in small towns. Sacked from his job without reason, and his place in the community undermined, Black headed back to Kinlochleven where he had been brought up. Again he took a room with a couple who had a young daughter, and again the inevitable happened. The seven-year-old girl was subjected to the same type of digital intrusion that was typical of Black’s behaviour. When the abuse came to light Black was not so fortunate as he had been in Grangemouth and the police were called to deal with the situation. In March 1967 Black was found guilty of three counts of indecent assault and sentenced to a year of borstal training to be served at Polmont, near Grangemouth.
On his release, Black had tired of Scotland where he was getting too well-known, and where his police record was expanding. It was time to go south, to the anonymity of London. Although he avoided any criminal convictions in the 1970s his obsession with young girls was growing, fuelled by his discovery of child pornography. In the 1970s Black discovered that magazines such as Teenage Sex and Lollitots were clandestinely available, particularly in places like Amsterdam where the pornography laws are less stringent. When Black's room was eventually searched by police in the 1990s they found over a hundred child pornography magazines and over 50 video tapes, with titles such as Lesbian Lolita. When Ray Wyre asked Black what he thought the age of consent should be, Black replied approvingly that someone had once told him that his motto was, "When they're big enough, they're old enough."
When he first arrived in London, Black lived in cheap bed-sits and took casual work where he could find it. His favourite job was that of swimming-pool attendant, where he was sometimes able to go underneath the pool and remove the lights to look at little girls as they swam. At night he used to break into the baths and swim lengths - with a broom-handle lodged up his anus. It wasn’t long before Black became the subject of a complaint from a girl who claimed that he had touched her. The police were called but luck was on Black's side and despite his record he was not charged with any criminal offence, although he lost his job.
When he was not working, Black had developed a liking for darts and was a distinctly useful player. Most of his spare time was spent in pubs: drinking (although never heavily), playing in various darts teams, or doing part-time bar work. Although he enjoyed going to pubs, Black never made any good friends as he was a solitary man. Michael Collier, the former landlord of the Baring Arms in Islington where Black played for the pub team, recalls that:
"for all the years he drank in my pub you would never have called him a mate. He always drank pints of lager shandy but he never got involved in rounds. When he wasn't playing darts he just stood by the fruit machine. He was a bit of a wind-up merchant and enjoyed irritating people, particularly women... He never talked about himself and he never spoke about his interests or joined in conversations."
The former world darts champion, Eric Bristow, who knew Black from the amateur darts circuit in north London similarly remembers him as "a loner" who "never turned up with a girlfriend or anything. He just wasn't the type. He was a regular guy who would come into the pub and play darts."
Black met Eddie and Kathy Rayson in a pub in Stamford Hill in 1972. They got chatting and Black told them how he needed a place to live. The Raysons’ attic room was free, and although Eddie wasn't too keen initially, Kathy said that Black seemed like a "big softie" so they decided to take him in. After Black’s conviction in 1994, Eddie Rayson remembered Black as "a perfect tenant. He always paid the rent on time and never caused us any problems." He used to eat meals with the couple and their children (who had nicknamed him 'Smelly Bob'), and they occasionally went up to his room to listen to music or play cards, but other than that they rarely saw him. Although Eddie Rayson says that he "was a bit like a father to him", Black never talked to him about personal matters or his past. Eddie and Kathy's son, Paul, says of Black, "He was a bit odd and as kids growing up we called him names mainly because he smelled. But he was an ideal tenant." In fact, he was "more than just a tenant but not what you would call a friend... not the sort of person you would ever be able to get close to, or would want to."
The Raysons say that Black was a keen photographer and they sometimes jokingly called him David Bailey. It later transpired that one of his favourite pastimes was to go to the seaside or a playground which was frequented by young children and video them playing or take snap-shots of them. Photography not only serves as a source of images that can be chosen to excite but it is also frequently used in a documentary sense: to provide the killer with a chronicle of his own history. As such, of course, the killer becomes the hero of his own world: the maker of it, the director, the protagonist.
In 1976 Black began to work for a firm called Poster Dispatch and Storage (PDS) as a driver. His job was to deliver posters to various depots around England and Scotland. It was ideal work for him: he was a bad time-keeper so it suited him to keep basically to his own schedule, and as a loner he found driving for hours by himself an agreeable way to earn a living. He worked for PDS for the next ten years until his employers were forced to dismiss him as he was constantly getting involved in minor car accidents and costing the company a fortune in insurance payments. Luckily for Black, shortly after his dismissal PDS was bought out by two employees who gave him his job back. He continued to get into scrapes, but he was a hard worker and was always glad to cover for his work-mates, doing the longer runs which the other drivers disliked as they interfered with their family commitments. Black frequently did the London to Scotland run, often stopping in the Midlands on his way back to see the Raysons’ son John and his new family.
In the back of his van he would keep various objects as masturbatory tools, to be inserted up his anus while he fantasised about touching young girls. He later told police that he would get into the back of his van on night runs and dress himself in girl's clothing, particularly swimming costumes, while he was masturbating. He told Ray Wyre that over the years the recollection and image of the assault in which he had left the seven-year-old girl for dead kept returning. The assault would have been replayed and extended in Black's mind so often that when it finally drove him to his first murder it seemed a perfectly natural progression to him. But the fantasy is never totally fulfilled, the deep anger and frustration never finally resolved and tragically the cycle of fantasy and murder repeats itself. There is always the desire to re-enact the sequence in the quest for ultimate fulfilment.
The FBI maintain that serial killers actually murder because of their thought processes, which constitute their motivation: "fantasy assumes a crucial role in sexual murders... these men murder because of the way they think... these cognitive acts gradually lead to the conscious planning and justification for murderous acts." But surely citation of the primacy of fantasy and its enactment cannot answer a causal question. The further question of what causes the fantasy remains. Fantasies and thought processes must be caused by something, and we must assume that these origins are to be found in their personal histories. The reality of Robert Black as a child - his double loss of the mother, lack of a father, his feelings of rejection, of being unloved, the constant moving from place to place, and his sexual abuse from an older adult meant to be in the role of carer and protector - was a reality so devoid of either love or hope that fantasies involving domination and the perverse search for the lost mother/child are understandable.
Obsession With Little Girls
It was a hot afternoon on the penultimate day of July in 1982, and 11-year-old Susan Maxwell had asked her mother, Liz, if she could cycle to the tennis game which she was going to play with her friend Alison Raeburn. Liz was reluctant to let Susan cycle on her own as she was worried about the traffic, but after some consideration she told her daughter that she could walk if she liked. Susan had never yet walked anywhere alone, but at some point a child has to be allowed to start the process of independence. The Maxwells lived in a farmhouse outside Cornhill on Tweed, a small village on the English side of the English-Scottish border. Susan’s tennis game was across the Scottish border in Coldstream, about two miles from her home, and on a route where Susan would know most everybody she passed on the way. It was an area where people looked out for one another - particularly for the children.
In the end Susan didn’t walk to her game as one of the farm-workers going into Coldstream offered her a lift, but she planned to walk back. When four o'clock came and it was time for Susan to be walking home, Liz decided to go and pick her up. Liz remembers, “She wasn’t expecting me. But I thought, ‘It’s a very hot afternoon; after she’s been playing tennis for an hour, she’ll be hot and sticky and too tired to walk back.’ So I put the wee ones in the back and we went over.” On the way there, where Liz was expecting to encounter Susan on her way home, there was no sign of her. At the Lennel Tennis Club and on the return journey to the farm, Susan was still nowhere to be found. A phone call to Susan’s friend Alison quickly established that she had left Susan making her way home. “I started to panic then”, said Liz, “and Fordyce [her husband] said to just phone the police straightaway.”
The police were called and inquiries swiftly began. Many people had seen Susan that afternoon, both people who knew her, and people who simply remembered a little girl, dressed in yellow, swinging a tennis racket. These sightings of Susan were numerous until a certain point just over the Tweed bridge, yards across the border into England. She was seen as she crossed the bridge by several people at about half past four and then she was gone. Nobody had seen her abduction, but in the space of a moment she had vanished.
The days after Susan’s presumed abduction were spent meticulously combing the countryside and looking for clues to her disappearance. After the Northumbria police appealed for volunteers nearly two thirds of the population of Cornhill joined in the search. Fordyce himself went out every day with the search parties. As the Maxwells were journalists themselves, they spoke to the press constantly in the belief that it could only be beneficial to keep Susan in the public eye. It was after one such media event that the news which they had been dreading finally arrived, two weeks after Susan’s disappearance. On Friday 13 August Liz and Fordyce had been on Radio 2 talking of Susan’s abduction and appealing to the public for information. When they returned, the police were waiting for them. Liz recalls: “He [the officer] said they’d found a little girl. And I remember he wouldn’t say the word ‘dead’. He just said: ‘This little girl is not alive’. And that was when the sort of coldness spread right through me.”
A man named Arthur Meadows had found Susan’s body. It was in a ditch next to a lay-by on the A518 road at Loxley, just outside of Uttoxeter in the Midlands, 250 miles from where Susan had been abducted. When Liz and Fordyce asked if they could see their daughter's body, the officer - as tactfully as he could - replied that the weather had been very warm. The body had decomposed beyond recognition after two weeks in the hot summer sun, meaning that Susan was only able to be identified by her dental records. The pathologist was not even able to determine how she had died. The only clue was that Susan’s pants had been removed. Her shorts were then replaced, her pants folded beneath her head. This confirmed suspicions that the motive for the attack was sexual, though what form this took has never been established.
As Susan's body was found in Staffordshire it was the job of the Staffordshire police to lead the murder hunt, although they worked closely with the Northumbria force. Witnesses of Susan's 'final walk' were re-questioned, and people who had been in the area where Susan's body had been found were located and interviewed. Photographs of the girl were widely distributed and a reconstruction staged to prompt flagging memories; hotels and caravan sites were visited to elicit information on visitors to the area at the time of the murder, who were subsequently questioned. Drivers from transport firms between Scotland and Staffordshire were interviewed. One of the most promising leads came from Mark Ball, a psychiatric nurse, who claimed to have seen a little girl matching Susan's description hitting out at a maroon Triumph 2000 with a tennis racket on the day Susan was abducted. His evidence was finally dismissed by the police, although not until some 19,000 drivers of maroon Triumphs had been questioned.
After almost a year the inquiry began to draw to a close. The manual database now comprised of about 500,000 hand-written index cards. Yet despite all the data, the investigation had reached a dead end; and like the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry, the investigation was also in imminent danger of swamping the police by generating such an immense amount of un-computerised information. Tragically, as is so often the case, it took another murder to provide the police with new information to get the investigation under way once more.
A year later, on 8 July 1983, in the seaside resort of Portobello on the outskirts of Edinburgh, five-year-old Caroline Hogg had been having a nice day. That afternoon she had been to a friend’s party and after returning home for dinner she took her grandmother to the bus-stop with her mother, Annette. They returned just before seven o’clock that evening and Caroline, who was still lively, begged her mother to let her go down the road for a few minutes play before bed-time. It was quite usual for Caroline to go to the playground, which was just a short walk from their house, and Annette said she could go for five minutes. Like Coldstream, Portobello is a small community where the residents all know each other. Besides, Caroline had always been told never to talk to strangers and was forbidden to go past the park to the promenade or the permanent fairground, Fun City.
At 7.15 Annette, who had told Caroline to be just five minutes, sent her son Stuart to look for his sister. When he came back, unable to find her, Annette herself went out and soon the whole family were looking for Caroline. The police were called at just before eight o’clock. Many people had seen the little girl that night, and some of the sightings were of Caroline with her abductor. There were reports of Caroline holding hands with a “scruffy man”. This man was seen looking at the girl in the playground, and then at Fun City, the place forbidden to her, where he paid for her to go on the children’s roundabout. They were last seen walking out of the back entrance of Fun City, still holding hands.
As they had in the previous summer, the police quickly set up search parties. Caroline was abducted on Friday, by Sunday the police had more than 600 volunteers who went over every inch of the local area for any sign of her. A week later this number had risen to some 2,000 people. It was the largest search ever carried out in Scotland but they would find nothing, as Caroline, like Susan, had quickly been transported many miles south. Unlike the Maxwells, Annette and John Hogg spoke only once to the media, in a press-conference where John begged to her abductor, “just bring her back... Please, let her come home”; Annette, crying, told the public, “We really miss her. I really miss her.” There seemed to be no leads, as Superintendent Ronald Stalker candidly told the press, “I am afraid that all we have to say at this stage is that we have turned up nothing at all.”
Caroline’s body was found on 18 July in a lay-by at Twycross in Leicestershire near to the A444, the road that goes from Northampton to Coventry. Her body had been left some 300 miles from where she had been taken just as Susan’s had been, yet their bodies were found within just 24 miles of each other. It had been ten days since Caroline had disappeared and again the body was so decomposed from the hot weather that the cause of death was a mystery. She was identified by her hair-band and locket. Even more clearly so this time, the motive was sexual: Caroline’s body was completely naked.
Because of the obvious similarities in the murders of Susan and Caroline it was decided by the Chief Constables of the four forces now involved - Northumbria (where Susan was abducted), Staffordshire (where Susan was found), Edinburgh (where Caroline was abducted), and Leicestershire (where Caroline was found) - that the investigations into the murders should be made into a joint inquiry. In July 1983 the Deputy Chief Constable of the Northumbria police, Hector Clark, was put in charge. From the outset Clark had been told that part of his objective in this inquiry was to see how computers could be used to aid such an investigation. It was the first opportunity since the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry for the police to see how the early use of computers in a serial murder investigation could be beneficial.
As the amount of data from the Susan Maxwell investigation alone was immense Clark thought that the joint inquiry would be most efficient if this was computerised, which would involve transcribing all the manual files onto a computer database. The Caroline Hogg inquiry would be fed into the same database as it progressed. The idea was right, yet it was not given the go-ahead as it was felt that too much time would be spent in back-converting the files. Instead a computer programme was written for the Caroline Hogg inquiry alone, and the Susan Maxwell investigation was to remain manual.
In Portobello, witnesses on the Promenade and at Fun City were interviewed, and house-to-house inquiries were made; in Leicestershire, officers sat for weeks by the A444 taking down the registration numbers of cars that passed. LIO's (local intelligence officers) from every force in the entire country were asked to draw up lists of possible suspects. The houses of men who were established to have been on the promenade that night for 'immoral purposes' were searched; holiday-makers from as far as Australia were asked to send in rolls of camera or cine-film they had taken in Portobello. A reconstruction of Caroline's last journey was staged; parking tickets issued in Edinburgh were examined; and an artist’s impression was drawn up of the 'scruffy man' which prompted more than 600 names to be put forward by the public. Perhaps the most hopeful lead was from a Mr and Mrs Flynn who saw a blue Ford Cortina with a man and a “scared-looking” young girl in it. 20,000 drivers of blue Cortinas were interviewed. Unfortunately, as with the maroon Triumph, the lead turned out to be a red herring.
At the beginning of the summer of 1984 the police were in a similar situation to that of the previous summer. They had been diligent, they had collated a huge amount of information, yet they had no real leads, no suspects.
There was now a three-year gap until the next murder in the series of child killings that was already being dubbed by the press as the most horrific since the Moors Murders. On 26 March 1986, ten-year-old Sarah Harper was the third little girl to be taken. Sarah lived in Morley, Leeds, which was further south than the two other girls, but still in the north of England. At eight o’clock that evening just as Coronation Street was ending, Sarah’s mother, Jacki, asked if one of her children would go to the corner shop and buy a loaf of bread. Sarah volunteered to go. Taking £1 from her mother and picking up two empty lemonade bottles to get the deposit on them, Sarah left her home in Brunswick Place to go to K&M Stores on Peel Street, just over a hundred yards from her house.
At K & M the proprietor, Mrs Champaneri, clearly remembers Sarah coming in. The girl returned the lemonade bottles, and bought a loaf of white bread and two packets of crisps. She left the shop at five past eight and shortly afterwards two girls who knew her saw Sarah walking home towards the ‘snicket’, an alley used by locals as a short cut. Then, like Susan and Caroline, she disappeared.
At about 8.15 Jacki started to worry, as the journey should have only taken Sarah five minutes. Although Jacki thought that Sarah was probably just “dawdling” or eating crisps in the alley, she sent Sarah’s sister, Claire, out to look for her. When Claire came back with no news of her sister, the family went out in the car to search for her. At nine o'clock the police were called and once again searches and inquiries were swiftly set into motion. Once again they proved fruitless.
On 19 April David Moult remembers how he was walking his dog by the River Trent in Nottingham when he spotted “something floating in the river. I thought it was a piece of sacking then the current turned it round and I realised it was a body.” Using a stick, Moult managed to drag the body over to the side of the river bank. He then called the police. It was later determined that Sarah Harper had been put in the river at around junction 24 of the M1 when she was still alive. The pathologist who examined her body described the injuries, which had been inflicted pre-mortem, as “terrible”. As Ray Wyre later described it, “Sarah’s assailant had violently explored both her vagina and her anus.”
Jacki Harper, like Liz Maxwell, vividly remembers being told of the discovery of her daughter’s body.
“All he [the officer] could say was ‘Would you like to make a cup of tea?’ And all I kept saying was ‘Will you tell me what you have to tell me?’ I knew why they were there - it was obvious. But he wouldn’t tell me: he just kept going on about this bloody tea. All I wanted him to say was ‘Yes, we’ve found her.’”
It fell to Terry Harper - Sarah’s father, Jacki’s ex-husband - to identify his daughter’s body: “It was worse than I ever dreamed of”, he said.
Although Hector Clark was careful to keep an open mind, he believed at the time that Sarah’s abduction and murder was not connected to those of Susan and Caroline. The differences, he said, outweighed the similarities. Susan and Caroline were both abducted on hot July days, in colourful summer clothes; Sarah was abducted on a cold, dark, rainy night in March, her small body covered with an anorak. Both Coldstream and Portobello are on, or near, main roads, commonly used routes through which many travellers pass; Morley is not the sort of place you go without a reason. This initially lead Clark to believe that Sarah’s abduction was committed by a local man who knew the area well.
In retrospect, however, the similarities, although perhaps fewer in number, were certainly more telling. All of the victims were young girls who had been skilfully abducted from public places for a sexual purpose. They were all driven south and murdered, their bodies dumped in the Midlands, within 26 miles of each other. Sarah may have been subjected to a more vicious attack than the other two girls (although the evidence is inconclusive), but if anything this pointed to, and not away from, the same offender being responsible. In serial murders the attacks frequently get more violent as they go along (this is true of Peter Sutcliffe, for instance) as the killer gains confidence and needs more and more acts of violation and mutilation to keep him aroused. Therefore it would not be surprising if the murder of Sarah Harper was more extreme in its sexual brutality than the murders of Susan Maxwell and Caroline Hogg.
Initially the investigation into Sarah Harper's murder was conducted as a separate inquiry, led by Detective Superintendent John Stainthorpe of the West Yorkshire police. Yet close links were maintained to the joint Maxwell/Hogg inquiry in order to keep all avenues of approach open. The same painstaking inquiries were made in the case of Sarah Harper as had been with Susan and Caroline. House-to-house inquiries were conducted, people who had seen a white van parked by and near Sarah's house were interviewed, and an artist’s impression of a strange man who was seen on the street and in K&M Stores was circulated. LIO's were again asked to draw up lists of men who had committed similar offences, and they were all interviewed.
Yet this time the police had an advantage as by now the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System had been established. HOLMES had been donated to the West Yorkshire police after the Yorkshire Ripper ‘fiasco’, and it was utilised from the first day of the Sarah Harper investigation. The system was designed to efficiently log, process, collate and compare information at the press of a switch. Once all the data from the investigation had been fed in to HOLMES, names of possible suspects or vehicle registration numbers, for instance, could be fed into the system, which would instantly tell the user whether the name or vehicle had come up previously in the investigation.
Despite this new technological efficiency, however, the police were getting no further in their investigation. Ultimately no matter how sophisticated HOLMES was, if the name of the offender was not stored anywhere in its memory it was useless. The police were relying on their killer’s name being in the system; if it was, then the right questions to HOLMES would then unearth him. Failing this, the computer was reduced to an efficient storage container. It would not identify a murderer.
After eight months of the Sarah Harper inquiry had lapsed, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary decided that all three cases should be linked and that one database ought to be established. This was a gargantuan task. The Maxwell investigation had never been computerised at all; the Hogg investigation had been, as had the Harper, yet the programmes were incompatible. All three complete investigations had to be inputted, with the necessary conversions, into one database. The process took three years: in July of 1990 the task was finally complete.
It transpired however, that there was no opportunity to test the effectiveness of a single database. Once again, as in previous serial murder investigations, luck was to prove a key factor in apprehension. As Clark said, "Once we had exhausted all our lines of inquiry the best chance of catching the man responsible was if he struck again." Clark added, "My biggest hope, however, was that he would be caught before he went too far and killed a girl." As with Peter Sutcliffe, Black's apprehension came about during the course of an abduction which would certainly have turned into another murder.
A "Rush of Blood"
It was 14 July 1990, a sunny day in the village of Stow in the Scottish Borders and six-year-old Mandy Wilson was walking to her friend's house to play. As she walked down the road one of her neighbours, David Herkes, watched her approach a van with its passenger door open. Herkes later told the police in his statement that as he bent down to look at his mower blades,
“All I could see were her little feet standing next to the man's. Suddenly they vanished and I saw him making movements as if he were trying to stuff something under the dashboard. He got into the van, reversed up the driveway the child had just come from and sped off towards Edinburgh.”
David Herkes had the presence of mind to take the van’s registration number, and then quickly rang the police. Police cars were promptly on the scene and the van's description was radioed to officers in the area. Herkes remembers what happened next:
“I was standing near the spot where the child had been abducted, briefing the police and the girl's distraught father about what had happened. Suddenly I saw the van again and shouted 'That's him'. The officer dashed into the road and the van swerved to avoid him before coming to a halt.”
While officers handcuffed the man who identified himself as Robert Black, Mandy’s father, Mr Wilson, recalls:
“I shouted at Black 'That's my daughter - what have you done to her, you bastard?' But his reaction was nil, he had no expression. I could have got my hands round his throat there and then, but my concern was for my daughter, not him. Where was she? Was she alive or, God forbid, dead? I went straight for a pile of rags just behind the seat and felt a little body inside the sleeping bag... I can't tell you how I felt as I unwrapped her from the bag and saw her little face bright red from the heat and lack of air. She was so terrified as I untied her and took the tape from her mouth that she didn't utter a word.”
Before Black had tied Mandy's hands behind her back, covered her mouth with Elastoplast and shoved her into a sleeping-bag, he had sexually assaulted her. He later told Ray Wyre that, "I pulled her pants to one side and I had a look. I thought I'd just sort of stroked [her vagina]... but there was bruising on the inside - I don't know how." He then told Wyre what he would have done if he had not been caught:
“When I'd done the delivery in Galashiels down the road, I would have assaulted Mandy sexually. I would have probably stripped her from the waist down, but I would have untied her and probably took the plaster off her mouth. And if she called out when I was assaulting her, then I might have put the gag back on.”
More specifically, Wyre quotes Dr Baird, psychologist for the Crown, who Black told that,
“he would have put things into her vagina 'to see how big she was'. He would have put his fingers in and also his penis. When asked about other objects, he agreed he might have put other objects into her vagina, and when asked for an example, he saw a pen with which I was writing... ”
When Wyre asked Black how he could do such a devastating thing to a child while simultaneously claiming (as he had done previously) that he loved children, Black admitted that "I wasn't thinking about her at all... like, you know, what she must be feeling". If she had died "it would have been a pure accident".
This extraordinary dissociation, which transforms the little girl into a simple object, is frequently to be found in the cases of other serial killers, but in Black’s case it seemed to preclude the sadism that takes pleasure in the victim’s sufferings. The child became a plaything, to be experimented with, poked, probed, and eventually disposed of. It seems to have been a matter of indifference to Black whether she objected to the process or not.
On the way to Selkirk police station Black told officers that the abduction was "a rush of blood" and added, "I have always liked little girls since I was a kid." He said that he had just wanted to keep her until he had done his next delivery and then he would have "spent some time with her", maybe in Blackpool. Then he would have let her go.
Robert Black’s case came to trial the next month, on 10 August 1990. As the evidence in this particular case was overwhelming Black had little choice but to plead guilty. In light of the plea the job of the prosecution was simply to give the facts of the case, which the Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser, did, stressing that medical opinion said that Mandy would probably have been dead within the hour if she had been kept bound and gagged in the sleeping-bag. Dr Baird's report for the Crown said that Black was, and would remain, a danger to children. The task of the defence was to speak in mitigation. To this end, Herbert Kerrigan said that Black had admitted to liking little girls but had never before acted upon his desires. The abduction had been a one-off, and Black merely wanted to spend some time with Mandy; he did not intend to injure her, certainly not to kill her. Furthermore, Black had accepted that he was a threat to children and, said Kerrigan, "wishes to engage in some sort of programme to get assistance".
Dismissing the arguments of the defence, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Ross, described Mandy’s abduction as being "carried out with chilling, cold calculation." "This was", he said, "no 'rush of blood', as you have claimed. This is a very serious case, an horrific, appalling case." Lord Ross sentenced Black to life imprisonment and told him that his release would not "be considered until such time as it is safe to do so".
Search for Justice
Of course the abduction of Mandy Smith made Black a prime suspect for Hector Clark, as the MO was strikingly similar to that in the cases of Susan, Caroline and Sarah. When Clark first saw Black following his arrest in July 1990 he remembers,
“Slowly he looked up at me and my gut feeling was that this was my man. I had always thought that when I saw him I would know him and every instinct told me this was the guy. I knew by his body smell and his dishevelled appearance. Except that he was bald, he was just as I expected.”
But "gut feeling" and "instinct" are not good enough. In spending so much time analysing such crimes, the police inevitably start to feel that they know the offenders in certain ways. They think they know what they will look like and how they will behave. George Oldfield, heading the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry, similarly said on several occasions that if he were in a room full of potential suspects he would instantly 'know' his man. But as the Ripper investigation showed us, this is a dangerous assumption. Peter Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times during the course of the five-year investigation, but nobody 'recognised' him.
In the hope of eliciting some incriminating evidence, the police decided to interview Black. As he was already serving a life sentence they thought that he might be willing to talk about any other crimes he had committed. Interviewed in Scotland, Black talked candidly to officers about the offences for which he had previously been convicted, for the best part of six hours. He was frank about a variety of topics, including his one proper relationship with a woman, his attraction to little girls, the sexual abuse he had endured as a child, his fantasy life, and his masturbatory practices. Eventually however, when the officers asked Black about his work with Poster Dispatch and Storage and his whereabouts on the day of Caroline Hogg’s abduction, he fell silent. When it came to the abductions and murders of the three little girls, Black would simply not talk to the police.
It was apparent that the police would have to find their evidence the hard way, through old-fashioned, painstaking detective work: they were going to have to look at Black's life over the past eight years. In most cases the tracing of a person's daily movements over the past decade would prove an impossible task, but in this case the police were fortuitous due to the nature of Black's work. From a careful examination of work records, wage books, and receipts from fuel credit cards, the police were able to begin tracing Black's life.
Susan Maxwell's abduction had taken place in Coldstream on 30 July 1982. It was the task of the police to establish where Black was at every stage during that day. The first step in the process was to see whether PDS had records of journeys carried out by drivers dating that far back. The police were initially dismayed to find that potentially vital company records had been destroyed just months beforehand, as was company policy after a certain length of time had elapsed. Yet new hope arose when it was established that the wage books from that time were still available. As different runs command different wages it was established - from the amount of money that Black received in his pay - that he must have done the London-Scotland run sometime between 29 July and 4 August.
The time still needed narrowing down, however. The police next looked at petrol receipts from the company's fuel credit cards that all drivers carried and it was established that Black had been in the Borders area on 30 July. He had filled up his white Fiat van just south of Coldstream before the time that Susan was snatched, and just north of Coldstream after the time of her abduction. The quickest route between the two garages was the A687, directly through Coldstream. Black had previously told his work-mates that when returning from a Scottish-run he preferred not to take the most direct route (which was the M6 to the M1) but to get to the M1 via the A50 through the Midlands. Susan's body was found by the A518 in Staffordshire, not far from the junction for the A50.
The case against Black for the murder of Caroline Hogg was built in a similarly meticulous fashion. On 8 July 1982, the day of Caroline's abduction, it was established that Black had delivered posters to Mills and Allen in Piershill, just over a mile north of Portobello. Petrol receipts showed that he had filled up at a petrol station in Belford, Northumberland, on this day and that the most obvious route from Belford to his delivery point in Piershill was through Portobello. The post-mortem had found that Caroline's body had been kept by her killer for four days after her abduction - dead or alive, they could not determine - making the 12th the first day on which her body could have been disposed. On this day Black had delivered posters to Bedworth, just over ten miles from where Caroline's body was found.
The circumstantial evidence for the case of Sarah Harper was equally strong. On 26 March, the day of her abduction, Black had delivered posters to a depot just 150 yards from the place that Sarah was last seen. Petrol receipts from the next day put Black as driving directly past the spot on the A453 to Nottingham where Sarah's body had been deposited.
In addition to the growing mountain of circumstantial evidence another incident came to Clark's notice. On 28 April 1988, 15-year-old Teresa Thornhill had been to the park with some friends. Teresa walked part of the way home with one of these friends, Andrew Beeson. Just after she and Andrew had gone their separate ways, Teresa noticed that a blue van had stopped just ahead of her on the opposite side of the road; the driver had got out and was looking under the bonnet. As she approached, the man shouted to her: "Can you mend engines?" Uneasily she replied that she could not and walked on. The next thing she knew, the man had grabbed her from behind, picked her up and was carrying her across to his van. She said later:
"I will never forget his hairy arms, sweaty hands and smelly T-shirt. He came over to me and got me in an all-encompassing bear hug which I could not get out of because he was very strong. I tried to struggle free and began shouting for my mum. I was looking around for something to hit him with, but there was nothing there. Then I grabbed him between the legs."
She also knocked his glasses to the ground, screaming all the while. Teresa's friend Andrew heard her screams and ran towards the van shouting, "Get off her, you fat fucking bastard." Teresa's struggle and Andrew's timely arrival meant that her attacker had little choice but to drop his victim and make his get-away.
Unfortunately, at the time there was nothing to obviously link Teresa's attack to the abductions and murders of Susan, Caroline and Sarah. Most importantly, these girls were aged between five and 11, whereas Teresa was 15, nearly a woman. Teresa looked far younger than her years, however: she was under five feet tall, with a girlish figure, and wore no make-up. She did not look like a teenager. If this had been taken into account at the time, the abductions would have seemed remarkably similar. If this case could be shown to be linked to the murders, then it was an important breakthrough as Teresa's description of her attacker and his van matched Black exactly.
By the end of 1990 the police had gathered a mass of circumstantial evidence against Black, but unfortunately they had no forensic evidence and no confession. They decided to re-interview Black more rigorously, but for three days he refused to answer any of their questions, as was his right. The police had no real choice but to proceed with what they had. In May 1991 the police submitted their report to the Crown Prosecution Service who would decide whether to go ahead with a prosecution. In April 1992 Black was served with ten summonses.
A "Murderer for All Seasons?"
Yet it would be another two years before the case was tried. Aside from the fact that there were 22 tons of evidence that had to made available for the defence to examine, there were many difficult legal problems to sort out in the preliminary hearings. Firstly there were jurisdictional questions to clear up, given that the crimes had been committed across two countries with different legal procedures. Additionally, the prosecutions’ case relied upon being allowed to present the murders as a series, while the defence applied for severance of the charges. Finally, the abduction of Mandy Wilson was an issue under hot debate. The prosecution needed to present it as evidence of the defendant’s unique MO, whereas the defence wanted it precluded from proceedings. The submission of a past offence as evidence of the commission of a present offence is called ‘similar fact evidence’ and is notoriously controversial. It is usually only permitted when the past offence is ‘strikingly similar’ to the present. In Black’s case it was allowed. The pre-trial rulings were all made in the prosecution’s favour and at last the case was ready to come to trial.
As most of his crimes had been carried out in England it had been decided that this was where Black would be tried. Mr John Milford, leading for the Crown, began his opening speech at two o’clock on the afternoon of Wednesday 13 April 1994 in the Moot Hall in Newcastle. Ultimately he aimed to prove that the murders of Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper, and the abduction of Teresa Thornhill, were all part of a series committed by the same person; and that this person had to be Black. There was no forensic evidence nor any admissions of guilt from the defendant himself, so the case was to be based upon evidence which, while admittedly circumstantial, was still very strong. Black had been in all the abduction points and the places where the bodies had been dumped at the pertinent times; descriptions given by witnesses matched Black's appearance at those times; on the days in question Black was driving the types of van spotted at the scenes; and he had already admitted to an abduction in 1990 which bore exactly the same unusual MO as the offences for which he was now being charged.
Milford highlighted to the jury the similarities between the murders in order to prove that they were all committed by the same man, which was his first essential point:
· All the victims were young girls.
· All were bare-legged, wearing white ankle socks.
· All were taken from a public place.
· Susan and Caroline were both abducted on hot July days.
· All were abducted in a vehicle of some sort; Susan and Sarah were both abducted in Transit-type vans.
· After abduction, all the victims were taken some miles south.
· All the bodies showed signs of a sexual motive for the attack: “Each victim was obviously taken for sexual gratification. Susan Maxwell’s pants were removed, Caroline Hogg was naked and Sarah Harper was found to have suffered injury.”
· "None suffered any gross bruising or broken bones."
· Both Susan and Sarah had been unclothed and then reclothed; all three victims had their shoes removed.
· No real attempt was made to hide the bodies.
· All the bodies had been dumped in what became known to police as the ‘Midlands Triangle’, a 26-mile area encompassing parts of Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire.
These murders, said Milford, “are so unusual, the points of similarity so numerous and peculiar that it is submitted to you that you can safely conclude that they were all the work of one man.” And this one man, as overwhelming evidence would prove, was Robert Black. “The Crown alleges that Robert Black kidnapped each of his victims for sexual gratification, that he transported them far from the point of abduction and murdered them.”
Having outlined the similarities in the murders, Milford moved on to the charge of the abduction of Teresa Thornhill in Nottingham in 1988. This case clearly had the same features as the previous abductions: Teresa was a girl (who looked younger than her 15 years) who was snatched off a busy street in the north of England by a scruffy looking man driving a van. After detailing the similarities, Milford told the court that on that very day Black was delivering posters to a firm in Nottingham in his blue Transit van, and the description that Teresa gave to the police of her attacker matched photographs of Black at the time. When police searched Black's room after his arrest they found a paper from 1988 with a report in it about the attempted abduction. Teresa also told police that her attacker smelt strongly; the Rayson children had nicknamed their lodger ‘Smelly Bob’, and Eric Mould, Black's former boss at PDS, told the court that his workers used to complain that Black was unclean and had bad body odour.
Following Justice Macpherson's pre-trial ruling the court were next told of Black’s arrest for the abduction and assault of Mandy Wilson in Stow in July of 1990. Milford said that Black had admitted to this abduction and assault and that it had all the hallmarks of the three murders and the abduction that he now stood trial for. In fact, the crimes were “virtually carbon copies. At Stow he was repeating almost exactly what had happened at Coldstream.” Milford continued,
“The little girl in Stow was wearing shorts when she was taken, was bare-legged and was wearing white socks. She was to be transported many miles south. Again it was the end of the week, it was July and it was hot. Stow and Coldstream are similar villages only 25 miles apart... Even more remarkably, like Susan Maxwell, the little girl was wearing yellow shorts.”
Black had admitted to the abduction of Mandy Wilson; this abduction was a 'carbon copy' of that of Susan Maxwell; the abduction of Teresa Thornhill and the abductions and murders of Caroline and Sarah were carbon copies of Susan's abduction and murder, ergo, Black committed the three murders.
The prosecution had made a good start. It had detailed striking comparisons which linked the murders of Susan, Caroline and Sarah, and the abduction of Teresa, as a series. It had also shown the similarities between these offences and the one to which Black had already admitted. It was an important beginning but by itself was not enough: they had established a series, but they now had to establish that Black was the perpetrator. The prosecution's next job was to go through the police inquiry for the court telling them exactly how the police had gathered the evidence which put Black at all the abduction and dumping areas at the salient times. At the end of this evidence, which lasted for some days, Milford sardonically concluded that either Black was the killer, or a similarly perverted “shadow” of Black was following him around the country – a shadow who also had convictions for sexual assaults on children and a penchant for child pornography. The murders of Susan, Caroline and Sarah, and the abduction of Teresa, were all committed by one man and Robert Black had been present at all the pertinent sites at the these times.
Deputy Chief Constable Hector Clark was saved for last. Clark described the mammoth investigation as "the largest crime inquiry ever held in Britain”. The computer held details of 187,186 people, 220,470 vehicles, and interviews with 59,483 people. When Milford asked Clark how unusual it was for three children to have been abducted, murdered and then dumped a relatively long distance away Clark replied that in his 39-year career as a policeman, “I have no knowledge of any other cases with these features.” The case for the prosecution was closed.
There had been much speculation as to how Ronald Thwaites would conduct the case for the defence. Certainly the prosecution had no forensic evidence nor did it have any help from the defendant himself. But equally Black had not offered any alibis which the defence could use, nor did it have any other alternative suspects. Thwaites also had a self-admitted child abductor and molester to defend. The only realistic path to take was to acknowledge Black’s previous known offences and admit to the court that yes, this was a “wicked and foul pervert” but argue that this did not necessarily make him a murderer.
Thwaites said that Black had become “a murderer for all seasons”, a scapegoat for the desperate police who, after an eight-year investigation, had got no further than from where they had started. “This series of cases,” said Thwaites “reeks of failure, disappointment and frustration.” When Black was arrested for the abduction in Stow, officers “set to work to dissect the whole of his life”, with total disregard for anything that didn’t fit into their picture of events. Thwaites told the jury of Black’s previous convictions in Scotland for ‘lewd and libidinous’ behaviour, and spoke of the paedophilic pornography found in Black’s room. Of the abduction of Mandy Wilson he said that, “The judge saw it fit to give him a life sentence. No one can be surprised by that and everyone must applaud it. Black’s lifelong interest in children is further confirmed by the haul of pornography in his home. It is revolting and sickening to look at.” But, he said,
“However wicked and foul Black is, and I am not here to persuade you to like him or find any merit in him at all, it is not unreasonable to suppose that there might be some evidence to adorn the prosecutions case other than theory. This case has been developed before you using one incident of abduction, which he admitted, as a substitute for evidence in all these other cases. There is no direct evidence against Black.”
By evidence of course, he meant that of a forensic variety, as there was plenty of other evidence to link Black to the murders. Although it was the prosecution who had called James Fraser of the Lothian and Borders police forensics laboratory his testimony benefited the defence. Fraser testified that he and four to six other scientists had spent six months working solely on this case, examining over 300 items belonging to Black, “almost all his worldly goods”. When Thwaites asked him, cross-examining, “Have you been able to make a scientific link between this man, Black, and any of these murders?”, Fraser replied, “No.” (The prosecution did, however, regain some credibility by asking Fraser if he would expect, after a decade, to find any significant forensic evidence to which Fraser replied that he would not.)
Thwaites alleged that as both the police and the prosecution were so certain that Black was their man they refused to look elsewhere. The Crown had “tried to match together a new suit made from oddments, but it is full of holes whereas the original suit has been left - until discovered by my team.” Black himself, said his defence, would not be testifying on his own behalf as nobody could be expected to remember routine details of their lives going back over ten years. But the truth was that the girls’ killer or killers were still out there.
In an attempt to convince the jury of this the defence called Thomas Ball as their star witness who testified that on the day of Susan’s abduction he saw a young girl hitting a maroon Triumph with a tennis racket. “She was making quite a lot of noise,” he recalled, “It seemed to be a child throwing a fit of temper.” He said that there were two or three people inside the car; the driver was a teenager with a wispy beard. When later shown a photograph of Susan by police he said he was “certain” it was the child he had seen.
Other defence witnesses included Sharon Binnie who told the court how she and her husband had seen a dark red saloon car like a Triumph 2000 parked in the same place as Thomas Ball described; Joan Jones and her husband, who had also seen a dark coloured car in a lay-by; and Alan Day and Peter Armstrong who had similarly seen red saloon cars. Michelle Robertson, who was a young girl at the time of the murders, testified about seeing a “scruffy” man in a blue Ford Escort; Kevin Catherall and Ian Collins claimed to have seen red Fords. This evidence did not further the case of the defence, however, as none of the people associated with these cars were doing anything remotely suspicious, they were simply in the vicinity of the abductions when they occurred.
Ultimately the question for the jury to decide, said Thwaites, “is whether it may be proved he graduated from molester to murderer. There is nothing automatic about that.” “The prosecution", he said dramatically, "has conducted their case here from beginning to end without letting you into an important secret. The secret is that there is no evidence against Black.”
On Tuesday 17 May Mr Justice Macpherson sent the jury away to begin their deliberations. It was not, however, until the morning of the third day - the 19th – that the jury finally agreed upon a verdict. When they found Black guilty on all counts, a sigh of relief went around the courtroom. Mr Justice Macpherson sentenced him to life for each of the charges, adding that for the murders "I propose to make a public recommendation that the minimum term will be 35 years on each of these convictions."
As Black was taken down he turned to the 23 officers who were there to hear the verdict and said, "Well done, boys." At a cost of some £1m to the tax-payer the trial was over and Black would not be eligible for parole until he was at least 82, in 2029. To this day Black has never admitted his guilt to the police. But in his last talk with Ray Wyre, when Wyre asked why Black had never denied the charges to him, Black replied that he hadn't done so because he couldn't.
Once Black had been convicted the recriminations began. Everybody wanted to know why it had taken eight years for Black to be apprehended, three years longer even than it had taken to catch Peter Sutcliffe. Amazing one might think, considering Black’s past. And unlike in the hunt for Sutcliffe computers in general, and HOLMES in particular, were used to track Black. Partly of course, the problem was that the murder investigations were not initially stored on one database which meant that information between cases could not be adequately cross-referenced. When all three cases were eventually conjoined on one database, by this time Black had already emerged as a suspect. Thus the effectiveness of the new system could not been tested.
However although one database would have been invaluable in data storage and comparison between the investigations, it probably would not have caught Black. HOLMES might well have played a vital part in catching Sutcliffe as one of the major downfalls of that investigation was that poor cross-referencing meant that when questioning Sutcliffe officers simply didn't realise that he had been interviewed several times before. If they had realised this there is little doubt that Sutcliffe would have emerged as a strong suspect. But the police had never interviewed Black in connection with the murders, he was simply not in the system as Sutcliffe was. Black was not in HOLMES for the Harper inquiry nor had his name cropped up in the Maxwell or Hogg inquiries. The single database would not have changed this.
The question is really why Black was not identified as a suspect at any stage. After Black's trial criticism was directed at Hector Clark from the media and, more distressingly, from other officers on the inquiry, particularly Detective Superintendent John Stainthorpe who had headed the Sarah Harper investigation. Stainthorpe's criticism was that Clark had defined his parameters too narrowly when looking at men with records for sexual offences as potential suspects. Clark had confined his search to men who had been convicted of serious sexual offences: the attempted or actual abduction, rape or murder of a child under 16. Black however, had been convicted of 'lewd and libidinous' behaviour - a charge which did not match the severity of the offence - with a seven-year-old girl in Scotland in 1967. Stainthorpe said that if Clark had included all sexual offences Black would have been a first-class suspect straight away, or at the very least would have been in the system: "Black should have been arrested years ago, with his history and convictions."
Clark was quick to defend himself to the press and public: "We just couldn't check on everybody," he said, "It would have overloaded the system to an unmanageable extent." He argued that criteria based on the most likely suspects had to be utilised, and given that the charges being investigated were for murder, looking at those offenders with convictions for more serious offences seemed the most sensible way to proceed.
However, when we look at research done into the backgrounds of serial killers we see that if they have any past convictions they are hardly ever serious and usually not sexual. John Christie, Ian Brady, Colin Ireland and Fred West had previous convictions for offences such as theft, fraud and breaking and entering. Peter Sutcliffe, Dennis Nilsen, Myra Hindley and Rose West had no criminal records at all before their convictions for murder. But Black was not just – or primarily - a serial killer, he was also a paedophile and unlike serial killers paedophiles often do have past convictions for sexual offences. These offences, however, may often be relatively minor. Thus if the investigation was to be centred around the creation of suspects based on previous form, Stainthorpe was right to say that even minor sexual offences needed to be included. But of course this was not a viable way to conduct the inquiry. In this sense, at least, Clark was right: the creation of a database with all sexual offences committed in the past 20 years on it, and the subsequent investigation of the offender, was not a task the inquiry could manage.
Just as the case of Peter Sutcliffe highlighted the need for a computer system such as HOLMES to replace the old manual system of data collation, the Black inquiry made apparent the need for a constantly updated national database of all sex offenders and killers. They needed a system such as the FBI's VICAP which can search its memory of sex offenders and their MO’s to match the case under investigation. As John Stainthorpe said, "had Black been on a computerised criminal intelligence system, his name would have popped up like a cork out of a bottle." And it probably would have, provided that the types of offence initially fed into the computer were comprehensive and went far enough back in time.
In a case such as Sutcliffe's where the killer has committed no past sexual or violent offences, such a system would be of little use in the identification of possible suspects. In Black's case, however, the system would have had a two-fold usage. It would have identified Black as a man with convictions for sexual assaults on young girls, and also have unearthed offences which he may have perpetrated but had not yet been linked to.
As it was it emerged only after Black's trial that he was almost certainly responsible for more than the three murders for which he was convicted. A serial killer like Black having killed Susan in 1982 and Caroline in 1983, is highly unlikely to then leave a gap of three years before killing Sarah in 1986. And Susan was unlikely to have been his first victim. At the age of 17 Black had assaulted and left a seven-year- old girl for dead; his first murder was allegedly when he was 35. But the incident in 1967 hadn't left him full of remorse or regret: these were things he told Wyre that he knew he should, but could not, feel. When looking back on the event all he felt was lust. The image of that day reformed again and again in Black's fantasies, as he relived it and improved upon it until it was just right. The compulsion to re-enact and refine the experience in reality would have been too deep and over-powering to leave for almost 20 years.
In July 1994 a meeting was held in Newcastle to consider the possibility of Black’s involvement in similar murders. As well as possible murders in France, Amsterdam, Ireland and Germany, there were up to ten unsolved abductions and murders in England which bore Black’s MO: April Fabb who was abducted from her bicycle in Norfolk in 1969; nine-year-old Christine Markham who was snatched in Scunthorpe in 1973; 13-year-old Genette Tate who disappeared in Devon in 1978; 14-year-old Suzanne Lawrence who was found dead in Essex in 1979; 16-year-old Colette Aram who was found strangled and sexually assaulted in a field in Nottingham in 1983; 14-year-old Patsy Morris who was found dead near Heathrow in 1990; and Marion Crofts and Lisa Hession.
One senior officer was quoted in the Express as saying, "We know he killed Genette Tate and April Fabb, and we believe that their bodies are buried somewhere in the Midlands Triangle." John Stainthorpe said that in his opinion there was an 80 percent likelihood of Black being involved in the disappearance of Genette. Inquiries into these murders have been re-opened. Had these abductions and murders been linked at the time to the cases of Susan, Caroline and Sarah, the police might have unearthed useful new leads. Had they had a national database Black might have been identified as a suspect. An enormous amount of fruitless work could have been averted, a quicker conclusion reached, and lives saved.