Robert Black (serial killer)

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Robert Black
Robert Black mugshot.jpg
Mug shot of Robert Black, taken after his arrest in July 1990
Born (1947-04-21)21 April 1947
Grangemouth, Scotland
Died 12 January 2016(2016-01-12) (aged 68)
HMP Maghaberry, Northern Ireland
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment
Conviction(s) Murder[1]
Preventing the lawful burial of a body[2]
Sexual assault
Attempted kidnap
Victims 4+
Span of killings
12 August 1981–26 March 1986
Country United Kingdom
Date apprehended
14 July 1990

Robert Black (21 April 1947 – 12 January 2016) was a Scottish serial killer and paedophile who was convicted of the kidnap, rape, sexual assault and murder of four girls aged between 5 and 11 in a series of killings committed between 1981 and 1986 in the United Kingdom.

Described at his 1994 trial as being the perpetrator of "offences which are unlikely ever to be forgotten and which represent a man at his most vile",[3] Black was convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of three girls on 19 May 1994. He was also convicted of the kidnapping of a fifth girl, and the attempted kidnapping of a sixth,[4] and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 35 years.[5]

In 2011, Black was further convicted of the 1981 sexual assault and murder of 9-year-old Jennifer Cardy,[6] and at the time of his 2016 death, was just weeks from being charged with the 1978 disappearance and murder[7] of 13-year-old Genette Tate.[8]

In addition to the disappearance and murder of Genette Tate, investigators had concluded in May, 1994 that Black may be responsible for 12 other unsolved child murders committed throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and continental Europe between 1969 and 1987.[9][10]

Early life[edit]


Robert Black was born in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire on 21 April 1947, the illegitimate child born to Jessie Hunter Black and an unknown father (Black's mother was either unable or unwilling to name Black's father on his birth certificate).

At the time of Black's birth, a child born outside of wedlock was considered a social stigma within the United Kingdom, and within weeks of his birth, Black's mother formulated plans for her child to be adopted (although these proceedings were never formally completed).[11] Nonetheless, six months after his birth, Black was placed the care of an experienced, middle-aged foster couple named Jack and Isabel Tulip, who lived in the Highlands village of Kinlochleven.[12] Black adopted their surname, and would live with the Tulips until 1958, by which time both foster parents had died of natural causes.[13]

According to contemporary records, Black exhibited anti-social tendencies from an early age;[11] becoming known to his foster parents and school peers as an aggressive child, prone to tantrums and with few friends his own age. Furthermore, despite the fact Black was himself a target for bullying among children his own age, he himself became a notable bully towards younger children. In addition, although his foster mother insisted upon physical cleanliness, Black cared little for his bodily hygiene, which earned him the nickname "Smelly Bobby Tulip" among his classmates.

At the age of five, Black and a girl the same age as he both took off their clothes and compared their respective genitalia; this incident triggered a childhood belief within Black that he should have been born female,[14] and he developed a deep interest in both his own genitalia, and the genitals of female children. In addition, from the age of eight, he would often insert objects in his own anus (a practice he would carry into adulthood).

Locals later recalled that Black would often be seen bearing bruises to his face and limbs, indicating he may have been physically abused by his foster parents, although Black would later state he could not recollect how he had acquired these injuries, and it is equally possibly this bruising may have been inflicted through childhood skirmishes.

Shortly after his 11th birthday in 1958, Black's foster mother died of natural causes, and he was placed with another foster family in Kinlochleven. Black only resided with this family for a short period of time, however, as shortly after being placed with this family, Black committed his first known sexual assault. In this instance, he dragged a young girl into a public lavatory and sexually fondled her.[15] When his foster mother learned of this incident, she reported the offence to social workers, insisting Black be placed in alternate accommodation.


Black was placed in a mixed-sex children's home on the outskirts of Falkirk. In this residence, Black regularly exposed himself to girls; on one occasion, he is known to have forcibly removed the underwear of a girl.[16] As a result of these incidents, staff at this children's home held a conference with welfare agencies to decide on the best course of action to take: A decision was reached to send Black to a high-discipline, all-male establishment. The locale of this move was the Red House Care Home in Musselburgh.

Within weeks of Black arriving at the Red House Care Home, Black had himself become the victim of repeated instances of sexual abuse from a male staff member. This systematic abuse would continue for three years and would typically involve Black being forced to perform fellatio on his abuser. The abuse would only cease when this staff member died of natural causes.

While Black resided at the Red House Care Home, he also studied at Musselburgh Grammar School, where he developed an interest in football and swimming, although his fellow students recall him being a taciturn individual, with few friends.

In 1963, Black left the Red House Care Home. With assistance from child welfare agencies, he relocated to Greenock, where he found lodgings in another boys' home and obtained employment as a butcher's delivery boy. Within this employment, Black later estimated that, while on his rounds, he molested between 30 and 40 girls, although none of these incidents seem to have been officially reported.

First conviction[edit]

On a summer evening in 1963, Black—loitering in a local park—encountered a seven-year-old girl playing alone on the swings. After conversing with the child for a few minutes, he lured her to a deserted air-raid shelter on the pretext of showing her some kittens. Inside the shelter, Black held the girl by the throat until she lost consciousness, before masturbating over her body,[17] then running from the scene. The girl was later found close to the air-raid shelter, crying hysterically. The following day, Black was arrested at his lodgings and later appeared at Greenock Sheriff Court, charged with lewd and libidinous behaviour.

Prior to his court appearance on 25 June, Black was subject to a psychiatric examination; the official report of which suggested this incident had been an isolated offence, and that he was not in need of further treatment.[18] As a result of this prognosis, Black was simply admonished for this offence. Nonetheless, shortly after this admonition, Black relocated to Grangemouth, where he obtained lodgings with an elderly couple and obtained a job with a builders' supply company. He also began dating a young woman named Pamela Hodgson, whom he had met at a local youth club. Hodgson was to prove to be his only known adult girlfriend, and the two dated for several months. According to Black, he had been smitten with Hodgson, and did ask her to marry him, although he was devastated when Hodgson chose to end their brief relationship.

In 1966, Black's landlords discovered that, whenever their nine-year-old granddaughter had visited them, the child had been molested by Black. Out of fear of the trauma to which their granddaughter may be subjected if authorities were informed, Black's landlords chose not to notify police, although Black was sternly ordered to leave their house.[19] Shortly after this incident, Black was fired from his job, and chose to return to Kinlochleven, where he lodged with a married couple who had a six-year-old daughter.

Borstal sentence[edit]

Within a year of his taking lodgings in Kinlochleven, Black's landlords discovered he had molested their daughter whenever he had been entrusted to babysit the child; he was immediately reported to police, and he later pleaded guilty to the three counts of indecent assault against a child brought against him.

On 22 March 1967, Black was sentenced to a year of borstal training, to be completed at Polmont Borstal in Brightons. This borstal specialised in training and rehabilitating serious youthful offenders, and although Black would later freely talk about every aspect of his youth and adolescence to criminologists, he resolutely refused to discuss his experiences while incarcerated at Polmont Borstal. This reticence has led to speculation Black may have been brutalised as he served his sentence at this borstal.[20]

Relocation to London[edit]

Upon his March 1968[21] release from Polmont Borstal, Black chose to leave Scotland and relocate to London, where he initially found lodgings in a bedsit close to King's Cross station. Between 1968 and 1970, he supported himself through various menial forms of employment. One of these employment roles was as a lifeguard at a Hornsey swimming pool, although Black was soon fired from this role for fondling a young girl. No official charges were brought against Black for this offence.

While living in London, Black began to amass a large collection of child pornography. Initially, this material was solely in magazine and photographic format, although he would later expand this collection to include videos depicting graphic child sexual abuse. As Black was a keen photographer, he would occasionally discreetly photograph children at locations such as swimming pools; these images would be stored alongside his pornographic material inside locked suitcases.[22]

In his free time, Black frequented a Stamford Hill pub named the Three Crowns, where he became known as proficient darts player on the amateur darts circuit. At this public house, he also became acquainted with a Scottish couple named Edward and Kathy Rayson, who offered Black lodgings in their spare room. Shortly thereafter, Black moved into the Raysons' residence. He was considered a responsible, if somewhat reclusive tenant who, beyond his poor hygiene, gave the Raysons no cause for complaint. Although Mrs. Rayson did suspect Black of being an avid viewer and reader of pornographic material, neither she or her husband suspected the material to be paedophilic. Black was to remain their lodger until his arrest in 1990.

Long-distance driving employment[edit]

To increase his scope of the casual work he survived upon in the mid-1970s, Black purchased a white Fiat van to enable him to commit to driving for a living.[23] In 1976, Black secured permanent employment as a van driver for a firm named Poster Dispatch and Storage;[24] a Hoxton-based firm whose fleet delivered posters—typically depicting pop stars—to several dozen locations across the United Kingdom, with other delivery destinations being in continental Europe. To his employers, Black was a conscientious employee who was willing to undertake long-distance deliveries some of his married co-workers loathed.

While working as a driver for this firm, Black developed a thorough knowledge of much of the United Kingdom's road network, subsequently enabling him to snatch children across the entire country and dispose of their bodies hundreds of miles from the site of their abduction.[25] To reduce the chance of his being identified by eyewitnesses, Black regularly subtly, but effectively, adjusted his appearance by alternately sporting a beard or appearing clean-shaven, and occasionally shaving his head completely bald. Furthermore, Black owned over a dozen pairs of spectacles, and would wear a pair vastly different from those he regularly wore when committing his abductions.[26]

First murders[edit]

Jennifer Cardy[edit]

The first murder for which Black was convicted was that of Jennifer Cardy, who was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered on 12 August 1981—just two weeks after her 9th birthday.[27] Cardy was last seen by her parents as she cycled from her house in the County Antrim village of Ballinderry to play with a friend named Louise Major; when she had not returned home to watch Jackanory, her family telephoned Major's parents, learning their daughter had not arrived at her friend's home. Cardy's parents then reported their daughter missing to police, who immediately implemented a search for the missing child.

Hours later, Cardy's bicycle—covered with branches and leaves—was discovered less than one mile from her home. The stand of the bicycle was downwards, suggesting that Jennifer had stopped her bicycle to converse with whomever had likely abducted her.[27] Despite intensive police inquiries, no potential eyewitnesses to Cardy's evident abduction could be located.[28]

Six days after Cardy's disappearance, two duck hunters discovered her body in a dam located close to a dual carriageway in the village of Hillsborough;[29] just 15 miles (24 km) from her home. Evident signs of sexual abuse were noted upon Cardy's body by the pathologist called to the scene, although a full autopsy concluded she had died of drowning.

The A697 towards Cornhill-on-Tweed. Black is believed to have abducted Susan Maxwell as she walked along this road on 30 July, 1982

Susan Maxwell[edit]

Black's second confirmed victim was 11-year-old Susan Claire Maxwell, whom Black abducted on the afternoon of 30 July 1982. Maxwell lived in the village of Cornhill-on-Tweed on the English side of the Anglo-Scottish border, and was abducted as she walked home from a game of tennis she had played across the border in the Scottish town of Coldstream. She was seen by several eyewitnesses walking the two miles from the tennis courts to her home; although none of these eyewitnesses had seen her after 4:30 p.m.,[30] when she was last seen alive crossing the bridge over the River Tweed. Shortly after this final eyewitness sighting, Maxwell was abducted by Black—most likely shortly after she walked across the bridge spanning the River Tweed.[31]

Maxwell was reported missing by her mother, Elizabeth, who had driven to the tennis courts to collect her daughter, only to learn from her daughter's friend the two had parted company outside Coldstream police station to walk their separate journeys home. The following day, a full-scale search was mounted, involving police from both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border, many with search dogs. At the peak of this search, 300 officers were assigned full-time to locate Maxwell; their search involved house-to-house inquiries and would expand to include a thorough search of every property within Cornhill and Coldstream and, with assistance from fell rescue teams, over 80 square miles of terrain. Several individuals spoke of seeing a white van within the locality, with one witness stating the van had been parked in a field gateway off the A697, although the information as to the model of the van was limited.[32]

A coroner's inquest would later conclude Susan Maxwell had died shortly after she had been abducted,[33] although her precise date of death remains unknown. Evidently, Maxwell remained in Black's van—alive or dead—for in excess of 24 hours,[34] as his delivery schedule encompassed Edinburgh, Dundee, and finally Glasgow, where Black made his final scheduled delivery close to midnight. The following day, Black returned from Glasgow to London, discarding Maxwell's body in a copse alongside the A518 road near the Staffordshire town of Uttoxeter en route. This copse was a distance of 264 miles (425 km) from where Maxwell had been abducted.

On 12 August, Maxwell's body was found by a lorry driver; her body was covered with undergrowth, and was fully clothed save for her shoes and underwear. Maxwell was later identified via dental records,[35] although the precise cause of her death could not be determined due to the advanced state of decomposition. Nonetheless, Maxwell had been bound, her mouth had been gagged with sticking plaster, and her underwear had been removed and neatly folded beneath her head, strongly suggesting she had been subjected to a sexual assault before her murder.[30]

Caroline Hogg[edit]

Five-year-old Caroline Hogg was Black's youngest known victim. She disappeared while playing outside her Beach Lane home in the Edinburgh suburb of Portobello in the early evening of 8 July 1983,[36] having asked her mother, Annette, if she could play in the playground outside her home "just five more minutes".[37] When she had not returned home by 7:15 p.m., her parents and brother briefly searched the surrounding streets for her before reporting her as missing to the Lothian and Borders Police,[38] who would launch a search which was at that time the largest ever conducted in Scottish history.[39]

Numerous eyewitnesses had seen an unkempt, "furtive-looking", balding man watching Hogg as she played in the playground; he had then followed her as she left the playground to walk to a nearby fairground named Fun City. En route, Hogg was seen by a 14-year-old girl named Jennifer Booth sitting on a bench in this man's company. Booth—assuming the pair to be father and daughter—overheard Hogg reply, "Yes please" to an indecipherable question posed to her by this individual, before Hogg had begun walking to the fairgound, holding his hand.[40]

At Fun City, this same man had paid 15 pence for Caroline to ride on a children's carousel as he stood and watched her; Hogg then left the funfair in his company. She remained in Black's van for a minimum of 24 hours, although her precise date and cause of death remains unknown. Black is known to have made a scheduled delivery of posters to Glasgow several hours after the abduction, and to have refueled his van in the Cumbrian city of Carlisle in the early hours of the following morning.

On 18 July, Hogg's naked body was found discarded in a ditch close to the M1 motorway in the Leicestershire village of Twycross.[36] This village was a distance of 310 miles (500 km) from where she had been abducted, and was just 24 miles from where Maxwell's body had been found the previous year.

The precise cause of Hogg's death could not be determined due to the extent of decomposition, although the entomologist who examined her remains opined his belief the body could not have been placed in its location before 12 July, leaving a possibility Black had disposed of the body as he made a delivery to Bedworth on this date. Regardless of the date Black disposed of Hogg's body, the complete absence of any clothing upon her remains again suggested a sexual motive behind the murder.[41]

The following March, a televised reconstruction of Hogg's abduction was broadcast nationally in the hope of producing further eyewitnesses. Following this broadcast, Hogg's father appealed to the public to provide anonymous tips as to the perpetrator, stating: "You think it can never happen to you, but it has proven time and time again that it can, and it could again if this man isn't caught in the near future."[42]

Coordinated task force[edit]

Due to the sheer distance between victim abduction and discovery sites, police suspected the same perpetrator had committed the murders of both Maxwell and Hogg, and that this individual worked in a profession which required him to travel extensively across the United Kingdom to locations which included the Scottish Borders in a profession such as a lorry or van driver, or a sales representative.[38] In addition, both girls had been bound and subjected to a sexual assault prior to her murder; and each had been wearing white ankle socks at the time of her abduction, which may have triggered a fetish within the perpetrator's psyche.[43] In addition, due to the geographical and circumstantial nature of the offences, the perpetrator was most likely an opportunist. (Cardy's murder would not be linked to this series until 2009.[44])

"The abduction of this victim from a public area within walking distance of the victim's residence represents a desperate act by a man whose need for little children is greater than his fear of being exposed as a paedophile. He was relaxed and comfortable while "buying" the victim's favour in a public area, because he spends a great deal of time in such places watching and seeking out young victims."

Section of 1984 FBI profile of Robert Black, pertaining to the abduction of Caroline Hogg

Moreover, based upon the actual days of the week when Maxwell and Hogg had been abducted (a Friday), the killer was likely tied to a delivery or production schedule. Following the August 1982 discovery of Maxwell's body, transport firms with links between Scotland and the Midlands were contacted, and drivers questioned as to their whereabouts on the dates of the abductions, although this investigative tactic failed to yield results.

At the request of detectives, the FBI was contacted to compose an psychological profile of the perpetrator for U.K. investigators. The 1984 profile produced by the FBI described the killer as a white male aged between 30 and 40 (likely closer to 40), who was a classic loner. This offender had received less than 12 years of formal education, and lived alone, in rented accommodation, in a lower-middle class neighbourhood. Furthermore, this profile deduced the motive for the child killings was sexual, that the offender retained souvenirs from his victims, and the offender likely engaged in necrophilia with his victims' bodies shortly after their death, before disposing of them.[45]

Brunswick Place, Morley. Sarah Harper is believed to have been abducted from one of the alleyways leading to this street on 26 March, 1986

Sarah Harper[edit]

Three years later, at approximately 7:50 p.m. on 26 March 1986, 10-year-old Sarah Jayne Harper disappeared from the Leeds suburb of Morley, having left her home upon an errand to purchase a loaf of bread from a corner shop located just 100 yards from her home. The owner of this shop, a Mrs. Champaneri, was able to confirm that Harper had purchased a loaf of bread and two packets of crisps from her at approximately 7:55 p.m., and that a balding man had briefly entered her shop moments later, before leaving as Harper made her purchases.[46] Sarah Harper was last seen alive by two girls walking towards an alley en route to her home; she was reported missing by her mother and sister one hour later.[47] Extensive inquiries by West Yorkshire Police did reveal that a white Transit van had been in the area where Harper had been abducted. In addition, two suspicious men had been seen loitering in the vicinity of the route Harper would have taken to the corner shop, one of whom was a stocky, balding man.

At a press conference on 3 April, Sarah's mother, Jacki, informed journalists she feared her daughter was dead, and elaborated the worst torment she and her family endured was the uncertainty of Sarah's whereabouts. In a direct appeal to her daughter's abductor, Jacki stated: "I just want her back, even if she's dead. If someone would just pick up the phone and tell us where the body is."[46] Upon leaving the press conference, Mrs. Harper fainted.

On 19 April, a man named David Moult discovered Sarah's nude, gagged and bound body floating in the River Trent near Nottingham; a distance of approximately 71 miles (114 km) from the site of her abduction. An autopsy revealed she had died within five hours of her abduction,[48] and that the cause of her death had been drowning, although injuries she had received to her head and neck[49] had most likely rendered her unconscious prior to her being thrown into the water. Furthermore, in addition to being beaten, Harper had been the victim of a violent and sustained sexual assault prior to being thrown into the river, with these pre-mortem injuries being described by the pathologist as "simply terrible".[50]

Days after Harper's body had been found, a further witness contacted West Yorkshire Police to state that at approximately 9:15 p.m. on 26 March, he had seen a white van with a stocky, balding man standing by the passenger door, parked close to the River Soar. As the River Soar is a tributary river to the River Trent, and the description of the vehicle and individual matched those earlier obtained from Morley residents, investigators did take this eyewitness account seriously.[51] Moreover, Black is known to have refueled his van in the Buckinghamshire town of Newport Pagnell the following afternoon, leaving a likely scenario he had driven Harper to the village of Ratcliffe on Soar, and had discarded her body in the River Soar either in the late evening of the date of her abduction, or the early hours of the following day.[52]

Link to series[edit]

Numerous similarities linked the murder of Sarah Harper to those of Maxwell and Hogg: she had been abducted from Northern England, and had been found murdered a considerable distance from the site of her abduction. Furthermore, her body had been found within 26 miles (42 km) of the Midlands town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch;[53]

Despite reservations as to the circumstances of Harper's abduction (she had been abducted on a rainy Wednesday evening from a suburb in the north of England, wearing a hooded anorak, as opposed to wearing clothing which could to a pervert be described as being "revealing" on a summer Friday afternoon at or near the Scottish Borders[54]), her murder was not initially linked to those of Maxwell and Hogg. Nonetheless, Harper's murder was formally linked to the series in November, 1986.[55]

National manhunt[edit]

Following the murder of Sarah Harper, with six separate police forces involved in the collective hunt for the same offender, a consensus was reached among these respective police forces to appoint a single force with overall command of the joint investigation. The decision was made to appoint Hector Clark, the Detective Chief Constable of the Lothian and Borders Police, to head the investigation. Clark opted to create a headquarters in the West Yorkshire city of Wakefield, to act as a liaison branch between the six separate forces united in the manhunt for the same offender.[46]

In February 1987, the head of Scotland Yard's Criminal Intelligence Branch, Phillip Corbett, hosted a conference attended by senior officers from 16 separate forces across the United Kingdom to discuss the methods used to collate and share information between respective forces involved in the manhunt, and to investigate potential links between other unsolved child murders across the United Kingdom which may have been committed by the same perpetrator.[56] Mindful of the criticisms pertaining to the then-recent investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper, which had become overwhelmed due to the sheer volume of information filed within a card filing system,[57] the officers agreed that the most efficient way to cooperate in an investigation of this scope was to collate their information into the newly-established HOLMES information technology system, and continue to do so in order that police forces nationwide would be able to cross-check all data fed into this system.[46] This database would expand to hold information upon over 187,000 individuals, 220,000 vehicles and interviews held with almost 60, 000 people.[58]

In relation to the criteria pertaining to individuals previously convicted of sexual offences against children to be entered into this database, investigators concluded only those with convictions for serious sexual offences against children were to warrant further investigation as to their alibis on the dates the three victims linked to the killer had been abducted, and their otherwise potential involvement. Those to be checked in relation to these offences were to have received their convictions within 10 years of the 1982 murder of Susan Maxwell.[56] This criteria only narrowed the number of individuals within this database to 40,000 men, and did not include Black's name, as his sole conviction for a sexual offence had dated from 1967.[59]

Attempted abduction[edit]

On 23 April 1988, an attempted abduction of a teenage girl occurred in the Nottingham district of Radford which was initially deemed by investigators to be unlinked to the three child killings under investigation, and thus initially remained unassociated with these murders. The victim of this attempted abduction was a 15-year-old named Teresa Thornhill, who was just 4 ft 11 in[60] in height, which may have led Black to assume she was younger than her 15 years.

That evening, Thornhill had been at a social gathering in a local park with her boyfriend, Andrew Beeston, and other teenagers before opting to walk home with her boyfriend. The pair had parted company at the end of Norton Street before Thornhill noted a blue Transit van slowing to a stop shortly ahead of her; the driver of this vehicle had then exited this vehicle and asked Thornhill whether she knew how to fix engines. When Thornhill replied she did not, Black clasped his arms across her mouth and naval and attempted to drag her into his vehicle.

Thornhill fiercely resisted her abductor: writhing and kicking as she attempted to free herself from what she later described as his "vice-like" grasp of her body. As her would-be-abductor wrestled her to his van, Thornhill squeezed his testicles, causing him to loosen his grasp sufficiently enough for her to bite into his right forearm. In response, Black shouted, "Oh! You bitch!" as Teresa herself began to scream for her mother. At the same time, Andrew Beeston ran towards the van shouting: "Let go of her, you fat bastard!" Upon hearing this, Black loosened his grip on Thornhill, who slumped into the road, sobbing. Black himself ran into the driver's seat of his vehicle and sped away from the scene.[61]

Both Thornhill and Beeston reported this attempted abduction to the police; describing her would-be-abductor as an overweight, balding and heavily built man aged between 40 and 50 who had been approximately 5 ft 7 in in height.[21]


Black was arrested in the Scottish village of Stow on 14 July 1990. On this date, a 53-year-old retired postmaster named David Herkes had been mowing his front garden in this village. As he did so, he witnessed a blue Transit van slow to a standstill across the road from his residence and the driver of this vehicle exit the van—ostensibly to clean his windshield—as the six-year-old daughter of his (Herkes') neighbour passed his field of view. As Herkes stooped to clear grass cuttings from his lawnmower, he noticed his neighbours' daughter's feet raise from the pavement, before hearing a door shut and the sound of a vehicle rapidly accelerate.[56] Instantly realising a child kidnapping had occurred, Herkes noted the number plate of the van and immediately called the police.[62]

Minutes later, Stow police arrived at Herkes' residence;[63] when police began questioning Herkes outside his address, he (Herkes) relayed the number plate of the van he had jotted down to officers, before observing the same van driving in their direction and exclaiming, "That's him!"[64] Immediately upon hearing this, one officer jumped in front of the van, forcing the driver to swerve and brake to a halt. This officer and his colleagues at the scene removed the van driver from his seat and handcuffed him as they straddled him face-down on the pavement.[65]

One of the officers then opened the rear doors of the van to discover his own six-year-old daughter bound, gagged, and sealed inside a sleeping bag, in the rear of the van. This officer turned to Black and exclaimed: "That's my daughter you took, you bastard!"[63][66]

At the police station, Black confessed to the child's abduction, informing detectives: "It was a rush of blood; I have always liked little girls since I was a lad. I tied her up because I wanted to keep her until I had dropped a parcel off. I was going to let her go."[67]

A search of Black's impounded Transit van revealed numerous instruments used as restraining devices including assorted ropes, sticking plaster, and hoods. In addition, investigators discovered numerous articles of girls' clothing, a mattress, and a selection of sexual aids.[68] When asked to explain these items, Black explained that, on his long-distance deliveries, he had been in the habit of pulling into a lay-by and dressing in the children's clothing before masturbating. He was unable to give a plausible explanation pertaining to sexual aids. (Investigators would later discover that although none of the clothing recovered from Black's van had belonged to any of the victims, he had kept the mattress, restraining devices and sexual aids stowed for use upon his victims.[69])

At the request of Scottish detectives, the Metropolitan Police conducted a search of Black's Stamford Hill lodgings to determine whether any incriminating evidence existed at Black's address. This search revealed a large collection of child pornography in both magazine, photographic and video format,[70] including 58 videos and films depicting graphic child sexual abuse which Black later claimed to have purchased in continental Europe.[59] Also found were several items of children's clothing, and a copy of a Nottingham newspaper detailing the 1988 attempted abduction of Teresa Thornhill. This material was confiscated and sent to Edinburgh to assist in the ongoing investigation.[21]

Abduction trial[edit]

Robert Black was brought to trial for the abduction of the Stow schoolgirl on 10 August 1990. He was tried at the Edinburgh High Court before Lord Donald MacArthur Ross.[71]

Black pleaded guilty to the charges, although he did claim the abduction had been unplanned, and that he had intended to release the girl after he had assaulted her. This claim was reiterated to the court by Black's defence attorney, Herbert Kerrigan QC, who stated that his client freely admitted his paedophilic preferences, and that Black would benefit from a rehabilitation course. Kerrigan further stated his client's claim to have previously been tempted to abduct young girls and that, until the incident in question, Black had successfully fought against these urges.

"The abduction of this little girl was carried out with a chilling, cold calculation. This was no 'rush of blood', as you have claimed. This is a very serious case; a horrific, appalling case ... You will go to prison for life, and your release will not be considered until such a time as it is safe to do so."

Lord Donald MacArthur Ross pronouncing sentence on Robert Black for the abduction of the Stow schoolgirl. 10 August 1990.[72]

This was refuted by Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, personally appearing on behalf of the prosecution, who hearkened to the implements within Black's van as a clear sign of premeditation, and further referring to medical testimony delivered at the trial from an expert who had stated the schoolgirl would likely have died of suffocation within an hour had she not been rescued. Lord Fraser further argued that Black was, and would remain, a danger to children.[73]

Testimony delivered at the trial had also revealed that, after kidnapping the Stow schoolgirl, Black had briefly driven his victim to a lay-by to sexually abuse her, before returning through the village from which he had abducted her. (His intention had been to quickly deliver a parcel he was scheduled to deliver before further abusing and almost certainly killing his victim.)

First conviction[edit]

Black's trial for the abduction of the Stow schoolgirl lasted just one day,[59] and saw Judge Ross refer to the abduction as being "a horrific, appalling case" in his final address, before sentencing Black to a term of life imprisonment, to be served at Saughton Prison. In November 1990, Black was transferred to Peterhead Prison to continue his sentence.[74]

Further investigation[edit]

Shortly after Black's trial for the abduction of the Stow schoolgirl, Hector Clark, the Detective Chief Constable of the Lothian and Borders Police who headed the joint investigation into the murders of Maxwell, Hogg and Harper, travelled from Wakefield in the company of two colleagues named Andrew Watt and Roger Orr, to interview Black at Edinburgh's St. Leonard's police station. (Clark did not himself interview Black due to his being a public figure in the hunt for the children's murderer.) Although in this interview Black did freely admit to Watt and Orr that he had sexually assaulted in excess of 30 young girls between the 1960s and 1980s, he was largely uncommunicative in response to questions put to him pertaining to any unsolved child murders and disappearances. Despite the fact the information gleaned in this six-hour interview would achieve little to actually advance the ongoing murder inquiry, upon the conclusion of this six-hour interview, Clark informed his two colleagues: "That's our man. I'd bet my life on it."[75]

Detectives from the six respective forces in the United Kingdom linked to the joint manhunt leading to Black's capture then began an intense and painstaking endeavour to gather sufficient evidence to convince the Crown Prosecution Service sufficient circumstantial evidence evidence existed to justify instigating legal proceedings against Black with a reasonable chance of securing convictions. (As was his legal right, Black refused to cooperate with the detectives in their investigation.[76])

One of the first areas of focus for this joint investigation was the firm at which Black had been employed since 1976. Investigators contacted Poster Dispatch and Storage in an attempt to establish whether travel records could confirm Black's whereabouts on crucial dates linked to the investigation, and staff at this firm were able to confirm that Black had always purchased petrol using credit cards, the receipts of which he would then submit to his firm to claim expenses. These files, plus several historical delivery schedules, were still in the company's archives. Investigators searched through these archives; discovering that Black had purchased petrol close to the location from where each girl had been abducted on the date of her disappearance. For example, on the date of Sarah Harper's disappearance, Black had been scheduled to make a series of deliveries across the Midlands and Northern England. The two final deliveries upon this schedule had been in West Yorkshire: the town of Brighouse; then a final delivery in Morley.[77] Furthermore, Black had refueled his van between these two destinations shortly before Harper had last been seen alive.

In addition, investigators discovered that upon his return to London from his long-distance deliveries to Northern England or Scotland, Black had regularly slept overnight in a house in the Midlands village of Donisthorpe which belonged to his landlords' son.[78] This village was close to where all three victims' bodies had been discovered. Furthermore, Leeds detectives discovered that, on his regular deliveries to Morley, Black often slept in his van overnight in premises just 150 yards from where Sarah Harper had been abducted.

This evidence was submitted to the Crown in May 1991;[79] in March 1992, Crown lawyers decided that although most of the evidence was circumstantial, the sheer weight of this evidence was sufficient to warrant Black being tried for the three murders, in addition to the attempted abduction of Teresa Thornhill. At a news conference held on 11 March, Hector Clark informed the press he was able to confirm that "criminal proceedings have been issued on the authority of the Crown Prosecution Service against Robert Black".[80]

Murder trial[edit]

On 13 April 1994, Robert Black stood trial before Judge William Macpherson at Moot Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne. Black pleaded not guilty to each of the 10 charges of kidnap, murder, attempted kidnap, and the preventing the lawful burial of a body for which he was indicted.[81]

In his opening statement on behalf of the Crown, prosecutor John Millford QC outlined the prosecution's contention that Robert Black had committed the three child murders and the attempted abduction for which he was charged, and that the overall pattern of these offences were a "carbon copy" of the 1990 abduction and sexual assault of the Stow schoolgirl for which Black was already serving a life sentence. Millford further hearkened to Black's extensive record of child sexual abuse, the paraphernalia discovered in his vehicle and at his London address, and the petrol-station receipts and travel records proving Black had been at all the abduction, attempted abduction and body recovery sites on the dates in question. (Within English law, juries are typically disallowed to know of similar fact evidence, although in this case, the judge ruled the Stow abduction as admissible evidence.)

Upon hearing the details of their daughters' kidnap and murder recited in opening proceedings, relatives of the three murder victims wept openly.[82]

The trial of Robert Black lasted for five weeks. Following closing arguments delivered by both counsels, Judge Macpherson delivered final instructions to the jury on 16 May (these instructions would continue into the following morning). In these final instructions, Judge Macpherson implored the jury to discard any personal distaste as to Black's evident paedophilia when considering their verdict, and to focus on the physical and circumstantial evidence presented at the trial.[83] The jury then retired to consider their verdict, and their deliberations would continue for two days.[83]


On 19 May, the jury found Black guilty of three counts of murder, in addition to the April, 1988 attempted abduction of Teresa Thornhill;[84] he was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 35 years on each of the three murder charges for which he was convicted, to be served concurrently.

Black remained unmoved upon receipt of this sentence, although as he prepared to leave the dock, he turned to the numerous detectives from various United Kingdom forces present at his sentencing who, since 1982, had been involved in his manhunt and proclaimed, "Well done, boys."[85]

Attack by prison inmates[edit]

Black was attacked in his Wakefield prison cell in July 1995 after being ambushed by two inmates. Convicted robber Andrew Wilson attacked Black by throwing boiling water mixed with sugar over him in an attempt to "rip his skin off", then battered him with a table leg, while murderer Craig Hendley stabbed Black in the back and neck with an improvised knife. A court subsequently determined Black was "a particularly notorious prisoner, because of the nature of the offences for which he was serving his sentence. It was for this reason he became a target."[86]

Further murder conviction[edit]

Black was formally charged with the murder of Jennifer Cardy on 16 December 2009.[87] He was tried for her sexual assault and murder at the Armagh Crown Court in 2011.[88] Despite pleading not guilty to the charges, prosecutors were able to produce petrol receipts proving he had been the region of Ballinderry on the date of her abduction; further evidence presented included a salary ledger proving Black had been paid the sum of £50, which had only been given to drivers from his firm who made deliveries to Northern Ireland, and an order book confirming a delivery of posters had been due in the vicinity of Ballinderry on the date of Cardy's abduction. Furthermore, travel records from all other drivers employed at Poster Dispatch and Storage eliminated them from the possibility of culpability on the date of Cardy's abduction.[89]

On 27 October, Black was found guilty of Cardy's abduction, sexual assault, and murder. For this fourth murder, Black was given a further life sentence.[29] On 8 December 2011, Black was informed that he would be at least 89 years old before he would be considered for release.[90]

External images
Map of the United Kingdom and Europe depicting the locations of confirmed and suspected victim abduction sites

Suspected victims[edit]

Consensus among law enforcement personnel was that Black had committed more murders than the four for which he was convicted, with senior detectives believing the true number of victims Black had killed to be eight.[91]

Following his 1990 arrest, investigators did attempt to question Black in relation to numerous unsolved child murders and disappearances, although he refused to cooperate with the detectives in their investigation;[92] ultimately, the Crown Prosecution Service stated in 2008 that insufficient evidence existed to charge Black with any further murders.[93][94]

At the time of Black's death, investigators had been just weeks away from charging him with the 1978 disappearance of 13-year-old Genette Tate.[95] In addition to the Tate case,[96] Black may be responsible for up to 12 further child murders committed across the United Kingdom, Ireland, and continental Europe between 1969 and 1987.[97]

United Kingdom

8 April 1969: April Fabb (13). Last seen cycling towards the Norfolk village of Roughton. Fabb's bicycle was found in a field upon the route she had taken, but her body was never found.[98]

21 May 1973: Christine Markham (9). Scunthorpe schoolgirl last seen alive walking en route to school. Body never found.[99][100]

19 August 1978: Genette Tate (13). Abducted while delivering newspapers in the Devonshire village of Aylesbeare. Genette's body has never been found. Black was just weeks from being charged with Genette's murder at the time of his death.[101]

22 July 1979: Suzanne Lawrence (14). Disappeared after leaving her sister's home in Harold Hill, Essex. Body never found.[102][103]

16 June 1980: Patricia Morris (14). Morris disappeared from the grounds of her comprehensive school; her fully clothed body was found in Hounslow Heath two days after her disappearance. She had been strangled with a ligature but had not been sexually assaulted.[74][104]

4 November 1981: Pamela Hastie (16). Hastie's bludgeoned and strangled body was found in the Scottish town of Johnstone in November, 1981.[105] One eyewitness remains adamant he had seen a man matching Black's description running from the crime scene.[106][107]


18 March 1977: Mary Boyle (6). From Kincasslagh.[108] Boyle disappeared while visiting her grandparents in Ballyshannon. Black is known to have been in County Donegal at the time of her disappearance. Body never found.[109]


20 June 1985: Silke Garben (10). Disappeared on her way to a dental appointment in the town of Detmold. Later found sexually assaulted and strangled. Black is known to have made a delivery of posters to a British Army base located close to Garben's home on the date of her disappearance.[105]


5 August 1986: Cheryl Morriën (7). Disappeared as she walked to her friend's home in the Netherlands city of IJmuiden. Her body has never been found. Black is known to have made regular trips to nearby Amsterdam to purchase child pornography.[110]


5 May 1987: Virginie Delmas (10). Abducted from Neuilly-sur-Marne on 5 May 1987. Her body was later found in a Paris orchard on 9 October. Delmas had been strangled, although the extent of decomposition made the pathologist rule his findings indeterminable as to whether she had been raped before death.

30 May 1987 Hemma Davy-Greedharry (10). Greedharry's body was discovered in the Paris suburb of Malakoff two hours after she was last seen alive. She had been raped and strangled. Black is known to have regularly travelled upon the road where Greedharry's body was found when making deliveries in northern France.[110]

3 June 1987 Perrine Vigneron (7). Disappeared on her way to purchase a Mother's Day card in the village of Bouleurs on 3 June; her body was discovered alongside in a rapeseed field on 27 June. A white van had been seen in Bouleurs on the day of Vigneron's disappearance.[110]

27 June 1987 Sabine Dumont (9). Paris schoolgirl last seen alive in Bièvres on 27 June. Her strangled and sexually assaulted body was found the following day in the commune of Vauhallan.[111]


Robert Black died of natural causes while incarcerated at HMP Maghaberry on 12 January 2016.[112][113] His death came just weeks before he was to be charged with the murder of Genette Tate.[8]

Prior to his death, Black never admitted his culpability in any of the murders for which he was convicted or for which he was suspected; the closest he ever came to confessing to his crimes was in response to a question put to him by child protection expert Dr. Ray Wyre in which Wyre asked Black why he never denied any of the charges brought against him. According to Wyre, Black had simply replied to this question with the words, "Because I couldn't."[114]

Black's body was cremated at Roselawn Crematorium, outside Belfast, on 29 January. No family or friends were present. In a service conducted after regular business hours which lasted barely six minutes, the Presbyterian chaplain of HMP Maghaberry, the Reverend Rodney Cameron, read a section of Psalm 90. Black's ashes were discarded at a secret location, beyond the boundaries of Northern Ireland.[115]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 27 October, 2011
  2. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2372
  3. ^ True Crime August 1994 p. 12
  4. ^ New Straits Times 20 May, 1994
  5. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 95
  6. ^ "Robert Black destroyed Jennifer Cardy's life but we didn't allow evil paedophile to destroy our family", The Belfast Telegraph 13 January 2016.
  7. ^ Chronology, 13 January 2016.
  8. ^ a b Disappearance of Genette Tate, 13 January 2016.
  9. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 107
  10. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 pp. 2372-2373
  11. ^ a b Well Done, Boys p. 23
  12. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 11
  13. ^ Robert Black - Coigreach Gun Chogais, BBC Alba, 6 January 2010.
  14. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 13
  15. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2365
  16. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 25
  17. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 19
  18. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 27
  19. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 21
  20. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 22
  21. ^ a b c True Crime August 1994 p. 7
  22. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 30
  23. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2363
  24. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 32
  25. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2371
  26. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2367
  27. ^ a b The Belfast Telegraph 27 October, 2011
  28. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 10
  29. ^ a b "Child killer Robert Black found guilty of murdering Jennifer Cardy". BBC News. 27 October 2011. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  30. ^ a b Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 34
  31. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2363
  32. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 49
  33. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 59
  34. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 37
  35. ^ "Susan Maxwell 'seen alone before disappearance': Triple murder trial told of surprise at sighting". The Independent (London, UK). 16 April 1994. Retrieved 27 October 2011. 
  36. ^ a b 27 October, 2011
  37. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 42
  38. ^ a b Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2366
  39. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 44
  40. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 40
  41. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer, RJ Parker Publishing, 26 October 2015), pp. 45-46, Amazon Publishing; ASIN B015ZTCE4K
  42. ^ True Crime August 1994 p. 3
  43. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2363
  44. ^ "Robert Black charged with 1981 Jennifer Cardy murder". BBC News. 16 December 2009. Retrieved 7 October 2011. 
  45. ^ Herald Scotland 28 October, 2011
  46. ^ a b c d True Crime August 1994 p. 4
  47. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 52
  48. ^ True Crime August 1994 p. 6
  49. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 142
  50. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 54
  51. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 44
  52. ^ Serial Killers: Hunting Britons and Their Victims, 1960 to 2006 p. 159
  53. ^ "Man denies abduction and murder of three young girls", The Independent 13 April 1994.
  54. ^ Well Done, Boys pp. 87-88
  55. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 88
  56. ^ a b c Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2368
  57. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. pp. 46-47
  58. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 90
  59. ^ a b c True Crime August 1994 p. 5
  60. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 100
  61. ^ Well Done, Boys pp. 100-101
  62. ^ The Belfast Telegraph 12 January, 2016
  63. ^ a b Telegraph 4 October, 2012
  64. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 62
  65. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2370
  66. ^ True Crime August 1994 p. 10
  67. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2370
  68. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 111
  69. ^ 18 October, 2011
  70. ^ The Independent 19 May, 1994
  71. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 112
  72. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 113
  73. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 69
  74. ^ a b Robert Black profile,; accessed 15 January 2016.
  75. ^ Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2371
  76. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 22
  77. ^ The Telegraph 27 October, 2011
  78. ^ Yorkshire Evening Post 13 January, 2016
  79. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 81
  80. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 131
  81. ^ Well Done, Boys pp. 195-196
  82. ^ The Independent 13 April, 1994
  83. ^ a b Herald Scotland 17 May, 1994
  84. ^ The Telegraph 27 October, 2011
  85. ^ Well Done, Boys p. 175
  86. ^ "Two jailed for Black ambush Inmates tried to 'rip skin off' murderer". The Herald. 3 January 1996. Retrieved 12 January 2016. 
  87. ^ "Robert Black charged with 1981 Jennifer Cardy murder". BBC News. 16 December 2009. Retrieved 7 October 2011. 
  88. ^ The Telegraph 22 September, 2011
  89. ^ The Telegraph 22 September, 2011
  90. ^ "Cardy family 'do not hate' child killer Robert Black". BBC News. 8 December 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  91. ^ Herald Scotland 28 October, 2011
  92. ^ Daily Record 14 January, 2016
  93. ^ Malcolm Pithers "Killer faces questions on more sex murders", The Independent, 20 May 1994
  94. ^ Richard Edwards "Prime suspect in 1978 murder of schoolgirl Genette Tate will not face charges", Daily Telegraph, 18 August 2008
  95. ^ PA (2 June 2014). "Genette Tate: police in talks with hope of prosecuting Robert Black for murder". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2016. 
  96. ^ Daily Mail 16 January, 2016
  97. ^ Daily Mail 14 January, 2016
  98. ^ Doe Network Case File 1466DFUK
  99. ^ Scunthorpe Telegraph 29 May, 2013
  100. ^ Doe Network Case File 1054DFUK
  101. ^ 13 January, 2016
  102. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 114
  103. ^ Doe Network Case File 2462DFUK
  104. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 117
  105. ^ a b Daily Mirror 13 January, 2016
  106. ^ The Guardian 23 September, 2004
  107. ^ BBC News 30 August, 2007
  108. ^ The Guardian 10 June, 2007
  109. ^ Irish News 26 October, 2014
  110. ^ a b c Real-Life Crimes Issue 108 ISBN 1-85875-042-3 p. 2373
  111. ^ Daily Mail 13 January, 2016
  112. ^ "Robert Black: Convicted child killer dies in prison". BBC News. 12 January 2016. Retrieved 12 January 2016. 
  113. ^ "Child killer Robert Black jailed for 25 years minimum". BBC News Northern Ireland. 8 December 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2011. 
  114. ^ Robert Black: The true story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. p. 96
  115. ^ The Belfast Telegraph 30 January, 2016

Cited works and further reading[edit]

  • Church, Robert (1996). Well Done, Boys: the Life and Crimes of Robert Black. Constable. ISBN 978-0-094-74150-8
  • Clark, Hector; Johnston, David (1994). Fear the Stranger: the Story of Britain's Biggest Child-Murder Hunt. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 978-1-851-58646-2
  • Morris, Jim (2015). The Who's Who of British Crime in the Twentieth Century. ISBN 978-1-445-63924-6
  • Sanders, John (2008). Inside the Mind of the Sex Killer. Forum Press. ISBN 978-1-874-35840-4
  • Swinney, Chris (2015). Robert Black: the True Story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer. R. J. Parker Publishing. ISBN 978-1-517-62415-6
  • Wier, Nigel (2011). British Serial Killers. AuthorHouse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-476-88139-5
  • Wilson, David (2007). Serial Killers: Hunting Britons and Their Victims, 1960 to 2006. Waterside Press. ISBN 978-1-904-38033-7
  • Wyre, Ray; Tate, Timothy (1995). The Murder of Childhood. Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0-140-24715-2

External links[edit]