Robert Black (serial killer)
Mug shot in July 1990
21 April 1947|
|Died||12 January 2016
HMP Maghaberry, Northern Ireland
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Preventing the lawful burial of a body
Span of killings
|12 August 1981–26 March 1986|
|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.
Black was convicted of the kidnapping, rape and murder of three girls on 19 May 1994. He was also convicted of the kidnapping of a fourth girl, and had earlier been convicted of the kidnapping and sexual assault of a fifth. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 35 years.
Black was further convicted of the 1981 sexual assault and murder of nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy in 2011, and at the time of his death was regarded as the prime suspect in the 1978 disappearance and murder of 13-year-old Genette Tate. Black may also have been responsible for several other unsolved child murders throughout Britain, Ireland and continental Europe between 1969 and 1987.
The nationwide manhunt for Black was one of the most exhaustive UK murder investigations of the 20th century. He died in prison in 2016.
- 1 Early life
- 2 First conviction
- 3 Relocation to London
- 4 First murders
- 5 Coordinated task force
- 6 Link to series
- 7 Capture
- 8 Abduction trial
- 9 Further investigation
- 10 Murder trials
- 11 Fourth murder trial
- 12 Suspected victims
- 13 Aftermath, imprisonment, and death
- 14 Television
- 15 See also
- 16 References
- 17 External links
At the time of Black's birth, a child born outside wedlock was considered a social stigma in the United Kingdom. Within weeks of his birth, Black's mother formulated plans to have her son adopted before she emigrated to Australia. These proceedings were never completed, and six months after his birth, Black was placed with Jack and Isabel Tulip, an experienced, middle-aged foster couple who lived in Kinlochleven. He adopted their surname.
Black showed anti-social tendencies from an early age; he became known to his foster parents and school peers as an aggressive child, with few friends of his own age. He was prone to tantrums, and regularly vandalised school property. He was also a target for bullying among children his own age, and became a bully towards younger children. His foster mother insisted upon physical cleanliness, but he cared little for his own hygiene; this earned him the nickname "Smelly Bobby Tulip" among his classmates.
At the age of five, Black and a girl the same age compared their genitalia; this incident triggered a childhood belief within Black that he should have been born female, and he developed a deep interest in his genitalia, the genitals of female children, and body orifices. From the age of eight, he began to regularly insert objects in his own anus, a practice he carried into adulthood.
Locals later recalled that they often saw Black bearing bruises to his face and limbs, indicating that he may have been physically abused by his foster parents; Black stated he could not recollect how he had acquired these injuries, and it is possible this bruising may have been inflicted through childhood skirmishes.
Black lived with the Tulips until 1958, by which time both foster parents had died of natural causes, and he was placed with another foster family in Kinlochleven. Shortly after his placement he committed his first known sexual assault; he dragged a young girl into a public lavatory and sexually fondled her. When his foster mother learned of the incident, she reported the offence to social workers, and insisted that he be placed in alternative accommodation.
Black was placed in a mixed-sex children's home on the outskirts of Falkirk. In this residence, he regularly exposed himself to girls; on one occasion, he forcibly removed the underwear of a girl. As a result, staff at the children's home decided after a conference with welfare agencies to send him to a high-discipline, all-male establishment in Musselburgh called the Red House Care Home.
Within weeks of arriving there, Black had become the victim of repeated instances of sexual abuse from a male staff member. This abuse continued for three years and typically involved Black being forced to perform fellatio on his abuser. The abuse ceased when the staff member died of natural causes.
While Black lived at the Red House Care Home, he studied at Musselburgh Grammar School, where he developed an interest in football and swimming. His fellow students recall him being a taciturn boy, with few friends.
In 1963 Black left the Red House Care Home. With assistance from child welfare agencies, he moved to Greenock where he found lodgings in another boys' home and got a job as a butcher's delivery boy. He later admitted that while on his rounds, if he discovered a young girl alone in a home to which he made a delivery, he would sexually fondle her before leaving the premises; he estimated to have molested between 30 and 40 girls in this manner. None of these incidents seem to have been reported.
On a summer evening in 1963, Black—loitering in a local park—met a seven-year-old girl playing alone on the swings. After talking with her for a few minutes, he lured her to a deserted air-raid shelter on the pretext of showing her some kittens. Inside the shelter, he held the girl by the throat until she lost consciousness, before masturbating over her body, then running from the scene. The girl was found close to the shelter, crying hysterically. The following day, Black was arrested at his lodgings and appeared at Greenock sheriff court, charged with lewd and libidinous behaviour.
Before 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. As a result, he was admonished for the offence. Shortly after, he moved to Grangemouth, where he lodged with an elderly couple and got a job with a builders' supply company. He began dating Pamela Hodgson, a young woman he had met at a local youth club. Hodgson was his only known girlfriend; they dated for several months. According to Black, he had asked Hodgson to marry him, and was devastated when she abruptly ended their relationship, in part due to his unusual sexual demands.
In 1966 Black's landlords discovered he had repeatedly molested their nine-year-old granddaughter when she visited their household. Out of fear of the trauma to which their granddaughter might be subjected if authorities were informed, Black's landlords did not notify police, but ordered him to leave their house. Shortly after, Black was fired from his job, and he returned to Kinlochleven, where he lodged with a married couple who had a six-year-old daughter.
Within a year of his return to Kinlochleven, Black's landlords discovered he had molested their daughter whenever he had minded the child. They immediately reported him to police, and he subsequently pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent assault against a child.
On 22 March 1967, Black was sentenced to a year of borstal training, to be completed at Polmont Borstal in Brightons. The borstal specialised in training and rehabilitating serious youthful offenders, and although he later freely talked about every aspect of his youth and adolescence to criminologists—including the sexual abuse he had been subjected to at the Red House Care Home—he refused to discuss his experiences at Polmont Borstal beyond saying he had vowed never again to be imprisoned. This has led to speculation that he may have been brutalised there.
Relocation to London
In September 1968, six months after his release from Polmont Borstal, Black left Scotland and moved 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—often casual—jobs. One of these was as a lifeguard at a Hornsey swimming pool; Black was soon fired from this job for sexually fondling a young girl. No charges were brought against him.
While living in London, Black began to collect child pornography, with much of it bought from a contact he had met at a King's Cross bookshop. At first, this material was in magazine and photographic format; he then expanded his collection to include videos depicting graphic child sexual abuse. Black was a keen photographer, and he occasionally discreetly photographed children at locations such as swimming pools; he stored these images alongside his pornographic material inside locked suitcases, and most images taken were of girls between the ages of eight and 12.
In his free time, Black frequented the Three Crowns, a Stamford Hill pub, where he became known as a proficient darts player on the amateur darts circuit. At the pub, he also met a Scottish couple, Edward and Kathy Rayson. In 1972, Black moved into their attic. He was considered a responsible, if somewhat reclusive tenant who, beyond his poor hygiene, gave the Raysons no cause for complaint. Mrs Rayson suspected Black of being a viewer and reader of pornographic material, but neither she or her husband suspected the material to be paedophilic. Black remained their lodger until his arrest in 1990.
Long-distance driving employment
To increase his scope for casual work, in the mid-1970s Black bought a white Fiat van to enable him to commit to driving for a living. In 1976, Black got a permanent job as a van driver for Poster, Dispatch and Storage Ltd, a Hoxton-based firm whose fleet delivered posters—typically depicting pop stars—and billboard advertisements to locations across the UK, Ireland and continental Europe. To his employers, Black was a conscientious employee who was willing to undertake the long-distance deliveries some of his married co-workers disliked.
While working as a driver, Black developed a thorough knowledge of much of the UK 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. To reduce the chance of being identified by eyewitnesses, Black often adjusted his appearance by alternately growing a beard or appearing clean-shaven, and occasionally shaved his head completely bald. Black also owned over a dozen pairs of spectacles, and would wear a pair significantly different from those he regularly wore when abducting children. He also covered the rear windows of his van with opaque black curtains.
The first murder Black is proved to have committed, but the last he was convicted for, was that of Jennifer Cardy, who was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered on 12 August 1981— two weeks after her 9th birthday. Cardy was last seen by her mother at 1:40 p.m. as she cycled from her house in Ballinderry, County Antrim, to play with a friend; when she had not returned home to watch Jackanory, her family telephoned her friend's parents, learning their daughter had not arrived there. Cardy's parents reported their daughter missing to police, who started a search for the missing child.
Hours later, Cardy's bicycle—covered with branches and leaves—was discovered less than a mile from her home. The stand of the bicycle was down, suggesting that she had likely stopped her bicycle to converse with her abductor. Despite extensive police inquiries, and an intense search of the area aided by 200 local volunteers, no potential eyewitnesses to Cardy's evident abduction could be located.
Six days after Cardy's disappearance, two duck hunters discovered her body 16 miles (26 km) from her home, in a reservoir near a lay-by alongside a dual carriageway in Hillsborough. The pathologist called to the scene noted signs of sexual abuse on Cardy's body and underwear; a full autopsy concluded she had died of drowning—most likely accompanied by ligature strangulation. The watch she had been wearing had stopped at 5:40 p.m., suggesting she had died four hours after her abduction.
While Cardy's abduction and murder initially remained unsolved, the location of her body, near a major arterial road between Belfast and Dublin, led police to suspect her murderer had been familiar with the area. The reservoir she had been found in was near a traffic route frequented by long-distance delivery drivers, and the possibility was never discounted that Cardy's murderer worked in a profession which required him to travel extensively.
Black's second confirmed victim was 11-year-old Susan Claire Maxwell, who he 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 Coldstream. She was seen by several eyewitnesses walking the two miles from the tennis courts to her home; at 4:30 p.m., she was last seen alive crossing the bridge over the River Tweed. Shortly after this final sighting, Maxwell was abducted by Black, most likely shortly after she walked across the bridge over the Tweed.
Maxwell was reported missing by her mother, Elizabeth, who had driven to the tennis courts to collect her, only to learn from her daughter's friend that the two had parted company outside Coldstream Police Station to walk home separately. The following day, a full-scale search was mounted, which involved police from both sides of the border, many with search dogs. At the peak of the search, 300 officers were assigned to it full-time; their search involved house-to-house inquiries and grew to include a thorough search of every property in Cornhill and Coldstream and, with assistance from fell rescue teams, over 80 square miles of terrain. Several people spoke of seeing a white van in the locality, with one witness stating the van had been parked in a field gateway off the A697, although the model of the van was unknown.
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. She was identified via dental records. The precise date and cause of her death could not be determined due to the advanced state of decomposition. Maxwell had been bound, her mouth had been gagged with sticking plaster, and her underwear had been removed and neatly folded beneath her head, suggesting that she had been subjected to a sexual assault before her murder.
A coroner's inquest concluded Maxwell had died shortly after she had been abducted. Evidently, Maxwell remained in Black's van—alive or dead—for in excess of 24 hours, as his delivery schedule encompassed Edinburgh, Dundee, and finally Glasgow, where he made his final scheduled delivery close to midnight on 30 July. The following day, Black returned from Glasgow to London, discarding the body in a copse beside the A518 road near Uttoxeter, 264 miles (425 km) from where Maxwell had been abducted.
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. When she failed to return home by 7:15 p.m., her parents and brother briefly searched the surrounding streets, where they encountered a boy Caroline's age, who informed the Hoggs he had recently seen their daughter in the company of a man on the nearby promenade. This in turn caused the Hoggs to frantically search the promenade, before reporting Caroline as missing to Lothian and Borders Police.
Lothian and Borders Police launched an intense search for Caroline Hogg. This search was coordinated from Leith and Portobello police stations, and was at that time the largest conducted in Scottish history. The efforts to locate Hogg saw 2,000 local volunteers and 50 members of the Royal Scots Fusiliers search Portobello, then expand their search to Edinburgh. The missing child inquiry also drew extensive media coverage: by 10 July, Hogg's disappearance was headline news across the UK. Nine known paedophiles were identified as having been in Portobello on the evening of Hogg's disappearance; all were eliminated from the inquiry.
Numerous eyewitnesses had seen an unkempt, balding, "furtive-looking" man wearing horn-rimmed glasses, watching Hogg as she played in the playground; he had then followed her as she left the playground to walk to Fun City, a nearby fairground. En route, Jennifer Booth, a 14-year-old girl, saw Hogg 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 the man, before Hogg began walking to the fairground, holding his hand.
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, and according to one child who had witnessed her leave the fair, she had seemed frightened.
Hogg remained in Black's van for a minimum of 24 hours; her precise date and cause of death remain unknown. Black made a scheduled delivery of posters to Glasgow several hours after the abduction, and refuelled his van in 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 Twycross; 310 miles (500 km) from where she had been abducted, and just 24 miles (39 km) 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. The entomologist who examined the body thought that the body could not have been placed where she was found before 12 July, leaving a possibility Black had disposed of it as he made a delivery to Bedworth on that date. The absence of any clothing again suggested a sexual motive behind the murder.
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 to help catch the killer, 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."
Coordinated task force
By early 1983, the number of detectives assigned to the Maxwell murder had decreased, but a sizeable contingent of detectives nevertheless remained assigned full-time to the case. Following the July 1983 discovery of Caroline Hogg's body in Leicestershire, the Detective Chief Superintendent of Staffordshire Police, Dennis Boden, held an emergency meeting with senior Staffordshire and Leicestershire detectives; the unanimous opinion at this meeting was that both murders had been committed by the same person, with the distance between victim abduction and discovery sites being a major factor in this conclusion. (Cardy's murder was not linked to this series until 2009.)
Due to the distances involved, police suspected that the murderer of Maxwell and Hogg worked as a lorry or van driver, or a sales representative, which required him to travel extensively to locations which included the Scottish Borders. Both girls had been bound and likely subjected to a sexual assault prior to the murders, and each had been wearing white ankle socks at the time of her abduction, which may have triggered a fetish in the perpetrator's psyche. Due to the geographical and circumstantial nature of the offences, the killer was most likely an opportunist.
Based upon the day 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, numerous transport firms with links between Scotland and the Midlands of England were contacted, and drivers were questioned about their whereabouts on the date of her abduction. This line of inquiry was repeated following the discovery of Hogg's body, but in both instances failed to yield results.
Despite frustration at the lack of a breakthrough in their search for the murderer, there was complete cooperation between the detectives from the four police forces involved in the manhunt. Initially, a satellite incident room in Coldstream coordinated the efforts of the forces involved in the hunt for Maxwell's killer, with incident rooms in Leith and Portobello coordinating the search for Hogg's; within hours of Hogg's body being discovered, the chief constables of all forces now involved in investigating these crimes agreed to appoint a senior investigating officer to coordinate the inquiries. Hector Clark, the assistant chief constable of Northumbria Police, took overall charge of the investigation. Clark established incident rooms in Northumberland and Leith police stations, to liaise between the four police forces involved.
All information relating to both child murders was initially logged within a card filing system, which contained 500,000 index cards relating to the Maxwell case alone. Mindful of the criticisms of the recent investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper, which had become overwhelmed due to the volume of information filed in a card filing system, one of Clark's first decisions upon taking overall charge of the murder investigation was to introduce computer technology into the investigation; he and other senior officers agreed that the most efficient way to cooperate in an investigation of this scope was to collate their information on the Hogg murder into a computerised database, which all forces involved in the manhunt could access. Information relating to Maxwell's murder was also later entered onto this database.
By January 1987, all information relating to the murders initially linked to Robert Black was entered into the newly established HOLMES information technology system, with the £250,000 cost to implement it provided by the Home Office. Information continued to be entered into the database, and police forces nationwide could cross-check all data fed into this system. This database—based at the Child Murder Bureau in Bradford—expanded to hold information upon over 189,000 people, 220,000 vehicles, and details of interviews held with over 60,000 people. Much of the information came through three confidential hotlines established in 1984. As a result of the investigation into the killings, several unrelated crimes, including offences relating to child abuse, were solved.
At about 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 to buy a loaf of bread from a corner shop 100 yards from her home. The owner of the shop confirmed that Harper had bought a loaf of bread and two packets of crisps from her at 7:55 p.m., and that a balding man had briefly entered the shop moments later, then left as Harper made her purchases.
Sarah Harper was last seen alive by two girls walking into an alley leading towards her Brunswick Place home; when she had not returned by 8:20 p.m., her mother, Jackie, and sister briefly searched the surrounding streets, before Jackie Harper reported her daughter missing to West Yorkshire Police. Immediately, an extensive search was launched to find the child. Over 100 police officers were assigned full-time to the search, which saw house-to-house inquiries across Morley, over 3,000 properties searched, more than 10,000 leaflets distributed, and 1,400 witness statements obtained. A police search of the surrounding land was bolstered by 200 local volunteers, and a reservoir in nearby Tingley was searched by underwater units.
Extensive inquiries by West Yorkshire Police established that a white Ford Transit van had been in the area where Harper had been abducted. Two suspicious men had been seen loitering near the route Harper would have taken to the corner shop, and one of them was stocky and balding. Mindful of the possibility Harper had been abducted, West Yorkshire Police dispatched a telex to all forces nationwide, requesting that they search all locations where they had previously discovered child murder victims.
At a press conference on 3 April, Sarah's mother, Jackie, informed journalists that she feared her daughter was dead, and that the worst torment she and her family endured was the uncertainty. She made a direct appeal to her daughter's abductor to reveal the whereabouts of the body. On 19 April, a man discovered Sarah's partially dressed, gagged and bound body floating in the River Trent near Nottingham, 71 miles (114 km) from the site of her abduction. An autopsy showed she had died between five and eight hours after her abduction, and that the cause of her death was drowning; injuries she had received to her face, forehead, head and neck had most likely rendered her unconscious prior to being thrown into the water. Harper had also been the victim of a violent and sustained sexual assault prior to being thrown into the river, causing pre-mortem internal injuries which were described by the pathologist as "simply terrible".
Days after Harper's body had been found, a further witness contacted West Yorkshire Police to say 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 Soar is a tributary to the Trent, and the description of the vehicle and driver matched those obtained from Morley residents, investigators took this eyewitness account seriously. Black refuelled his van in Newport Pagnell the following afternoon, and it is likely that he had driven Harper to Ratcliffe on Soar, and discarded her body in the Soar in the late evening of the date of her abduction, or the early hours of the following day.
Realising the likelihood that Harper's murderer had travelled on the M1 motorway prior to disposing of her body in the river, and that he would have had to refuel his vehicle as he made this journey, officers from both West Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire Police questioned staff and motorists at all service stations on the M1 motorway between Woolley, West Yorkshire and Trowell, Nottinghamshire, asking whether they had noted anything unusual on 26 or 27 March. Staff at one station had noted a white Transit van which had seemed out of place on the evening of 26 March, but could not give a clear description of the driver.
Link to series
Detective John Stainthorpe, head of the Leeds South Division of West Yorkshire Police, initially stated his doubt that Harper's disappearance was linked to those of Maxwell and Hogg: in one interview, he said that although he would not discount the possibility, he believed that Harper's abductor had close, personal connections with Morley. Upon the discovery of her body in the River Trent, he revised his opinion.
Numerous similarities linked the murder of Sarah Harper to those of Maxwell and Hogg: she had been a prepubescent, white female, abducted from Northern England and found murdered in the Midlands. All three victims had been discovered within 26 miles (42 km) of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, with little effort being made to conceal the bodies.
Despite these similarities, several investigators initially doubted whether Harper's murder should be linked to the series due to the differences in the circumstances of her abduction and the fact that the child had been subjected to a serious sexual assault prior to her murder, whereas decomposition had erased any such clear traces on the bodies of the two previous victims. Harper had been abducted on a rainy Wednesday evening from a suburb in the north of England, wearing a hooded anorak covering much of her face, as opposed to being abducted on a summer Friday afternoon in southern Scotland while wearing summer clothing. Investigators remained open-minded as to whether Harper's murder had been committed by the same person, and telephone and computer connections were established between the incident room in the Leeds district of Holbeck and Leith. Harper's murder was formally linked to the series in November 1986.
Following the murder of Sarah Harper, with six police forces now involved in the hunt for the offender, the police forces involved in the manhunt agreed that Hector Clark (by this time Detective Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police) should maintain overall command of the investigation. Clark created a new headquarters in Wakefield to act as a liaison between the six forces.
On 21 April 1986, the head of Scotland Yard's Criminal Intelligence Branch, Phillip Corbett, hosted a summit meeting at Scotland Yard, to discuss how best to share information between the forces involved in the manhunt, and to investigate potential links with 19 other unsolved child murders. Senior officers attended from 16 UK police forces. At this stage, the inquiry had cost in excess of a million pounds.
One of the outcomes of this meeting was that investigators contacted the FBI to request that they compose a psychological profile of the murderer for UK investigators. The FBI completed this profile in early 1988.
For the HOLMES database, investigators concluded only those with convictions for serious sexual offences against children would warrant further investigation. Those to be checked were to have been convicted of child murder, child abduction or attempted child abduction, or the indecent assault of a child. Every police force in the UK was asked to check their databases for people who had received convictions for any of these offences within 10 years of the 1982 murder of Susan Maxwell. This narrowed the number of people to be checked to 40,000 men, and Black's name was not on the list, as his sole conviction had been in 1967.
In January 1988, the UK investigators received the psychological profile of the killer from the FBI. This profile described the killer as a white male aged between 30 and 40 (likely closer to 40), who was a classic loner. This offender would be unkempt in appearance, and had received less than 12 years of formal education. He likely lived alone, in rented accommodation, in a lower-middle class neighbourhood. This profile also deduced that the motive for the child killings was sexual, that the offender held a fixation with child pornography, that he retained souvenirs from his victims, and he most likely engaged in necrophilia with his victims' bodies shortly after their death, before disposing of them.
On 23 April 1988, an attempted abduction of a teenage girl occurred in the Nottingham district of Radford which was not initially deemed by Nottinghamshire Police to be linked to the three child killings, and thus remained unreported to Clark or senior investigators in the national manhunt, despite the fact that all chief constables across the UK had been requested to report incidents of this nature to the inquiry team. The victim of this attempted abduction was Teresa Thornhill, a 15-year-old who was 4 ft 11 in (150 cm) tall, which may have led Black to think she was younger than she was.
That evening, Thornhill had been at a social gathering in a local park with her boyfriend, Andrew Beeston, and other teenagers, before walking home with Beeston. The pair had parted company at the end of Norton Street when Thornhill noted a blue Transit van slowing to a stop ahead of her; the driver of this van then got out, raised the van's bonnet and asked Thornhill, "Can you fix engines?" When Thornhill replied that she could not and began walking at a much brisker pace, Black clasped his arms across her mouth and navel and attempted to drag her into his vehicle.
Thornhill resisted him: writhing and kicking as she attempted to free herself from what she later described as his "bear hug" grasping 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. Black shouted, "Oh! You... bitch!", as Thornhill began to scream for her mother, wedging her feet on each side of the door frame as she struggled to resist being forced into the van. At the same time, Beeston ran towards the van shouting, "Let go of her, you fat bastard!" Upon hearing this, Black loosened his grip on Thornhill, who fell into the road, sobbing. Black got into the driver's seat of the van and sped away from the scene.
Both Thornhill and Beeston ran to Thornhill's home and informed her parents what had occurred; they immediately reported the attempted abduction to Nottinghamshire Police, who questioned both youngsters. Both Thornhill and Beeston described her would-be abductor as an overweight, balding and heavily built man aged between 40 and 50, and about 5 ft 7 in (175 cm) in height.
Black was arrested in Stow on 14 July 1990. David Herkes, a 53-year-old retired postmaster, was mowing his front garden, and saw a blue Transit van slow to a standstill across the road from his house. The driver exited the van—ostensibly to clean his windscreen—as the six-year-old daughter of Herkes' neighbour passed his field of view. As Herkes stooped to clear grass cuttings from his lawnmower, he noticed the girl's feet lifting from the pavement; Herkes then straightened his back to observe the vehicle's driver hastily pushing something through the passenger door, before clambering across to the driver's seat, closing the passenger door, then starting the engine.
Instantly realising a child kidnapping was in progress, Herkes noted the registration number of the van as the driver rapidly made a three-point turn and accelerated from the scene. Herkes ran to the home of the schoolgirl who had been abducted and informed her mother of what he had observed; the girl's mother immediately called the police.
Within minutes, six police vehicles had arrived in the village, where they were met by Herkes and the schoolgirl's distraught mother. When police began questioning Herkes outside his address, he relayed a description of the van in which the schoolgirl had been abducted, before providing officers with the vehicle's registration number. As Herkes talked with these officers, he observed the same van driving in their direction and exclaimed, "That's him! That's the same van!" 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.
One of the officers who had raced to the scene of the abduction was the father of the abducted child. As Black was restrained by his colleagues, this officer opened the rear doors of the van and clambered inside, calling his daughter's name, before seeing movement in a sleeping bag near the partition separating the rear of the van from the driver's compartment. The girl's father then untied the drawstring sealing this bag to discover his daughter with her wrists bound behind her back, her legs tied together, her mouth bound and gagged with sticking plaster, and a hood tied over her head.
Upon removing his daughter from the van, the father of this child turned to Black and exclaimed, "That's my daughter, you bastard!" Black was then taken to Selkirk police station. En route, he informed a Sergeant Ormiston: "It was a rush of blood to the head; 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." Black then claimed he had only interfered with his victim "a little" before his capture.
Shortly after her rescue, the child victim of this abduction was examined by a doctor, who discovered she had been subjected to a serious sexual assault. The schoolgirl was able to pinpoint the lay-by on the A7 where Black had sexually assaulted her before returning to Stow. (Black's intention had been to quickly make a final scheduled delivery to Galashiels before further abusing and almost certainly killing his victim.)
Investigation and charges
At Selkirk police station, Black was questioned, and admitted sexually assaulting the child he had abducted; he said the reason the assault had been limited in nature was the fact he "didn't have much time [with the child]". Upon completing this interview, Black was charged with plagium, and held on remand prior to his scheduled court appearance at Selkirk Sheriff court. As Black awaited this scheduled 16 July court appearance, the detective superintendent—noting the similarities between the Stow abduction and the three child killings—notified Hector Clark of Black's arrest. On 16 July, Clark travelled from Wakefield to briefly interview Black at Edinburgh's St Leonards police station. Although the answers Clark received from Black in this brief interview were largely monosyllabic, he left the interview feeling that Black was the man he had sought since 1982. Black's initial remand hearing saw him ordered to stand trial at Edinburgh High Court for the abduction of the Stow schoolgirl; he was then transferred to Saughton Prison.
A search of Black's impounded Transit van found numerous instruments used as restraining devices including assorted ropes, sticking plaster, and hoods. Investigators also discovered a Polaroid camera, numerous articles of girls' clothing, a mattress, and a selection of sexual aids. 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 for the sexual aids recovered. (Investigators discovered that 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.)
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. They found a large collection of child pornography in magazine, book, photographic and video format, including 58 videos and films depicting graphic child sexual abuse which Black later claimed to have bought in continental Europe. Also found were several items of children's clothing, a semen-stained copy of a Nottingham newspaper detailing the 1988 attempted abduction of Teresa Thornhill, and a variety of purpose-designed sex aids. This material was confiscated and sent to Edinburgh to assist in the ongoing investigation.
Prior to his scheduled trial, both Black's appointed defence lawyer, Herbert Kerrigan QC, and the Edinburgh procurator fiscal ordered that he undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Both assessments were undertaken by eminent psychiatrists, and both reports were uncompromising regarding Black's deviancy and proclivities towards children.
In his pretrial consultations with Herbert Kerrigan, Black informed his lawyer of his intentions to plead guilty to the abduction charges.
Robert Black was brought to trial for the abduction and sexual assault of the Stow schoolgirl on 10 August 1990. He was tried at the Edinburgh High Court before Lord Donald MacArthur Ross. This trial lasted one day.
In his opening statement on behalf of the defence, Herbert Kerrigan announced to the court his client's intention to plead guilty to all charges within the indictment. The Lord Advocate of Scotland, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC (personally appearing on behalf of the prosecution), then outlined the facts of the case, referring to the implements found within Black's van as a clear sign of premeditation, and citing testimony delivered at the trial from a medical expert who had stated the schoolgirl would likely have died of suffocation within 15 minutes had she not been rescued. Lord Fraser of Carmyllie then requested that the judge impose a lengthy sentence upon Black.
Testimony was given at the trial that, after kidnapping the Stow schoolgirl, Black briefly drove his victim to a lay-by to sexually abuse her, then returned through the village from which he had abducted her. A statement by the child victim of this abduction was read to the court, in which she had stated she "didn't know he [Black] was a bad man" as Black had stared at her before bundling her into his van.
In rebuttal to the prosecution's testimony, Kerrigan repeated his client's insistence that the abduction had been unplanned, and that he had intended to release the girl after assaulting her. Kerrigan further stated that his client freely admitted his paedophilic preferences, and his claims to have successfully fought against the urge to abduct young girls prior to the incident. Finally, Kerrigan argued that Black accepted that he was a danger to children and wished to undergo treatment.
Prior to sentencing, Judge Ross paid tribute to David Herkes, whose vigilance had been responsible for Black's arrest. Sentencing Black to a term of life imprisonment for what he described as "a horrific, appalling case", Judge Ross said the sentence was greatly influenced by the opinion of both psychiatrists who had concluded that Black was, and would remain, an extreme danger to children.
In September 1990, Black announced his intention to file notice of appeal against his life sentence; he later abandoned his appeal on the advice of his lawyers. In November 1990, he was transferred to Peterhead Prison to continue his sentence.
Two weeks after Black's trial for the abduction of the Stow schoolgirl, Hector Clark again travelled to St Leonards police station to conduct a second, recorded interview with Black. He had appointed Andrew Watt and Roger Orr to conduct the interview, with instructions they were to inform Black from the outset they were not judgemental to anything he chose to divulge.
In the six-hour interview, Black freely discussed his early sexual experiences, his experimentation with various forms of self-abuse, and his attraction towards young children; he also described his penchant for wearing young girls' clothing, and confided to having sexually assaulted in excess of 30 young girls between the 1960s and 1980s. He was largely uncommunicative in response to questions even loosely pertaining to any unsolved child murders and disappearances, but said he had enticed two young girls into his van in Carlisle upon the pretext of asking for directions in late 1985, then allowed them to leave when eyewitnesses appeared.
The latter stages of this interview saw both men steer their questioning directly to the subject of child abduction and murder, specifically in relation to the murder of Caroline Hogg. Informing Black that police had already established he had been in Portobello on the date of Hogg's abduction, Watt and Orr then tacitly informed him they had eyewitness accounts and petrol-station receipts, further proving that he was near Portobello on the date of Hogg's abduction. Orr then produced a composite drawing of the man with whom Hogg had left the funfair, and placed this composite alongside photographs of Black dating from the early 1980s—highlighting their similarities.
As in Clark's interview on 16 July, Black's replies became evasive and monosyllabic in response to this line of questioning. The interview finished with both detectives asking Black directly to confess to end the suffering of the families of his victims. Black did not respond to this.
Despite the fact the information gleaned in this exhaustive interview did little to advance the murder inquiry, upon the conclusion of the interview, Clark informed his two colleagues: "That's our man. I'd bet my life on it."
Accumulation of evidence
Detectives from the six forces in the UK linked to the joint manhunt then began an intense and painstaking endeavour to gather sufficient evidence to convince the Crown Prosecution Service to instigate 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.
Investigators contacted Poster, Dispatch and Storage Ltd, where Black had worked since 1976, to establish whether travel records could confirm his whereabouts on crucial dates linked to the investigation. Staff at this firm were able to confirm that Black had always bought 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 discovered that Black had made scheduled delivery runs to the areas where the abductions had occurred on the relevant dates, and although the precise times he had been in the area were difficult to adduce, petrol receipts confirmed he had bought fuel close to 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 on this schedule had been in West Yorkshire: in Brighouse, then a final delivery in Morley at a firm 150 yards from Harper's home. Black had refuelled his van between these two destinations shortly before Harper had last been seen alive.
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 Donisthorpe which belonged to his landlord's son. This was close to where all three bodies had been discovered. Leeds detectives also discovered that, on his regular deliveries to Morley, Black often slept in his van overnight in the premises to which he delivered, which was close to Sarah Harper's home.
Investigators learned that Poster, Dispatch and Storage Ltd had accounts with several oil companies, which allowed their drivers to buy fuel. With the cooperation of the companies, investigators obtained seven million archived microfiched credit card slips detailing fuel purchases paid via this method at every one of their nationwide premises between 1982 and 1986. These were sent to the reopened incident room in Newcastle upon Tyne, where a team of officers searched them for Black's distinctive signature in an effort to pinpoint precisely when and where he had bought his fuel. This laborious task bore fruit: beginning in October 1990, investigators began to discover evidence proving the precise times Black had bought fuel at petrol stations close to each abduction site. In each instance, the time of purchase had been shortly before or after each child had been abducted.
By December 1990, the inquiry team decided they had sufficient circumstantial evidence to convince the Crown that there was a reasonable prospect of securing convictions against Black, although Clark was worried that the inquiry had not uncovered any forensic evidence to tie Black to the murders. All the evidence was submitted to the Crown in May 1991. In March 1992, Crown lawyers decided that the evidence was sufficient to try Black for the three murders and the attempted abduction of Teresa Thornhill. At a news conference held on 11 March, Hector Clark informed the press that "criminal proceedings have been issued on the authority of the Crown Prosecution Service against Robert Black".
Several pretrial hearings were held between July 1992 and March 1994; these hearings saw Black's defence counsel submit contentions that their client be tried on each count separately, and that the prosecution not be allowed to demonstrate any similarity between the modus operandi of each offence at the upcoming trial. In the penultimate pretrial hearing, in January 1994, Judge William Macpherson ruled against defence motions to try Black on each charge separately, and also ruled to allow the prosecution to submit similar fact evidence between the cases. This ruling allowed the prosecution to make these similarities between the cases known, and to introduce into evidence Black's recent conviction for the abduction and sexual assault of the Stow schoolgirl. The prosecution was prohibited from introducing into evidence the transcript of the August 1990 interview between Black and detectives Watt and Orr.
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 preventing the lawful burial of a body.
In his opening statement on behalf of the Crown, prosecutor John Milford QC described the case to be tried as "every parent's nightmare" as he outlined the prosecution's contention that Robert Black had committed the three child murders and the attempted abduction, and the similarities between these offences and the 1990 abduction and sexual assault of the Stow schoolgirl for which Black was already serving a life sentence. Milford then described the circumstances of each abduction and murder for the jury; contending that each victim had remained alive in Black's van for several hours before her murder, and that each had been killed near the location Black had disposed of her body. In the latter stages of this five-hour opening statement, Milford contended that Black had kidnapped each victim for his own sexual gratification, and pointed out Black's extensive record of child sexual abuse and the paraphernalia discovered in his vehicle and at his London address. Milford closed his speech by stating that the petrol receipts and travel records would prove Black had been at all the abduction, attempted abduction and body recovery sites on the dates in question.
On the second day of the trial, the prosecution began to introduce witnesses, witness statements, circumstantial evidence, and forensic testimony. This saw witnesses describing the circumstances surrounding the abduction and subsequent discovery of each victim, and investigators describing the evidence uncovered of Black's movements on the dates of each abduction, the attempted abduction of Teresa Thornhill, and the kidnapping and assault of the Stow schoolgirl. Contemporary statements made by the mother of each murder victim at the time of her child's abduction were also read to the court, alongside testimony from the pathologists who had examined the bodies. Upon hearing the details of the kidnaps and murders, relatives of the three murder victims wept openly in court. Black rarely displayed any interest throughout the proceedings, typically remaining expressionless.
Several of these initial witnesses were subjected to intense cross-examination by Black's defence counsel, Ronald Thwaites, upon issues such as memory accuracy and minor discrepancies between times logged in record books at a firm to which Black had made a delivery on the date of Susan Maxwell's disappearance and those of petrol receipts introduced as evidence (this discrepancy was proven to be an administrative error), and earlier police statements given by the witnesses. Most witnesses maintained their insistence of the accuracy and honesty of their testimony.
One of the witnesses cross-examined on the third day of the trial was James Fraser, a forensic scientist, who had examined more than 300 items recovered from Black's van and his London lodgings; Fraser conceded that in over 1,800 microscopic comparisons, no forensic link had been established between Black and the three victims. In direct re-examination by John Milford, Fraser said that the interval between the offences and Black's arrest, and the fact Black had only bought the van in which he was arrested in 1986, would make establishing a forensic link between the three murders unlikely.
The final prosecution witnesses to testify were detectives from the police forces involved in the manhunt; they testified on 29 April, and much of their testimony described the scope of the investigation while Black had been at large, and the painstaking inquiries to gather evidence. The final detective to testify was Hector Clark, who testified that Black's name had never been entered into the HOLMES database during the manhunt due to the his conviction pre-dating the timescale of those judged to warrant further investigation. Clark further explained he could not recall any other cases where children had been abducted, killed and their bodies transported considerable distances, before stating: "I don't believe there has been a bigger crime investigation in the United Kingdom, ever."
On 4 May, Ronald Thwaites began to outline his case in defence of Black. Thwaites reminded the jury the police had been unsuccessfully investigating these crimes for eight years before Black's 1990 arrest and conviction for the Stow abduction, and asserted that the investigators had seized on this case in an attempt to scapegoat his client to appease their feelings of "frustration and failure", and in an effort to restore broken reputations. Thwaites claimed that, although the paraphernalia introduced into evidence attested to his client's admitted obsession with paedophilic material, no direct evidence existed to prove Black had progressed from molester to murderer. Describing his decision not to permit Black to testify on his own behalf in relation to the petrol receipts and travel records, Thwaites informed the jury: "No man can be expected to remember the ordinary daily routine of his life going back many years." Thwaites then began to introduce witnesses to testify on behalf of the defence, and continued to do so until 10 May.
To support Thwaites' contention that the three murders were not part of a series and had not been committed by Black, much of the testimony delivered by the defence witnesses referred to sightings of alternative suspects and suspicious vehicles near each abduction. The evidence delivered by these eyewitnesses contradicted that of those who had earlier testified on behalf of the prosecution. For example, Thomas Ball testified that on the date of Susan Maxwell's abduction, he had observed a girl matching her description striking a maroon Triumph saloon with a tennis racket. This car had contained at least two men, and the location Ball had seen this incident was very close to the site of Maxwell's abduction.
On 12 May, both counsels delivered their closing arguments to the jury. Prosecutor John Milford argued first; opening his final address to the jury by describing the circumstances of Black's 1990 arrest and recounting the extensive circumstantial evidence presented throughout the trial, and emphasising the fact no physical evidence existed due to the interval between the offences and Black's arrest. In reference to the defence argument that Black's close proximity to each of the abduction and body disposal sites of the dates in question was mere coincidence, Milford stated that if this defence contention were true, it would be "the coincidence to end all coincidences". Milford then requested that the jury reach a guilty verdict.
Thwaites delivered his closing arguments on behalf of the defence. He began by asking the jury: "Where is the jury that will acquit a pervert of multiple murder?" before describing his client as someone against whom ample prejudice existed, but no hard evidence. Thwaites pressed upon the jury the necessity to differentiate between a child sex pervert and an alleged child killer, before attacking the credibility of several prosecution witnesses, and pouring particular scorn upon the nationwide manhunt, stating: "The police have become exhausted in not finding anyone; the public are clamouring for a result. What good are you if you can't catch a child killer? Is he [Black] their salvation, or a convenient, expendable scapegoat?" Thwaites then referred to defence witness testimony which indicated someone else had committed the three murders, before resting his case.
Judge Macpherson delivered his final instructions to the jury on 16 May and the following morning. In his final address, Judge Macpherson implored the jury to discard any emotion or personal distaste for Black's extensive history of sexual offences against children when considering their verdict, and not to prejudge his guilt because of his 1990 conviction for the abduction and sexual assault of the Stow schoolgirl. Judge Macpherson further directed the jury to instead focus on the evidence presented at the trial and decide whether the "interlocking similarities" between the cases presented were sufficient to convince them of Black's guilt, before reminding them that any conclusions of guilt on one charge must not determine guilt on remaining nine charges they were to debate. The jury then received strict instructions against reading newspapers, watching television or making any telephone calls, before retiring to consider their verdict. These deliberations continued for two days.
First murder convictions
On 19 May, the jury found Black guilty of three counts of kidnapping, three counts of murder, three counts of preventing the lawful burial of a body and—in relation to Teresa Thornhill—one count of attempted abduction. He was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment for each of these counts, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 35 years on each of the three murder charges. These life sentences were to be served concurrently. Passing sentence, Judge Macpherson described Black as being the perpetrator of "offences which are unlikely ever to be forgotten and which represent a man at his most vile".
Black remained unmoved upon receipt of this sentence, but as he prepared to leave the dock, he turned to the detectives from the various forces present at his sentencing who, since 1982, had been involved in his manhunt and proclaimed, "Tremendous. Well done, boys." This statement caused several of the detectives to weep. Black was then taken to Wakefield prison, to begin his sentence in the segregation unit, as a Category A prisoner.
Immediately following these convictions, the more than 20 detectives involved in the manhunt who had been present at his sentencing addressed the press assembled outside Moot Hall, with Hector Clark stating: "The tragedy is these three beautiful children who should never have died. Black is the most evil of characters and I hope there is not now or ever another one like him." When asked his personal feelings towards Robert Black, Clark stated: "Black is a man of the most evil kind, but no longer important to me. I care not about him."
Fourth murder trial
The trial of Robert Black for the sexual assault and murder of Jennifer Cardy began at Armagh Crown Court on 22 September 2011. He was tried before Judge Ronald Weatherup, and acknowledged that he may have been in Northern Ireland on the date of Cardy's abduction, but pleaded not guilty to the charges.
As in his 1994 trial, circumstantial evidence attesting to Black's guilt of Cardy's murder had been obtained by Northern Ireland investigators searching through petrol receipts—560,000 in total—stored in his former employer's archives to ascertain Black's whereabouts on the dates surrounding the abduction and murder. Black's trial began with the prosecutor, Toby Hedworth, stating that the discovery of Black's signature upon these receipts was as good as signing his own confession.
On the second day of the trial, prosecutors introduced into evidence petrol receipts proving he had been near Ballinderry on the date of her abduction. Further evidence presented at trial included a salary ledger proving Black had been paid £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 billboard posters had been due near Ballinderry on the date of the abduction. Black was one of only two employees of Poster Dispatch and Storage Ltd willing to travel to Northern Ireland due to the Troubles, and travel records from all other drivers employed at this firm eliminated them from any culpability on the date of Cardy's abduction. The records also showed that, on the night of the abduction, Black had boarded an overnight ferry from Northern Ireland to Liverpool, before refuelling his van at Coventry the following day, en route to London.
In an effort to discredit the prosecution's contention that Black had been making deliveries to Ireland, Black's defence counsel, David Spens, suggested on the fourth day of the trial the Coventry petrol receipt could only indicate Black had been making deliveries to Coventry on the day after Cardy's murder; in rebuttal, Toby Hedworth questioned a colleague of Black's, who confirmed the firm did not make deliveries to Coventry in the early 1980s.
To further support the prosecution's contention that Cardy's murder had been committed by Black, Nathaniel Cary, a forensic pathologist, testified on the 11th day of the trial to the similarities between Cardy's abduction and murder, and that of Sarah Harper. Cary testified that the circumstances of the two girls' deaths were "remarkably similar", and that the injuries inflicted upon both girls' bodies strongly suggested both girls had been alive, albeit likely unconscious, when their bodies had been placed in water.
Black's second murder trial lasted six weeks, and the jury deliberated for four hours before delivering their verdict. On 27 October, he was found guilty of Cardy's abduction, sexual assault, and murder. Black was given a further life sentence, with hearings deferred on the minimum term to be served.
On 8 December, Judge Weatherup imposed a minimum term of 25 years. Weatherup informed Black: "Your crime was particularly serious; you subjected a vulnerable child to unpardonable terror and took away her life." Prior to his final sentencing for this fourth murder, Black's defence lawyer, David Spens, had informed the court that no plea for mercy could be offered for his client; stating the case in question was "one of those rare cases in which there is no mitigation, and so I propose to say nothing in that regard."
At his sentencing, Black was informed that he would be at least 89 before he would be considered for release.
The police believed that Black had committed more murders than the four he was convicted for, with senior detectives believing the true number to be at least eight. In July 1994, a meeting was convened between senior detectives from the six police forces involved in the nationwide manhunt for Black, and representatives from other UK forces with unsolved missing child and child murder cases. The meeting assessed the evidence investigators had assembled to establish whether Black had killed other children.
8 April 1969: April Fabb (13). Fabb was last seen cycling from Metton towards her sister's home in Roughton, Norfolk. Her bicycle was found in a field on the route she had taken, but her body has never been found.
21 May 1973: Scunthorpe schoolgirl Christine Markham (9) was last seen walking to school. Her body has never been found. Black was questioned about potential involvement in her abduction in 2004.
19 August 1978: Genette Tate (13) Abducted while delivering newspapers in Aylesbeare, Devon. Her bicycle was found in a country lane by two girls she had spoken to minutes before, but her body has never been found. Black made numerous deliveries of posters to the south-west of England in 1978. At the time of Black's death, the Devon and Cornwall Police were due to submit a fresh file to the Crown Prosecution Service, seeking formal abduction and murder charges in relation to this case.
16 June 1980: Patricia Morris (14) 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.
4 November 1981: Pamela Hastie (16). Her bludgeoned and strangled body was found in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, in November 1981. One eyewitness was adamant he had seen a man matching Black's description running from the crime scene, but police do not believe Black was near Renfrewshire at the time of Hastie's murder.
18 March 1977: Kincasslagh schoolgirl Mary Boyle (6) disappeared while visiting her grandparents in Ballyshannon. Black was in County Donegal at the time of her disappearance. Her body has never been found.
20 June 1985: Detmold schoolgirl Silke Garben disappeared on her way to a dental appointment. The 10 year old's body was found in a stream the following day; she had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Black made a delivery of posters to a British Army base close to Garben's home on the date of her disappearance.
5 August 1986: Cheryl Morriën (7) disappeared as she walked to her friend's home in the Dutch city of IJmuiden. Her body has never been found. Black made regular trips to nearby Amsterdam to buy child pornography.
5 May 1987: 10-year-old Virginie Delmas was abducted from Neuilly-sur-Marne on 5 May 1987. Her body was found in a Paris orchard on 9 October. Delmas had been strangled; the extent of decomposition prevented the pathologist determining whether she had been raped before death. Black made several deliveries in and around Paris on the date of Delmas's disappearance.
30 May 1987: the body of Hemma Greedharry was discovered in the Paris suburb of Malakoff two hours after she was last seen alive. She was 10 and had been raped and strangled. Black regularly travelled upon the road where Greedharry's body was found when making deliveries in northern France.
3 June 1987 Perrine Vigneron (7) disappeared on her way to buy a Mother's Day card in Bouleurs on 3 June; her strangled body was discovered in a rapeseed field in Chelles on 27 June. A white van had been seen in Bouleurs on the day of Vigneron's disappearance.
27 June 1987 Sabine Dumont (9). A 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. Black was named as a prime suspect in Dumont's murder in 2011.
Aftermath, imprisonment, and death
The eight-year, nationwide inquiry which culminated in the 1990 arrest of Robert Black was one of the longest, most exhaustive and costly British murder investigations of the 20th century. By the time investigators had amassed sufficient evidence to convince the Crown to instigate criminal proceedings against Black for the three child murders and the attempted abduction of Thornhill, the dossier they had assembled was estimated to weigh 22 tonnes. The total cost of the inquiry is estimated to be £12 million.
Robert Black appealed against his 1994 convictions. His appeal was heard before Lord Taylor at the Court of Appeal on 20 February 1995. Black contended he had been denied a fair trial due to details of his 1990 abduction and sexual assault charges being introduced as similar fact evidence at his trial, a ruling his defence counsel had fundamentally objected to. Black also contended that the final instructions delivered to the jury by Judge Macpherson had been unbalanced. Black's appeal hearing had been expected to last three days, but at the end of the first day, Lord Taylor refused leave to appeal the conviction on the grounds that Black's trial had been fair, and that none of his contentions could be substantiated.
In July 1995, Black was attacked in his cell at Wakefield prison by two fellow inmates, who threw boiling water mixed with sugar over him, bludgeoned him with a table leg, then stabbed him in the back and neck with an improvised knife. Black sustained superficial wounds, burns and bruising in this attack; his attackers were jailed for three further years after admitting wounding Black with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
David Herkes, the retired postmaster whose diligence was responsible for Black's 1990 arrest, died in September 2012 at 75. His son-in-law, Allan Doyle, described him as a "family man" whose "quick thinking that day saved the life of a six-year-old girl and led directly to the incarceration of Black."
Black never admitted culpability in any of the murders of which he was convicted or suspected, and refused to cooperate with investigators, in spite of having little hope of ever being freed. According to Dr Ray Wyre, a pioneer in the treatment of sex offenders who conducted several interviews with Black between 1990 and 1993, the prime reason for this was an issue of control for Black. Wyre summarised the psychology behind Black's refusal to cooperate with investigators:
He's the sort of person for whom it's all about power and control. Having information about what he's done gives him power. He has no desire to ease his conscience, and he's not going to give up the one thing that gives him power over the pain that his victims' families are suffering.
The closest Black ever came to confessing to any of his crimes was in response to a question put to him shortly before his 1994 murder trial by Wyre. Wyre had asked Black why he never denied any of the charges brought against him. According to Wyre, Black had replied to this question with the words, "Because I couldn't."
Black's body was cremated at Roselawn Crematorium, outside Belfast, on 29 January. No family or friends were present. In a short service, the Presbyterian chaplain of HMP Maghaberry, the Reverend Rodney Cameron, read a section of Psalm 90. In February 2016, Black's ashes were scattered at sea.
Several television programmes have been made about Black.
- Scottish Television broadcast a 25-minute documentary relating to Black's crimes on the date of his 1994 murder convictions. It contains interviews with Hector Clark, David Herkes and Ray Wyre, and archive footage dating from the manhunt for Black.
- Channel 4 commissioned a 40-minute documentary, The Death of Childhood: Unspeakable Truths, first broadcast in May 1997. This focuses on the life and crimes of Black. It includes interviews with various participants involved in his manhunt.
- Child killer: The Truth was commissioned by ITV as part of their true crime series, Manhunt. This 45-minute documentary was first broadcast in December 2001, and focuses upon the challenges faced by investigators throughout the manhunt. Hector Clark, Jackie Harper and the father of the Stow schoolgirl Black abducted in 1990 are interviewed in this documentary.
- A 45-minute Crime & Investigation documentary focusing on the crimes of Black was released in 2010. This episode features interviews with forensic psychiatrist Julian Boon.
- Channel 5 broadcast an episode relating to Black's crimes within the true crime documentary series 'Killers Behind Bars: The Untold Story. This 40-minute episode is narrated by criminologist David Wilson.
- The BBC current affairs series Spotlight broadcast a 45-minute documentary on Black on 23 February 2016. This episode, entitled Robert Black: Caught on Tape, includes audio recordings of interviews with Black.
- Swinney (2015), p. 131.
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