Serial killer and paedophile Robert Black was the living embodiment of every parent’s worst nightmare. Between 1981 and 1986 he sexually assaulted and murdered four little girls, and police believe their could be more victims. But now Black is dead, the true extent of his psychopathic killing rampage may never be known...
Black was born in Grangemouth, Scotland in 1947. An illegitimate child, he was adopted at six-months-old, and by the time he was of school age was already showing aggressive tendencies, bullying children younger than himself. From the age of five, Black became obsessed with his own genitals and began regularly sticking objects up his own bottom – a practice he continued into adulthood.
After the death of his foster parents when he was 11, Black commited his first known sexual assault – dragging a young girl into a public toilet and molesting her. He was put in a children’s home where he exposed himself to girls, prompting social services to put him a strict all-male care home. There he was sexually abused by a male staff member for three years. After leaving there in 1963, Black got a job as a butcher’s delivery boy and admitted fondling at least 40 girls on his rounds. Later that year he was convicted of ‘lewd and libidinous behaviour’ after throttling a 7-year-old girl until she fell unconscious, then masturbating over her body.
Incredibly officials didn’t believe Black, then 16, to be dangerous and he was let off with little more than a slap on the wrist. Throughout the 60s and 70s Black began molesting young girls and consuming child pornography. But it wasn’t until 1981 that his first known murder took place.
Victim one – Jennifer Cardy
On the afternoon of August 12th 1981, just two weeks after her 9th birthday, Jennifer Cardy was last seen cycling from her home in Ballinderry, Co Antrim, to go and visit a friend. She never showed up. Hours later her bike was found hidden in undergrowth less than a mile from her home. It was another six days before Jennifer’s body was found in a reservoir. There were signs of sexual abuse, and she’d been strangled with a ligature then drowned. Chillingly, her watch had stopped at 5.40pm suggesting she’d died just four hours after being abducted.
Victim two – Susan Maxwell
Almost a year later in July 1982, Black made his second confirmed kill. He abducted 11-year-old Susan Maxwell as she walked home at 4.30pm to the village of Cornhill-on-Tweed near the Scottish border, after having played a tennis match. Somewhere on her walk home, Black snatched her and dragged her into his van.
Tragically Susan’s mother had driven to the tennis courts to collect her, but had been too late. When Susan didn’t return home, a police search was mounted. Two weeks later her body was found by a lorry driver, hidden in undergrowth. She was full clothed apart from her shoes and underwear. She had been bound and gagged, and believed to have been sexually assaulted. Due to the state of her body, police couldn’t tell how she’d been died but was believed within 24 hours of Black abducting her.
Victim three – Caroline Hogg
Black’s youngest known victim was 5-year-old Caroline Hogg, who disappeared while playing outside her home in Edinburgh on July 8th 1983. Witnesses saw her at a nearby funfair holding hands with a scruffy looking man. One child witness said she’d seemed frightened.
Tragically, Caroline’s naked body was found 10 days later 310 miles from where she’d been abducted and just 24 miles from where Susan Maxwell’s body had been found the year before. Again the cause of death was hard to confirm due to how much Caroline’s body had decomposed, but the fact she was naked when founded again suggested Black had sexually assaulted her.
The police begin fitting the pieces
By now the police were able to link Caroline Hogg and Susan Maxwell’s murders, and criminal profiling suggested the killer worked as a lorry driver, which by now Black most certainly was. They also noted both girls had been wearing white ankle socks at the time of the abduction, which suggested the killer had a fetish for these.
Victim four – Sarah Harper
For the next three years either Black laid low, or committed crimes police have still yet to link to him. Either way it wasn’t until March 1986 that we know he struck again. This time his victim was 10-year-old Sarah Harper who was abducted at 7.50pm after going to the corner shop to buy some bread. The shop was just 100 yards from her home in Leeds, but Sarah never returned.
Three weeks later, her body was found floating in the river Trent in Nottinghamshire – 71 miles from where she was abducted. She was partially dressed, bound and gagged, and had died between 5 to 8 hours after being abducted. An autopsy showed she’d drowned – meaning she was still alive when Black had thrown her into the water. She’d also received injuries to her face, forehead, head and neck meaning she was likely to be unconscious at the time. She’s also been the victim of a violent and prolonged sexual assault before her death causing internal injuries the pathologist described as ‘simply terrible’.
A manhunt is launched
Police launched a nationwide manhunt but Black evaded capture, and in April 1988 he attempted to abduct Teresa Thornhill from Nottingham. Age 15 she was older than Black’s other victims, but standing 4ft 10’ tall Black may have thought she was younger. When Black tried to drag her into his van she fought back viciously, grabbing his testicles, and screaming for help. Thankfully for Teresa, Black fled. It saved her life but it was another two years before Black would finally be caught – after he was spotted abducting a six-year-old girl in Stow, Galashiels.
Chillingly, when police searched his van and found the young girl bound and gagged in a sleeping bag, with a hood tied over her head, one of the police officers realised it was his own daughter. Sadly she had already been sexually assaulted. Had she not been found, the victim would almost certainly have been murdered.
Justice at last
In 1990 Robert Black was given a life sentence for the abduction and sexual assault of the six-year-old in Stow, and four years later he was found guilty of the murders of Susan Maxwell, Sarah Harper and Caroline Hogg, and of the attempted abduction of Teresa Thornhill. It was another 17 years, in 2011, before Black was finally convicted of the 1981 murder of Jennifer Cardy. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Considered one of the most monstrous killers Britain has ever known, Black was linked to many unsolved crimes and was about to be charged with the murder of Devon schoolgirl Genette Tate in 1978 when he died of a heart attack in prison in January 2016. How many others were victims of his sick sexual desires we’ll sadly never know. The twisted paedophile took those secrets to his grave.