Robert Black (21 April 1947 – 12 January 2016) was a Scottish serial killer convicted of the kidnapping and murder of four girls between the ages of 5 and 11, between 1981 and 1986 in the United Kingdom. He was convicted of sexually assaulting one of the girls, and of raping the other three. Black was also convicted of the kidnapping of a fifth girl, and the attempted kidnapping of a sixth.
Black is also suspected of unsolved child murders in the United Kingdom, dating back to 1969 and others in the 1970s, throughout Europe.
Black was born in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire. Black's natural mother, Jessie Hunter Black, refused to put his father's name on his birth certificate and had him fostered. Black was brought up by a foster couple, Jack and Margaret Tulip, who were in their fifties. Black did not fit in at school and was given the nicknames 'Smelly Robby Tulip' by his classmates, who noticed that Black preferred to hang around with children a year or two younger than he was, rather than people his own age. He developed an early reputation for aggressive and wayward behaviour. Locals recalled that Black often had bruises, although Black later said he could not recollect where these injuries came from. Margaret Tulip looked after Black on her own from the time he was five until she died in 1958 when he was 11. He was then sent to a children's home in Falkirk.
While living with the Tulips, Robert Black developed sexual self-awareness at a young age. He later said that from the age of eight he would often push objects up his anus. This was a practice that he would continue into adulthood. As a young child, he also had an interest in the genitals of other children. At the age of five, he and a girl both took off their clothes and compared each other's genitals.
Black first attempted rape at the age of 12 along with two other boys. They attacked a girl in a field, but found themselves unable to complete the act of penetration. The authorities were notified and Black was moved to the Red House in Musselburgh. While there, a male staff member sexually abused him. It was while Black was at Red House that he also entered Musselburgh Grammar School, where he developed an interest in football and swimming.
At 15, Black left Red House and found a job working as a delivery boy in Greenock near Glasgow. He later admitted that, while on his rounds, he molested 30 to 40 girls. None of these incidents seem to have been officially reported until his first conviction at the age of 17 when he lured a seven-year-old girl to a deserted building, strangled her until she lost consciousness and then masturbated over her unconscious body. He was arrested and convicted of 'lewd and libidinous' behaviour for this offence, but received only an admonishment.
After this, Black moved back to Grangemouth and got a job with a builders' supply company. He also found a girlfriend, Pamela Hodgson, and asked her to marry him. Black was devastated when she ended the relationship several months later. In 1966, Black molested his landlord's and landlady's nine-year-old granddaughter. The girl eventually told her parents. They took no legal action but Black was ordered to leave the house.
At this time, Black moved back to Kinlochleven, where he was raised. He took a room with a couple who had a seven-year-old daughter. As before, Black molested the girl. This time, when the sexual abuse was discovered, police were notified. Black was sentenced to a year of borstal training at Polmont.
On his release, Black left Scotland and moved to London, where he found work as a swimming pool attendant. While in this job, Black would sometimes go underneath the pool, remove the lights and watch young girls as they swam. Soon, a young girl reported that Black had touched her, and although no official charges were brought, Black lost his job.
While Black lived in London he spent much of his spare time playing darts in pubs. He became a reasonably good player, and a familiar face on the amateur darts circuit. Darts world champion Eric Bristow knew Black vaguely during this time, remembering him as a "loner" who never seemed to have a girlfriend. In 1976, Black began working as a van driver. It was while working as a driver that he developed a thorough knowledge of some of the United Kingdom's roads, particularly its minor roads.
Murder of Jennifer Cardy
On 12 August 1981, nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy cycled from her house in Ballinderry, County Antrim in Northern Ireland to meet a friend. Her bicycle was recovered close to her home. Her body was found at McKee's Dam near Hillsborough, County Down six days later. She had been sexually assaulted. Black, who at the time was working in the area for a poster-delivery company, was convicted of her kidnap, sexual assault and murder at Armagh Crown Court on 27 October 2011.
On 8 December 2011, he was sentenced to 25 years for her murder and told by the judge he would be at least 89 before he was considered for release.
Murder of Susan Maxwell
On 30 July 1982, 11-year-old Susan Maxwell from Cornhill on Tweed, on the English side of the English/Scottish border left her home to play a game of tennis across the border in Coldstream. Several local witnesses remembered seeing her until she crossed the bridge over the River Tweed, after which there were no sightings of Susan. Nobody saw it happen, but at some point between the river and Coldstream, Susan was abducted by Black.
He raped and strangled her and dumped her body about 250 miles away by the side of the A518 at Loxley near Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, England.
Murder of Caroline Hogg
On the evening of 8 July 1983, five-year-old Caroline Hogg from Portobello, an eastern suburb of Edinburgh, went out to play near her home for a few minutes. She never returned. Many witnesses reported seeing a scruffy-looking man watching a young girl, believed to be Caroline, in the playground near her home, then holding hands with her in a nearby amusement arcade. The man was Robert Black. Caroline's body was found 10 days later in a ditch in Leicestershire, around 300 miles from her home.
The cause of death could not be determined due to decomposition (as had been the case with Susan Maxwell), but the absence of clothes suggested a sexual motive.
Murder of Sarah Harper
Three years later, on 26 March 1986, 10-year-old Sarah Harper went missing from Morley in Leeds after leaving her home to go to the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread. The shopkeeper remembered Sarah coming into the shop, but she never returned home. The last sighting of Sarah was of her walking towards the snicket that she used as a shortcut. Black kidnapped, raped and murdered her. Her body was found dumped in the River Trent near Nottingham a month later.
The bodies of Maxwell, Hogg and Harper were found within 26 miles (42 km) of each other, and police already believed that these three murders were linked. Detectives also thought that, because all three victims had been left long distances from where they had been taken, the killer travelled as part of his occupation - possibly a lorry driver. The police faced great pressure to solve the crimes, as some newspapers compared them to the Moors Murders. It was one of the first inquiries to use the HOLMES computer system widely, following recommendations in the aftermath of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation.
Black has been considered as a suspect by police in the unsolved murder or disappearance of other girls, including the disappearance of April Fabb in April 1969, and the disappearance of Genette Tate in August 1978. He has been questioned about these cases among others, but the Crown Prosecution Service said in 2008 that was "insufficient evidence" to charge Black. Norfolk police were again looking in to Black's possible connection with Genette Tate case in June 2014.
Capture and first trial
Black was arrested on 14 July 1990, near Stow, Scotland. He was seen snatching a six-year-old girl off the street, and bundling her into his van. An alert member of the public called the police, who chased after the van and subsequently apprehended Black, when the van was recognised as he doubled back.
The policeman discovered that the child in the back of the van, tied up, gagged with tape and stuffed head-first into a sleeping bag was his daughter. She had been sexually assaulted. A search of Black's home revealed a large collection of child pornography.
The following month, Black was convicted of abduction and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Police suspected Black of the murders of Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper. They checked his petrol receipts and eventually charged Black with all three murders, in addition to the attempted kidnapping of a 15-year-old girl who had escaped from a man who had tried to drag her into a van in 1988.
On 13 April 1994, Black stood trial at Newcastle upon Tyne Moot Hall, and denied the charges. Having sifted through many thousands of petrol-station receipts, the prosecution was able to place him at all the scenes and show the similarities between the three killings, and the kidnap of the six-year-old girl who had been rescued. Juries are not usually allowed to know of a defendant's current or past convictions, but in this case the judge allowed it.
On 19 May, the jury found Black guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment and told that he should serve at least 35 years. This would keep him behind bars until at least 2029, when he would have been 82.
On 16 December 2009, Black was charged with the murder of Jennifer Cardy. He was found guilty on 27 October 2011 and was given a further life sentence by Armagh Crown Court. On 8 December 2011, Black was told that he would be at least 89 years old before he would be considered for release.
Attack by prison inmates
Black was attacked in his Wakefield prison cell in July 1995 after being ambushed by two inmates. Convicted robber Andrew Wilson, 22, threw boiling water mixed with sugar over Black in an attempt to ‘rip his skin off’, then battered him with a table leg, while murderer Craig Hendley, 25, stabbed Black in the back and neck with an improvised knife. Hendley later told police "I'll kill the next nonce to come near me." A court subsequently heard that "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."
Black died on 12 January 2016 of natural causes in Maghaberry prison, Northern Ireland.
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