News

Serial child murderer Robert Black dies in prison

NewsBy Morgan Flanagan Creagh
Robert Black
Robert Black

Notorious child murderer Robert Black has died in jail in Northern Ireland.

"The Prison Service has confirmed that a 68-year-old prisoner has died at Maghaberry Prison,” said a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

"While this is not being treated as suspicious, the Prison Service has informed the PSNI, Coroner, and Prisoner Ombudsman. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time."

Robert black was found guilty in 1994 of three unsolved child murders in the 1980s.

He killed 11-year-old Susan Maxwell, five-year-old Caroline Hogg and 10-year-old Sarah Harper.

Another of his victims was nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy from Ballinderry, Co Antrim, whose body was found in 1981.

The serial child killer was arrested in 1990 after he was caught with a six-year-old girl in the back of his van in the Scottish village of Stow.

Black was also a suspect in the disappearance of Mary Boyle in 1977 and Genette Tate who disappeared in Devon in 1978. 

Mary Boyle

Mary was reported missing by her distraught parents on Friday, March 18, 1977.

Mary had been at her grandparents' house in Cashelard, a remote and boggy townland outside Ballyshannon, where the extended family had lunch when she went to walk up the fields.

She never returned.

Black is also suspected of several other unsolved child disappearances or murders in the UK and Europe in the 1970s.

Convicted child killer Robert Black was a suspect in her disappearance because he travelled from Britain to Ireland as a van driver and spent time in the Donegal area.

Black has gone to the grave carrying many untold secrets from his murderous past.

Convicted of four child murders and range of other sex crimes, the delivery driver who stalked the roads of Britain and Ireland for his young victims has long been suspected of involvement in other unsolved disappearances.

He was born in 1947 near Falkirk in Scotland to single mother Jesse Hunter Black. The factory worker put her son up to be fostered within weeks.

The couple that took him in - the Tulips - were in their 50s and lived in Kinlochleven in the West Highlands.

Within 11 years both had died, and Black was placed in a children's home back in Falkirk.

He claimed his desire to self-abuse and his fascination with young girls had already developed well before then.

In Falkirk his proclivity for sexual violence emerged when, as a 12-year-old, he was accused of trying to rape a young girl. No charges came of it, but Black was moved to an all-boys' home in Musselburgh as a result.

In that institution he claimed he was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a male staff member.

When in Musselburgh he would walk the short distance to Portobello to swim and work as a lifeguard at the coastal resort's swimming pools.

Twenty years later one of his victims, Caroline Hogg, would disappear close to those same pools.

When he turned 15, Black left the home in Musselburgh and moved west again, to Greenock, outside Glasgow.

A year later, in 1963, he faced the courts for the first time after molesting a seven-year-old girl in an abandoned air raid shelter.

He had lured her from a swing park with the promise of showing her a box of kittens. Instead he choked her to within an inch of her life and then violated her. He left her in the darkness, lying unconscious.

Yet he was not incarcerated for the crime, receiving only a caution for lewd and libidinous behaviour.

Black relocated back to Falkirk where he started dating his one and only girlfriend. They stayed together for a while and Black even asked her to marry him. She said no, and the relationship ended acrimoniously.

He harboured immense bitterness over the rejection from then on.

Three years after attacking the girl in Greenock, and now working as a builder back in Kinlochleven, he was not so lucky with authorities after being reported for abusing the daughter of a couple he was lodging with.

In 1967 he was found guilty of three counts of indecent assault and sent to borstal in Polmont, outside Falkirk, for a year.

Black moved to London on his release and soon became immersed in the sordid world of under-the-counter child pornography.

Again he found work as a swimming pool attendant, where he could earn money while spying on young girls in their costumes.

Swimsuits were one of the paedophile's particular fetishes and behind the locked door of his rented room in north London he would squeeze himself into young girls' costumes and act out sordid sex acts.

A one-piece suit found in his van when he was finally captured in Stow in 1990 was sized to fit ages eight to 10.

In the 1970s, his lust for hard-core child porn took him on shopping trips to Copenhagen and then to Amsterdam.

Around this time he also obtained his driving licence, enabling him to secure a job with a London-based delivery firm in 1976.

In retrospect, this job turned out to be his means to facilitate his murderous reign. Delivering posters throughout the UK for more than a decade, he was able to roam the country as an anonymous van driver.

The back of his van became a lair where he would abuse himself and his victims with a vile stash of crudely-fashioned instruments.

A delivery run took him past Coldstream in 1982 when he snatched Susan Maxwell, then back to Portobello a year later when he stole Caroline Hogg from the promenade, and through Leeds in 1986 when he abducted Sarah Harper.

Robert Black would probably never have set foot in Northern Ireland in August 1981 if he had not been sent there to deliver posters for the start of new beer and cigarette campaigns.

It was there, on a rural road in Co Antrim, he snatched nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy as she cycled to a friend's house.

After being caught red-handed in Stow, with a barely conscious victim hooded and gagged in the back of his Ford Transit, he insisted that was his only ''slip'' - the only time he ever kidnapped a young girl in his van.

Of course, that was a lie. Four murder convictions followed.

Detectives across the country have spent the last 25 years trying to find firm evidence to link Black to other unexplained disappearances.

Police investigating the case of missing 13-year-old Genette Tate, who was last seen in a rural lane in Aylesbeare, Devon, in 1978, perhaps came closest to bringing another murder charge.

Black died in jail, but many families will feel he never faced full justice.