This week, Small Town Dicks returns to Scotland. A series of killings along the Scottish/ English border has detectives scrambling and residents frightened. As police chase hundreds of possible leads, a man in a tiny town witnesses the kidnapping of a local girl in broad daylight. Could this be the lead law enforcement so desperately needs? Another story from retired Deputy Chief Constable Tom.
Ret. Deputy Chief Constable Tom was one of Scotland’s most senior police officers during his tenure. A graduate of Edinburgh University and The FBI Academy, his last role was as commander of a linked murder investigation, commonly known as The Worlds End Murders. He writes a regular “Inside Justice” column for The Scotsman newspaper and has authored several books, including “The Worlds End Murders: The Final Verdict” and a groundbreaking study of forensic science called “Ruxton: The First Modern Murder.” He is currently working on a new book examining the sex industry. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Tom: [00:00:06] A man was working in his garden, when he saw a little girl walking up the street, who he knew coming from school and going back home for lunch. A panel van drew up beside her, and her legs disappeared into the van.
Yeardley [00:00:21] When a serious crime is committed in a small town, a handful of detectives are charged with solving the case. I’m Yeardley, and I’m fascinated by these stories. I invited my friends, detectives Dan and Dave, to help me gather the best true crime cases from around the country and have the men and women who investigated them, tell us how it happened.
Dan [00:00:46] I’m Dan.
Dave [00:00:47] I’m Dave. We’re identical twins from Small Town USA.
Dan [00:00:51] Dave investigated sex crimes and crimes against children. He’s now a patrol sergeant at his police department.
Dave [00:00:57] Dan investigated violent crimes. He’s now retired. Together, we have more than two decades experience and have worked hundreds of cases. We’ve altered names, places relationships, and certain details in these cases to maintain the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dan [00:01:12] We ask you to join us in protecting their true identities, as well as the locations of these crimes out of respect for everyone involved. Thank you.
Yeardley: [00:01:29] Today, on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have detective Dave.
Dave: [00:01:34] Good day.
Yeardley: [00:01:35] Good day to you, sir.
Dave: [00:01:36] Absolutely.
Yeardley: [00:01:38] We have detective Dan.
Dan: [00:01:40] Hello, team.
Yeardley: [00:01:40] Team. Team you, hello. Small Town fam, I hope you’re sitting down because you guys lost your minds when we open season eight with retired deputy constable Tom from Scotland. Yes, we get it. He gave us an amazing case in the World’s End. He’s back with another one. Tom, thank you so much for being here today. Really, the fans lost their minds over you. We totally get it. We’re so very grateful that you’ve agreed to sit down with us again.
Tom: [00:02:15] Hi there.
Yeardley: [00:02:15] It’s really a big day for us. We’re chuffed, as they say over there.
Dave: [00:02:19] I’m unfamiliar with that term.
Yeardley: [00:02:21] Tom, you are the author of several books. You have a long and storied career. I’m just going to let you take it away and take it from here.
Tom: [00:02:32] Okay, thanks very much. Well, thanks for inviting me to speak. I want to talk about a particular case was interesting from a number of aspects. Scotland’s a very small country, and we have a low crime rate and my own force area. In the East of Scotland, we deal with about a dozen or 15 homicides a year, most of these are domestics as you might expect.
Yeardley: [00:02:56] Domestics like domestic violence?
Tom: [00:02:58] Exactly. During the 1970s and 80s, we were visited by no less than three serial killers. Now, that’s very, very improbable when you look at the stats. Anybody who looks at that dispassionately behavioral sciences wise, would say, “Well, they have to be connected. There has to be some common thread running through that because you’re in a small country, and it’s a very law-abiding country, how can that be?” Well, I don’t know the answer to that. I can tell you that these three men, all who were born within six months of each other, all who operated within the central belt of Scotland and the North of England. Between them, they murdered about 25 young women and girls, sexually motivated, traveling, highly organized serial killers. That, of course, posed us an enormous challenge. I was lucky to be, and I say lucky advisedly, because it was enormous experience. I was fortunate enough to be involved in the investigations to a greater or lesser extent, in all three.
[00:04:14] What I want to talk about just know is a man called Robert Black, who abducted and murdered a number of girls. I just want to talk through the case because it’s got some interesting learning in it.
On the 30th of July, 1982, a young girl called Susan Maxwell had been playing tennis in the border town of Coldstream. That’s right on the border between Scotland and England. She had been playing tennis and she decided to walk home across the border, which is a state line across the border into England, where she stayed with her family. Significantly, Susan was still carrying a tennis racket and she was dressed for tennis, a little pair of shorts and a t-shirt, a very, very hot day, very, very hot summer. She was seen walking away from the tennis court, down the road, across the bridge, into England, and she was never seen again.
First of all, she was treated as a missing person. Of course, we all know that kids go missing when they usually end up coming home or they’re gone for 12 hours or they’ve fallen with a friend or whatever. Susan wasn’t that kind of girl. She was a lovely wee girl and she had never gone missing before. Almost straightaway, she was treated as a suspicious missing person. We started to carry out physical searches. Very, very difficult. It’s very wild border country there. The vegetation was at its height in the mid-summer. We deployed hundreds of people from both forces because we and Lothian and border’s police were on the Scottish side of the border, and Northumberland police were on the English side of the border. Both well-established forces, both big forces, both about same size, 3,500 sworn officers, 1500 support staff, so big organizations.
[00:06:16] We searched and we searched and we could not find Susan, nor did we find any sightings of her beyond the sightings that she was seen walking down the road towards the border between Scotland, England, until 10 days later, when skeletal remains were found over 200 miles away in the Midlands of England, south of the place where she was last seen lying abandoned, just off lay-by near a busy road.
Yeardley: [00:06:49] What’s a lay-by?
Tom: [00:06:50] A lay-by is a truck stop, rest stop, just a place that you drive off the road and stop your car.
Yeardley: [00:06:58] Right. How old was Susan?
Tom: [00:07:00] Susan was 11 years old. At first, when the remains were found, we didn’t think it was Susan, because of the degree of putrefaction. There was little other than a skeleton remaining. Of course, it had been very, very warm. being a child soft tissue, her body had been rendered down very, very quickly by insect life and the rest. It was two or three days before we actually identified her as Susan.
Straightaway, there was a jurisdictional issue because she had been in our area and Lothian borders, and she was seen walking across the boundary into Northumberland. She had been found in a third forest area, Staffordshire. We had three forces who were interested, and the jurisdiction or the responsibility for murder investigations traditionally in the UK, has rested where the body lies. In other words, the place where the body is found, not the place where the person has gone missing from.
[00:08:13] We joined together in a three-force inquiry. For the first time ever in the UK, they appointed an officer an overall command, that is a Senior Chief Officer with extensive detective experience to coordinate all three efforts. Later on, in the World’s End murders, I fulfilled that role. In this case, it was a man called Hector Clark, who was an assistant chief constable in Northumberland, very experienced detective, a very good diplomat as well, because he managed to get all three forces pulling together, and all three forces contributing resources, both in terms of money and equipment equally to the investigation. That sounds easy, but believe me, it’s not easy to do.
Hector Clark pulled off a clever trick and do that. We touched on, we were still using the card index systems at that time.
Yeardley: [00:09:11] Ah, I remember you talked about that from the World’s End case, it was all handwritten notes. Literally on index cards, and no computers.
Tom: [00:09:22] That’s right. We started to use the computerized systems during this investigation, but we were still using a card deck systems. You can imagine, we had three incident rooms, we had three huge indexes of cards. The potential for error there was immense, but we got absolutely nowhere. There was no sightings. There was nothing. It was as if the perpetrator had disappeared off the face of the earth.
The next thing happened was just less than a year later, on Friday, 8th of July, 1983, a lovely wee girl called Caroline Hogg, a five-year-old, had been at a school party, and she was still wearing her pretty little party frock, when her mum let her go out to play just near her home, near Portobello in Edinburgh. Portobello is a suburb of Edinburgh and it’s near a beach where there’s funfairs, and there are all sorts of entertainments, and in the summer, it’s crowded with people coming down to paddle and to swim, and to go to the funfair in the entertainments.
[00:10:32] Caroline Hogg went out to play and simply disappeared off the face of there. Nobody saw her being abducted, nobody saw her walking in the street, she just disappeared, wearing a lovely little pink party frog, pretty wee blonde girl, and just as if she had been spirited away.
Again, we treated it as a missing person, as we were about to do and we started to search. We had a huge public support for this. When you have missing persons like this, and it hits the headlines, what you end up with is thousands of people coming forward to assist with the searches. Quite often the cause as much trouble as they do good. At the same time, you have got to accept their services, but managing them was extremely difficult.
We searched and we searched, of course, we looked in the water, and it was only then when we started to look closely at the people who were on the beach, we recognize that Portobello beach had become a go-to destination for pedophiles from all over Scotland, because there was entertainments on the pier, and quite frequently what happened was families would go down to Portobello, and they would go into one of the bingo halls, and what they would do is because the beach was very safe, and because the water was very shallow, they would allow their children to play on the beach within their line of sight.
[00:12:00] We identified between half a dozen and a dozen pedophiles who regularly used to travel from far and wide, they come to Portobello beach, to patrol along the tide line to see what kids they could pick up. This was a revelation to us. There had been no reports of any assaults, there had been no criminal intelligence to that effect, nothing.
Often I have found that when you’re engaging in a murder investigation or a missing person investigation, you start to turn over stones. Sometimes what you find underneath the stones are a revelation in themselves. No sign of Caroline at all. We searched all the houses, etc. Then, lo and behold, 10 days later, the remains of Caroline were found down in the Midlands of England again, about 20 miles from the position that Susan’s remains were found.
There was no question that we were dealing with to link defenses, and were no question that we’re dealing with a traveling predatory, opportunist, sexual offender and pedophile.
[00:13:12] By this time, the HOLMES computer system had come in. Holmes stands for Home Office Large Major Enquiry System. It was the first computerized admin system that we had ever had. It came in in the week of the debacle of the Yorkshire Ripper case in the late 70s. They had worked hard over five or six years to develop this system. They’ve been a lot of training and a lot of investment. At last, we had this computerized index system. It was just as well because, by that time, not only did we have Susan Maxwell, and the three forces, but we had Caroline Hogg. We started to build this database, and try and see whether there were any hits or any similarities.
As we went through the 1980s, we were getting nowhere, but we were confident that we weren’t at least making any mistakes. We’re also confident that this person would offend again. What we wanted to do was put ourself in a position where we could be very quick to react and respond. We started to develop a system very much like the VICAP system in the States of vulnerable missing persons.
Yeardley: [00:14:25] What’s the VICAP system?
Dave: [00:14:27] VICAP in the United States is a nationwide database where investigators can insert certain aspects and facts about their investigations patterns, to see if there’s similarities with other unsolved cases throughout the United States. It’s just an information sharing service that an investigator can look at and go, “I’m completely stumped.” I wonder if anybody else is dealing with something like this. They’re really useful.
Tom: [00:14:56] We hadn’t had that, and we developed it. If a child went missing at all, anywhere, that we had a system where roads would be blocked, where people would go to fix points or observations would be taken, when a lot more in the way of technical assistance they had in terms of highway cameras, etc. We were all set up for the next event because we were sure that we’d be a next event. There was a next event.
Yeardley: [00:15:35] Hey, Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:15:36] Chef Yeardley.
Yeardley: [00:15:38] I want to tell the Small Town fam about your special guest appearance on my fun, silly cooking show that’s on Instagram, and the two of you called Oil and Water.
Dan: [00:15:47] It was special.
Yeardley: [00:15:48] It was awesome. Oil and Water is less of a cooking show, and more of a game that involves cooking. Small Town fam, you can find Oil and Water @oilandwaterfood on Instagram, and oilandwaterfood on YouTube. There you will see detective Dan helping me combine random ingredients into a thing. A thing being like a pie, a casserole, a soup, a bunt.[?]
Dave: [00:16:17] A dumpster fire, in some cases.
Yeardley: [00:16:19] (laughs) Some cases, but this one was extra special.
Dan: [00:16:25] It was an adventure for my taste buds.
Yeardley: [00:16:26] And for mine. Small Town fam, we know you can’t get enough of detectives Dan and Dave. This time I only had room for Dan in the kitchen with me, but it is not to be missed. You can catch Oil and Water every Wednesday,
Dan: [00:16:43] You can make it for the weekend for your dinner party.
Dave: [00:16:46] I really liked the gingerbread house with ham shingles.
Yeardley: [00:16:48] That’s true. I did make a gingerbread house with ham shingles. That was pretty epic. That was the Christmas episode. That’s the joy you’re in for. If you’ll join us @oilandwaterfood on Instagram and YouTube.
Dan: [00:17:04] You’ll enjoy it. It’s good for a laugh.
Yeardley: [00:17:06] We’ll see you there.
Tom: [00:17:18] In 1986, a 10-year-old girl called Sarah Harper went missing from Leeds, which is down in the north of England. She was found dead in a canal nearby. There were some similarities but there were also differences. We always kept Sarah Harper’s case to one side slightly, but at the same time we monitored it. We’re also interested in another case that happened in 1981 in Northern Ireland, a missing girl called Jennifer Cardy, and another girl who went missing in 1970 in Devon called Genette Tate. They were all similar in that these girls had just disappeared off the face of the earth. Then the remains were found many, many weeks later, hundreds of miles from where they were abducted. Cause of death was very difficult to establish. What we could establish is that there were smothered, and they had all been sexually assaulted. There were absolutely no forensics at all from any of these crime scenes. Absolutely none. Nothing.
Yeardley: [00:18:23] Is that because the perpetrator didn’t leave any or because they didn’t collect them correctly or preserve them?
Tom: [00:18:30] Was because of the state of the remains. Two of the wee girls were barely more than skeletal because of the weather conditions. In 1990, about seven years on from Caroline Hogg’s abduction, we had a breakthrough. Again, a Friday in July, in 1990, a man working in his garden in a tiny little border village called Stowe. Now Stowe is what you would describe as a one horse town. It really is a one horse town. It really is a one horse town. It’s just a main street, nothing else. A man was working in his garden, when he saw a little girl walking up the street, who he knew coming from school and going back home for lunch. As he watched, a panel van drew up beside her, and her legs disappeared into the van. He knew the girl and he thought, “That’s odd.” He watched the van drive away. He had the presence of mind to note the registered number of the van and he noted it accurately.
Yeardley: [00:19:35] The license plate.
Tom: [00:19:36] Yeah, the license plate. Now that’s quite unusual to record it accurately. They often get one digit wrong, transposed or something
Yeardley: [00:19:44] (laughs) Which is all the difference, of course.
Tom: [00:19:46] Right. Now the man in Stowe, and this is where it gets surreal. The man in Stowe recognized the little girl as the local policeman’s daughter. He phones the police station and he said, “I’ve just seen such and such a girl named her, being picked up by a van, which is driven North through the village of Stowe.” The policeman who gets the call to attend to is the girl’s father.
Yeardley: [00:20:15] Oh my.
Tom: [00:20:17] He is eight miles away, doing other police duties. I’ve often tried to imagine what’s going through his head, as he’s driving that eight miles back to Stowe. He gets back to Stowe, and he’s standing in the main street of Stowe talking to the informant about what happened. Now all of a sudden, the informant says, “This is the van coming back down the road.” What the van had done is the van had stopped, had done a U-turn, and was coming back South. The policeman, the father of the gal, steps out into the road, stops the van. This time, another police officers join them. They take the driver out of the van. They secure him and the father of the girl goes round to the back of the van, opens the van and it’s just full of stuff. He rummages about, and in the bottom of the van, in a bag of purpose[?] made bag, semi-conscious and gagged is his daughter.
Yeardley: [00:21:25] Oh, my God.
Dave: [00:21:28] The odds. Every one of those aspects is just astronomical.
Tom: [00:21:32] I know. There was an FBI reunion thing. I told the story. I’m convinced half the audience didn’t believe me. He said, “Nah, come on, you’re kidding. Get out.” “No, no, that can’t be.” “That can’t be.” That is what happened.
Yeardley: [00:21:50] That’s insane.
Tom: [00:21:51] The driver was Robert Black. Robert Black had complete abduction kit in his van, he had the bag, he had gags, he had bindings and his technique was always the same. He would abduct a child and he would quickly put them in the back of the van, subdue them, he would sexually assault them and then he’d put them in the bag. Then what he would do classic of the type, he would head for home, he would head for his safe space. What he done with a wee girl as he picked her up, he had secured her in the back of the van, and then he turned round to head for home. There’s only one route he could have gone, and that’s right back to the village of Stowe, and right into the arms of the police officer that was waiting there for him.
[00:22:46] They pulled off the side of the road, into a roadside parking spot, just enough so that he could make sure the girl was subdued, gagged her and put her into the bag. This is interesting because when we revisited the cause of death of the other girls, of course, smothering, suffocation was the cause of death. Probably the first two girls actually suffocated within the bag, because he had 200 miles to drive.
Yeardley: [00:23:15] Wow.
Dave: [00:23:17] I imagine the restraint this officer had on seen to not dismember Robert Black is pretty remarkable.
Yeardley: [00:23:27] For kidnapping his daughter?
Dave: [00:23:28] Right.
Yeardley: It wasn’t restraint. It was shock. I spoke to him various times about this. It was just the shock of the whole thing. Then the relief of finding his daughter alive, and by the time his rage started to build. Black was already in custody of other officers in the way. The constable himself is now retire long time ago. He himself cannot account for why he behaved as he did. He was just paralyzed by shock. Not paralyzed enough not to do his duty, but finding his daughter and the relief of finding his daughter. Yeah, it’s funny how you think you knew how you will behave, and you think you know what your response will be. The reality is that you don’t know until you’re tested.
Dave: [00:24:20] Yeah, absolutely. When you hope that it’s like a higher power that puts you on autopilot right there and you just revert to your training and you get the job done. I believe in a higher power when we’re out there in some of these incidents. I can’t say that that didn’t happen there, that a higher power took over in that instance.
Tom: [00:24:37] Well, the policeman in question is the large rugby playing guy.
Tom: [00:24:44] This is not some weedy little character. This is serious person. Anyway, that’s what happened. Then we started to look at Robert Black. Robert Black’s arrested for the abduction of the girl. Of course, we are fairly sure that he has responsibility because of the MO for Caroline and Susan Maxwell.
Robert Black is born in 1945 in the central part of Scotland. Has no criminal convictions at all, none. He is adopted as a very young boy and he is put in to a care home or church care home, where he is seriously, sexually and physically abused.
When we search his house, we find extensive collection of pornography, including a lot concerning children, and we find a large collection of children’s clothes. Then, of course, we set to find out where he has been, and what he’s accountable for. Coming to our rescue is the fact that he works for a very old-fashioned transport company as a delivery driver, because he’s a loner, because he’s unmarried, he is not particularly sociable. He volunteers for all the weekend work on the long drives. Of course, this gives them a facility to do what he does. His company are so old-fashioned, that they keep all the petrol receipts, and all the food receipts for all of his journeys, going back 20 years.
Yeardley: [00:26:26] Oh, wow.
Tom: [00:26:28] A little old lady who does all the filing, his company office has got boxes and boxes and boxes of these petrol receipts. What we do is we sit down to do a million-piece jigsaw and find out exactly where he was at several times. We tie him to being close to Susan Maxwell, close to Caroline Hogg, close to Sarah Harper, close to Jennifer Cardy in Northern Ireland, and close to Genette Tate in Devon and Cornwall. We form a circumstantial case, again, Black saying nothing. He’ll talk to you until the case[?] come home, until you start to get onto the subject he’s want to talk about. Then he wants to talk about something else. He has interviewed and he is interviewed and he’s interviewed. He never confronts the issue. As I say he would spend 10 hours talking to you all about things which are inconsequential.
Yeardley: [00:27:31] What sort of things, does he talk about sports? Does he talk about the weather? What are his supposed interests?
Tom: [00:27:38] He talks about driving, he talks about cars, he talks about where he’s been, he talks about trivia, he talks about the news, he talks about anything other than the subject in hand. When after you’ve built up this rapport with him, you try and steer him around to that, he immediately short circuits and goes back to talk about something else. It’s a part of his life that he can’t face. We know that he has conversations with fellow prisoners, saying that he was out of control, and that he can’t help himself. He’s attracted to young people, but that’s about the extent of it. Eventually, in 1994, he is brought to court along with 22 tons of documentary evidence.
Yeardley: [00:28:27] Oh, my God.
Tom: [00:28:29] The inquiry at that time has cost close to 12 million pounds. By that time, by putting together this jigsaw of the petrol receipts, he has been linked to 14 sites of serious crime. Not just the murders he’s convicted, eventually he’s convicted of four murders, he dies before he can be tried for the fifth Genette Tate, but the other crimes he’s associated with are crimes of attempted abduction, because a number of occasions, he pulls up beside young girls, he tries to get them into his van but they managed to escape. Eventually, he is convicted of all these things and sentenced to life imprisonment. He never breaks his silence and he dies in prison about five or six years later.
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Tom: [00:31:30] What’s the learning from this? Well, obviously, our systems for dealing with missing persons– I mean, in the UK, up until recently, the way we’ve dealt with missing persons or alleged missing persons has been haphazard in the extreme. We found this with other murder investigations, too. Too often, the disappearance of particularly teenage girls, has been written off as run off with a boyfriend, gone to London, etc. Without actually any justification for that. One of the learning points from this was that, you’ve really got to be on your mark, as far as missing persons are concerned. You’re really not got to delay in the hope that they’ll come home, although they’ll be found at a neighbor’s house. You got to certain[?] train very, very quickly, your preventative systems and your observation points to make sure you don’t fall victim to someone like Robert black.
The other thing that it proved was the efficacy of the officer and overall command system, where you had a chief officer who is appointed by the constituent forces to take overall control of a joint investigation. If you do not have that, then you get forces pulling in opposite directions, and always wanting to solve their own crime rather than assist somebody else. That was the first time it had been done, and in cases that spread over force boundaries, we know do that as a matter of routine. There are two positives that came from that appalling reign of terror of Robert Black.
Dave: [00:33:17] God. Missing persons are one thing, when you hear about children being overdue, or children being missing for a matter of hours, and you speak to the families and this is completely out of character for my daughter and my son, that’s an officer’s worst nightmare is to go to those, you’re always like, “Please let me find him in the house playing hide and seek or something,” but to have that many and spread out, and then days later you hear, “Oh, that child was found 200 miles south of here.” Damn.
Yeardley: [00:33:53] The worst.
Dave: [00:33:53] Yeah, we got to get this guy.
Tom: [00:33:55] I learned a hard lesson later on. A wee lad went missing from our little village outside Edinburgh. It was at night, and one of the things we’re always taught was search the house, search the house again, search the house again.
Tom: [00:34:13] Because what kids do is they stay out late, they get reported missing, they know they’re going to get into trouble, so they sneak in the back door and into their bed. It’s not the first time that we’ve had searches out on Moorland and all sorts of stuff carrying torches, and the kids back in their bed.
Dave: [00:34:30] It’s always odd because we do that. We do secondary and tertiary searches because we know this. When you’re standing there in the front yard, and mom and dad are hysterical, understandably so, and you say, “I want to search your house and they’re yelling at you.” “That’s the one place I know where they aren’t. Why do you think I called you? You’re wasting my time. Get out there and find my kid.” Then you do another search and you find them hiding under a pile of clothes in the corner of their room because mom and dad were angry with him earlier, and–
Yeardley: [00:35:01] He doesn’t want to get in trouble.
Dave: [00:35:03] Yeah. Those are happy endings.
Tom: [00:35:06] Yeah, absolutely. The story I was going to say was that I went out to this little village, the missing person this wee boy. I got there, and there was a crowd of people, there must have been hundred people there, at the village hall, all wanting to help with the search. I thought this is incredible, this response from this community. Eventually, we found the wee boy. The wee boy was hiding in another person’s house. I asked the local cops, “What’s going on here? They said that, “10 years before we got a wee girl had gone missing from that village. They had been found drowned in a pond just outside the village.” It was in the folk memory of that community, so that when they had about a missing child, they’re over there, several generations, granny– Again, with their torches and whatnot, but I thought it was interesting that was somewhere lodged in their consciousness about missing persons, and they were going to make certain that it wasn’t going to happen again.
Yeardley: [00:36:13] That’s amazing. Tom, tell me if the bodies of the girls that Robert Black was convicted for were mostly so decomposed that there was no DNA evidence, how did the prosecution build a case against him?
Tom: [00:36:28] He was tried in England and not in Scotland, because of where the bodies were found. He was convicted under (unintelligible) English law called evidence of similar fact, he had been convicted of the abduction of the little girl in Stowe. What they could do was say to the jury, “Here we have Robert Black, and here we have him in this position, here’s his petrol receipt. Here’s his vehicle number. He was in this locality, where this little girl was abducted from, and he’s done it before because here’s the story of the abduction of the little girl in Stowe. Circumstantial evidence is fascinating, what[?] my case is for circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is like, I always describe it to people as being like a tent, you’ve got a strong central pole, which is brittle. What you also need is you need silken threads, ropes supporting that central pole, and that circumstantial evidence has all the little things that go round to support that main thrust of evidence. in Robert Black’s case, he was proved to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. This was his MO, and he’d done it before.
Yeardley: [00:37:49] Fascinating. How did you get the intelligence that the pier where they had these sort of weekend, carnivals had become a hunting ground for pedophiles? Who brought that information to you?
Tom: [00:38:02] Well, when Caroline went missing, first of all, you start your investigation where she was last seen and worked out. She was last seen playing in a playground near the beach, because she lived very near the beach Portobello. The first thing we tried to do was to place as many people as we could find, who had been at or near the beach, and then try to build up a picture of who was there and what they were doing. Almost immediately, we started to get descriptions of a funny man that looked like a clown. This was a man who deliberately used to travel 50 miles by public transport to come to Portobello beach, and he was a big heavyset guy, and he would wear a funny little hat, like a clown’s hat. It wasn’t a clown’s hat. It was almost like a little golf hat, but he would wear a funny angle and he would affect a sort of a humorous way about him, so as to attract young children.
We got his description, and then we started to track back and we started to speak to local traders, local chip shops, local ice cream parlors, local funfair, all these sorts of people. All of these folk know a great deal more than you would imagine in 1983, so we didn’t have much CCTV. Then we looked at buses, public transport coming in to Portobello. We looked at trains, train connections, to try and see if you could pick up any patterns of travel. That’s how we came across these people. It was interesting because the reputational damage to Portobello, as a seaside resort suffered terribly as a result of the Caroline Hogg abduction, even though we know no she was never on the beach. Even though we know no she had nothing to do with any of these people because that wasn’t Robert Black’s MO, or Robert Black’s MO was to pick people up off the street, put them in the back of the van. The reputation of Portobello was destroyed and most of the businesses closed down, and only recently has that boardwalk really started to revive itself all these years later, because people just didn’t want to go to Portobello because of Caroline Hogg, because of the image of that little girl who had been abducted. They just didn’t want to go there.
Yeardley: [00:40:20] Tell me how far was the walk home from the tennis court that Susan was playing on to her home? Was it a couple of miles? Or, was he just so fast and snatched her right up?
Tom: [00:40:33] Half a mile. The tragedy was that she’d been offered to be picked up and taken home and she said, “No. I’ll walk.”
Yeardley: [00:40:40] You mean a friend that she’d been playing tennis with had offered to drive her home?
Tom: [00:40:43] Yes.
Yeardley: [00:40:44] Ah, God.
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Dave: [00:42:39] I find similarities when we talk about these cases. In season two, one of our early cases was Monster and it was a two parter. It was about a child abduction, stranger abduction. The first thing that offender did was take the girl to a boat landing and sexually assault her. I see the similarity here with Mr. Black, and what he did is because the urge is hitting them right there. I think that little girl was a target of opportunity. I don’t think he was expecting to see a girl right there.
Yeardley: [00:43:12] Or that he had been stalking her.
Dave: [00:43:14] Yeah, I think he drove by and said, “Oh my God, there’s one right there,” without thinking, “I’m going to have to drive out of town and then come back through town,” because if you plan it out, you’re not going to revisit where you picked her up.
Yeardley: [00:43:28] Of course, that’s so risky.
Dave: [00:43:30] I honestly think that it’s this urge that they can’t control and they have to offend.
Tom: [00:43:37] Oh, yeah, I think that’s right. It’s a conditioned response. All these attacks were opportunists, there’d be no stalking involved. What he did was Black was all primed and ready to go. He had all his abduction kit all ready to go. He just drove about, and of course, who knows how many girls he tried to abduct, how many girls run away, how many times his attempted abductions were intercepted by somebody else, how many times he was frightened off, we’ll never know. We know from the one living survivor, the policeman’s daughter, exactly what he did.
He drove to the nearest place where he could stop, so as to carry out the first assault and secure his victim. Then he secured the victim and then headed for home, always headed for home. It’s like returning to their place of security, the lair as it were. We know from the timelines, that in some of the other cases, he actually took the time to carry out a delivery, so he had stuff to delivery, worked for a small engineering firm. We know that he carried out some small deliveries in the case of Sarah Harper, we knew that he’d carried a delivery about 10 minutes after he abducted her, but then as soon as he’d done that, he was often heading for home again.
Yeardley: [00:44:59] Is there any indication that once he got home, he held them captive for a few days, or do you not know that?
Tom: [00:45:06] It’s very unlikely that any of them survived the journey back to his lair, whether he actually took them home, there was no forensic, fingerprint of these girls having been in his house. It was not the sort of place that was cleaned very often, I can see that. We doubt that any of the girls survived the journey, because they were placed in this bag. The other thing that was remarkable was, it’s amazing how flat how small a child can be. People mistake, you see a child, they’re quite big. It’s amazing the spaces that a child can either conceal themselves in or be concealed in. He had this all planned out, but had bindings, he had gags, he had this bag that he had constructed into which to put as victims. Yeah, he was all set to go waiting for a target of opportunity.
Dave: [00:46:06] You said that there was numerous children’s clothes at his house. Were you able to match those to any specific child? Or, was that just one of his things that was a fetish of his?
Tom: [00:46:19] It’s one his things, and what we suspect is that he stole children’s clothing, and retain children’s clothing. Obviously, it was some sort of get off forum. The clothing from the murdered girls was not removed. There was no clothing missing. In fact, one of the ways we identified one of them was because of distinctive clothing. He didn’t remove the clothing and he didn’t steal the clothing from his victims.
Dave: [00:46:46] He was driving all over the country. I mean, he knows the countryside, he knows little places that he can go that are out of sight, out of mind of people. If the opportunity presents itself, depending on where he is, he knows exactly where he can go.
Tom: [00:47:02] That’s right. We were very, very lucky, and you need a bit of luck in these cases. We’re very, very lucky that the police he abducted the girl in Stowe, there’s only one road goes through it. It’s very difficult to take a reroute, because it’s going through the border lines of Scotland, there’s hills on either side. Without taking an awful lot of time about it, he was forced to turn around and come back down the same road. Of course, that was his undoing.
Yeardley: [00:47:30] Right. What an extraordinary case. Thank you so much for bringing that to us today. It really kills you, it kills you.
Dave: [00:47:39] I like how investigations come together. That’s the fascinating part for me.
Yeardley: [00:47:43] I would think for you, Dave, and for you, Dan. I mean, obviously, it lands on me in a different way, as a civilian, but you two having been immersed in it, in your own work. I understand what you’re saying. Can you further articulate that a bit?
Dan: [00:47:57] I think for me, it’s satisfying to hear that police officers and law enforcement, no matter where you are, it lands in the same party or soul when these crimes happen, and that those guys care as much as I did. That’s what’s reaffirming to me that they’re really good people in law enforcement. There are some bad people in law enforcement, too. The ones that I liked working with, they’re the good ones.
Yeardley: [00:48:21] Again, more similarities than differences in the way you all conduct yourselves when you do it well.
Dave: [00:48:26] Well, and just investigative techniques and the minds of detectives, doesn’t matter which country you’re in. We’re all thinking along the same lines.
Tom: [00:48:36] That’s right. What I’ve always tried to do was to take some learning from these cases, was to take something that was positive. It’s a ridiculous thing to say, in a way because these young girls, all with so much potential, dead in such terrible, terrible circumstances. We could have tried to say, “Well, let’s try and learn from this. Let’s put systems in place to try to make sure that it won’t happen again.” You have to try to take some positive thing. Otherwise, the burden gets too heavy, frankly.
Dave: [00:49:06] Absolutely.
Tom: [00:49:07] I tell you, though, it was funny during that period, you find yourself changing your own behavior. I’ll give you an example. When Caroline Hogg was abducted, of course, we were looking for local suspects, etc. Various people who were hanging up outside primary schools, they were reported as being suspicious and they would be dragged in and interviewed. I remember driving home one afternoon, and I was quite near my house, and there was a little girl on a ruin, walking down the road, just on a road. Walking down the road. I thought, “I wonder where she’s going. I’ll stop and speak to her find out if she’s all right.” I thought, “Oh, wait a minute, wait a minute. Is that– [crosstalk]
Tom: [00:49:54] -to be misinterpreted? I drove on till I got home and I said to my wife, “Get in the car, drive back down the road and see if the wee girl there and ask her if she’s all right.” On one hand, I was struck with this thing, “Oh my God, if a little girl is abducted under my nose, I would never forgive myself.” At the same time I thought, “If I stop and speak to her, how will it be interpreted?”
Yeardley: [00:50:21] If your wife goes, as a woman, checking on a small child, it’s a completely different scenario.
Tom: [00:50:27] Yes, it is. Although of course, we’re not without female child abductors either.
Yeardley: [00:50:32] True.
Dave: [00:50:32] The Moors, was it the Moors murders?
Tom: [00:50:34] Myra Hindley. Of course, we had Fred West and his wife.
Yeardley: [00:50:40] Oh, my God, those two.
Tom: [00:50:41] Now, before I’d been involved in this, I would have stopped and spoken to the girl and said, “Where are you going? Where’s your mom and dad?” Whatever, because of what I knew I was wary about her and it made me think twice and worry about how it might be interpreted.
Dave: [00:50:55] I recognize it in my own behavior, even when I’m off duty and I’m around somebody’s children and their child comes over and they jump on your lap. I’m like, “No, I’ve investigated too many sex crimes. Don’t do that.” Or, when I’m even working, and I’m doing surveillance on a house and I’m in an unmarked car, I always go, I can’t wait until I get called in as a suspicious vehicle because I don’t fit in the neighborhood. There’s a guy who’s been sitting in the driver’s seat for the last hour. You recognize what other people are going to recognize as suspicious or questionable behavior. You’re like, “I can already see how I get called in,” or, I can already see how, God forbid, somebody asked me, “My child’s in the bathroom, taking a bath, I need to go get the phone. Can you just keep an eye?” Nope.
Yeardley: [00:51:42] No.
Dave: [00:51:43] Don’t even ask me because I know how this turns out. All it takes is a misinterpretation. There’s lots of situations in life where I just don’t even expose myself to that, because I know what it could look like.
Tom: [00:51:56] Once the allegations made. There could be absolutely no evidence whatsoever, but it sticks.
Dave: [00:52:02] Right.
Yeardley: [00:52:03] Tom, Do you have children?
Tom: [00:52:05] Yes, I have grandchildren.
Yeardley: [00:52:06] And you have grandchildren. Were your children young when these abductions were happening and did it make you just go home and hug them extra tight that day?
Tom: [00:52:17] My daughter was within a month of the same age as Susan Maxwell.
Yeardley: [00:52:22] Oh my God. Just about 11 years old.
Tom: [00:52:26] Yeah. It makes you very aware[?] of that. It also, (laughs) I mean, my wife would tell you better than me. I used to come home and say, “Listen, what’s she doing? Who’s she going with her? Where’s she going?”
Tom: [00:52:44] Of course, then your wife says, “Listen, just back off, back off. Just you know, everything all right.” I say, “It’s all very well for you to say that, but you’ve not seen what I’ve seen.”
Yeardley: [00:52:54] Exactly.
Dave: [00:52:55] Right. I know what happens.
Tom: [00:52:56] Exactly.
Yeardley: [00:52:58] You can’t keep them on a leash, though.
Tom: [00:52:59] Absolutely no. If you are immersed in that, and if you’re working on that for years, it does change you. You can’t help it, you can’t help it.
Yeardley: [00:53:10] Would your wife say that it’s changed you?
Tom: [00:53:12] All my family see that I am unbelievably laid back, now that I’ve left the police.
Yeardley: [00:53:21] (laughs)
Tom: [00:53:23] They do, they do[?] recognize me.
Yeardley: [00:53:24] That’s great.
Tom: [00:53:26] When my son went to college, he went to university in Glasgow. It was very funny. At that time, I was the head of operations of the force, etc. I had to have the conversation with him about drugs, you see. I said, “Listen, you’ll be offered cannabis and you’ve been brought up well, you make your own judgment. One thing, do not, do not under any circumstances. bring anything back under my roof.” “Oh, Dad, I wouldn’t do that.” I said, “No, you don’t understand.”
Dave: [00:53:26] Right.
Yeardley: [00:53:59] Like don’t say I won’t and then hide it in your drawer. I mean, don’t do it.
Tom: Yeah, you’re grown up, you’re an adult, but just be aware of the consequences. I’m glad to see he never did.
Yeardley: [00:54:13] Good man.
Yeardley: [00:54:18] Wow, this has been fantastic. Tom, thank you so much for your time. Really, incredible.
Dan: [00:54:24] Thanks again, sir.
Dave: [00:54:25] Yes, thank you.
Tom: Great to talk to you.
Yeardley: [00:54:34] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and co-produced by detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Sorin Begin, Gary Scott, and me Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty and Alec Calen. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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