Cold Case and the Serial Killer
Linkage analysis of child killer keeps cop and criminologist busy.
Posted March 8, 2018
Every week, it seems, we hear about older unsolved cases being linked to serial killers. This week, a story came out of Britain that suggests that Suzanne Lawrence, 14, might have been killed by a serial child killer after she vanished in 1979. She was last seen at a fair in north London, a few miles from where Robert Black lived. After Black was arrested eleven years later, police found an orange and pink bracelet in his home. It looked like one that a girl would wear and it’s been in storage all this time. Former officers have called for DNA testing on it.
It seems that we've only just begun linking cases to this offender.
Black is the subject of a 2017 book by Robert Giles and Chris Clark, The Face of Evil, that describes 4 convictions and links this abused-boy-turned-bully to other cold cases involving young girls. The Scottish-born pedophile got his start assaulting girls as a teenager. Then, he started killing them. Black was caught in 1990 while abducting a young girl in Stow, on the Scottish border. In 1994, he was convicted of the three "Midland Triangle Murders".
This book's primary focus is the disappearance of Jennifer Cardy from her home in Northern Ireland in 1981. She was just nine. She’d gone to visit a friend but never made it. Her bike turned up in a field. Six days later, duck hunters found her body in a millpond ten miles from her home. She’d been sexually assaulted.
Despite an intensive search, the case remained unsolved for thirty years until Black was identified as a traveling serial killer that targeted girls in isolated spots. He’d driven a delivery van for a poster company with clients all over the UK, including Northern Ireland. He apparently liked driving down lonely country roads looking for girls on bikes.
After hearing about Cardy's then-unsolved case from his mother, criminologist Robert Giles grew interested in Black’s possible association. He began corresponding with former Norfolk police constable and intelligence officer Chris Clark, who also had an interest in Black: Clark's wife had nearly been abducted off her bike when she was 15 and she believed that Black was her pursuer.
Giles had devoted fourteen years to investigating links to other crimes around the UK, and Clark added what he knew. Together, they made a long list of other potential victims.
But they're not the only ones to note these associations. Even as Black’s trial progressed in 1994, he was linked with numerous murders and disappearances between 1969 and 1987, stretching into Europe. Giles and Clark list over a dozen, including April Fabb, 13, who was one of the first. Clark holds a special interest in this case.
“I am convinced,” he says, “that if we keep plugging away eventually the missing pieces in April’s jigsaw, which are likely to be found in London, will provide sufficient evidence to point to Black’s involvement. Since June 2016 I have been working with a Norfolk-based medium who is trying to locate where April’s remains are buried. This work is on-going.”
He presents "a type of profiling of the offender which I shall refer to as chronological profiling. This is where we think of an offender in terms of the number of times he kills or attacks and their frequency on a timeline, examining any potential gaps, and then see if there are linked cases that can fill in those gaps of offending.”
In 2011, Black went to trial for Jennifer Cardy's murder. Giles describes the process in minute detail, day by day, to show how a circumstantial case was carefully formed to support a fourth conviction. Just five years later, Black died in prison.
Although Black is gone, it’s still possible to close some of these cases. The authors hope to raise awareness about the missing and murdered girls in the hope that they might jog some memories or encourage reluctant witnesses to come forward with more information. It's frustrating to be so close to solving a case and just lacking some vital link.
Perhaps DNA testing on the bracelet removed from Clark's home will have retained DNA that proves it was Suzanne's. Such a finding would help to solve at least this mystery.
“If the full truth of the past crimes and life this man led ever becomes known,” writes Giles, “then I suspect he could be accounted the worst serial child killer and one of the worst serial killers the UK and Europe has ever had stalking its lands.”
Giles, R., & Clark, C. (2017). The Face of Evil: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert Black. John Blake.