Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Black

Sudden Mindless Violence

It was 14 July 1990, a sunny day in the village of Stow in the Scottish Borders and six-year-old Mandy Wilson was walking to her friend's house to play. As she walked down the road one of her neighbours, David Herkes, watched her approach a van with its passenger door open. Herkes later told the police in his statement that as he bent down to look at his mower blades,

All I could see were her little feet standing next to the man's. Suddenly they vanished and I saw him making movements as if he were trying to stuff something under the dashboard. He got into the van, reversed up the driveway the child had just come from and sped off towards Edinburgh.

David Herkes had the presence of mind to take the vans registration number, and then quickly rang the police. Police cars were promptly on the scene and the van's description was radioed to officers in the area. Herkes remembers what happened next:

I was standing near the spot where the child had been abducted, briefing the police and the girl's distraught father about what had happened. Suddenly I saw the van again and shouted 'That's him'. The officer dashed into the road and the van swerved to avoid him before coming to a halt.

While officers handcuffed the man who identified himself as Robert Black, Mandys father, Mr Wilson, recalls:

I shouted at Black 'That's my daughter - what have you done to her, you bastard?' But his reaction was nil, he had no expression. I could have got my hands round his throat there and then, but my concern was for my daughter, not him. Where was she? Was she alive or, God forbid, dead? I went straight for a pile of rags just behind the seat and felt a little body inside the sleeping bag... I can't tell you how I felt as I unwrapped her from the bag and saw her little face bright red from the heat and lack of air. She was so terrified as I untied her and took the tape from her mouth that she didn't utter a word.

Before Black had tied Mandy's hands behind her back, covered her mouth with Elastoplast and shoved her into a sleeping-bag, he had sexually assaulted her. He later told Ray Wyre that, "I pulled her pants to one side and I had a look. I thought I'd just sort of stroked [her vagina]... but there was bruising on the inside - I don't know how." He then told Wyre what he would have done if he had not been caught:

When I'd done the delivery in Galashiels down the road, I would have assaulted Mandy sexually. I would have probably stripped her from the waist down, but I would have untied her and probably took the plaster off her mouth. And if she called out when I was assaulting her, then I might have put the gag back on.

More specifically, Wyre quotes Dr Baird, psychologist for the Crown, who Black told that,

he would have put things into her vagina 'to see how big she was'. He would have put his fingers in and also his penis. When asked about other objects, he agreed he might have put other objects into her vagina, and when asked for an example, he saw a pen with which I was writing...

When Wyre asked Black how he could do such a devastating thing to a child while simultaneously claiming (as he had done previously) that he loved children, Black admitted that "I wasn't thinking about her at all... like, you know, what she must be feeling". If she had died "it would have been a pure accident".

This extraordinary dissociation, which transforms the little girl into a simple object, is frequently to be found in the cases of other serial killers, but in Blacks case it seemed to preclude the sadism that takes pleasure in the victims sufferings. The child became a plaything, to be experimented with, poked, probed, and eventually disposed of. It seems to have been a matter of indifference to Black whether she objected to the process or not.

Robert Black under escort (MEN Syndication)
Robert Black under escort
(MEN Syndication)

On the way to Selkirk police station Black told officers that the abduction was "a rush of blood" and added, "I have always liked little girls since I was a kid." He said that he had just wanted to keep her until he had done his next delivery and then he would have "spent some time with her", maybe in Blackpool. Then he would have let her go.

Robert Blacks case came to trial the next month, on 10 August 1990. As the evidence in this particular case was overwhelming Black had little choice but to plead guilty. In light of the plea the job of the prosecution was simply to give the facts of the case, which the Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser, did, stressing that medical opinion said that Mandy would probably have been dead within the hour if she had been kept bound and gagged in the sleeping-bag. Dr Baird's report for the Crown said that Black was, and would remain, a danger to children. The task of the defence was to speak in mitigation. To this end, Herbert Kerrigan said that Black had admitted to liking little girls but had never before acted upon his desires. The abduction had been a one-off, and Black merely wanted to spend some time with Mandy; he did not intend to injure her, certainly not to kill her. Furthermore, Black had accepted that he was a threat to children and, said Kerrigan, "wishes to engage in some sort of programme to get assistance".

Dismissing the arguments of the defence, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Ross, described Mandys abduction as being "carried out with chilling, cold calculation." "This was", he said, "no 'rush of blood', as you have claimed. This is a very serious case, an horrific, appalling case." Lord Ross sentenced Black to life imprisonment and told him that his release would not "be considered until such time as it is safe to do so".

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