Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Black

Sudden Mindless Violence

Gossip spreads quickly in small towns. Sacked from his job without reason, and his place in the community undermined, Black headed back to Kinlochleven where he had been brought up. Again he took a room with a couple who had a young daughter, and again the inevitable happened. The seven-year-old girl was subjected to the same type of digital intrusion that was typical of Blacks behaviour. When the abuse came to light Black was not so fortunate as he had been in Grangemouth and the police were called to deal with the situation. In March 1967 Black was found guilty of three counts of indecent assault and sentenced to a year of borstal training to be served at Polmont, near Grangemouth.

On his release, Black had tired of Scotland where he was getting too well-known, and where his police record was expanding. It was time to go south, to the anonymity of London. Although he avoided any criminal convictions in the 1970s his obsession with young girls was growing, fuelled by his discovery of child pornography. In the 1970s Black discovered that magazines such as Teenage Sex and Lollitots were clandestinely available, particularly in places like Amsterdam where the pornography laws are less stringent. When Black's room was eventually searched by police in the 1990s they found over a hundred child pornography magazines and over 50 video tapes, with titles such as Lesbian Lolita. When Ray Wyre asked Black what he thought the age of consent should be, Black replied approvingly that someone had once told him that his motto was, "When they're big enough, they're old enough."

When he first arrived in London, Black lived in cheap bed-sits and took casual work where he could find it. His favourite job was that of swimming-pool attendant, where he was sometimes able to go underneath the pool and remove the lights to look at little girls as they swam. At night he used to break into the baths and swim lengths - with a broom-handle lodged up his anus. It wasnt long before Black became the subject of a complaint from a girl who claimed that he had touched her. The police were called but luck was on Black's side and despite his record he was not charged with any criminal offence, although he lost his job.

When he was not working, Black had developed a liking for darts and was a distinctly useful player. Most of his spare time was spent in pubs: drinking (although never heavily), playing in various darts teams, or doing part-time bar work. Although he enjoyed going to pubs, Black never made any good friends as he was a solitary man. Michael Collier, the former landlord of the Baring Arms in Islington where Black played for the pub team, recalls that:

"for all the years he drank in my pub you would never have called him a mate. He always drank pints of lager shandy but he never got involved in rounds. When he wasn't playing darts he just stood by the fruit machine. He was a bit of a wind-up merchant and enjoyed irritating people, particularly women... He never talked about himself and he never spoke about his interests or joined in conversations."

The former world darts champion, Eric Bristow, who knew Black from the amateur darts circuit in north London similarly remembers him as "a loner" who "never turned up with a girlfriend or anything. He just wasn't the type. He was a regular guy who would come into the pub and play darts."

Robert Black's residence (Atlantic Syndication Partners)
Robert Black's residence
(Atlantic Syndication

Black met Eddie and Kathy Rayson in a pub in Stamford Hill in 1972. They got chatting and Black told them how he needed a place to live. The Raysons attic room was free, and although Eddie wasn't too keen initially, Kathy said that Black seemed like a "big softie" so they decided to take him in. After Blacks conviction in 1994, Eddie Rayson remembered Black as "a perfect tenant. He always paid the rent on time and never caused us any problems." He used to eat meals with the couple and their children (who had nicknamed him 'Smelly Bob'), and they occasionally went up to his room to listen to music or play cards, but other than that they rarely saw him. Although Eddie Rayson says that he "was a bit like a father to him", Black never talked to him about personal matters or his past. Eddie and Kathy's son, Paul, says of Black, "He was a bit odd and as kids growing up we called him names mainly because he smelled. But he was an ideal tenant." In fact, he was "more than just a tenant but not what you would call a friend... not the sort of person you would ever be able to get close to, or would want to."

The Raysons say that Black was a keen photographer and they sometimes jokingly called him David Bailey. It later transpired that one of his favourite pastimes was to go to the seaside or a playground which was frequented by young children and video them playing or take snap-shots of them. Photography not only serves as a source of images that can be chosen to excite but it is also frequently used in a documentary sense: to provide the killer with a chronicle of his own history. As such, of course, the killer becomes the hero of his own world: the maker of it, the director, the protagonist.

Robert Black - mugshot (MEN Syndication)
Robert Black -
(MEN Syndication)

In 1976 Black began to work for a firm called Poster Dispatch and Storage (PDS) as a driver. His job was to deliver posters to various depots around England and Scotland. It was ideal work for him: he was a bad time-keeper so it suited him to keep basically to his own schedule, and as a loner he found driving for hours by himself an agreeable way to earn a living. He worked for PDS for the next ten years until his employers were forced to dismiss him as he was constantly getting involved in minor car accidents and costing the company a fortune in insurance payments. Luckily for Black, shortly after his dismissal PDS was bought out by two employees who gave him his job back. He continued to get into scrapes, but he was a hard worker and was always glad to cover for his work-mates, doing the longer runs which the other drivers disliked as they interfered with their family commitments. Black frequently did the London to Scotland run, often stopping in the Midlands on his way back to see the Raysons son John and his new family.

In the back of his van he would keep various objects as masturbatory tools, to be inserted up his anus while he fantasised about touching young girls. He later told police that he would get into the back of his van on night runs and dress himself in girl's clothing, particularly swimming costumes, while he was masturbating. He told Ray Wyre that over the years the recollection and image of the assault in which he had left the seven-year-old girl for dead kept returning. The assault would have been replayed and extended in Black's mind so often that when it finally drove him to his first murder it seemed a perfectly natural progression to him. But the fantasy is never totally fulfilled, the deep anger and frustration never finally resolved and tragically the cycle of fantasy and murder repeats itself. There is always the desire to re-enact the sequence in the quest for ultimate fulfilment.

The FBI maintain that serial killers actually murder because of their thought processes, which constitute their motivation: "fantasy assumes a crucial role in sexual murders... these men murder because of the way they think... these cognitive acts gradually lead to the conscious planning and justification for murderous acts." But surely citation of the primacy of fantasy and its enactment cannot answer a causal question. The further question of what causes the fantasy remains. Fantasies and thought processes must be caused by something, and we must assume that these origins are to be found in their personal histories. The reality of Robert Black as a child - his double loss of the mother, lack of a father, his feelings of rejection, of being unloved, the constant moving from place to place, and his sexual abuse from an older adult meant to be in the role of carer and protector - was a reality so devoid of either love or hope that fantasies involving domination and the perverse search for the lost mother/child are understandable.


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