Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Black

Sudden Mindless Violence

Susan Maxwell (MEN Syndication)
Susan Maxwell
(MEN Syndication)

It was a hot afternoon on the penultimate day of July in 1982, and 11-year-old Susan Maxwell had asked her mother, Liz, if she could cycle to the tennis game which she was going to play with her friend Alison Raeburn. Liz was reluctant to let Susan cycle on her own as she was worried about the traffic, but after some consideration she told her daughter that she could walk if she liked. Susan had never yet walked anywhere alone, but at some point a child has to be allowed to start the process of independence. The Maxwells lived in a farmhouse outside Cornhill on Tweed, a small village on the English side of the English-Scottish border. Susans tennis game was across the Scottish border in Coldstream, about two miles from her home, and on a route where Susan would know most everybody she passed on the way. It was an area where people looked out for one another - particularly for the children.

In the end Susan didnt walk to her game as one of the farm-workers going into Coldstream offered her a lift, but she planned to walk back. When four o'clock came and it was time for Susan to be walking home, Liz decided to go and pick her up. Liz remembers, She wasnt expecting me. But I thought, Its a very hot afternoon; after shes been playing tennis for an hour, shell be hot and sticky and too tired to walk back. So I put the wee ones in the back and we went over. On the way there, where Liz was expecting to encounter Susan on her way home, there was no sign of her. At the Lennel Tennis Club and on the return journey to the farm, Susan was still nowhere to be found. A phone call to Susans friend Alison quickly established that she had left Susan making her way home. I started to panic then, said Liz, and Fordyce [her husband] said to just phone the police straightaway.

The police were called and inquiries swiftly began. Many people had seen Susan that afternoon, both people who knew her, and people who simply remembered a little girl, dressed in yellow, swinging a tennis racket. These sightings of Susan were numerous until a certain point just over the Tweed bridge, yards across the border into England. She was seen as she crossed the bridge by several people at about half past four and then she was gone. Nobody had seen her abduction, but in the space of a moment she had vanished.

The days after Susans presumed abduction were spent meticulously combing the countryside and looking for clues to her disappearance. After the Northumbria police appealed for volunteers nearly two thirds of the population of Cornhill joined in the search. Fordyce himself went out every day with the search parties. As the Maxwells were journalists themselves, they spoke to the press constantly in the belief that it could only be beneficial to keep Susan in the public eye. It was after one such media event that the news which they had been dreading finally arrived, two weeks after Susans disappearance. On Friday 13 August Liz and Fordyce had been on Radio 2 talking of Susans abduction and appealing to the public for information. When they returned, the police were waiting for them. Liz recalls: He [the officer] said theyd found a little girl. And I remember he wouldnt say the word dead. He just said: This little girl is not alive. And that was when the sort of coldness spread right through me.

A man named Arthur Meadows had found Susans body. It was in a ditch next to a lay-by on the A518 road at Loxley, just outside of Uttoxeter in the Midlands, 250 miles from where Susan had been abducted. When Liz and Fordyce asked if they could see their daughter's body, the officer - as tactfully as he could - replied that the weather had been very warm. The body had decomposed beyond recognition after two weeks in the hot summer sun, meaning that Susan was only able to be identified by her dental records. The pathologist was not even able to determine how she had died. The only clue was that Susans pants had been removed. Her shorts were then replaced, her pants folded beneath her head. This confirmed suspicions that the motive for the attack was sexual, though what form this took has never been established.

As Susan's body was found in Staffordshire it was the job of the Staffordshire police to lead the murder hunt, although they worked closely with the Northumbria force. Witnesses of Susan's 'final walk' were re-questioned, and people who had been in the area where Susan's body had been found were located and interviewed. Photographs of the girl were widely distributed and a reconstruction staged to prompt flagging memories; hotels and caravan sites were visited to elicit information on visitors to the area at the time of the murder, who were subsequently questioned. Drivers from transport firms between Scotland and Staffordshire were interviewed. One of the most promising leads came from Mark Ball, a psychiatric nurse, who claimed to have seen a little girl matching Susan's description hitting out at a maroon Triumph 2000 with a tennis racket on the day Susan was abducted. His evidence was finally dismissed by the police, although not until some 19,000 drivers of maroon Triumphs had been questioned.

After almost a year the inquiry began to draw to a close. The manual database now comprised of about 500,000 hand-written index cards. Yet despite all the data, the investigation had reached a dead end; and like the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry, the investigation was also in imminent danger of swamping the police by generating such an immense amount of un-computerised information. Tragically, as is so often the case, it took another murder to provide the police with new information to get the investigation under way once more.

Caroline Hogg (MEN Syndication)
Caroline Hogg
(MEN Syndication)

A year later, on 8 July 1983, in the seaside resort of Portobello on the outskirts of Edinburgh, five-year-old Caroline Hogg had been having a nice day. That afternoon she had been to a friends party and after returning home for dinner she took her grandmother to the bus-stop with her mother, Annette. They returned just before seven oclock that evening and Caroline, who was still lively, begged her mother to let her go down the road for a few minutes play before bed-time. It was quite usual for Caroline to go to the playground, which was just a short walk from their house, and Annette said she could go for five minutes. Like Coldstream, Portobello is a small community where the residents all know each other. Besides, Caroline had always been told never to talk to strangers and was forbidden to go past the park to the promenade or the permanent fairground, Fun City.

Fun City (Atlantic Syndication Partners)
Fun City
(Atlantic Syndication Partners)

At 7.15 Annette, who had told Caroline to be just five minutes, sent her son Stuart to look for his sister. When he came back, unable to find her, Annette herself went out and soon the whole family were looking for Caroline. The police were called at just before eight oclock. Many people had seen the little girl that night, and some of the sightings were of Caroline with her abductor. There were reports of Caroline holding hands with a scruffy man. This man was seen looking at the girl in the playground, and then at Fun City, the place forbidden to her, where he paid for her to go on the childrens roundabout. They were last seen walking out of the back entrance of Fun City, still holding hands.  

As they had in the previous summer, the police quickly set up search parties. Caroline was abducted on Friday, by Sunday the police had more than 600 volunteers who went over every inch of the local area for any sign of her. A week later this number had risen to some 2,000 people. It was the largest search ever carried out in Scotland but they would find nothing, as Caroline, like Susan, had quickly been transported many miles south. Unlike the Maxwells, Annette and John Hogg spoke only once to the media, in a press-conference where John begged to her abductor, just bring her back... Please, let her come home; Annette, crying, told the public, We really miss her. I really miss her. There seemed to be no leads, as Superintendent Ronald Stalker candidly told the press, I am afraid that all we have to say at this stage is that we have turned up nothing at all.

Carolines body was found on 18 July in a lay-by at Twycross in Leicestershire near to the A444, the road that goes from Northampton to Coventry. Her body had been left some 300 miles from where she had been taken just as Susans had been, yet their bodies were found within just 24 miles of each other. It had been ten days since Caroline had disappeared and again the body was so decomposed from the hot weather that the cause of death was a mystery. She was identified by her hair-band and locket. Even more clearly so this time, the motive was sexual: Carolines body was completely naked.

Because of the obvious similarities in the murders of Susan and Caroline it was decided by the Chief Constables of the four forces now involved - Northumbria (where Susan was abducted), Staffordshire (where Susan was found), Edinburgh (where Caroline was abducted), and Leicestershire (where Caroline was found) - that the investigations into the murders should be made into a joint inquiry. In July 1983 the Deputy Chief Constable of the Northumbria police, Hector Clark, was put in charge. From the outset Clark had been told that part of his objective in this inquiry was to see how computers could be used to aid such an investigation. It was the first opportunity since the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry for the police to see how the early use of computers in a serial murder investigation could be beneficial.

As the amount of data from the Susan Maxwell investigation alone was immense Clark thought that the joint inquiry would be most efficient if this was computerised, which would involve transcribing all the manual files onto a computer database. The Caroline Hogg inquiry would be fed into the same database as it progressed. The idea was right, yet it was not given the go-ahead as it was felt that too much time would be spent in back-converting the files. Instead a computer programme was written for the Caroline Hogg inquiry alone, and the Susan Maxwell investigation was to remain manual.

In Portobello, witnesses on the Promenade and at Fun City were interviewed, and house-to-house inquiries were made; in Leicestershire, officers sat for weeks by the A444 taking down the registration numbers of cars that passed. LIO's (local intelligence officers) from every force in the entire country were asked to draw up lists of possible suspects. The houses of men who were established to have been on the promenade that night for 'immoral purposes' were searched; holiday-makers from as far as Australia were asked to send in rolls of camera or cine-film they had taken in Portobello. A reconstruction of Caroline's last journey was staged; parking tickets issued in Edinburgh were examined; and an artists impression was drawn up of the 'scruffy man' which prompted more than 600 names to be put forward by the public. Perhaps the most hopeful lead was from a Mr and Mrs Flynn who saw a blue Ford Cortina with a man and a scared-looking young girl in it. 20,000 drivers of blue Cortinas were interviewed. Unfortunately, as with the maroon Triumph, the lead turned out to be a red herring.

At the beginning of the summer of 1984 the police were in a similar situation to that of the previous summer. They had been diligent, they had collated a huge amount of information, yet they had no real leads, no suspects.

 

 

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