Caroline Hogg murder: City scarred 30 years on

Caroline Hogg
Caroline Hogg
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IT was a sunny evening on July 8, 1983 when five-year-old Caroline Hogg – still wearing a pretty gingham dress from an afternoon party – was playing happily on Portobello Promenade.

The lively youngster had begged her mother, Annette, for a few more minutes outside to go to the seaside swing park near her home.

Robert Black was eventually convicted of Caroline's murder. Picture: PA

Robert Black was eventually convicted of Caroline's murder. Picture: PA

Witnesses would later report seeing her riding a 
double-decker bus on a roundabout at the popular Fun City 

But after it stopped, Caroline walked away hand-in-hand with a “scruffy-looking” man who had just paid 15p to the cashier for her turn as he stood nearby and watched.

That happy little girl would never be seen again and, 30 years later, her murder continues to haunt Edinburgh and the minds of the detectives who 
finally caught her killer.

Former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police Tom Wood still remembers the exact moment he realised the police had their man after van driver Robert Black – a serial child killer who would eventually be convicted of four murders while remaining a suspect in many more – was arrested in 1990.

Black had been caught with a six-year-old girl in his van in the Borders village of Stow and Mr Wood, a senior detective on the Caroline Hogg inquiry, saw the police report and immediately spotted the connection.

“I just thought, ‘that’s got to be him’. It rang bells right away,” he said today.

When Caroline disappeared on that summer evening three decades ago, police were already probing the murder of 11-year-old Susan Maxwell, from Cornhill-on-Tweed, just over the English side of the Border, who was last seen on July 30, 1982.

Now retired, Mr Wood said: “A lot of children would go missing at Portobello Promenade but they’d be found after a couple of hours.

“For the first few hours the focus was on searching the area to find her alive. Thousands of people became involved. There were so many they had to be coordinated from Portobello Town Hall.”

As residents desperately combed the city for any sign of the youngster, Mr Wood said the “abundant similarities” with the abduction of Susan Maxwell were already moving to the forefront.

He said: “It was a jump to make but we had an eye on a joint inquiry with Northumberland Police. After a few days it became clear that Caroline was not in the area, and that’s when the criminal investigation really kicked in.

“Caroline was quite distinctive because she had been at a party earlier that day, and was very smartly dressed in her prettiest clothes. Many people came forward who thought they’d seen her. Some had and some hadn’t. The difficulty became sorting them out. Witnesses also said she’d been seen with a scruffy-looking man.

“It was becoming a huge 
investigation. Then, ten days after she vanished, we received a call that a child’s body had been found in Leicestershire.”

The 3ft 6in body was that of Caroline Hogg. It had been discovered in a ditch around 300 miles from her Portobello home.

Robert Thomson, a former reporter at the Evening News, was part of the paper’s team which covered the Caroline Hogg case.

He said: “I was one of the first reporters down at the scene when the story broke. There was a lot of fear and worry in Portobello about what had happened to her.

“It was a really big case in Edinburgh and one that everyone in the city from that time still remembers. I still think about it every time I’m down in Portobello.”

Hector Clark, deputy chief constable of Northumbria Police, was chosen to lead a joint murder inquiry, with officers determined to avoid the organisational mistakes which had plagued the earlier Yorkshire Ripper case.

Incident rooms were set up in Northumberland and at Leith police station, where Mr Wood was based for his role.

He said: “I was the statement reader. I read all the statements and tried to make sure nothing was missed while ordering further actions.

“We were also given one of the first fax machines. They’re now considered old hat, but at the time they were brand new and allowed us to fax photo transfers between incident rooms.”

Eventually the Black inquiry would accumulate 189,000 witness statements, an unparalleled number in British criminal history. And the Caroline Hogg case was one of the first to appear on the BBC’s 
Crimewatch programme, an appeal coordinated by Mr Wood.

Mr Wood said the pressure to find the killer never went away.

He said: “There had been a huge public clamour surrounding the case, a comparison which had probably only been seen in the World’s End murders. There was the same feeling in the city and it was very, very high profile.

“But like the World’s End case, it never went away as the years passed. Her murder never stopped being 

Black was finally arrested in Stow just over seven years after Caroline Hogg disappeared, and it was 1994 before he would go on trial for the murders of the three girls and the 
kidnapping of 15-year-old Teresa Thornhill in April 1988. Found guilty, he was jailed for life with a minimum of 35 years.

Mr Wood said the events of July 8, 1983 had a legacy which impacted both the Capital and its police force.

He added: “It was really the death of Portobello Promenade. It was the place to go in its heyday in the post-war years with all the shows. It was already declining in the 1960s and 1970s, but Caroline’s abduction knocked the area on its head. It became a place that people did not want to go, a haunted place, and it’s only recovering now.

“In the past 100 years, the Caroline Hogg and World’s End murders are probably still the biggest investigations the force has had. Not just in the sense of scale but on the impact they had on the public. They were terrible crimes which have imprinted themselves indelibly on the memories of the people of Edinburgh.”

Bringing pervert to justice

August 1981: Black is in Northern Ireland working as a delivery driver for a London-based poster company when nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy is abducted. Her body is found near her home in Ballinderry.

1982: Black abducts and murders 11-year-old Susan Maxwell from Cornhill-on-Tweed in northern England.

1983: Five-year-old Caroline Hogg disappears after being last seen playing on Portobello Promenade. Her body is found ten days later in a ditch in Leicestershire.

1986: Ten-year-old Sarah Harper is abducted as she walks from a shop near her home in Morley, Leeds. Her body is discovered in the River Trent.

1988: Attempted abduction of 15-year-old Theresa Thornhill in the Radford area of Nottingham. Black tries to drag her into his van but the teenager fights him off.

1990: Black is caught when he abducts a six-year-old girl in the village of Stow in the Borders. She was gagged, bound and stuffed in a sleeping bag in his van when police stopped him.

1994: Black is convicted of the murders of Susan, Caroline and Sarah.

2011: Black is convicted of the murder of Jennifer Cardy.

Links to unsolved European crimes

A DIAGNOSED psychopath, Robert Black first attempted to rape a young girl in a field at the age of 12.

Now 66 years old, he has admitted to molesting 30 to 40 girls as a teenager, and was convicted of a sex attack on a seven-year-old when he was 17.

In 1976, he began working as a van driver delivering posters to depots around England and Scotland. After his arrest in 1990, detectives spent four years piecing together his work records to connect his movements to the murders of Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper.

In 2011, he was convicted of murdering nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy in Northern Ireland in 1981. Last month he lost an appeal against that conviction.

Black has been linked to up to ten unsolved abductions and murders in England, as well as others in France, Amsterdam, Ireland and Germany.