Edinburgh crime: The murder of Portobello youngster Caroline Hogg by Robert Black 40 years on
It was a warm and sunny evening on July 8, 1983, when five-year-old Caroline Hogg went out to play on Portobello Promenade. After spending the day at a friend’s party, the youngster wanted to soak up a few more minutes of sunshine before she was called inside to get ready for bed.
Standing at the garden gate of her family’s Beach Lane home, Caroline told her parents Annette and John that she’d return to them a short time later. But it was the last time the couple would see their daughter alive. A short time later, when Annette went out to call Caroline, the schoolgirl was nowhere to be seen. The family searched the beachfront for any sign of the girl, but in the end they were forced to call the police and wait for answers.
Caroline’s disappearance rocked Edinburgh, and hundreds turned out to join the search for the youngster. Ten days after they last saw her, Caroline’s parents received the news that would change the course of their lives forever. The body of a young girl had been found on land off the M1 in Leicestershire, and the 3ft 6 body was that of Caroline.
It was after that tragic discovery that police began to seriously link Caroline’s death with that of another schoolgirl – 11-year-old Susan Maxwell, whose body had been found just 30 or so miles away from where Caroline had been dumped. Susan had gone missing from her home in Cornhill on Tweed, close to the Scottish border, a year before Caroline vanished.
A joint investigation was launched and Hector Clark, deputy chief constable of Northumbria Police, was chosen to lead the inquiry. Incident rooms were set up at Leith’s police station and in Northumberland. The investigation saw 189,000 witness statements taken, but police and the families of the young girls would have to wait years before the person responsible for the girls’ deaths was caught.
In 1990, a retired postman in the Scottish Borders looked up just in time to see a young girl be bundled into the side of a van, which was parked near his home. Police soon caught up with the man, who had been described by the witness as ‘scruffy looking’, and by the end of the day, they had him in custody. The man was Robert Black and he would go down in history as one of Scotland’s most monstrous serial killers.
Born in Grangemouth and raised in Falkirk, Black went on trial in 1994 accused of murdering Caroline, Susan and 10-year-old Sarah Harper from Leeds, whose body had been found in the River Trent in 1986. He had also been charged with kidnapping another 15-year-old girl. Black was found guilty and was handed 12 life sentences. In 2011, he was also convicted of murdering a nine-year-old girl in Northern Ireland two years before Caroline was killed. He is believed to be responsible for the sexual assaults and deaths of countless other youngsters.
Black suffered a heart attack and died in his prison cell in 2016 when he was 68 years old. His inquest went ahead without any relatives present and his ashes were scattered at sea, as no family of the murderer came forward following an appeal by authorities.
This July will mark 40 years since Caroline was preyed on and snatched, just metres from her family home, and her death has haunted the Capital ever since. Not only do many say it marked the end of Portobello’s reputation as a buzzing seaside resort – which had once been the place to go for British holidaymakers – but it helped usher in the era of terrified parents watching their children’s every move. They were unwilling to let them out without knowing where they were going, who they were going with and when they would be back.
Childhood as many knew it changed from that day on, as Caroline’s disappearance marked the end of the carefree and innocent days many young people in the city’s seaside suburb had enjoyed. Just like Caroline’s life, and all she had to look forward to, those days of summer had been cruelly cut short.