The Jennifer Cardy Story

Ballinderry, Co. Antrim

12 August 1981 

The notorious paedophile Robert Black, already serving prison terms for the slaughter of Susan Maxwell, Caroline Hogg and Sarah Harper, was sentenced at Belfast Crown Court after being found guilty of killing nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy.

The court heard how the little girl had been cycling to a friend's house in Ballinderry, County Antrim, in 1981 when she was snatched by Black, while he was on a work trip to Ireland.

The 1981 death of Jennifer Cardy remained unsolved for three decades, until now. As serial killer Robert Black starts a life sentence for murdering the nine-year-old, the BBC's Karen Atkinson looks back at his trail of terror - and at a senseless killing that had the power to shock, even in the darkest days of the Troubles.

It seemed like any other ordinary summer afternoon - 12 August 1981.

Jennifer Cardy was enjoying her school break and about to set off from home on her new red bicycle to visit a friend.

A cruel twist of fate meant she never arrived.

The nine-year-old's bike was later found dumped in a field not far from where her family lived in Ballinderry near Lisburn.

Her disappearance sparked one of the biggest searches in Northern Ireland, with police, the Army and hundreds of local volunteers getting involved.


One of them was the SDLP politician Dolores Kelly, who was a young student at the time.

"The whole community was stunned at the fact that a young child had, seemingly, disappeared off the face of the earth," she said.

"Volunteers went through all the fields and ditches and drains, but it was really soul-destroying that there was no sign of Jennifer. People really felt for the Cardy family."

Andrew and Patricia Cardy faced every parent's worst nightmare and made several appeals for their daughter's safe return, but that hope was shattered just six days after Jennifer went missing.

Her body was found by two duck hunters at McKee's Dam near Hillsborough on 18 August.

Robert Black had abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered the young girl.

At that time, the serial killer was a dispatch driver for a London-based poster company and often used the A1 - which is yards from the dam - for deliveries.

Black convicted on 27th October 2011

Black admitted being in Northern Ireland on the day that Jennifer went missing and petrol receipts, produced by the prosecution during his trial, proved that was the case.

The crowds who had scoured the fields for Jennifer also turned out for her funeral.

Reverend William Beattie was a friend of the Cardy family and officiated at the service.

"She was a lively and bright little girl - very well-mannered and behaved. She seemed to be an ideal daughter and was a real gem of a person," he said.

Jennifer Cardy was not the first, nor the last young girl attacked by Robert Black.

Born in Scotland, the 64-year-old was a predatory paedophile with a long history of sexually abusing young girls.

In 1963, when he was 16, he abused a seven-year-old girl in a disused air shelter near his then home in Greenock near Glasgow.

When he was 19, he was convicted of indecently assaulting the young daughter of the family he had been lodging with.

He killed again in 1982.

This time Susan Maxwell from the village of Cornhill-on-Tweed, close to the border between Scotland and England.

Grim discovery

Like Jennifer, Susan was sexually assaulted and her body dumped close to a lay-by.

A year later, Caroline Hogg disappeared from outside her home in the seaside resort of Portobello, just outside Edinburgh.

Ten days later, the five-year-old's body was found in a ditch in Leicestershire.

A third girl, 10-year-old Sarah Harper, was abducted as she walked from a corner shop near her home in Morley, Leeds.

She was murdered by Black and her body discovered in the River Trent in Nottingham.

The deaths sparked one of the biggest joint police investigations in British criminal history, with six forces involved, but still Black evaded capture.

It was not until 1990 that Black was caught in the act, when he abducted a six-year-old girl in the village of Stow in the Scottish borders.

Thanks to the vigilance of a member of the public, Black was stopped and the child rescued.

She was found hidden in a sleeping bag in the back of the killer's van.

The incident led police to Black, who was given a life sentence for the abduction, and in 1994 he was convicted of the murders of Susan, Caroline and Sarah.

For those who investigated Black's crimes - and had an insight into the mind of this serial killer - the picture painted is a chilling one.

"He (Black) was a co-operative individual in a sense, but very closed and very controlled. There was a coldness in his empty eyes," said Roger Orr, a retired detective chief superintendent with Lothian and Borders Police.

"In police interviews, any time we would close in on specific details, he would sit and stare at you for long periods of time, in complete silence.


"I believe I've come to know the man as well as anyone will know him - it's a continuing professional interest."

For the families of Black's victims, there is no escaping the legacy of hurt and loss that he has caused them.

Susan Maxwell's brother Tom was just three when she died and aged 14 when Black was convicted of her murder.

He said seeing the serial killer sent to prison did not bring the Maxwell family closure, and they still take each day as it comes.

"A few years ago, I remember my mum saying to me that she had gone through this period of immense hatred for Robert Black," he said.

"Now though, he's nothing, we try not to think of him. All we think about is Susan and the good times we had with her, even if it was only for 11 years."

In a quiet and peaceful part of Ballinderry is the cemetery where Jennifer Cardy is buried.

If she had lived, Jennifer would have been almost 40, perhaps with a family of her own.

But Robert Black robbed her - and his other victims - of any future.

For that he is now paying the price.

Jennifer Cardy

Killer: Robert Black, was convicted of abducting nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy, in his van as she cycled to a friends house in 1981 and killing her then dumping her body at a beauty spot nearby.

The former delivery driver kidnapped the little girl before dumping her body in water close to the main Belfast to Dublin route near Hillsborough, County Antrim.

He then drove to the ferry terminal and fled to the mainland.

Sentencing him to serve a minimum term of 25 years Mr Justice Ronald Weatherup told Black: 'Your crime was particularly serious. You subjected a vulnerable child to unpardonable terror and took away her life.'

As lawyers debated the length of prison term he should receive, Black's defence counsel David Spens QC told the court that no plea for mercy could be offered for his client.

He said: 'This is one of those rare cases in which there is no mitigation and so I propose to say nothing in that regard.'

Black was convicted of Jennifer's murder by a unanimous verdict in October following a six-week trial at Armagh Crown Court.

He is already serving multiple life terms in Wakefield prison after he was found guilty in 1994 of three unsolved child murders in the 1980s - those of 11-year-old Susan Maxwell, from the Scottish Borders, five-year-old Caroline Hogg, from Edinburgh, and Sarah Harper, 10, from Morley, near Leeds.

Prosecution barrister Toby Hedworth QC argued that Black should face a whole life term given his other killings.

And added that killings subsequently carried out by the former delivery driver should be taken into consideration.

He also told the court that jail terms set in 1994 would have been higher had his other crimes been known.

'This is a man who has committed four murders rather than three murders or one murder,' he said.

Jennifer's parents, Andy and Pat, were in court as Judge Weatherup denied the plea and added 25 years to Black's jail time telling him that he would be 89 before he was considered for release.

Only 40 killers in the UK have been told formally that they will never be released, including serial killers Moor Murderer Ian Brady and Rose West.

Detectives are now reviewing evidence against Black in connection with another girl's disappearance.

The jury were not told about the other girls whose lives Black may have cruelly taken during two decades in which he criss-crossed the British Isles and Europe delivering posters in his van.

Black, flanked by prison officers in the dock, and only a few feet away from Jennifer's parents, was handcuffed before he was led away.

The judge said of Jennifer's murder: 'This was an act of sexual predation.'

He added: 'Victim impact statements have been provided by Jennifer's father and her brother Phillip. 

'Her father speaks poignantly about Jennifer, of the family's awareness of Jennifer's absence from all family occasions, and of the harrowing revelations in the course of the trial.'

Black's reign of terror finally ended in 1990 when he was caught red handed with a six-year-girl hooded, bound, gagged and stuffed in a sleeping bag in the back of his van in the Scottish village of Stow. He had sexually assaulted her moments earlier.

During his trial for Jennifer's murder, Black did not betray a flicker of emotion, presenting an unwavering picture of cold indifference.

Police investigated as many as 40 further cases in the 1990s to uncover whether there were links to Black. Twelve possible killings are understood to have been linked to him.

Those cases include; April Fabb, aged 13, killed in Norfolk in 1969, Christine Markham, six, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, 1973, Mary Boyle, seven, from Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, 1977. Her body has never been found, Susanne Lawrence, 14, Essex, 1979, Pamela Hastie, 16, Johnstone, Scotland, 1981, Patsy Morris, 14, Feltham, west London, 1990.

In addition detectives in France are examining links between Black and the killings of four schoolgirls who were abducted near Paris in 1987, and a seven-year-old in Amsterdam in 1986.

Black was jailed for life in 1994, but detectives were determined to put him on trial for other killings, and two years ago he was charged with murdering Jennifer.

Her body was found six days later 15 miles away at Hillsborough, Co Down.

Black has never spoken about the killings, but immediately after his arrest in 1990 he opened up about his depravity, telling police: ‘I’ve always liked young girls since I was a young kid.’

When interviewed 15 years later by detectives investigating Jennifer Cardy’s murder, Black admitted seeing being attracted by her outfit of short socks, shorts and a T-shirt.

From The Belfast Telegraph:

The father of schoolgirl Jennifer Cardy said last night that Robert Black, the serial killer who murdered his daughter and who has died in Maghaberry Prison, "would be spending eternity in the flames of Hell".

Andy Cardy, who revealed that he and wife Pat had a premonition that Black was about to die, said: "Unless he sought and found redemption with the Lord, which is very unlikely, he will be a paedophile in Hell without salvation and he will be all on his own there for the rest of time, and that will be an awful place for him to be in.

Andy Cardy, who revealed that he and wife Pat had a premonition that Black was about to die, said: "Unless he sought and found redemption with the Lord, which is very unlikely, he will be a paedophile in Hell without salvation and he will be all on his own there for the rest of time, and that will be an awful place for him to be in.
Jennifer's parents, Andy and Pat in their Ballinderry home.

Speaking at their Ballinderry home, the Cardys opened their hearts about how they felt when a PSNI officer who had worked on the murder inquiry rang yesterday evening to break the news that Black had died at the high-security prison.

Mrs Cardy said that she felt "gutted" that the relatives of Genette Tate, the Devon teenager who vanished without trace in 1978, "would never see Black stand trial for her murder". Black was the prime suspect.

Black, who worked as a delivery driver, abducted and assaulted Jennifer before throwing her body in McKee's Dam, near Hillsborough. Already serving a life sentence at the time of his trial for her murder, he was sentenced to another 25 years and told he would be 89 before he would be considered for release.

But she said that his death had brought back memories of the trial, when she had found it "harrowing" even being in the same room as Black.

"That was a terrible ordeal," she added. "He saw my face, he saw Andrew's face, he watched me giving testimony. How he sat there, how he looked, how blasé he became in front of you. Maybe as a woman I felt a particular kind of connection with things... I just had an instinct about him... and I saw a man who knew Jennifer, who remembered explicitly when he had been with her and what he had done to her. I saw a man who relished his memories. When the murders in England, for which he'd been convicted, were disclosed again at the trial, he relished that.

"He wanted to hold his personal memories of what he had done so that if and when he went to bed that night he would enjoy it. I saw that in him."

She also believed that he took pleasure from witnessing her own distress, particularly on one occasion when she fled the courtroom in tears: "They were playing tapes of his interrogation and the details were gruesome. He saw me walk out and I know that pleased him.

"He would have thought that he was the only one who could do that to me, who had that power."

Mrs Cardy said that she did not feel relief that Black was dead: "I don't feel relief because he did not hold anything over us. There was an ease that came with his conviction because essentially he was still the man he was in 1981.

"He still wanted to be out there in his van. He wanted to be looking for a little girl in white socks. He still dreamt about what he could do to her."

And she also revealed that on occasion she had considered attempting to meet Black in prison. "I don't know if when it came to it I would have had the strength to go through with it, or indeed what I would have said to him, but it is something I have thought about from time to time."

The Cardys, who are deeply religious, still think every day of the daughter they lost so tragically.

Mrs Cardy said: "Jennifer would never be far from our thoughts. It's not as if we need to sit down and deliberately think of her. She is just always here with us." The couple also have two sons, Mark and Philip, and a daughter Victoria, who was just eight months old when Jennifer was murdered and whom Mrs Cardy believes was a gift from God.

She revealed: "I had been sterilised for medical reasons on the advice of doctors one-and-a-half years before Victoria was born, so there was this great talk in the Royal when she arrived about how it could possibly have happened.

"But I believe that we were given another baby girl because the Lord knew that Jennifer would be gone. When you are Christians, the Lord works everything."

Having to get up every day and look after the baby helped pull Mrs Cardy through those dreadful early days following Jennifer's disappearance, but the toll on all the family was huge.

"Mark was just 13 at the time. He had the mind of a 13-year-old boy, not an adult man, and the ground was just taken from under him.

"And Philip was just six years old and his whole world was spinning. All he knew was that his sister was gone and that he wanted her back, but she wasn't there and she never came back."

Mrs Cardy said that the couple had been sustained throughout by their faith.

"The pain was incredible - when she was first taken, when her body was found, the post mortem - yet we were never put down with grief.

"We came through with a great reassurance and relationship with the Lord."

Remarkably, Mrs Cardy also said that she did not hate Black. "When I looked at this man, I saw a man under the power of a sin that controlled him, and he would have that dominion of sin over little girls for the rest of his life.

"He could have had a great turn in his life, that is humanly possible, but I think it is unlikely that he did so. And if he did not repent, then he has no home with the Lord.

"We could not have survived this without our faith. I know other families who have lost loved ones because of Robert Black and their lives have been destroyed.

"Thankfully, as my husband said at the end of the trial, he destroyed Jennifer's life, but he did not destroy our family."

Belfast Telegraph

From BBC News:

Black had a history of abducting, abusing and murdering young girls.

In addition to his four murder convictions for killing Jennifer Cardy, Sarah Harper, Susan Maxwell and Caroline Hogg, Black had also been convicted of other attempted abductions and was suspected of other unsolved crimes against children.

Jennifer was nine in August 1981 when Black kidnapped and killed her close to her home in Ballinderry, County Antrim.

Grey line

BBC NI reporter Gordon Adair's Cardy trial memories:

Rarely, if ever, have I seen an outpouring of emotion like that triggered when the jury foreman at Armagh Crown Court uttered the single word 'guilty' in 2011. Thirty years after her death, justice had finally caught up with Jennifer Cardy's killer.

Jennifer's family, jurors, journalists, and even detectives wept. The only person who showed no emotion was Robert Black.

He sat - as he had done throughout the trial - gazing towards the front of the court. No matter how horrific or distressing the evidence had been, he demonstrated not a single flicker of concern; not for Jennifer, not for her family.

Black never accepted his guilt, never showed any remorse, never apologised. At his sentencing, his barrister took the unusual step of standing up, saying: "I intend to say nothing in mitigation" and sitting back down.

Looking back now on Black's life there is, again, little to be said in mitigation.

Grey line

Mrs Cardy told BBC News NI that she feels no bitterness towards her daughter's murderer and would have liked to have spoken to him before his death in jail in a bid to change his "wasted" life, that was full of "depravity".

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