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Genette Tate: Vanished In Air

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The Genette Tate case

19 August 1978 13-year-old Genette Tate disappeared into thin air just after 3.45 on the afternoon of Saturday, 19 August 1978 whilst in the middle of holiday relief work distributing newspapers in Within Lane in Aylesbeare, a quiet village situated in East Devon just off the main A30 Honiton-to-Exeter road some three miles south-east of Exeter Airport and less than five miles from the M5 motorway, which to the north links with the M4 that runs eastwards to London and westwards to Wales.

Just five minutes previously Genettee, or ‘Ginny’ as her friends called her, had been chatting cheerfully a brief distance away around a bend with two school friends just as April Fabb had stopped to chat with friends at the donkey field. One of the girls asked Genette for her mum’s paper before she cycled off round the bend and out of sight.


That was the final time anyone saw Genette, apart from her abductor. Five minutes later the girls came across Genette’s cycle abandoned in the middle of Within Lane and the contents of her bag, newspapers, lay dispersed in the road; Genette had disappeared off the face of the earth.

Launching what was to become the hugest operation ever mounted by the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, all accessible resources were activated in the search for Genette Tate.

Instantly officers were hurried to Aylesbeare, an RAF helicopter was called in and the enormous investigation to discover what happened to Genette was underway.


The village hall was taken over as an incident room and for the following six weeks, more than eighty officers combed the fields and woodlands within a five-mile radius of the village. They were joined by Royal Marines and during one Saturday afternoon, more than 7000 members of the public reacted to an appeal for assistance in scouring nearby Woodbury Common.

Further helicopters, an RAF reconnaissance aircraft readied with the latest photographic equipment, mounted officers from Avon and Somerset, and police dogs from West Mercia specially trained to sniff out human remains searched hundreds of acres, all joined the search.

The Force Sub-Aqua Unit mounted an operation to explore 387 gravel pits, ponds, wells, and streams in the region. Hundreds of barns, ricks, and silage pits were completely searched and acres of undergrowth cleared as the hunt widened.

A team of seventy divisional and regional Crime Squad investigators mounted intensive inquiries in and around Aylesbeare, nationally and abroad.


Senior detectives from Norfolk and Devon and Cornwall forces conferred on the close resemblances between Genette’s disappearance and that of April Fabb some nine years before.

For several months Genette’s disappearance persuaded enormous local and national publicity. Images of the missing girl and the story of her disappearance reached nearly every town and village in Britain through newspapers, television, radio, and (ironically, considering Black’s employment) thousands of posters published by the force.

One local television station set up a special telephone asking the public to call with data, but not a sole clue as to Genette’s location emerged.

The teams of searchers were ultimately disbanded and the incident room switched from Aylesbeare to Heavitree Road Police Station in Exeter. Detectives proceeded the detailed work of sifting through the masses of data that had been collected, in the hope that somewhere they might discover the key to the mystery. Finally, the Missing Person inquiry ground to a halt and was wound down after earning more than 20,000 nominal and motor vehicle cards in the indexed filing system.

2002 DNA

In 2002 DNA belonging to Genette was discovered on a jumper kept by her mum which would allow her body to be recognized quickly if found out. During 2005 some twenty-eight years after her disappearance, fifteen years after Black’s arrest and imprisonment for kidnapping, and eleven years after his triple convictions for killing, Robert Black was eventually investigated by Devon and Cornwall’s newly set up Cold Case Team and questioned in jail over Genette’s abduction. He refuted any involvement. In 2008 Devon and Cornwall announced that Robert Black would not face charges into the case of Genette Tate.

During 2011, following Black’s conviction for the thirty-year-old killing of Jennifer Cardy, Devon and Cornwall were given fresh hope and motivation in Genette’s case.

For the past two years (2012 and 2013) I have regularly given Devon and Cornwall my new research material into Black’s past in the hope that it will provide them with the last pieces of the jigsaw.

Their Criminal Cases Review Unit has been gradually building a case against Black and he was again questioned at the end of 2014 and once again during 2015. The matter is now being decided by the CPS Complex Case Unit as to whether there is sufficient proof to prosecute Black for Genette’s kidnapping and murder. This was still the case in 2016 when he perished in jail.


On 25 October 2016 The BBC News reported Robert Black, jailed for murdering four girls, was the “only suspect” in the case, but he perished days before he could be charged. Her parents have now been shown a 500-page dossier of evidence. Genette’s dad John Tate said the report contained data collected by experienced former officers from Devon and Cornwall Police. Mr. Tate, 74, who resided in the village of Aylesbeare when Genette vanished, said: “I am now sure that Robert Black was the culprit.”…. Black always refuted any involvement in Genette’s disappearance, but the new data includes a “prison confession” to a member of jail staff. In the conversation, Black tells the staff member he had visited Aylesbeare, where the Tate’s resided. The member of staff tells Black they had not heard of it and answers back “Aylesbury?” But Black stresses it was “Aylesbeare”.

Black had a unique fascination for girls on bikes as they were susceptible and simple targets as they could roam away from village centers. It is highly unlikely that Genette was his first murder victim when he was thirty-five years old considering the acts he committed when he was sixteen years old.

There are more or less identical resemblances between the kidnapping and disappearance of April Fabb, the attempted kidnapping of Jeanne Twigden, the kidnapping and disappearance of Genette Tate, and the kidnapping and killing of Jennifer Cardy. Of the classic trio that gives a basis for crime detection –Means (or Method), Motive, and Opportunity – all that is missing is chance in two of these cases. These two cases (April Fabb and Jeanne Twigden) having been committed before Black’s job with PDS, there is no proof of opportunity in the form of his having been in the area.


In Jennifer Cardy’s 1981 case opportunity was established by Black’s employment record and fuel receipts placing him in Northern Ireland at the time of her disappearance.

I think that after Jennifer Cardy’s case, Robert Black acknowledged that he was leaving a “marker” with a cycle to be discovered and that was the last girl he kidnapped who was out with a cycle.

There is vital circumstantial proof via petrol receipt and witness statements to place Robert Black in Exeter, less than 10 miles from Aylesbeare, on Saturday, 19 August 1978 and during the school summer holiday; additionally, in 1996 a woman came ahead and told police that she identified Black from newspaper photographs as being the man she had noticed leaning on a red Transit-style van at Exeter Airport, only 3 miles from Aylesbeare, watching her kids on the day Genette disappeared and that he then drove off towards Aylesbeare. The woman made up an e-fit and it bore an extraordinary similarity to how Black looked then. A red Transit van was one of the few vehicles to come into the Genette Tate investigation and was noticed leaving the village at speed around the time of Genette’s kidnapping.

This coupled with related fact evidence, if put before a jury as an abduction, like in the Cardy, Maxwell, Hogg, Harper murders, should, in my belief, have been enough to convict Black on a charge of abduction and then be aired as to whether a conviction for the killing of Genette is safe.

April Fabb’s criminal kidnapping and murder, although listed for numerous years as a non-crime Missing Person inquiry without a crime file being raised, bears numerous resemblances to many other child-murders, associated with Black that has been discussed in this book, in particular 1971 attempted kidnapping of Jeanne Twigden, of which more below, the 1978 kidnapping of Genette Tate, and the 1981 abduction and murder of Jennifer Cardy. All four incidents involving young girls on bicycles in warm weather and rural settings. After the disappearance of Genette Tate, Norfolk police were in connection with investigating officers in Devon, having noted the resemblances between the two cases, but it took many more years before sufficient evidence could be obtained in the case of Genette Tate, while April Fabb stays a cold case.

The modus operandi on Jeanne Twigden bears all of the hallmarks employed in the later kidnappings and/or murders committed by Robert Black, and was similar to that used with April Fabb just two years before and would be used with Genette Tate and Jennifer Cardy (convicted) seven and nine years later.

In 2012 I reached the Hackney Gazette, the North London newspaper covering Stoke Newington, and on Friday, 17 August 2012 they published a full report about what almost happened to Jeanne over forty years before. The article also asked any member of the public who might have any data about Black to e-mail me.

I only received one answer – nonetheless, a significant one as the following e-mail extracts show:
Date: Sunday, 2 September 2012, 12.08 OUT OF ROBERT BLACK’S MOUTH 7 YEARS BEFORE HIS ARREST
Hello Chris,
As far as I can recall it was about 1983 when I saw Robert Black. My local pub was The Red Lion as it was named back then in Church St, Stoke Newington n16 & I had seen Black in there a few times, playing darts with the locals. One night I happened to be at the counter where he was sitting & I had a chat with him. He told me a bit about himself, saying his name was Bob Black & how he was Scottish, I recall saying to him how his name as unique as I had never known anyone to be named Black before. Speaking about Scotland I mentioned how horrible it was regarding the murder of Susan Maxwell, he agreed it was awful, & then went on to list a string of other killings & missing girls, etc. saying how they were equally as bad. Some of the names he mentioned I knew about from the newspapers but others I hadn’t, & he said he was shocked that I didn’t know about them, he appeared to be disappointed.

I would say he mentioned about 8 or 9 names one after the other & I was shocked that he had such a close understanding of these crimes, but then I determined he was one of those people who take an interest & studies murders & missing girls, etc. In the news & I thought no more of it. One of the names was Genette Tate which he dwelt on saying she was kidnaped off her bicycle, also Jennifer Cardy in Ireland & he mentioned another girl in Ireland. Then April Fabb & a string of others which I cannot remember, I did recall some but because time has elapsed I have forgotten them. That was the only time I had a reasonable conversation with him, other times I would see him there & I played darts with him once.

I resided in St Kilda Rd not far from Church St & also just 2 streets away from where he resided in West Bank, Stamford Hill, & I had 2 girls who used to play on the street with other kids outside our home, that was considered …
Date: Saturday, 29 September 2012, 17:47
Hello Chris, I didn’t discover anything from the guys around Stamford Hill or Stoke Newington, most of the people there now are of a different generation, those that would have met him are mostly gone to the happy hunting ground.
I used to live in Albion Rd when I was a teenager, resided at 207 for about 12 months in 1963/64 didn’t see him then perhaps he came later to Albion Rd.

The names that he mentioned to me in the Bar, in his low soft voice were April Fabb, Genette Tate, Jennifer Cardy, Susan Maxwell, I reckon he mentioned a young girl in Essex can’t think of her name but I know she was killed,(Suzanne Lawrence) & yes Christine Markham, I can’t recall the names of the 2 girls in Ireland that he mentioned, & he also talked of 3 or 4 more young girls just mentioning their names & saying how disastrous it was that so many were killed or missing.

It struck me straight away how it was very unique for anyone to recall the names of these girls so well & how he rattled them off, but again I would never have doubted him as he told me he lived in Stamford Hill & the girls were from regions mainly long distances away. He was a cool customer.
Regards John

In March 2015 I made contact with retired Lothian and Borders Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Watt who was the senior officer involved with Robert Black’s 1990 arrest for kidnapping and subsequent interviews for the Maxwell, Hogg, and Harper triple killing investigation.

I outlined Jeanne’s case by e-mail and Andrew answered stating, ‘I am sure that the 1971 incident [Jeanne’s] is Robert Black founded on more than one point. He would be at the swimming pool [St Neots] looking for potential victims. This is part of his MO. He had a unique attraction to swimming pools.’

In a further communication he commented:

I agree with you that Robert Black is a potential candidate for the 1971 attempted kidnapping. This has an incredible resemblance to the attempted kidnapping of Teresa Thornhill in Nottingham in 1988. This case was used at Black’s trial at Newcastle in 1994 as I had asked that it be comprised in my remit to support the related fact evidence in the killing cases and was an important piece of evidence. Teresa looked much younger than she was.

As a result of conversations with myself and the late Ray Wyre Black, it indicated that he stalked his victims for lengthy periods before carrying out or attempting to carry out a kidnapping. According to Black he only moved when he felt it was comfortable. The first offense at Stow occurred after he had been following a child for some time. This was not the victim, nonetheless, but a girl called MW. For some unknown reason, he moved his attention to the victim. On his confession, he had a unique interest in pre-pubescent girls.

He also visited often swimming pools and indeed was employed at a swimming pool in London for some time . . .

Andrew went on in his communication to say that in his view Norfolk and Devon and Cornwall should connect the April Fabb and Genette Tate investigations with an overall SIO (Senior Investigating Officer) to examine evidence common to both cases.

In April 2015 I sent Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, and Devon and Cornwall a copy of Andrew Watt’s e-mails and I received an answer from Cambridgeshire stating that their Major Crime Unit had been in touch with Norfolk Cold Case and that they were now preparing a report about the incident in St Neots involving Mrs. Clark [Jeanne] and this data will be accessible for other forces who may be investigating Black.

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