Sudden Mindless Violence
Robert Black never knew his parents. When Jessie Hunter Black gave birth to her son on 21 April 1947, she refused to put his father's name on the birth certificate. And Jessie, 24 and unmarried, earning a meagre amount as a factory- worker, was really in no position to care for an illegitimate baby, still a stigma in 1947. Within days of Robert's birth, Jessie decided to have him fostered. Years later Robert Black, by this time a man in his forties, told psychologist Ray Wyre, "I don't know whether it was pressure from her parents or whether she just didn't want me. I don't know. I was fostered at six months."
Within the year, Jessie had married. She and her husband, Francis Hall, were to have four children together - none of whom were told they had a half-brother - and to emigrate to Australia, where Jessie died in 1982. Francis Hall's niece, Joyce Bonella, recalls that Jessie "didn't like it to be generally known that she had had a child out of wedlock. I don't think she ever told anyone who the father was." From the time that she gave Robert up, Jessie never had any contact with her son again.
While Jessie was settling into married life, Robert was being cared for by his new family. Jack and Margaret Tulip were both in their fifties, and had fostered children on several occasions previously. Robert had been born in Grangemouth, about 20 miles from Edinburgh, on the Firth of Forth; the Tulips lived in Kinlochleven, near Glencoe in the West Highlands. Robert lived here for the next eleven years, the majority of which were spent in the care of Margaret Tulip, as Jack died when Robert was just five. Black claims to have no memory of him, indeed, no memories at all before the age of five. To Ray Wyre, this unusual memory block suggests the presence and repression of some sort of emotional or physical trauma Black had been subjected to as an infant, probably at the hands of his foster-father. After all, Wyre says, "most of us can recall something, some vague, impressionistic sense of who we were" before we were five.
Although locals remember how Robert Black was frequently heavily bruised as a boy, Black himself cannot recall how he got these injuries. He recalls no abusive behaviour from Jack, though he does remember how Margaret used to lock him in the house as a punishment for bad behaviour, or alternatively, pull down his trousers and underwear and spank him with a belt. At nights Robbie was scared that there was a monster under his bed waiting to get him, and used to suffer from a recurring nightmare featuring a "big hairy monster" in a cellar full of water. When he awoke he frequently found that he had wet the bed, which invariably provoked a beating.
To his classmates at primary school Robert - or 'Smelly Robbie Tulip' as he was known - is remembered as having been an aggressive and slightly wayward boy. "A bit of a loner but with a tendency to bully", was how one old primary school mate, Colin McDougall, put it. It seems that Black didn't "mix in with the normal playground games", preferring to spend time with children younger than himself whom he could easily dominate. As Colin McDougall also remembers, "We had a gang but he insisted on being leader of his own gang. The members were always a couple of years younger than him." Another classmate, Jimmy Minnes, remembers an incident where Black gave a boy with an artificial leg a beating: "He gave the poor lad a terrible hammering. He just jumped on top of him as he was walking over the bridge to school one day. Black just punched and kicked him for no reason." Sudden, mindless violence perpetrated against those physically less able than himself was typical of Black as a boy.