Susan Maxwell 'seen alone before disappearance': Triple murder trial told of surprise at sighting

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ONE OF the last people to see Susan Maxwell before she was snatched and murdered told a jury yesterday of her surprise that she was walking alone.

Karen Young, then 15, said she was with her grandparents driving into the Scottish border town of Coldstream when she saw the 11-year-old walking over the bridge across the river Tweed on 30 July 1982. 'I remarked to my grandparents that it was Susie Maxwell. I knew her and her family and thought it was very unusual for her to be walking alone,' she told Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court.

The jury has been told that Susan was walking to her farmhouse home at Cornhill-on-Tweed half a mile away - the first time she had been allowed to do this unaccompanied - after a game of tennis. She subsequently vanished 'into thin air' and her body was found 13 days later 264 miles away beside the A518 at Loxley in Staffordshire.

Robert Black, a 47-year-old van driver, is accused of the murders of Susan and also Caroline Hogg, five, who was abducted from Portobello, Edinburgh, in July 1983, and Sarah Harper, 10, taken from Leeds in March 1986. He is also accused of kidnapping Teresa Thornhill, who was then 15, at Radford, near Nottingham, in April 1988. Mr Black, of Stamford Hill, north London, denies a total of 10 charges.

Norma Richardson, another local resident, told the court in a written statement that she left home on the day Susan disappeared at about 4.15pm. As she drove across the Tweed bridge, her attention was drawn to a little girl.

'I didn't see anyone on the Tweed bridge but as I passed over it my attention was taken by a young girl walking on the grass verge. She was about nine or 10 years old with short brown hair and wearing a lemon top and white shorts.'

Mrs Richardson said the girl was 'swinging a tennis racquet in her hand'. She was quite sure the girl was Susan. The jury was told that Mr Black had a body odour problem but shrugged off the comments of workmates about the smell in his van. Eric Mould, an associate director of PDS, the poster delivery firm, in the early 1980s, was asked about Mr Black's level of cleanliness.

He said he was a heavy smoker, his hands were stained with nicotine, his teeth were in a bad condition and on the question of body odour, 'I think it is fair to say he had a problem'. He used to sleep in the back of his van which was 'unclean' - worse than the vehicles of the other drivers.

A prosecution witness called to give scientific evidence told the jury he could find no links between Mr Black and any of the murdered girls. However, because of the time lapse between the killings and forensic examination it was 'unlikely' anything would be found.

James Fraser, of Lothian and Borders police forensic laboratory, said he and other scientists had spent six months on the case.

The hearing continues next week.

(Photograph omitted)