Genette Tate – Devon – 1978

Missing since August 19, 1978

Genette Tate (born 1965) was an English girl whose disappearance became a famous missing person case when she went missing aged 13 whilst delivering newspapers in Aylesbeare, Devon, England, on 19 August 1978.

Her bicycle and scattered newspapers were found lying in the middle of a quiet country lane only minutes after she had been speaking to two friends.  She has never been found, nor has anyone be made accountable for her disappearance.

For 30 years, the disappearance of 13-year-old Genette Tate as she delivered newspapers in the Devon village of Aylesbeare has been one of Britain’s most notorious unsolved crimes.

Her body has never been found, there has been no trial and precious few clues.  Not surprisingly, the mystery has blighted the lives of her parents John Tate and Sheila Cook.

In the mid-Seventies, the modern world was just beginning to impact on Aylesbeare, a village of a few hundred people set in unspoiled countryside a few miles outside Exeter.

It had a 13th Century church and a 400-year-old pub and there was scarcely a car to be seen in its pretty, hedge-lined lanes.

By 1978 Genette’s parents had already divorced and were each living with new spouses. Her father John, then 36, was a sales representative suffering from the early stages of a muscle-wasting disease that has since confined him to a wheelchair.  Her mother Sheila, 33, had remarried and moved to Bristol.

But on one fateful summer afternoon the events that unfolded were about to  change the lives of many people.

This next passage is the words of one of her friends Maggie who was nearby ………… Genette is referred to as Ginny

The picture she describes is of a sun-dappled rural idyll. Ginny is on her newspaper round when she happens across Maggie and another school friend, Tracey , who asks for her mother’s paper.

As Ginny cycles off, the two girls lie down on the verge to read a story about a UFO sighting in the area.

They get up, turn the corner of Withen Lane and there is Ginny’s bike, its back wheel still spinning, and papers fanned out across the Tarmac.

“At first we didn’t think anything was wrong,” adds Maggie. “We thought she’d hopped over a gate to spend a penny behind a hedge and we tried to sneak up on her, but she wasn’t there.

“Then we called her name for a long time, really loudly, and there was no answer. Then we thought, ‘Oh well,’ and started pushing her bike home because otherwise she’d get into trouble for leaving it.

“At home I told my mum what had happened. When Ginny’s dad turned up, I started to realise it might be something serious.”

Ginny disappeared at 3.37pm on Saturday, August 19, 1978, a moment from which Maggie has never since been able to escape.

“I can still see Ginny as clear as if it was yesterday,” she admits. “I can hear her and, most of all, I can recall the gentleness of her ways.

“It’s not just me being sentimental ? she was the kindest, most thoughtful, most honest person you could ever meet.

“All I want to know is where she is now. If she’s dead and if her body is found, then I could grieve. But until they find her I can never really rest.”

Maggie also wants an answer to a question that has turned endlessly in her mind.

“Ginny was starting to grow up. Her body was developing and she wasn’t the elfin-faced little girl in the photograph that went out at the time,” she says.

“I could never understand why that was the only picture of her. It was taken when she was about nine. Ginny was 13 when she disappeared.

“Why did her dad not have a later picture of her? I thought that was odd.

“Maggie first met Ginny when she joined Maggie’s primary school at the age of eight.

“I really took to her ? she was so smiley and sunny and we just clicked,” says Maggie. “But there was something downtrodden about her. Not crushed but controlled, perhaps. She seemed genuinely frightened of her father.

“What her dad didn’t know is that we used to experiment with make-up, clothes and hair, like young girls do. We wanted to look more grown-up and when Ginny was done up she could have passed for years older.

“It crossed my mind that she might have wanted to run away and that she had faked her disappearance.” The control that John Tate had over his family even led police to suspect him, but he was eliminated from inquiries.

The police still have a mountain of paperwork and other material from the case, including Ginny’s bike, securely locked in a 10ft by 12ft cage at their Middlemoor headquarters in Exeter.

The bike has been examined and re-examined by forensic experts.

One of the most crucial breakthroughs came in 2003 when a DNA sample was recovered from a jumper of Ginny’s, kept lovingly by her mother. Police have so far been unable to match it.

In the immediate aftermath of Ginny’s disappearance, Maggie had not expected such a difficult time from the police.

“For about six weeks after Ginny went, I was constantly questioned by detectives, often three times a day,” she recalls. “I don’t know if they thought I was involved.

“They kept on and on, coming back to our house. Once, when they arrived on a Sunday lunchtime, my mum had had enough. She said, ‘Sorry, but you’re not invited to eat with us today.’ But they took me off again anyway.

“I was even hypnotised in the hope that I could unlock clues from my subconscious. A policeman’s wife who lived in the village reported seeing a maroon car at the time, but Tracey and I could only recall a beige one.

“When I was under I came up with a car number. It belonged to a brown car owned by someone nearby who was eliminated from the investigation.”

In 2008 Detectives were dismayed that the notorious child killer Robert Black will not face charges in connection with the disappearance of missing schoolgirl Genette Tate.

Robert Black (born 21 April 1947 in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, Scotland) is a Scottish serial killer and child molester. He kidnapped, raped and murdered three girls during the 1980s, kidnapped a fourth girl who survived, attempted to kidnap a fifth, and is the suspect in a number of unsolved child murders dating back to 1969 and the 1970s throughout Europe. On December 16, 2009, Black was charged with the murder of Jennifer Cardy, a 9 year old girl whose body was found at McKee’s Dam near Hillsborough, County Down in August 1981.

Early on in the re-investigation, which began in 2002, officers were able to obtain a sample of Genette’s DNA from an old sweater that her mother had kept.   But it has proved impossible to link it to Black.  

In this day and age, we have CCTV and automatic number plate recognition. We have the sex offenders’ register and mobile phones. Back then, it must have been an absolute nightmare – you needed a huge amount of luck to solve a case like this.

An elusive breakthrough is now most likely only to come in the form of a confession.