Belfast Telegraph

Tragic Jennifer Cardy's final few hours

Jennifer Cardy did not like to be late - punctuality was one of the nine-year-old's qualities.

And so it was as she prepared to cycle to her friend's house on that sunny August day 30 years ago.

She had just finished a lunch of poached eggs with her brothers Philip and Mark and, nursing her baby sister Victoria, asked her mother Patricia to wind up her red watch.

"She was a very thoughtful little girl and her time to leave was always 1.40pm because she liked to get to her friend's house for about 2pm," Mrs Cardy told Robert Black's trial.

"Most importantly, she liked to be back in time for Jackanory and for that reason she always checked her watch."

Unsurprisingly, her mother can recall that day - Wednesday August 12 1981 - in vivid detail.

"I can well remember what Jennifer was wearing," she said.

"It was her favourite T-shirt, a white T-shirt trimmed with red round the neck and on the T-shirt were red strawberries."

The schoolgirl was off on her new red bike, bought for her birthday two weeks before, to visit her friend Louise Major, who lived a mile and a half away at the other end of the Co Antrim village of Ballinderry.

A fortnight earlier the pair had spent a fun day together watching the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Diana Spencer on television.

Louise would later reveal that after once seeing a TV programme about someone who got into a strange car and was abducted, Jennifer vowed she "would never do that".

When Jennifer did not return on time, her mother knew something was wrong.

As it turned out, the girl never reached Louise's house.

A frantic search of the area found no trace of her. Her father Andy called the police around 9pm and the operation escalated.

Then, just before midnight, two local men scouring the area in their van spotted Jennifer's bike lying in a field beside the Crumlin Road, just over a mile from her home.

It had been thrown over the hedge.

Poignantly, the stand was in the downward position, suggesting that the unsuspecting Jennifer had stopped to talk to her abductor.

The incident took place as violence raged in Northern Ireland. The IRA hunger strikes were going on at the nearby Maze prison and murders and bomb blasts were part of everyday life.

But divided communities united as seldom before in the search for little Jennifer, as hundreds joined in the attempt to find her.

It would be six days before she was finally discovered.

Two duck hunters spotted her body floating among weeds in a dam, known as McKee's, behind a layby on the main A1 dual carriageway at Hillsborough, Co Down, around 15 miles from Ballinderry.

Her watch had stopped at 5.40pm.

Ultimately, that helped prove she was dumped by her killer just hours after she pedalled off from home.

Belfast Telegraph

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