Unsolved Case of Genette Tate 1978

One of a few pictures released at the time. Initially of course there was hope she would be recognised and returned to her family

This young lady disappeared while delivering newspapers on Saturday 19th August 1978. It was massive news at the time. I even remember it and I was a just another kid playing in the street all that summer. As we approach 5th May 2021 Genette might have been looking at her 56th birthday. She may have become a mother and grandmother, she may have become a lot of things. All these years later there is no final conclusion to the mystery that began that day.

One of a few pictures released at the time. Initially of course there was hope she would be recognised and returned to her family


The other image of Genette widely used at the time. I’d say this was the more often seen picture.


Brief Circumstances

Withen Lane, Ayelesbeare, Cornwall, UK. 13 year old Genette had undertaken an unusual paper round as the lad who normally did it was on holiday for a week. She and her bicycle had been about the village and rural lane for a short time when she came across some friends. It was about 3.30pm. She chatted to them for a brief period and then walked up the narrow lane before getting on her bike. The friends dawdled a bit and after a few minutes (estimated at 7 minutes) they came across Genette’s bike on the road. Some newspapers were scattered about, but there was no sign of her.

Withen Lane. From what I could tell this was the spot Genette’s bike was found.


Concerned, the friends wheeled her bike back to her house. There they saw her father and his second wife. They had been shopping in nearby Exeter.  The friends wanted to check that Genette had returned home for whatever reason, she hadn’t.

The Investigation

Her father and friends searched for Genette until about 5 pm before calling the cops. They responded well and soon detectives and uniformed officers were searching. There was no trace of the missing girl. There is no trace of her as I write this now almost 43 years later.

Appeals were made for a young man, described as handsome, who had been seen driving in the area in a maroon Triumph car. The usual suspects were questioned. Sadly there are always usual suspects within any area. Makes you wonder why we tolerate them. Anyway, none of that led anywhere.

Years later a infamous low life was convicted of very similar crimes. His name was Robert Black. Black drove a van delivering big posters all over the country and occasionally into Europe. He was interviewed, however, the police could not confirm he was anywhere near the scene on the day. That does not mean it wasn’t him. This despicable, cowardly predator died some years ago.

Equally it might not have been him as it would be daft to think that there was only one miserable coward of his sort operating at the time.

I have returned to this post today because there is a lot more said online about the case than I had thought there would be. I went looking to check a few details and saw reference to ‘cover up’. I have been down that road before with some cases, notably the McCann case. You might feel the same way. You see conspiracy type posts and even downright nastiness aimed at victim’s families. When you look there is no real substance and certainly little evidence. In this case there are some issues that raise questions.

Update ( July 2021. I sent an email to a site that is still up from 2011. They say some interesting things regarding what was going on in the village in the 1970s.  I would like to take the matters further but I have had no reply)

For a start the picture of Genette that was circulated was not really a good likeness apparently. I have read an account from one of the girls that found her bike and was a friend. She said that Genette had started to grow into a young women by the time she disappeared. This girl is now a mature woman, Maggie Heavey, said ‘

‘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.’

I will have a look at all this but straight away some of the ‘cover up’ information I have read cross references with interviews of those who were around at the time. The above statement is taken from a Daily Mail interview with Ms Heavey click here 

I had a look and came across just such a picture. It is the first time I have seen it and it would have given a different perspective on the description of Genette Tate if it had been circulated widely or as widely as the other images.

This is said to have been the last picture taken of Genette with her father. In a single line it suggests the picture was taken shortly before August 1978.


The first images of Genette I have posted depict her as a young looking 13 year old. Slightly chubby cheeked and as has been said ‘elfin like’. Yet the picture as she sits next to her father is of a rather gangly teenage girl. I also saw her height as estimated at 5 ft. Unless her father was remarkably short I would estimate her height in the photo with him at a good few inches taller than that. 

My point? Well crucially in the first days and weeks of the search by all means publish the ‘elfin like’ photo if her hair was short etc. That said where was this picture to show her build and height at the time she disappeared? If the picture was not available why was a briefing not made public that she was actually very slim and potentially taller than the ‘elfin like’ description might suggest.

I saw a BBC news report from October 1978 and the image of Genette was still the young looking head shot. So even allowing for memory to be distorted in August due to panic. Even allowing for time to process film if it had been left on a roll. Two months later the ‘full view’ image of Genette was not shown. 

There may well be a reason for that. I pride myself on allowing for a big hole in my knowledge on this or any case I have not dealt with personally. What I can say is this story has been around all the time I can remember. It pops up in various searches and books I have read on similar cases. Yet I have never seen Genette as she probably looked at the time.  

Sadly, there are also some things said about Mr Tate himself. Some of his conduct before and after Genette disappeared was not good. These I have taken from press sources and quotes from him. I link one here for you to check out.  I quote now from the article which was published in Devonlive after Tate had died.

Back in 1978, as part of the original investigation, Tate had been questioned himself about his daughter’s disappearance. They had discovered he had a sexual interest in children but decided not to pursue any charges against him for fear of turning public opinion against the investigation’. 

There were allegations of financial irregularities about his management of charities as well, one of which was based on his daughter’s disappearance. Notably Devonlive stated:

He spoke sparingly of sordid allegations in the past but didn’t deny them, describing it only as his ‘shame’ and later claimed to have turned to Christianity for solace.

I will say here that he was cleared of any possible hands on part in Genette’s disappearance as he had an alibi that placed him with his second wife in Exeter shopping. 

What I do see as rather distasteful is this line about not wanting to proceed against him regarding allegations of sexual ‘ interest’ in children. Devonlive states it was felt he had been through enough.

Article: John Tate The Father who never escaped the heartache of Genette Tate’s disappearance

Excuse me… If there were victims of anything Tate did then his suffering is irrelevant to any issues.

I get the concept of derailing an investigation but after a time taken to proceed in looking for Genette then there would have been a time to deal with Tate. It is a bit gutting and frankly alarming that the cops would take that view back then. It certainly does not give any great confidence in the whole investigation.

Finally, when it comes to the things I have read last night comes a point I had originally made. The idea that there is only ever one ‘operating’ killer at a time is folly. Great play was made in the press about linking Genette’s disappearance to the prolific and evil Robert Black. He came to prominence when he was convicted of several offences in the 1990s. Notably his abduction and murder of Jennifer Cardy in Northern Ireland in August 1981. Jennifer had, like Genette, been riding her bike in a rural setting when Black took her. 

I have seen reports that Black was shown to have visited Exeter airport as part of his delivery driving. He was traced via fuel station receipts during the investigation into his various crimes and that was the case with the Jennifer Cardy enquiry. However, I have also seen it said that these receipts did not relate to the time Genette disappeared.  In addition, Black appeared to have committed his crimes while using the vans he drove. There is no mention of sighting a van in the various accounts of the day Genette went missing.

There is another despicable sex offender that is mentioned who operated around that area. At the time Genette disappeared he is said to have been working in and around her home village. Later he was convicted of the rape and murder of a young woman called Virginia Maunder. Ms Maunder, 20, had been hitchhiking from Exeter to Tiverton ( 20 miles away) and Ian Bealey killed her in 1981. Here is a brief mention of him from 2005 (click here) 

My Take on the Case of Genette Tate

I wonder if my own childhood was the end of an era. I am only about three months younger than Genette would have been. As I became aware of the news there were many summertime cases like this. By the time I had children of my own outdoor playing all summer was becoming rarer. These days the number of kids out and about at 13 seems a fraction of what it was.

It could be seen as a good thing as it reduces the opportunity for predators ( small minded , cowards not Tigers) to take kids away. Personally, I think they should be the ones to have their freedom curtailed rather than have kids constantly escorted and cosseted.

There are so few actual facts in order to make any assertion on this case. Genette Tate disappeared and we have the time and date but otherwise very little in the public domain. When I began writing this it was a tragic yet simple story. However, there is more to it than meets the eye. The rumours and facts are hard to distinguish from each other and so I will only publish what appears to have been verified.

What does appear to be the case is that there was a lot more going on in that area, at that time than was widely known. I don’t like the reference to Tate senior and a sexual interest in children or the police view that none of that should be pursued. I will say that. Before I go down the rabbit hole of this case can you correct me? I am always up for being corrected. Does this stink to high heaven?

On the photograph difference between image and 5ft description what do you think? Am I right, would that image have made a difference in how we perceived the description of Genette? When witnesses were asked to contact the police if they saw her after 3.30pm on 12th August 1978.  I think it would have potentially made a difference.

My line of logic ( based on cases I have been involved with) paedophiles do not operate alone. Even in the 1970s when the internet was a vague idea, polaroid photos were exchanged and arrangements for mutual benefit were agreed. If Tate had a sexual interest in children and the cops were turning a blind eye for whatever reason is that a coincidence that should be ignored?

I’d appreciate being put on the right path if my mind is straying onto a wrong one.

A comprehensive set of articles on it can be seen below.

Since writing this much time has passed. Here is a list of UK children vanished in suspicious circumstances and unsolved murder cases. All UK between 1960s and 2000 that we have written about. We are working on pulling all the US, NZ, Australian cases into separate lists as we go.

Mark Billington

Vishal Mehrotra

Lee Boxell

Genette  Tate

April Fabb

Damien Nettles

Johanna Young

Kate Bushell

Sara Benford

Martin Allen

Lindsay Rimer

Billie Jo Jenkins

John Greenwood

Gary Miller

Keith Lyon

John Rodgers and Thomas Spence

Ronald Kirk, John Glennon,

David Leckey, Jonathan Aven,

Brian Mc Dermott

Sean McGann

Take care