John Reginald Halliday Christie
Serial Killer Reg Christie pinned one of his eight murders on the witless Timothy Evans before he was discovered to be the “Monster of 10 Rillington Place.” Evans’s execution by hanging – and his posthumous pardon – helped lead to the abolishment of the death penalty in Great Britain.
by Mark Pulham
When most people think of Notting Hill, there are a few things that first come to mind. One could be the Notting Hill carnival, a colorful event held every year by the West Indian community and, after Rio, the second largest street carnival in the world. Or it may be Portobello Road, home to the worlds largest Antiques Market, held every Saturday, and also the home to the Portobello Film Festival, where over 700 films have had their premiers.
It could be that the first thought is of the 1999 Julia Roberts film, “Notting Hill.”
But for some, those with longer, darker memories, the thought may be of 10 Rillington Place.
What took place in this house, and the subsequent events, make up a tale of tragedy, horror, and disgust.
Once an area known for pig farms and pottery works, Notting Hill, in the northern part of Kensington, began to be developed in the early to mid 1800’s, and became a fashionable area with its own artistic community. Large houses were built in the hope that they would entice the wealthy from Belgravia and Mayfair, but the plan didn’t work, and instead, it drew the upper middle classes, who liked the idea of Belgravia style houses at the lower Notting Hill prices.
In the late 1980’s, redevelopment of the area brought back its affluence and it is now one of London’s most desirable areas to live, and one of the most expensive.
But sandwiched between these two periods of wealth and prosperity, were decades of neglect and decay. At the beginning of the 20th century, the middle classes stopped having servants and the large houses were sold off to property developers who split the houses into multiple dwellings, with each floor making up a separate flat, and each flat rented out as cheap lodgings.
Rapidly, the area went downhill and became, as one put it, “a massive slum, full of multi-occupied houses, crawling with rats and rubbish.”
Rillington Place was a typical street in the area. Number 10 was a narrow, dreary, and depressing house at the end of a narrow, dreary, and depressing cul-de-sac. Built probably around 1869, it was a grimy and cramped house that had been, like many others, split into three flats, one on each floor.
At the beginning of 1948, only two of the flats were occupied. In the ground floor flat lived the Christies, Reg and Ethel. Their flat consisted of a front living room, a back bedroom, and a kitchen, which included a pantry or cupboard. A passageway led from the front door of the house through to the back door, splitting the Christie’s kitchen from their other rooms.
On the next floor was the home of Charles Kitchener, a man in his 60s who was suffering from failing eyesight. His flat was almost identical to the one below, but without the passageway.
The top floor flat was smaller than the others, having only a kitchen and a bedsitting room.
Outside, there was a small wash-house with a sink and a boiler, where the occupants could do small amounts of laundry. Also outside was the only lavatory, which everyone had to use. Access to both of these was through the passageway that separated the Christie’s kitchen from the rest of their flat.
Beyond the wash-house and lavatory, behind a fence, was what only the delusional would call a garden. It was a dirt wasteland less than 20 feet square that only the hardiest of plant life could survive.
Timothy and Beryl Evans Move into 10 Rillington Place
The top floor remained unoccupied until March 24, 1948, when a young van driver named Timothy Evans moved into the flat with his young wife, Beryl.
Timothy John Evans was born on November 20, 1924, in Merthyr Vale, a mining town in South Wales, around five miles south of Merthyr Tydfil.
Even before he was born, he had lost someone. His father, Daniel, had walked out on his pregnant wife Thomasina and their daughter, 3-year-old Eileen. Nothing was heard from Daniel again.
Some years after Timothy was born, his mother remarried, to a man named Penry Probert, and soon, Timothy had a baby half-sister, Mary.
Young Timothy had problems as a child. He would have unmanageable tantrums and had trouble learning to speak. He also had a low IQ and had great difficulty learning anything at school. To make matters worse, at the age of 8, he suffered an injury to his right foot and he developed a tubular plantar wart. It never healed completely, and much of his time was spent at the hospital, which only added to his lack of education.
The result was an adult who could barely read or write anything more difficult than his own name.
Possibly in compensation, Timothy became known as a compulsive and inventive liar, and presented himself as something better than he was.
The family moved to London in 1935, and Timothy, while still going to school, became a painter and decorator, returning to Wales in 1937 to work in the coal mines. But the injury to his foot made working in the mines difficult, and he returned to London in 1939.
On September 20, 1947, Timothy married his girlfriend, 18-year-old Beryl Susanna Thorley. At first, they lived with Timothy’s family at 11 St. Mark’s Road, W11, but early the following year, Beryl discovered that she was pregnant and decided that, with an impending baby, they should move away from the family and find a place of their own.
|Timothy Evans (left), Beryl Evans (right), and Geradline, being held by Evans' half-sister, Mary Westlake.|
Timothy’s older sister, Eileen, had found a place for them. It wasn’t too far away, just around the corner in Rillington Place. The young couple moved into number 10.
Beryl’s skills as a housekeeper were minimal, and this, coupled with the fact that she was unable to handle the family finances, was the cause of many loud and violent arguments between them, all of which could be heard by the neighbors. Timothy was an angry young man, and it was not helped by his heavy drinking.
On October 10, 1948, at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital, Beryl gave birth to a baby daughter who they named Geraldine. Her arrival could not have helped. There was now less space in the small two roomed flat, and Timothy’s wages were barely enough to cover the two of them, let alone a baby as well.
The marriage became more strained and their constant fights got louder. Many times the violence between them was witnessed by others.
Late the following year, in September, 1949, Beryl announced to Timothy that she was pregnant again. Already finding it difficult to keep their heads above water financially, a second baby would be a tremendous strain.
Beryl and Geraldine Go Missing
In November, the young family was not seen for a few weeks, but on November 30, 1949, Timothy Evans walked into the police station at Merthyr Vale in Wales, where he made an announcement that must have surprised the policeman.
He told them that he had disposed of his wife. Her body had been put down a drain outside his home in London. The police took him to Merthyr Tydfil police station where Detective Sergeant Gough and Detective Constable Evans took a statement.
According to Timothy, it had all been an accident. Beryl was anxious to have the second pregnancy terminated, but abortion was illegal in Britain at that time. Timothy told the police that he met a man in the pub who told him he had something that would do the trick. If Beryl took it, it would cause an abortion. The man gave him a bottle which contained some mixture for Beryl to drink.
But Beryl died after drinking it, and Timothy, in a panic, got rid of her body down the drain. He then made arrangements for Geraldine to be looked after and then he fled to Wales.
Back in London, the Notting Hill police had been alerted, and they sent a number of policemen around to 10 Rillington Place.
It took three of them to lift the manhole cover, a sign in itself that Evans was lying, there was no way a man of his short stature could have lifted the cover alone. They looked down the drain and could see that there was no body down there. In any case, the drain was too narrow for a body to fit. Evans had to be lying.
The police at Merthyr Tydfil were informed that nothing was found, and they told Timothy. He was then questioned again. Timothy changed his story, saying he may as well tell them the truth. He now told them that Beryl had died when their ground floor neighbor, Reg Christie, had tried to give her an abortion.
|Reg and Ethel Christie|
Once again, the Notting Hill police were informed, and they went around to talk to Mr. Christie and his wife, Ethel. They said they had no idea what Timothy was talking about.
Reg said that the last time he saw Beryl Evans was on Tuesday, November 8. It was around midday and he saw her go out with Geraldine. He said that she looked scared about something.
That same night, around midnight, he and Ethel were woken up by noises coming from upstairs, thumping sounds, as if someone was moving stuff around. It couldn’t have been Mr. Kitchener, Reg explained, as he was in the hospital. It had to have come from Evans’s flat. As the noise didn’t last for very long, they thought no more about it, and both went back to sleep.
The next day, Christie saw Timothy, who told him that Beryl had decided to go to Bristol and had left. This, according to Christie, was surprising news as Beryl had not told anyone of her plans.
The following day, Evans came down to see the Christies. He explained to them that he was upset with his boss at work and had quit his van driver job. According to Christie, he was going to move to Bristol to be with Beryl, and so he had decided to sell all of his furniture.
Evans had also been around to see his mother, and to her, he told a different story. He told her that Beryl had gone, not to Bristol, but to Brighton, to see her father. This seemed odd to Timothy’s mother. She knew that Beryl and her father did not get along. Why would she go there?
Evans then left London and took a train, not to Bristol or Brighton, but to Wales and his home town of Merthyr Vale, where he stayed with his aunt.
Evans mother and sisters were confused by the events, and wondered what had happened to Beryl and Geraldine. When Evans’s mother found that he was living with her sister, she called and got his aunt to question him, which resulted in his going to the police station.
The Notting Hill Police, their suspicions aroused, did a quick search of the house and the garden, but nothing much was found. The only thing of significance was a newspaper clipping found in the Evans’s flat. The clipping was about the recent Stanley Setty murder case. The month before, Setty’s neatly wrapped torso had been discovered in some marshes in Essex. Had Timothy Evans done the same with his wife?
A briefcase was also found in the Evans flat, and it turned out to be stolen. Informed of the briefcase, the Merthyr Tydfil police charged Evans with theft and he was to be returned to London. The theft charge allowed the police to hold him while the search for Beryl continued.
Beryl and Geraldine’s Corpses Found
On December 2, the police returned to number 10, and the search this time produced grisly results. They tried to get into the tiny wash-house at the back of the building, but the door had become stuck. Ethel found a piece of metal that could be used to pry the door open and gave it to the police. They forced the door open and looked inside. It was dark in the wash-house, but they could see that there was some wood stacked up against the sink. One of the officers felt behind the wood and could feel some sort of package. The wood was removed and they found what appeared to be a large parcel wrapped up in a green tablecloth. They turned to Ethel and asked her what it may be, and she told them she had never seen it before.
|Inside the wash-house|
The police pulled the package out and untied the cord that was holding the package together. No sooner was the package loosened when out slipped a pair of feet. Unwrapped, the package revealed the moldering corpse of Beryl Evans. She had been beaten and strangled.
The wash-house was searched some more and, under some more wood behind the door, the officers found the tiny body of Geraldine Evans. Like her mother, Geraldine had been strangled, the tie used to kill her still tight around her neck.
The bodies were taken to Kensington Mortuary where the Home Office pathologist conducted the post mortems. Bruising over the right eye and on the lip showed that Beryl had been hit, probably more than once, and then she had been strangled with cord or rope. There was no evidence that any attempt at an abortion had taken place, though there was some bruising inside the vagina, indicating there may have been an attempt at sex.
Both Beryl and Geraldine had been dead for around three weeks.
Reg Christie was asked if he could identify the clothing from the two bodies. He said he knew that the skirt and blouse were Beryl’s, but he didn’t know the tie that was around Geraldine’s neck, though he believed he may have seen Evans wearing it at some point, or one similar.
Timothy Evans was returned to London. He believed he was going to be questioned about the stolen briefcase that had been found in his flat. However, when he arrived at the train station accompanied by police officers, there were photographers waiting to take pictures of him. It was clear to Evans that this was not about the briefcase.
At the station, Evans was shown the clothing and told that his wife and his daughter had been found dead.
Later that night, at Notting Hill Police Station, Evans gave two more statements, admitting that he was responsible for both of the deaths and that it was a relief to get it all off his chest.
She was incurring one debt after another and I could not stand it any longer, so I strangled her with a piece of rope and took her down to the flat below the same night whilst the old man [Mr. Kitchener] was in hospital. I waited until the Christies downstairs had gone to bed, then I took her to the wash-house after midnight. This was on Tuesday 8 November. On Thursday evening after I came home from work I strangled my baby in our bedroom with my tie and later that night I took her down into the wash-house after the Christies had gone to bed.
Later, Timothy Evans would make a longer confession that, according to the police, took 75 minutes to write and read back to him. This confession goes into greater detail about the murders. He told of how he got angry and how he hit Beryl, and then, in an uncontrollable fit of temper, he strangled her. He told of how he got her body downstairs and into the wash-house and used the wood to cover her body before locking the door.
But after each confession, he would revert back to blaming his neighbor, Reg Christie.
The trial of Timothy Evans began on January 11, 1950 at the Old Bailey. Unlike the present day, in the 1950’s you could only be tried for one murder at a time. Mr. Christmas Humphries was the prosecutor, and he wanted to avoid the defense motive of provocation that the defense would surely put forth if the trial was for the murder of Beryl Evans. With Geraldine, there could be no such motive, and so, although the murder of Beryl would be included in the testimony, the trial was for the murder of his 13-month old-daughter.
Evans’s case was taken by Freeborough, Slack, and Company, who suggested to Evans’s barrister, Malcolm Morris, that an insanity plea should be the defense, and that the murder of Geraldine was an insane impulse to avoid the discovery of the murder of his wife.
The evidence against Evans was overwhelming, but the defense tried to shift the blame on to Christie, though Morris felt there was little chance of pinning it on him.
The prosecution’s case was simple. Evans and Beryl were in a difficult relationship. Their marriage was under a great deal of strain, with little money coming in, a baby to feed and clothe, and now, a second baby on the way.
Evans, a man with an unmanageable temper, got into an argument with his wife and in a fit of anger, hit her and then strangled her. If the wife was gone, then the baby had to go as well to strengthen the story that they had both left.
Evans had then told varying stories about where they were, and when it finally became too much to bear, he broke down and finally confessed to his crimes. Evans’s fourth confession was considered to be the true story of what had happened.
Dr. Teare gave his evidence, and Christie was also called by the prosecution. With Christie, Morris thought he saw a way to help with the defense. He had discovered that Christie had some past criminal convictions and hoped that would at least discredit him as a witness. It didn’t work. It did the opposite.
Christie, for all his past faults, had not been in any trouble for the past 17 years. The jury was impressed by this man and the fact that he had turned his life around to become a model citizen. Reg Christie was a war hero, having been gassed during the First World War, which had left him with his soft voice. He had also been a War reserve policeman during World War Two.
And there was Evans, a habitual liar, a drunkard with a violent temper. Other witnesses reported the arguments and the fights.
On the witness stand, Evans told the court that he had first said that he was responsible for the murders because he wanted to protect Christie, though he couldn’t explain why, and when asked why Christie would kill his wife and daughter, all Evans said was, “Well, he was home all day.”
But the evidence was all against him. Evans had described the murders in precise and accurate detail, because, the prosecution pointed out, he was the one who committed the murders. Only the killer would know the details so clearly.
Christmas Humphries closing speech lasted barely 10 minutes. Morris was caught by surprised by the shortness of the speech, and expected to have at least overnight to sort his notes before his speech.
Morris pointed to the second confession given by Evans in which he implicated Christie. Morris hoped that it would confuse the issue and raise a reasonable doubt. But it was useless. Evans was a known liar, he was a known drunk, he was known to be violent, and he was known to have a short temper. He’d admitted to the murders in more than one statement.
Guilty – Death by Hanging
The following morning, the judge gave his summing up, and gave the jury two options to consider. Either Dr. Teare, the Home Office pathologist, was lying about the results of the post mortem, or the accused, Timothy Evans, was lying about his innocence in the murders.
The jury filed out of the courtroom for its deliberations, but was back within 40 minutes. The verdict, reached swiftly, was a foregone conclusion. Timothy John Evans was found guilty on the charge of murdering his 13-month-old daughter. The sentence was death by hanging. Christie, still in the courtroom, burst into a flood of tears.
The defense launched an appeal, but it was unsuccessful. Timothy Evans was taken to Pentonville Prison where, on March 9, 1950, he was hanged.
The murders of Beryl and Geraldine Evans were fairly ordinary, a run of the mill domestic that had spiraled out of control and resulted in two deaths. It came, it went, and it was forgotten.
Other news quickly replaced that rapidly dwindling interest in the killings. That same year, in July, Sainsbury’s opened the first purpose built supermarket, and in August, Princess Elizabeth gave birth to her second child, Princess Anne. In November, George Bernard Shaw died at the age of 94.
The following year, peculiar black and white markings appeared on the roads, introducing the Zebra Crossings to pedestrians, and the years after that saw a change in the Monarchy when George VI died and was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth.
December 1952 saw the “Great Smog of London” when from Friday 5 to Tuesday 9, London was shrouded in a thick smog reducing visibility to a few yards, and caused the premature deaths of around 12,000 people, and is the worst air pollution event in the history of London.
Back to 10 Rillington Place – Six More Corpses
On March 24, 1953, the Old Queen Mary, grandmother to Elizabeth, died at the age of 85, and the nation went into mourning. But at 10 Rillington Place, March 24 also put the Evans murders back in the public eye.
In 1950, after the murders and execution of Evans, the owner decided he no longer wanted a house this notorious, and he sold it to a West Indian named Charles Brown, who started to move other West Indians into the house.
In addition to the top flat now being empty after the murders, the second floor flat was also vacant as Charles Kitchener had also moved out. Ethel Christie also wanted to move away, the new tenants scared her, and Reg had gone into a depression after the trial. Reg had also lost his job, thanks to some of the disclosures about his convictions that were revealed at the trial.
Christie, a hypochondriac, began seeing his doctor more often, visiting him 33 times in an eight month period. He was stressed, and he felt that he was being persecuted by the new tenants, and that they were spying on him all the time.
By the end of 1952, Reg was living alone. Reg had found a new job up in Sheffield, and Ethel had already left, having relatives there. Reg would join her later.
By now, 10 Rillington Pace was cramped. Apart from the Christie’s, six others were living in the building, including a West Indian named Beresford Brown, who was in the top floor flat that was once the home of the Evans family.
Reg was desperate to move out and sold all of his furniture. He stayed in the unfurnished flat well into March 1953, when he met a woman named Reilly. She told Christie that she was looking for a flat to rent, and Christie said that she could have his. She came round with her husband and had a look at the flat. They thought it would suit them, and Christie took three months rent in advance off them. Christie then borrowed a suitcase from them, put the last of his things in it, and left on March 20, 1953.
The Reilly’s didn’t get much of a chance to settle in. The next day, the landlord came around and was surprised to find them there. He was angry; Christie had no right to rent the place out as it wasn’t his.
The Reilly’s were asked to leave. Both the Reillys and the landlord had lost their rent money, which probably angered the Reillys, but since the flat smelled terrible, they were not too unhappy to leave.
With an empty flat going to waste, the landlord told Beresford Brown that he could have use of the ground floor flats kitchen. Beresford came down and, noticing the smell, decided that the first thing to do was to give the place a thorough clean and then redecorate.
Beresford liked music while he worked, and so the first thing he wanted to do was put up a shelf so he had somewhere to put his radio. He began to tap on the walls to find a suitable spot, and one part of the wall sounded hollow. There had to be some sort of space behind the wall. At the edge, some of the wallpaper was coming away and he pulled on that.
He found the door that led to the pantry or cupboard. He managed to get the door partly open, and then he grabbed his flashlight and looked through the crack in the door. What he saw made him reel back in horror.
The beam from his flashlight had revealed a woman sitting there, her back toward him. She was semi-naked and obviously dead. Beresford called the police.
Several officers arrived and the door to the pantry was opened. The woman sat with her back toward them, leaning forward. The police took her out and moved her to the front room for examination. She was wearing only a bra, a garter belt, and stockings. Her wrists had been bound together by a handkerchief tied in a reef knot, and some clothing had been wedged between her legs to act as a diaper to absorb seepage from her vagina and rectum.
It was clear that the woman had been strangled with some sort of ligature.
|The bodies in the cupboard|
There was another object in the cupboard, wrapped in a blanket. The police removed it, and found that it was the body of a second woman. In the cupboard, she had been placed upside down on her head and leaned against the wall.
The blanket had been tied with a reef knot with a sock around her ankles, and her head had been covered with a pillowcase, again, tied with a stocking in a reef knot.
The police were not finished yet. They removed a third body, like the second placed upside down in the cupboard. This victim had her ankles bound, this time with electrical cord, and once again, a reef knot was used. Also tied with a reef knot was the cloth used to cover her head.
The cupboard was now empty. The bodies were all sent to the mortuary for a post mortem.
If the police felt relieved and thought that it was now over, that relief was short lived. Noticing that the floorboards in the living room were loose, the police took them up. There was some loose rubble underneath and, after a short dig, they found the remains of a fourth woman.
A police guard was posted for the night; they would have to come back the next day for a more intensive search.
|The body of Hectorina McLennan in the cupboard|
Back at the mortuary, the post mortems began. The first body to be found was that of a brunette in her early to mid twenties. She had been dead for around four weeks, killed by a combination of carbon monoxide poisoning and strangulation.
It was determined that she had been suffering from the effects of the carbon monoxide gas when she was strangled with a smooth surfaced cord. There were scratch marks along her back which indicated that she had been dragged along the floor after she was dead. There were also indications that sexual intercourse had also taken place.
The next body was also in her mid-twenties with light brown hair. She seemed to have been in good health when she died. She had a pinkish color to her, which indicated that she too had been poisoned with carbon monoxide gas. Like the first, she had also been strangled.
She showed signs of heavy drinking on the day that she had died, and she had also had sexual intercourse, either just before or just after she had died. She was wearing a cardigan and a vest, and another vest had been placed between her legs to act as a diaper. She had been dead somewhere between 8 and 12 weeks.
|Ethel Christie's body under the floorboards|
The third body, this time a blonde, was, like the first two, in her mid-twenties. Once more, the pinkness of the corpse indicated that she had been gassed before strangulation had taken place. This victim wore a dress, a petticoat, two vests, a bra, and a cardigan. Once more, there was a piece of cloth between the legs to act as a diaper. This victim was also six months pregnant. Once again, sexual intercourse seemed to have occurred either just before or just after death.
When the fourth body arrived the next morning, it was clear that there was a significant difference between this one and the first three. First of all, she was older, somewhere in her mid fifties, a plump woman, with missing teeth. A flowered dress and a silk nightgown were wrapped around the body, and then wrapped once more in a flannel blanket. Her head had been covered by a pillowcase.
Her death had occurred somewhere between 12 and 15 weeks earlier, and unlike the others, she had not been gassed, only strangled. Also unlike the others, there didn’t seem to be any sign of sexual intercourse.
It did not take long to identify the victims. The three younger victims turned out to be prostitutes that Christie had invited back to the flat. They were Rita Nelson, aged 25, Kathleen Maloney, aged 26, and Hectorina McLennan, also aged 26. The older woman who was found under the floor was Ethel Christie.
|First victim Ruth Fuerst||Second victim Muriel Eady||Third victim Rita Nelson||Last victim Hectorina McLennan|
The search of Number 10 continued the next day. Among the things found was an old tobacco tin which, when opened, was found to contain four tufts of pubic hair. None of the pubic hair matched the victims.
In the garden, more searchers discovered a human femur, in plain view, propping up the sagging back fence. More bones were discovered, along with some hair and some parts of a dress. By the time the search was completed, they had two more victims, though one of them was missing a head. Both were female.
From a tooth taken from one of the victims it was determined that she was from either Austria or Germany. She was young, probably between 20 and 22, and moderately tall.
The other victim was a little older, somewhere between 30 to 35, and only about five foot two in height.
Both of the victims had been in the garden for years.
It wasn’t long before both of the victims were identified. Ruth Fuerst was 21 years old when she disappeared. A tall girl at five-foot-eight, she had left Austria in 1939 to come to London. She went missing on August 24, 1943.
Muriel Eady worked at Ultra Radio Works in 1944. One day, the 32 year old met a fellow worker in the canteen. His name was Reg Christie. She vanished in October of that year. She was last seen wearing a black wool dress, just like the scraps of a dress that was found in the garden. Some hair that was found also matched Muriel’s. Six bodies were found in total, and now the hunt was on for Christie.
The Making of a Monster
John Reginald Halliday Christie was born on April 8, 1899, in an isolated house known as “Black Boy” in Turner Lane, Shibden, a small village a few miles east of Halifax, Yorkshire. According to Christie himself, he had a very rosy childhood. He enjoyed school, was excellent at math, and was good at games, especially soccer. He loved animals, a love that lasted all of his life, and at one point, he was an assistant Scout master and a member of the local choir.
But, behind the normal life that he portrayed for himself, there was a darkness that he didn’t talk about.
Christie’s father, Ernest John Christie, was feared in his home. He was a severe and tyrannical man whose temper would explode on the slightest annoyance. Reg was scared of his father and his grandfather.
Reg was a weak and smallish child, and also a hypochondriac, complaining all the time of this illness or that illness. And on the occasions when he was genuinely ill, he would exaggerate the symptoms to gain sympathy from others.
He was also terrified of the dark, extremely particular about what foods he would eat, and would wash his hands far more than normal people.
These were all signs pointing to someone developing a serious personality disorder.
His father, a tough no nonsense man, must have been disappointed in this feeble excuse for a son, and very likely picked on him. Once, Reg was brutally beaten by his father for taking a tomato, and when Mary Hannah, Christie’s mother, intervened and said that Reg was innocent, tomatoes being one of the foods he would not touch, his father gave him a shilling.
Although Reg had a brother, Percy, who was 17 years older than he was, Reg also had five sisters, and the girls exercised their domination over him, despite one of them being younger than he.
Terrified of his father, intimidated by his sisters, Reg internalized his negative feelings. In compensation, his mother became overprotective and cosseted Reg, further diminishing his manhood.
At the age of 8, Reg experienced death for the first time, when his hated grandfather died. The body was laid out in the house for visitors to come and pay their respects and, like the rest of the family, Reg viewed the body. It must have been a revelation to Reg, that this man, who scared him so badly while he was alive, now didn’t scare him at all in death. It is likely that this is the moment when Reg saw that the dead cannot hurt you, and this lasted into his adult life. Soon after, Reg began playing in the local cemetery where he liked to look at the graves.
When he was asked, Christie gave the impression that he was popular at school, but if asked, those who knew him gave a different impression. He was described as a “queer lad” who was not popular, and whose size earned him the taunts of “weakling” and “sissy” from the other boys, who saw him as irritable and a little cruel.
When he reached the age when sex began to play a part in his life, he was, once again, different than the others. As boys of this age would start their fumbling initiations into sex, telling dirty jokes and using the forbidden swear words, Reg Christie showed a prudishness that was unusual in a boy of his age, and this only served to distance himself even further from his peers.
With his mother suffocating his already diminished masculinity and his sisters constantly bossing him around, it is not surprising that when it came time for him to attempt sex for the first time, it was a disaster. Sexually inhibited, and with a girl who was no doubt more experienced than he was, he was incapable of achieving an erection.
Although he wouldn’t be the first or last to suffer from this temporary condition, for Christie, it was to have an effect on the rest of his life. It was made even worse when rumors of his dysfunction began to spread, and he started getting the nicknames “Reggie-No-Dick” and “Can’t-Do-It-Christie.”
After he left school at the age of 15, Christie became an assistant projectionist at a cinema, and then, in 1916, giving his year of birth as 1898, he enlisted in the army, where he joined the 52nd Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment.
In June, 1918, Christie was caught in a mustard gas attack, and spent a month in hospital. According to Christie, he was blinded by the gas for three months and unable to talk for three and a half years because of the attack. There is no evidence of his blindness, and although he may have been unable to speak for a short while, it was more likely due to a psychological reason, and not a physical one. Even so, it could not have been for the length of time that he claimed as just seven weeks later he was declared fit enough for active duty.
Once again, his hypochondria and his need for sympathy and attention made him exaggerate his condition.
During his time in the army, Christie became a frequent customer of prostitutes. He discovered that as he didn’t have to please them or prove his manhood, he was able to perform normally. However, they had to be compliant and unresponsive for him to achieve erection and penetration.
After he left the army, he met Ethel Simpson Waddington, a very passive girl, which suited Christie. On May 10, 1920, they married at Halifax Registry Office. But Christie’s sexual problems remained, and during their courtship, they never had sex at all. Christie, instead, continued to use the services of prostitutes for his sexual needs.
The couple moved to Ethel’s home town of Sheffield, where the marriage became turbulent. Christie couldn’t seem to hold on to a job for very long, and in addition, he had also become a petty criminal.
While working as a postman, Christie was caught after the police discovered sacks of unopened mail in his room. He was charged with stealing postal orders, and on April 12, 1921, he was sentenced to three months in jail.
In January, 1923, he found himself in trouble again. This time, he was convicted of obtaining money by false pretences and violent conduct. For this, he received a sentence of 12 months probation. The following year, 1924, he got nine months hard labor for stealing goods and money.
By this time, Ethel was fed up with her husbands petty stealing and inability to hold down a job. She left him and moved in with relatives. Christie moved down to London.
By 1929, Christie was living in Battersea, South London, with a prostitute, and once more, Christie found himself in trouble. In what was described by the judge as a “murderous attack,” Christie had clubbed the prostitute across the head with a cricket bat. Yet, despite the severity of the attack, Christie was only sentenced to six months hard labor.
In his final brush with the law, Christie had become friendly with a priest, and then stole his car. For this, he was sent to prison for three months at the end of 1933.
While in prison, Christie got in touch with Ethel and asked if she would visit him. Ethel was lonely, and dismissing the past, came to see him. After Christie was released from prison, Ethel and Christie decided to put the past behind them and reconcile. They moved back in together.
Reconciled they may have been, but for Christie, the sexual problems still remained, and once again, he sought prostitutes for his sexual needs.
In 1934, Christie was hit by a car while he was out cycling. Taken to hospital, he had to have an operation on his knee. Once again, playing for sympathy, he exaggerated his injuries, stating that he was unconscious for more than an hour, a fact that is not mentioned in hospital records.
In London, the couple lived at 23 Oxford Gardens, W10, and at 173 Clarendon Road, W11, before finally moving to 10 Rillington Place in 1937, where they had the top two rooms which would later be occupied by Timothy and Beryl Evans. In December, 1938, they transferred to the ground floor flat.
World War II broke out, and in September 1939, Christie joined the War Reserve Police as a special constable at Harrow Road police station. Probably due to the lack of manpower at the time, and the confusion caused by the events of the war, no check was made of Christie’s past, which would have stopped him becoming a policeman.
Christie, for the first time in his life, was in a position of power, and he used it. His neighbors began to dislike this man who abused his position and acted like a bully. He even got himself a new nickname, “The Himmler of Rillington Place.”
While he was at Harrow Road, Christie met a married woman whose husband was fighting overseas, and he began to see her in secret, although whether there was a sexual relationship is unknown. The relationship lasted until the middle of 1943, when the husband returned home unexpectedly and caught them together. Christie took a beating from the husband, and this may have been the trigger that started the murders.
Ethel made frequent trips back home to Sheffield to visit friends and relatives, and Christie took full advantage of the empty flat.
The Killings Begin
In 1943, most likely after his beating, Christie, still a War Reserve policeman, visited a snack bar in Ladbroke Grove. He was there, supposedly, on police business, though he was actually off duty at the time. While there, he caught the eye of a 21-year-old Austrian girl named Ruth Fuerst, who worked at a munitions factory and lived not far from Rillington Place.
There is some suggestion, likely correct, that Ruth supplemented her income by working as a prostitute part time. Christie struck up a conversation with her, and a relationship began. Soon, they were meeting regularly, and one day in August, Christie took Ruth back to 10 Rillington Place. Ethel was away visiting relatives in Sheffield and Christie had the flat to himself.
According to Christie, he and Ruth were in the bedroom at 10 Rillington Place when suddenly, “She undressed and wanted me to have intercourse with her. I got a telegram while she was there, saying that my wife was on her way home. The girl wanted us to team up together and go right away somewhere together. I would not do that. I got on the bed and had intercourse with her. I strangled her with a piece of rope.”
Christie said that he was offended by the way that she had acted, and she had basically got what she deserved. Christie’s claim of being offended is unlikely as he had been seeing her for a while by this point and undoubtedly knew she was a prostitute as he had been using her services.
Christie dragged the body to the front room where the floorboards were loose. He removed the boards and placed Ruth’s body in the space underneath, along with her clothing.
Ethel arrived home, along with her brother, to find nothing out of the ordinary in the house. The brother stayed overnight, unaware of what lay under the floorboards of the front room.
The next day, Ethel’s brother left, and Ethel went off to work, leaving Christie to carry on with the disposal of his first victim. After removing the floorboards, he dragged Ruth out to the wash-house in the back and hid the body there. Then he began to dig a grave for her in the garden.
Before he had finished, Ethel came home, and they had a cup of tea together. That night, after Ethel had gone to bed, Christie stayed up and carried on with his grisly task. When the hole was deep enough, he went to the wash-house and dragged the body of Ruth Fuerst over to the grave and dropped her in, along with her clothes. He then filled the hole and went to bed. Christie would later admit that he felt a powerful thrill as he looked down at his first victim.
The next day, Christie raked over the area where he had buried the body, and accidentally pulled up some of the clothing. This he put in an old dustbin that was used for burning rubbish. Some months later, Christie accidentally dug up Ruth’s skull. This went into the dustbin as well, where it would eventually be discovered during the police search.
Ruth’s disappearance was reported to the police of September 1, but no one could find her. Her disappearance would remain a mystery for almost 10 years.
The following year, Christie’s time as a War Reserve policeman came to an end, and he joined a radio manufacturing company as a clerk, where he met a 32-year-old woman who worked in the assembly department. Her name was Muriel Eady.
Muriel was a short, heavy woman, who lived with her aunt. She and Christie got along quite well, and she often came around to 10 Rillington Place for tea with Reg and Ethel, accompanied by her boyfriend.
Muriel suffered from bronchial catarrh and had told Christie about it. Christie had always liked to give the impression he had some medical knowledge, a claim supported by the “medical” books that he owned, which were really nothing more than books he had picked up as a first aid worker. Some even believed that he was a doctor who had been struck off for some reason.
Christie told Muriel that he could help with her problem, and he invited her around the Rillington Place for some treatment. It was October, 1944, and Ethel was, once again, away visiting relatives in Sheffield, leaving Christie home alone. It was the opportunity he had been waiting for.
He invited Muriel around and made her a cup of tea, and then showed her the device that he would use to cure her of her problems with catarrh. It was a fairly simple device. A square jar with a metal lid held the special inhalant that smelled of Friar’s Balsam. The lid had two holes in it, and through these holes were two tubes. One of the tubes went down into the liquid while the other end trailed off around the back of the deck chair that she was to sit in. The other tube did not go into the liquid, and the other end was attached to a home made mask that the user would breathe through.
Muriel sat down in the deck chair and Christie placed the mask over her face. He told her that she may feel light headed and not to worry about it, it was the medication doing its magic.
As Muriel breathed deeply, Christie reached behind the chair. The other end of the tubing that went into the liquid was attached to the coal gas pipe. Christie released the gas, and Muriel, unable to smell the poisonous carbon monoxide gas because of the Friar’s Balsam, quickly went limp as consciousness faded away.
Christie then pulled the unconscious woman to the floor, pulled off her underwear and pushed up her clothing, and tied a stocking around her throat.
The sexually aroused Christie began to strangle Muriel as he penetrated her body. Soon he was finished, and Muriel was dead. Christie had cured her catarrh, and any other ailment she may have been suffering from.
Once again, he dragged the body out to the wash-house where it remained while he dug another grave in the garden. Muriel was buried not too far from where Ruth Fuerst lay. When, some time later, Christie managed to dig up her femur by accident, he just used it to prop up the sagging fence.
Christie was quiet for a few years, and then the Evans moved in.
Beryl and Geraldine Murdered
It is probable that Christie felt a desire for Beryl Evans right from the beginning, he just had to bide his time. Timothy Evans was impressed with his soft spoken neighbor, who was obviously educated beyond Evans’s capabilities, especially as he had medical knowledge, or so he hinted. Christie showed Timothy his “medical” books, and Evans would believe anything Christie said. Christie had to have realized that here was a man who could be manipulated and easily tricked. And when the time came, Christie struck.
With a second baby on the way, Beryl wanted to have an abortion, and who better to turn to than their neighbor, a respectable former policeman with medical expertise. He would surely help. But when Timothy Evans found out about Beryl’s plan to get rid of the baby, he wanted no part of it, and he told Christie that they were not interested in getting an abortion. Christie, seeing an opportunity slip away, tried to persuade him that everything would be okay, but Timothy still refused.
But Beryl was still insistent, and would go through with it. A short while later, Timothy discovered that money he had been giving to Beryl for housekeeping had been spent on other things, and a serious argument broke out. Timothy threatened to leave, and Beryl told him to go. Instead, he went to the movies.
On November 7, 1949, while Timothy was at work, Beryl went to Christie and made arrangements for him to carry out the abortion the next day. She told Timothy that night and another argument occurred, during which they both hit each other.
But something seemed to have been resolved as Beryl asked Timothy to let Christie know that everything was okay. For Beryl, the meaning behind the message was that it was okay for Christie to proceed, but it could be that for Timothy, the message meant that everything was okay, and there was no need for the abortion.
There were workmen in the house the next day. They had been coming since the end of October, working on the wash-house and the roof, and ripping out walls and floors where Christie felt there was a problem. Kitchener was away in the hospital, and apart from the workmen, Christie and Beryl were alone in the house.
According to Christie, he came upstairs to Beryl sometime around midday. She had made preparations by spreading out a quilt in front of the fire. When Christie came in, Beryl lay down upon it. Christie is then unclear about what happened next. In one account, Beryl went into a panic and Christie started to hit her. He then pulled out a cord and strangled her. In one of his accounts he says that he tried to have intercourse with her, but he couldn’t, and in another account, he states that he did have intercourse with her. He also stated that a short while before, Beryl had tried to kill herself with gas, and he had found her lying on the floor in front of the fire with the gas on. He opened the door and the windows to get rid of the gas, then made her a cup of tea and comforted her. According to Christie, the next day she asked him to help her commit suicide, and “she said she would do anything … I think she was referring to letting me be intimate with her.” Once again, the death was not his fault, she wanted to die. All he did was help her. “I turned the gas tap on and as near as I can make out I held it close to her face. When she became unconscious I turned the tap off. I was going to try to have intercourse with her but it was impossible. I couldn’t bend over. I think that is when I strangled her.”
Which of his accounts, if any, is the true one is not clear, though it is more likely that he attempted sex but couldn’t do it as he was suffering from back pains at the time, making some movement difficult.
Joan Vincent was a friend of Beryl’s, and around this time, she paid a call on her. She was surprised to find that the door to Beryl’s flat was closed, something Beryl never did. Joan knocked on the door but there was no answer, which was also a surprise as Beryl was usually home at this time.
Joan tried the door, which opened a little and then was blocked. Joan said later that although there was no sound, she was certain that there was someone on the other side of the door, blocking it from opening. If this is true, then Christie must have been in a panic, but managed to show coolness under pressure.
When Timothy arrived home from work that evening, he found Christie waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. He told Evans to go up, he would follow behind. When they reached the top floor, Christie told Timothy that it was bad news. The abortion procedure didn’t work, and Beryl had died.
Christie led the distraught Timothy into the bedroom where, lying on the bed and covered with a blanket, was the body of his wife, Beryl. Timothy was distressed and vulnerable, and open to suggestion. Christie persuaded Timothy that going to the police would just cause trouble for the both of them. Would that be fair on Christie, as all he had done was try to help, and abortion was illegal. As for Timothy, the arguments and the violence would surely point the finger at him for the death of his wife.
Christie’s persuasiveness worked, Timothy would agree to whatever Christie said. Christie told Timothy that he would dispose of the body. First, they would both move it down into Kitchener’s empty flat and put the body in the kitchen. Christie would need Timothy’s help with this as he was unable to lift her on his own because of his bad back. Christie then told Timothy that he would get rid of the body later by putting it down the drain outside.
Evans would have to leave and so he agreed to stay with his mother. However, he would take Geraldine with him. Christie said this was a bad idea. It would cause too much suspicion. People would see him with Geraldine and begin to wonder where Beryl was. Christie said that he would think of something.
Timothy stayed in the flat overnight, and by the next day, Christie had come up with a solution. Christie knew of a young couple who were childless and desperately wanted a baby. They would take Geraldine and Timothy would be assured that she was being looked after. Timothy was to let people know that Beryl had gone away with Geraldine for a holiday. Timothy prepared Geraldine’s things for her move to a new home, having been told by Christie that the couple would be arriving sometime that day to collect her.
When Timothy went off to work, Christie took Geraldine and strangled her, and then put her body with that of her mother in Kitcheners’ flat.
Joan Vincent returned later that day and she started up the stairs to see Beryl. Christie, seeing her, headed her off and asked what she wanted. When she said that she’d come to visit Beryl, Christie told her that Beryl and Geraldine had gone away. However, Joan could see the baby furniture and the pram. Christie said it would be better if she did not come back.
When Timothy got home that evening, Christie told him that the couple had collected Geraldine, and that it would be better for everyone concerned if Timothy sold all of his furniture and then left London. Evans fell in with Christie’s suggestion and after getting rid of the furniture, travelled down to Merthyr Vale, coming back just once, on November 23, to ask about his daughter, only to be told by Christie that he should leave or they would both get into trouble.
When the builders finished their work and had left the premises, Christie got both bodies downstairs and out to the back. Beryl and Geraldine, now neatly wrapped in blankets and tablecloths, were hidden in the wash-house and covered with the floorboards that had been left by the workmen. They stayed there until they were discovered by the police on December 2.
It’s likely that both bodies would have ended up in graves in the garden, but were discovered before Christie could do anything.
Christie Murders His Wife
After the execution of Timothy Evans, things began to change at 10 Rillington Place. Christie, always a hypochondriac, had become worse. He felt that he was being persecuted, and his mental state caused him to be examined at the Springfield Mental Hospital for a short while, where he was found by Dr. Petit to be “an insignificant, old womanish city man. Girlish voice, mincing walk. Latent homosexual, though not overt.”
By 1952, Christie had quit his job and was now home all the time, and Ethel was not visiting her relatives in Sheffield as much as she did in the past. Christie was frustrated. He wanted to kill again, he had not murdered anyone since Beryl over three years before, and there was an obstacle in his way. Ethel.
On the morning of December 14, 1952, Christie strangled Ethel as she lay in bed. According to Christie, “I was awakened at about 8:15 a.m. I think it was my wife moving about in bed. I sat up and saw that she appeared to be convulsive. Her face was blue and she was choking. I did what I could to try to restore her breathing, but it was hopeless. It appeared too late to call for assistance, that is when I couldn’t bear to see her, so I got a stocking and tied it around her neck to put her to sleep.” He added he had no idea what it was that were causing his wife to have convulsions, but as he got out of bed after her death, he “saw a small bottle and a cup half-full of water on a small table near the bed. I noticed that the bottle contained two pheno-barbitone tablets and it originally contained twenty-five. I knew then that she must have taken the remainder.” Ethel’s post mortem, however, showed no trace of pills in her stomach. He left her in bed for three days as he did not know what to do with her, but then remembered the loose floorboards in the living room, where Ruth Fuerst once spent the night.
He got Ethel’s body into the living room, dropped her into the space he had made by removing the boards, and then covered her with some earth and rubble from the garden before replacing the boards.
Christie told neighbors and friends that Ethel had moved to Sheffield and that he was going to follow on shortly after. It was no secret that the Christie’s wanted to move out of the house, now that it was filled with West Indians, but many of her friends were surprised that Ethel had gone without calling on them to say goodbye.
Christie also began sending out letters from Ethel to relatives that she had written but had not gotten around to mailing before she was killed. Christie changed the date on them to make it appear they were written later. In subsequent letters, he wrote them himself, explaining that Ethel’s rheumatism prevented her from writing and that she was dictating them to him.
Christie had been unemployed since December 6, and needed money. He sold Ethel’s wedding ring and her watch, and started to sell off the furniture. Each week, he went down to the Labour Exchange to collect unemployment benefits, and on January 26, 1953, he forged Ethel’s signature and went to the bank where he emptied her account.
Soon, people began to notice that Christie was doing something odd. He had taken to sprinkling the garden and the house with disinfectant, most likely in response to remarks made by the neighbors that the house was beginning to smell.
The Killings Escalate
Now that he was free of Ethel, Christie was able to do as he liked, and the desire to kill, suppressed for the past three years, was freed, and it escalated.
Sometime between January 2 and 19, 1953, Christie had a chance meeting with 25- year- old Rita Nelson, a prostitute who was six months pregnant. It’s likely that she met Christie in a pub, and once again pretending to have medical knowledge, he persuaded Rita that he could abort the unwanted child. Rita came round to Rillington Place where, as he did with Muriel Eady, had Rita sit in a chair while he helped her put on the gas mask. Once unconscious, her fate was the same as the previous victims, pulled to the floor and raped as he strangled her to death. Christie’s version is different.
I lived in the flat and one evening I went up Ladbroke Grove to get some fish and chips for the animals. I had a dog and a cat. On the way back, in Ladbroke Grove, a drunken woman stood in front of me and demanded a pound for me to take her round the corner. I said. 'I am not interested and I haven't got money to throw away.' I'm not like that. I haven't had intercourse with any women for over two years, my doctor will tell you that. He is Doctor Odess, Colville Square. She then demanded 30 shillings and said she would scream and say I had interfered with her if I didn't give it to her. I walked away as I am so well known around there and she would have obviously caused a scene. She came along, she wouldn't go and she came right to the door still demanding 30 shillings.
When I opened the door she forced her way in. I went to the kitchen and she was still on about this 30 shillings. I tried to get her out and she picked up a frying pan to hit me. I closed with her and there was a struggle and she fell back on the chair. It was a deck chair. There was a piece of rope hanging from the chair. I don't know what happened but I must have gone haywire. The next thing I remember she was lying in the chair with the rope round her neck. I don't remember taking it off. It couldn't have been tied. I left her there and went into the front room. After that I believe I had a cup of tea and went to bed.
Thanks to the dry and cold conditions found in the pantry, the bodies were well preserved. Dr. Francis Camps, the Home Office pathologist who did the post mortems, found semen in Nelson’s vagina, and a large concentration of carbon monoxide was found in her blood.
Christie had not gone “haywire” as he claimed. It was a planned and well executed murder to satisfy his sexual needs.
Some accounts put her death as occurring on January 2, but she had an appointment at a medical centre on January 12, which she kept, and it was there that she was tested and found to be pregnant. It is clear that her death took place after that date.
Rita Nelson was the first of the victims to be placed in the small pantry.
A few days after the death of Rita Nelson, Christie went into a café in Notting Hill. The café was crowded and Christie had to share a table with two young women. The two women were talking about their search for a suitable flat for accommodation. Christie gave his account of the meeting.
I went into a café in Notting Hill for a cup of tea and a sandwich. The café was pretty full; there wasn’t much space. Two girls sat at a table and I sat opposite at the same table. They were talking about rooms, where they had been looking to get accommodation. Then one of them spoke to me. She asked me for a cigarette and then started a conversation. During the conversation, I mentioned about leaving my flat and that it would be vacant very soon, and they suggested coming down together to see it in the evening. Only one came down.
The one that came down was 26-year-old Kathleen Maloney, a part time prostitute and nude model. How he got her to sit in the chair while he gassed her is unknown, but as her post mortem showed that she had been drinking heavily, it is likely that she was drunk enough for Christie to handle her with some ease and get the mask over her face. Once again, Christie’s version is self serving.
She looked over the flat. She said it would be suitable subject to the landlord's permission. It was then that she made suggestions that she would visit me for a few days. She said this so that I would use my influence with the landlord as a sort of payment of kind. I was rather annoyed and told her that it didn't interest me. I think she started saying I was making accusations against her when she saw there was nothing doing. She said that she would bring someone down to me. I believe it was then that she mentioned something about Irish blood. She was in a violent temper. I remember she started fighting. I am very quiet and avoid fighting. I know there was something, it's in the back of my mind. She was on the floor. I must have put her in the alcove straight away.
Once again, the forensic evidence would prove Christie to be a liar. Kathleen Maloney had been gassed with carbon monoxide and strangled, and sexually assaulted at the time of her death.
The Final Victim
Hectorina McLennan was Christie’s final victim. On March 3, the 26 year old was leaving a café with her boyfriend, a man named Baker, when they bumped into Christie. As Baker crossed over the road to chat with a friend, Christie struck up a conversation with Hectorina. During the conversation, she told Christie that she and Baker had just been evicted from their flat and were looking for somewhere else to stay. Christie, no doubt seeing an opportunity, offered them both accommodations at his home for a few days until they could find somewhere more suitable.
After three nights at number 10, Christie asked them to leave.
If Christie was cursing his missed opportunity, he was in luck.
The girl came back alone. She asked if he had called and I said 'No', but I was expecting him. She said she would wait, but I told her she couldn't and that he may be looking for her, and that she must go and that she couldn't stay there alone. She was very funny about it. I got hold of her arm and tried to lead her out. I pushed her out of the kitchen. She started struggling like anything and some of her clothing got torn. She then sort of fell limp as I got hold of her. She sank to the ground and I think that some of her clothing must have got caught around her neck in the struggle. She was just out of the kitchen in the passageway. I tried to lift her up but couldn't. I then pulled her into the kitchen on to a chair. I felt her pulse, but it wasn't beating. I pulled the cupboard away again and I must have put her in there.
Hectorina had been strangled, but not by her own clothing as Christie said. What was used was a length of smooth coated flex, such as an electrical cord, and she had been strangled only after being gassed first.
Christie papered over the pantry, concealing the area and its grisly contents, but there was nothing he could do about the growing stench.
With no money and no furniture, and with the smell of four rotting bodies in the flat, Christie had to get out, and left on March 20, and with his leaving, Beresford Brown made his horrific discovery.
Christie had to have known that leaving Rillington Place would mean that the discovery of the bodies would occur that much sooner. There was no mystery about who the murderer was, and the hunt for the monster of Rillington Place began.
The Hunt for the Monster of Rillington Place
Christie went to a Rowton House, a hostel for working men, in Kings Cross, where he paid for lodging for seven days, using his real name. But when the news of what had been discovered at Rillington Place hit the headlines, Christie left. For the rest of the time, he wandered around London, sleeping rough and spending most of his time in cafés and movie theatres.
Norman Rae was the chief crime reporter for the News Of The World newspaper, and he remembered the Evans case very well, having covered it for the newspaper three years earlier. As with all of the newspapers, the News Of The World was considering the Evans’s side of the story, and Rae was about to become personally involved.
It was late at night on March 29 when Rae’s telephone rang at the News Of The World office. Rae picked it up. On the other end, a whispery voice asked Rae if he remembered him. Rae remembered him very well; he had interviewed Christie three years earlier when he covered the Evans killings.
Christie wanted to give Rae an exclusive, and offered to meet a few hours later outside Wood Green Town Hall. Rae said that he would be there. Rae, along with a driver, got over to Wood Green and waited in the darkened car for Christie to show. Soon, there was movement, and Christie appeared in the shadows.
But Christie saw, from the corner of his eye, two police constables appear from the direction of the Town Hall, and thinking he was about to be arrested, the killer slipped back into the shadows and disappeared. Rae must have cursed for the lost scoop.
|The Embankment at Putney where Christie was arrested|
On the last day of March, Christie was on the bank of the Thames at Putney Embankment, leaning over the railing and looking at the river. A police constable named Thomas Ledger walked past and thought the man looked suspicious. Ledger stopped and asked the man his name. “John Waddington” replied the man, and said he was 35 years old and was waiting to get his unemployment cards. Ledger asked the man to remove his hat. Once Ledger got a good look at him, with his bald head and his whispering voice, he knew who stood in front of him.
Ledger arrested him and took him to Putney Police Station in a police van that happened to be passing at the right moment. Realizing that the pretense would do no good, “John Waddington” gave his real name. John Reginald Halliday Christie, the monster of Rillington Place, had been captured.
Over the following few months, Christie would confess to his crimes on three separate occasions. His confessions, though essentially true in that he was the murderer, were designed to show him in the best light, and his explanations as to how and why the killings took place were self serving. Facts were altered, some details were exaggerated, and some details were conveniently forgotten.
He gave an account of his life to the Sunday Pictorial newspaper in which he claimed that a powerful and mysterious force that he couldn’t control made him commit the murders. He tried to present himself as someone who was forced to kill his victims by the victims themselves. Ruth asked for it by stripping off and demanding sex. Beryl wanted to commit suicide, all he did was help. His last three victims were violent and the deaths were self defense. Even Ethel’s death was a mercy killing. The truth was that Ethel was in the way, and Christie wanted to pursue his murderous hobby. It also may have been that Ethel had put two and two together, and was beginning to suspect that he may have had a hand in the death of Beryl Evans.
Muriel Eady was the only one of his victims that he didn’t blame for her own death. And he never admitted, not officially anyway, that he was responsible for the death of Geraldine Evans. But he couldn’t, not if his defense plan was going to work. With all of his victims, it was their own fault, or, in the case of Ethel, it was a mercy killing. The prostitutes provoked him with their overt sexual attempts or their violent attacks on him, and Beryl wanted to die anyway. None of these excuses could be placed on a 13-month- old little girl.
The truth was that Geraldine was murdered simply to get rid of a problem. If Beryl and Geraldine disappeared, then it could be assumed that they had just left, with Beryl fed up with Timothy and taking the baby with her. If Timothy and Geraldine were together, then people would start asking questions regarding the whereabouts of Beryl, and the truth could come out. The trail could have led back to Christie. So Geraldine had to go.
For a while, in May and June, Christie was put aside in the public thoughts as preparations for the June 2 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth were made, and the news that a British Expedition had finally conquered Everest. But then, on June 22, 1953, the trial of Christie began at the Old Bailey.
Christie’s Trial at Old Bailey
Queues had begun to form for seats to watch the trial 14 hours earlier. Despite the fact that he had confessed to six other murders, he was only charged with one, that of murdering his wife.
He readily admitted to killing Ethel, so the question was not whether he was guilty of murder, but whether he was insane.
As there is a presumption of sanity, so the burden of proof was placed on the defense. It was necessary for the defense to prove that Christie was insane under the M’Naghten Rules.
The M’Naghten, sometimes spelled McNaugton, Rules are named after Daniel M’Naghten, who attempted to assassinate the British Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1843.
The defense had to show that either Christie did not know the nature and the quality of the act, or that, if he did, then he didn’t know that it was wrong.
Whether it was a mercy killing or not, he was guilty of murder, there being no such defense as “mercy killing” in law.
The facts as stated by the prosecution showed a man who was devious, who tried to conceal the murder of his wife by hiding the body underneath the floorboards, who tried to convince others through forged letters that she was still alive. This was a man who had forged his wife’s signature in order to obtain the contents of her bank account by deceit, and then forged her signature to a receipt to say that she had received it. This man had told people that she was with her relatives in Sheffield, and he had told the person to whom he sold the furniture that she had gone away and that he was joining her later.
The deceit that he had shown by covering up the murder and his later actions indicated a man who was fully aware of what he was doing and knew that it was wrong.
The defense chose to bring into evidence the other killings, which may prove that he was insane. The defense maintained that although Christie knew what he was doing, he did not know that it was wrong. Christie was called on to testify, and throughout his story, he would mumble, or refuse to speak, and answered many of the questions with, “I don’t know” or “I cannot remember.”
He also placed some of the blame on the West Indians in the house, claiming that they were provoking and harassing him. He may have been truthful with these complaints as Charles Brown, the new landlord, turned the house into an illegal after hours drinking club, in which there were subsequent reports of drug dealing the following year.
When the psychiatric experts appeared, Dr. Hobson for the defense stated that Christie suffered from hysteria, and therefore, with the severe form that Christie suffered from, should be considered to have a “disease of the mind.” This would place it within the M’Naghten Rules as proof of insanity.
The prosecution asked about Christie’s deceit in hiding the body, which would suggest that he did know that what he was doing was wrong. The defense, in answer, stated that they didn’t contend that Christie was insane all the time, only when he committed the murders.
The prosecution called its psychiatrist for the rebuttal. In his opinion, Christie knew that what he was doing was wrong, he just didn’t care. A second psychiatrist told the court that the “falsification of memory” in which he cannot remember specific details of the murders, which the defense put forth as further proof of insanity, were merely Christie’s attempts to deliberately hide the truth. His lapses of memory were only apparent when it was convenient for him not to remember something that was damning, but his memory appeared to be perfectly sound when he was remembering anything that was of benefit to his defense.
The defense had a weak case. It tried to convince the jury that the murder of Ethel Christie was completely motiveless, and only a madman would kill for no reason. Yet a reason had come up. The motive for the murder of Ethel Christie was a by-product of lust. Christie needed Ethel out of the way to continue his lustful killings of the other women.
The defense tactic of introducing the other murders to back up their insanity plea had backfired as they had provided the motive for the murder of his wife, who was a hindrance to his plans to kill more women.
Guilty – Death by Hanging
On June 25, after just 84 minutes of deliberation, the jury gave its verdict. Guilty as charged.
The judge, Mr. Justice Finnemore, wearing the black cap, said, “You have been found guilty of murder by the jury and for that crime there is only one sentence known to our law, and that is that you be taken from this place to a lawful prison and thence to a place of execution and there suffer death by hanging and that your body be buried in the precincts of the prison.”
On July 15, just 20 days after the judge read the sentence, Christie faced the noose at Pentonville Prison, the same noose that Timothy Evans faced just over three years before. With his arms bound, Christie complained that his nose was itchy. The hangman, Albert Pierrepoint reassured Christie, “It won’t bother you for long.”
Did Christie kill more than eight people? It seems likely that these were not his only victims. As a wartime policeman, there would be many opportunities to kill and get rid of the body in a bombed building. The four clumps of pubic hair that didn’t belong to any known victims would point to there being others. And the gaps between killings are long, which is also unusual. But these are questions that can never be answered.
For the residents of Rillington Place, life became a nightmare. Sightseers flocked to see the infamous house, crowding the already narrow cul-de-sac. Mrs. Sarah McFadden, the resident at number 3, organized a petition, which was signed by 83 residents, asking for a change to the street name. It was presented to the council on May 19, 1953. Although the council felt that the name change would make no difference to the sightseers, the name was finally changed in May the following year, to Ruston Close. As the council suspected, it didn’t stop the sightseers.
Eventually, the whole road was demolished in the early 1970s and no longer exists.
Christie’s guilty verdict did not end the case. Christie’s crimes were unthinkable in an era when lust murder was unheard of, but there was something more horrifying for the Conservative Government: Had they, three years before, hanged an innocent man?
Was Timothy Evans an Innocent Man?
Questions were already being asked, and the Government was in a panic.
At the very least, this could be a huge embarrassment, and the worst possible scenario was that it could put into question the whole of the British Justice System.
But the police investigation was thorough and its results were beyond question. Evans killed his wife and daughter. There could be no problem.
But there was a problem, the police had not done their job. The fact was the police investigation into the deaths of Beryl and Geraldine was a mess. When Evans told the police in Wales that he had disposed of his wife, they were certain that he was responsible. The fact that it took three men to lift the cover on the drain showed that Evans was a liar.
The police, believing that they had their man, were determined that he should not escape justice. Evans, after being told that his wife’s body was not where he told them it would be, told them that Christie did it. The police decided that this was just to shift the blame. They may have been right, but they should still have checked Christie’s background, just to be on the safe side. If they had, Christie past convictions, including one for the “murderous attack” on a woman, would have come to light, and Christie would not have been regarded as the decent and upstanding citizen that he pretended to be.
But beyond that, there were other aspects of the “investigation” that were, at best, criminally negligent. While searching for Beryl’s body in the garden, the police failed to notice a human thigh bone propping up the sagging fence, even though the garden was, supposedly, examined. Some other bones were visible, thanks to Christie’s dog having dug them up. Shortly after the police search, the dog pulled up the skull of Muriel Eady. Christie slipped it under his coat and walked past the policemen waiting outside the house and threw it into a bombed out house in St. Mark’s Road, where it was discovered shortly after. It was handed in to the police, who decided it was a bomb victim.
Why did they not question the fact that the house had been bombed eight or nine years before, but the skull only discovered now? Why did they not consider it to be too much of a coincidence that they find a skull at the same time as they are looking for a body just around the corner? It defied explanation.
Had the search of the garden been as thorough as it should have been, the first two victims would have been found, and Evans claim that “Christie did it” would not have been disregarded so easily.
The discovery of the clipping concerning the Stanley Setty murder told the police that Evans was going to get rid of the bodies in the same manner. Why would he have a clipping otherwise. The problem was, why would he have a clipping at all, he couldn’t read, it would have been indecipherable to him. But Christie was known to be an avid clipper.
The bodies of Beryl and Geraldine were found in the wash-house on December 2, and had been dead for three weeks. That, according to the police thinking, is where Evans left them. But the workmen who had been doing work there since October had been using the wash-house to store their tools, and the bodies were certainly not there during that time. The workmen had only finished using the wash-house the day before the bodies were discovered.
The workmen also stated that the wood that was used to cover the bodies was from floorboards that had been taken up after Evans had left, and the wood had been given to Christie. With this evidence, the guilt of Timothy Evans should have been, at the very least, questioned. He couldn’t have moved the bodies to the wash-house the day before; he was already in police custody.
But the confessions were proof that Evans committed the murders. They were very detailed and accurate, he knew where the bodies were, he knew how they had been killed, and he knew what they were wearing. How could he know so much detail if he was not the killer.
The fact was that all of these details were already known to the police, and the police coached Evans in what to say during the confession. Evans was fearful of the police, there had been hints of violence if he didn’t come clean, and with this threat over him Evans was scared that he would be hurt. As they fed him the details of the murders, he agreed that it was so, and after a long night of interrogation (and not the 75 minutes that the police stated it took), Evans had confessed to a murder that he didn’t commit in details that should have been known only to the killer.
Since then, forensic linguistics experts have examined the confessions and have stated that Evans, with his low IQ and lack of education, could not have written the statements.
The trial was equally incompetent and showed bias toward the accused. The main witness for the prosecution was Christie himself, who was called upon to give evidence, as was Dr. Teare, who carried out the post mortems.
But the workmen who were at 10 Rillington Place were never called. In addition, the police re-interviewed the workmen, and managed to get some of them at least to change their story to fit in with the theory that Evans killed his family. According to one source, they even produced a photograph of a dead baby (not connected to the case) to manipulate the workers emotionally.
There was also a time sheet produced by the workmen’s company that proved that their statements and dates were true, and which would have shown that Evans could not have been the person who placed the bodies in the wash-house. That time sheet was confiscated by the police, and was never seen again.
Evans’s defense was never informed about the workmen or their statements to the police, and so, not knowing they existed, couldn’t call them as witnesses.
The firm that took on Evans’ defense, Freeborough, Slack, and Company, never followed through on any of the investigation, and when told of Dr. Teare’s post mortem evidence that an attempt at sexual penetration of Beryl had occurred, suggesting a “sexual mania”, the firm decided not to bring it up in court, believing it would make their work harder.
Evans’s barrister was told by his client of his fear of being beaten by the police if he didn’t confess, and could have used it in a false confession defense, but the barrister ignored it.
In his summing up, the judge presented the jury with two options. Either Dr. Teare, the pathologist was lying about the post mortem results, or Evans was lying. He pointed out that Evans had a reputation and a record as a habitual liar, and pointed out the luminous reputation of Christie.
It was a completely biased summing up, and it was clear to the jury what verdict the judge wanted from them.
With Christie admitting to the murder of Beryl Evans, the public began to ask questions concerning the Timothy Evans case, and the Howard League for Prison Reform contacted the Home Secretary and asked for an inquiry, to be held in public, “so that public confidence in justice be maintained.”
The Whitewashing of the Evans’s Conviction
With the real possibility that there had been a miscarriage of justice, the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe had no choice but to bow to their wishes and commission an inquiry. John Scott Henderson, QC, was appointed to head the inquiry, but the inquiry was not to be a public one, but a private one, and its location would be secret.
This worried the Howard League and the Members of Parliament who had added their voices to a call for an inquiry.
The inquiry began the week before Christie was due to be hanged, and the main witness for the inquiry would be none other that Christie himself. He was interviewed and told the inquiry that he was pressured to claim as many murders as possible for an insanity plea.
The body of Beryl Evans was exhumed and a second post mortem took place. It concluded that Beryl had not been gassed, as Christie had claimed, and that she had been strangled with a length of rope.
Christie’s doctor was also interviewed, and he stated that Christie’s back problem came after the death of Beryl Evans. He concluded that Christie would have been physically able to lift Beryl’s lifeless body to move it, but it would have been enough to cause the back problem that he suffered.
The inquiry was over within a week, and the results of the inquiry were published on July 14, the day before Christie was due to hang. The conclusion was that no miscarriage of justice had taken place, and that Timothy Evans was guilty of the murder of Geraldine Evans.
Scott Henderson had decided that the opinion of Christie’s doctor about the back problem that Christie complained of could be dismissed as the doctor was only a general practitioner and so not qualified to express an opinion on Christie’s physical state at the time of the murder.
Scott Henderson had also concluded that Evans blaming the killing of his wife on Christie was a complete coincidence. The conclusion was that the case against Timothy Evans was overwhelming, Evans did kill his wife and daughter, and Christie’s admission to being the killer of Beryl Evans was a lie.
This conclusion was reached through selectively taking evidence that would show Evans was guilty and disregarding evidence that would prove that a miscarriage of justice had occurred.
Among the evidence was the “irresistible inference” that Evans had to have committed the murders as he knew every detail of the murders and knew where the bodies had been hidden. The fact that all the details of the crimes were known to the police at the time the statement was made, and there was a probability that the police had fed Evans the details, was dismissed.
The newspaper cutting about the Setty murder was referred to in the inquiry, showing that Evans probably planned to dispose of the bodies in the same manner. The fact that Evans was illiterate and couldn’t read, and that Christie was known to be an avid newspaper clipper, was also dismissed.
Other evidence that would have pointed to Evans being innocent of the charge was also ignored.
The results of the inquiry were given to MP’s less than 24 hours before Christie was to be executed, timed precisely so that the main witness, the one person who knew the truth and could shed some light on what actually happened, would be dead before the debate could begin.
MP’s were furious. This was an inquiry that the Home Secretary was reluctant about right from the beginning, which was held strictly in private, an inquiry where the witnesses could not be cross examined, and concluded with the publishing of the report within a matter of only five days.
Scott Henderson’s conclusion was that there were two murderers living at 10 Rillington Place, both killing independently of each other, both killing in a very similar way, both hiding the bodies in the same general area, and both having or attempting to have sex with the bodies. In addition, one of the murderers by an unbelievable coincidence, blaming the other one, even though he had no idea that he was actually killing women.
Maxwell-Fyfe declined to make the evidence public.
It was clear that this was an inquiry in name only. The main objective was not to discover if there had been a gross miscarriage of justice, the objective was to protect the integrity of the investigating police officers and the British Justice System itself.
In Parliament, the report was viciously attacked. Geoffrey Bing, QC, the MP for Hornchurch delivered what, at the time, was called by Michael Foot, “one of the most formidable which has been delivered in this house for many years.” Bing stated, “The whole of the report was shot through with prejudice and evidence of all sorts of irregularities.” Michael Foot said it was not worth the paper it had been written on, and Reginald Paget said that it deliberately concealed the truth and was dishonest.
Outraged, the MP’s called for a second inquiry to take place, but their request was denied.
The public also did not believe the report. One of Britain’s leading folk singers, Ewan MacColl, wrote a song, showing his anger at the case.
They sent Tim Evans to the drop
For a crime he didn’t do:
‘Twas Christie was the murderer.
The Judge and jury too.
One man stood up and gave his support to a growing campaign for justice for Timothy Evans. He was James Chuter Ede, later Baron Chuter-Ede, who in 1950 was the Home Secretary at the time of Evans’ execution. He concluded that a terrible mistake had been made.
In 1955, The Man on Your Conscience was published. Written by Michael Eddowes, it was the first important book on the case, and generated a renewed interest. Four influential editors, Ian Gilmour of The Spectator, John Grigg of The National and English Review,Sir Lynton Andrews of The Yorkshire Post, and David Astor of The Observer petitioned the Home secretary for a new inquiry. It was denied.
At the beginning of 1961, journalist and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy published Ten Rillington Place. Kennedy assembled all the known facts about the case and presented them in a compelling style, plus adding his own conclusions based on his own investigation.
The report from Christie’s doctor, Dr. Odess, that Christie back was damaged after the death of Beryl Evans may have been dismissed by Scott Henderson because Odess was not qualified, but Kennedy took the evidence to five specialists, all of whom agreed with the findings of Odess.
Kennedy also stressed the evidence given by Dr. Teare that there were signs of sexual penetration of Beryl’s body, suggesting the murderer was sexually aroused by the act of killing, and possibly a necrophiliac. This evidence was suppressed by Evans’s own defense. Had this come up in court, it would have removed some suspicion from Evans who may have been short tempered and violent, but was certainly not a necrophiliac, and would not have had sex with his wife’s body.
Teare refuted this in a letter to the Sunday Times, but Kennedy replied to this by pointing out that the defense brief clearly showed that Teare had said this. If Teare was telling the truth when he refuted this, it would mean that the defense team had not only come up with a piece of fake evidence that exactly coincided with the facts that came to light three years later, but that they had also then suppressed their own fake evidence.
By now, Britain had a new Home Secretary, R. A. Butler. The campaigners, including Labour MP Sir Frank Soskice, asked for a new inquiry, and Butler said that he would examine the evidence that was presented in the book. Just over seven weeks later, Butler made his decision. No inquiry.
The Campaign to Exonerate Evans
The campaign would continue.
|The Royal Pardon from Timothy Evans|
In 1964, after a series of embarrassments, the Conservative Government lost the election, and a new Labour Government was now in office. The Home Secretary was now Sir Frank Soskice.
With Soskice, a staunch supporter of the campaign and now in a position to grant a new inquiry, things would change. Except they didn’t.
With the Governments reversed, Labour, after years of vociferous campaigning for the inquiry, took on the former Governments position and was now refusing it. The Conservative’s, in their turn, took up Labour’s former stance, and were now pushing for an inquiry. “I do not think that an inquiry would serve any useful purpose at this stage. I think it would be kinder not to express views one way or the other.” said Soskice.
For many, this duplicity shown by Soskice and the Labour Government was the last straw. One in particular was galvanized into action.
Herbert Wolfe was a German refugee living in Darlington, who had arrived in Britain in 1933 to escape what was happening in his own country. To him, the concept of British justice was precious and something that should not be taken for granted. He had read Kennedy’s book and, convinced of the innocence of Timothy Evans, wrote an article that he sent to the editor of his local paper, The Northern Echo.
Darlington is far from London, and the local paper could hardly have any influence on the Government. But the editor happened to be Harold Evans, an exceptional journalist who would go on to become editor of The Sunday Times and is now editor at large for Reuters. He said, “After receiving Wolfe’s article, I got hold of Kennedy’s book. I read it on the train to London, and became so angry I wanted to pull the communication cord. I thought, this is an outrage; something must be done about it.”
Every day, for months, Evans published something about the case. He produced pamphlets, while Wolfe ceaselessly telephoned people about the case. On July 28, 1965, with Ludovic Kennedy as its chairman, the Timothy Evans committee was formed. With the press coverage that was generated, Evans pressed the Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who capitulated and promised that the Government would do something.
On August 19, 1965, Frank Soskice finally agreed to hold another inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir Daniel Brabin. The inquiry, began late in the year, took 32 days and was completed on January 12, 1966 and finally published on October 12.
The conclusion was bizarre. Christie, the report decided, did kill Geraldine Evans, but Timothy killed Beryl. Despite this astonishing conclusion, the report did agree that a jury could not have convicted Evans on any murder if all of the available evidence had been presented in court.
And as Evans had been convicted of the murder of his daughter, not his wife, then, technically, there had been a miscarriage of justice.
A Posthumous Pardon
In December 1965, Frank Soskice was made Lord Privy Seal and was replaced by Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary, and Jenkins wasted no time in recommending a Royal Pardon.
On October 18, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen had granted a posthumous free pardon to Timothy Evans.
Mary Westlake, Evans’ half-sister, and his sister Eileen Ashby, were awarded payment as compensation for their brothers’ miscarriage of justice, in January 2003. Lord Brennan, the independent assessor for the Home Office, stated that “the conviction and execution of Timothy Evans for the murder of his child was wrongful and a miscarriage of justice.” He went on to add, “there is no evidence to implicate Timothy Evans in the murder of his wife. She was most probably murdered by Christie.” Brennan believed that Brabin’s conclusion that Evans murdered Beryl should be rejected.
The following year, on November 16, Mary Westlake appealed to the High Court. She wanted them to overturn a decision made by the Criminal Cases Review Commission not to refer Evans’s case to the Court of Appeal. Her argument was that though he had been pardoned, it had not formally erased his conviction for murder.
Although they accepted that Timothy Evans was totally innocent, the judges rejected her appeal three days later, telling her that the costs involved in quashing his conviction could not be justified. Mary Westlake still hopes that will change at some point, though at present there seems to be little hope of that.
The Evans Case Helps Fire the Anti-Death Penalty Movement in Great Britain
Although the case of Timothy Evans was a boost to those who were opposed to capital punishment, it wasn’t the only one to have an impact, and it wasn’t, as some have thought, one of the cases that started the abolition campaign. The truth is that the abolition question had been around for several decades. However there is no doubt that the Evans case was of major importance for those wishing to end the practice.
Capital punishment was suspended as a five year experiment, and became permanent in 1969. But this was only for murder. Until 1971, the death penalty remained for causing a fire or explosion in a naval dockyard, and remained until 1981 for espionage. Piracy that included violence was still a hanging crime until 1998, as was treason and various offenses within the military.
But even though it was still in force, no executions were carried out after 1964.
On October 10, 2003, the United Kingdom agreed to the 13th protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the death penalty under any circumstances.
But over the years, the public outlook on capital punishment has changed. In August, 2011, a poll showed that 65 percent of Britons were in favor of restoring the death penalty for murder in Great Britain.
As the abolitionists had Timothy Evans as an example of why capital punishment should be abolished, it seems fitting that should those wishing to restore the death penalty need someone as their example, John Reginald Halliday Christie would be a perfect choice.