The reason that the address 10 Rillington Place achieved such notoriety was the series of events that occurred at the premises between the years 1943 and 1953. No fewer than eight people were murdered at this small, mean house over the period with their bodies being disposed of either within the house or in the outbuildings and garden. To this day, controversy remains as to whether there were two murderers living at 10 Rillington Place or just one - two men, John Reginald Halliday Christie and Timothy John Evans, were hanged for murder but Evans was subsequently pardoned after extensive campaigning by family, politicians and others who believed that he had been wrongly convicted, albeit largely on the basis of his own confessions, but also on the evidence of Christie who was by now a convicted murderer himself.
John Reginald Halliday Christie was born on 8 April 1899 in the family home at Black Boy House, Turner Lane, Claremount, Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. The registrar was informed of the birth by his mother on 19 May 1899. He was the second-youngest of the seven children born to his carpet-designer father. His upbringing was emotionally austere and disciplined, characteristic of the period, and his childhood and adolescence were sometimes difficult in ways which were later to impinge upon his behaviour and personality as an adult. In 1916 he joined the army and saw active service in France during the latter stages of the First World War being injured by a mustard gas shell in 1918 which led to his repatriation. The gassing affected his voice and he claimed he was unable to speak at all for some time afterwards and remained quietly spoken for the rest of his life.
In May 1920 Christie married a local girl, Ethel Simpson, in Halifax. He was employed as a clerk at Sutcliffe’s Mill at the time. He had previously worked as a cinema projectionist, and then as a postman between January and April 1921 but was convicted of stealing stamps and postal orders and received a series of short prison sentences. Early in 1923 he was again brought before magistrates and convicted of a petty fraud. By December 1923 Christie had moved to live in London and without Ethel. In September 1924 he was convicted on two further counts of theft and imprisoned for a total of nine months. In due course Christie was sentenced to two more terms of imprisonment: six months hard labour in May 1929 for an attack on a woman with whom he was then living, and a three-month term in 1933 for the theft of a motor vehicle. In 1934 Christie was reconciled with his wife who moved to London to be with him in. Having previously lived at 23 Oxford Gardens, London W10 and 173 Clarendon Road, London W11, they moved to 10 Rillington Place in 1937, initially into the two top-floor rooms, transferring to the ground floor in December 1938.
Despite his convictions for theft and assault, Christie was recruited to the War Reserve Police in September 1939 and served with some distinction as a special constable at the Harrow Road police station for the following four years. The lack of available manpower and the confusion of war meant that no checks into his character and background had been made, thereby allowing him to assume a position of power and apparent trustworthiness that were to be of assistance to him in his future career as a mass murderer. Christie was released from the service at his own request at the end of December 1943 by which time he had already killed once.
Christie’s first known victim was a twenty-one-year-old Austrian named Ruth Margarete Christine Fuerst who, as a refugee living in London, had worked in a number of short-term jobs and may also have been a part-time prostitute. By his own confession in 1953, Christie strangled her in his bed while his wife was away on one of her frequent trips to Sheffield visiting relatives. It was in the Summer of 1943. Her body was initially placed beneath the floorboards of the front room but was then transferred to the wash house and thence to a shallow grave dug in the garden. It is believed that her unearthed skull was found sometime later by Christie who placed it in a dustbin used to incinerate garden refuse as the later discovery of human remains led to the charred fragments, over one hundred in number, being forensically reconstructed and identified as hers.
The next victim was Muriel Amelia Eady, a thirty-one-year-old worker at the same factory where Christie was employed and who, again according to his own confession in 1953, he lured to the house on the pretext of having a remedy for her bronchial catarrh – it is speculated, but not certain, that by using a makeshift device resembling a form of crude respirator, the town gas that was then used for domestic cooking and lighting (and highly poisonous due to containing carbon monoxide) was administered following which strangulation with a ligature occurred. This was in October 1944. Muriel’s body was also disposed of by burial in the garden. When her skull was later unearthed by Christie’s dog it was disposed of by being thrown into a bombed and derelict nearby building at 133 St Mark’s Road. Her disappearance was attributed to the aerial bombardment of London at that time by the V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets.
On 20 September 1947 Timothy John Evans married Beryl Susanna Thorley at Kensington Register Office. Beryl was aged eighteen, he was twenty-two. Initially, they went to live with Timothy’s family at 11 St Mark’s Road but on 24 March 1948 they moved just a short distance away into the top two rooms at 10 Rillington Place. On 10 October of that year their baby Geraldine was born. By summer of the following year Beryl was once again pregnant and, due to their impoverished circumstances and unstable relationship, she wanted a termination.
The “Standard Version” - Evans was initially reluctant but subsequently agreed to allow Christie to perform an illegal abortion upon Beryl utilising his professed but imaginary medical knowledge, supposedly acquired during his service as a special constable and prior training to be a doctor before having this curtailed by a road traffic accident. Christie’s true motive and purpose was not however abortion but sexual assault and murder. At some time on Tuesday 8 November 1949, during the course of the purported operation, Beryl was attacked and fatally strangled - Evans said that when Christie gave him this news upon his return home from work that evening he had told him that his wife was suffering from septicaemia caused by her own prior attempts to induce a termination. On discovering that his wife had not survived, a distraught and panic-stricken Evans was convinced by Christie to depart the house for his native Wales and say nothing lest it be thought that he had killed his wife in one of their well-known and sometimes violent arguments or, in the alternative, would be regarded as complicit in Beryl’s death by his knowledge of the abortion attempt. He left on 14 November and arrived at his aunt and uncle’s house in Merthyr Vale. However, overcome with remorse and concern for his daughter’s welfare, Evans surrendered himself on 30 November to the local police stating that he had disposed of his wife, perhaps in a misguided attempt to protect Christie by whom he was intimidated and who he thought had been trying to help him. At this stage Evans believed his daughter was still alive and being cared for by people in East Acton, West London as Christie had assured him that he would arrange for this whereas in fact she too had by this time been strangled. Before leaving, Christie had told Evans that he would assist him by disposing of Beryl’s body in a drain outside number 10.
As a result of Evans initially claiming this disposal as his own act in his confession to them, the Merthyr Tydfil police contacted officers at Notting Hill who made an inspection (ostensibly by lifting the manhole cover directly in front of Christie’s bay window and the sewer cover in the middle of the road and, perhaps later, the cover in the rear garden) but found nothing. As Beryl and Geraldine’s disappearance became increasingly suspicious and their whereabouts after almost a month still unknown, on 2 December 1949 the police carried out a further search, this time of the top floor and outbuildings of 10 Rillington Place and discovered both bodies in the wash house at the rear of the house. Beryl’s body was wrapped in a tablecloth and tied into a bundle which had been placed beneath the sink and concealed behind pieces of timber; Geraldine’s body was covered by smaller pieces of timber and hidden behind the wash house door. Having been brought back to London and confronted with this discovery by the police, Evans initially confessed to both murders but later withdrew these confessions and instead accused Christie. In due course Evans was formally charged with both murders but was tried solely for the murder of baby Geraldine as there could be no possibility of a defence of provocation being raised in respect of the murder of an infant.
At the trial on 11 January 1950, Christie appeared as the principal witness for the prosecution. Evans’s explicit confessions, his unsophistication, and his many changes of story, together with Christie’s potentially perjurious but more convincing evidence, and his demeanour as a reformed and now respectable citizen who had previously served king and country, led to Evans being convicted of the murder of baby Geraldine. He appealed unsuccessfully and was hanged at Pentonville prison on 9 March 1950.
The above aspect of the account, as it relates to the murders of Beryl and Geraldine Evans, is based upon the so-called “Standard Version” of events as set out in perhaps the best-known work on the subject:Ten Rillington Place by Ludovic Kennedy (1961). There are, however, contrary accounts such as that proposed by John Eddowes in his book:The Two Killers of Rillington Place (1994), which takes the view that Timothy Evans was not innocent of the murders of his wife and infant daughter. Although it was criticised for its haste, an Inquiry held in 1953 under the chairmanship of Mr John Scott Henderson QC concluded that no miscarriage of justice had taken place and Evans’s conviction for murder was safe.
On or about 14 December 1952 Christie strangled his wife Ethel in their bed. When making his confessions in 1953, Christie was at first to claim that he had awoken to find her convulsive having appeared to have taken an overdose of his phenobarbital medication, prescribed for insomnia, but having discovered her too late to save her life chose instead to act by way of a mercy killing and strangled her. However, at the autopsy in March 1953, no trace of the drug was found in her system and it was for this killing that Christie was later to be charged, tried, convicted and hanged.
In due course, Christie would confess to having carried out three further killings between January and March 1953 - those of Kathleen Maloney (aged 26), Rita Elizabeth Nelson (aged 25) who was six months pregnant, and Hectorina McKay MacLennan (aged 26). The first two bodies were wrapped in blankets and concealed in an alcove in the ground floor kitchen; however, the last addition, Hectorina MacLennan, was denied even this small dignity and was merely propped against the previous victim and secured by being tied.
On Friday 20 March 1953, Christie moved out of the house having purported to sublet the flat, without consent, to a young couple, Mr & Mrs Reilly, for £7 13s 0d which constituted three months’ rent at 12s 9d per week. Upon discovering this the landlord required them to leave - all within a matter of hours. Four days later the bodies in the alcove were uncovered and removed by police who were called following a report by an upstairs tenant, Beresford Brown, to whom the landlord had given permission to use the now-vacated ground floor. Brown had set about clearing out the kitchen and, whilst looking for a place to affix a shelf for his radio, had come across the alcove concealed behind a layer of wallpaper applied over its door. The police then began a comprehensive search of the entire property and, later that evening, the body of Ethel Christie was discovered beneath the front-room floorboards where it had lain since the previous December. A painstaking search of the garden yielded the remains of the two victims buried there.
By now almost a vagrant and the subject of a major manhunt, Christie was recognised on 31 March 1953 by PC V400 Thomas Ledger on Putney Embankment, just west of Putney Bridge, and arrested. He was tried at the Old Bailey for the murder of his wife, convicted, and made no appeal. He was hanged on 15 July 1953 and on the same gallows as Timothy Evans some three years previously. Christie had confessed to the murders of all six women whose remains were found at the house, including his wife, and later to that of Beryl Evans (although it has been argued that this confession could not be true and was intended only to support a defence of insanity). Apart from one brief and unverified occasion immediately after his conviction for having murdered his wife, Christie never made any admission to having killed baby Geraldine and, indeed, otherwise strenuously denied it throughout. It is also as well to note that there was never any evidence to suggest that Christie, much less Ethel, was in any way involved in abortion and, indeed, Detective Chief Inspector Jennings who led the Evans inquiry explicitly stated that he was not.
A public inquiry in 1965-6 under Mr Justice Brabin to revisit the case of Timothy John Evans, some fifteen years after his conviction, concluded that, on the balance of probability, Evans did murder his wife but not his baby daughter, the only crime for which he was tried and of which he was convicted and, as a consequence, he was granted a posthumous royal pardon on 18 October 1966. By this time his remains had been disinterred from the precincts of Pentonville Prison and transferred to the consecrated ground of St Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery, Leytonstone.
By November 2004, although the Criminal Cases Review Commission decided against a referral to the Court of Appeal to quash his conviction (a pardon only representing an absolution of a crime that has nevertheless been committed) partly on grounds of cost, there was acceptance that no jury would have convicted Evans of murder had Christie’s antecedents as a strangler of women been known to them at the time. Neither of these things amounted to a full acknowledgment of innocence in the formal, legal sense for which Evans’s surviving family have always campaigned.
It is often said that the Evans case led to the abolition of hanging in the United Kingdom but this is not borne out by the facts. The subject is a sensitive one and deserves careful consideration (please see here).
Enormous public interest surrounded these events in 1953 although they were in stark and lurid counterpoint to the celebrations taking place for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and historical events such as the conquest of Mount Everest. In addition, the early racial tensions which found fertile ground in the squalor and poverty of the Notting Hill of the day, leading to the “race riots” of 1958, came into play even in this case with Christie citing at his trial the harassment and provocation by “coloureds” overcrowding the house following its acquisition in 1950 by Jamaican landlord Charles Brown as grounds for his unsuccessful plea of insanity.*
* Christie’s complaints in this regard may not have been without justification - in his 1987 book, Crime In London, Gilbert Kelland, the Assistant Commissioner (Crime) at New Scotland Yard between 1977 and 1984 and a serving Metropolitan Police officer since 1946, describes how the same landlord, Charlie Brown, later ran 10 Ruston Close as an illegal out-of-hours drinking club, the “Celebrity Club” where he would send patrons of the more legitimate club in Kingly Street, Soho, where he worked as a doorman, once it had closed for the evening. Press reports from 1954 make reference to drug dealing from the house.