1953 lies at the very epicentre of this story. It was the year of John Christie’s manhunt, arrest, trial and execution – and, in the wake of all that, the first misgivings about whether Timothy Evans had in fact been guilty and therefore rightfully executed. Up to this time, Evans’s conviction for the murder of his infant daughter, along with the assumption that he had also killed his wife, had been regarded as certainly tragic, but nevertheless not very remarkable or controversial for a family in their circumstances.
By way of context, it is useful to consider some of the other major events of that year:
The death of Queen Mary, aged 85, at Marlborough House, London. Her burial took place at Windsor on 31 March, the day of Christie’s arrest, and the photograph of the arrest site, thought to have been taken on the same day, shows the Union Flag flying at half-mast on the nearby Star and Garter hotel
The conquest of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on 29 May
The death of Joseph Stalin on 5 March
Sir Winston Churchill was, in June, invested as a Knight of the Garter and, in December, received the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”
The end of the Korean War (technically an armistice only) on 27 July
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June
John F Kennedy’s marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier on 12 September
The hanging on 28 January of Derek Bentley for having been a party to the murder of PC Sidney Miles during the course of an attempted burglary in Croydon the previous year (and subsequently also the subject, in 1993, of a royal pardon)
The discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA, by Drs Watson and Crick working at Cambridge, announced on 28 February
The ‘Piltdown Man’ skull, believed for over forty years to be evidence of the missing link between apes and humans, is finally exposed as a hoax as published in Time magazine in November
The publication of the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming – Casino Royale, on 13 April
The publication of the first issue of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine with Marilyn Monroe as the cover girl and centrefold (in December)
Although thus far largely overlooked by history, it was also the year of the author’s birth.
As well as the year in which John Christie’s life came to an end, it is of some interest to consider, also by way of context, the year in which it began:
In terms of famous births, Christie takes his place amongst a surprising number of notables that year including:
Dr John Bodkin Adams (a British physician suspected of having been a highly-prolific serial killer of his patients, and active during a similar period to Christie), gangster Al Capone, actors Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Fred Astaire, Charles Boyer, Gloria Swanson and Charles Laughton, writers Noël Coward, Ernest Hemmingway and Nevil Shute, film director Alfred Hitchcock, musicians Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael, and lawyer and judge Lord Denning.
Events of the year included the first successful wireless transmission, by Guglielmo Marconi, of a radio signal across the English Channel, the outbreak of the Second Boer War and Siege of Mafeking, the introduction of the OXO brand, and the patenting of the paperclip.