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The Murders at Rillington Place
The case of Timothy John Evans
and John Reginald Halliday Christie
On Wednesday, 30th November, 1949, Timothy Evans, aged 24, a van driver, walked into a police station in South Wales and told police he had disposed of his wife, Beryl, by putting her body down a drain. He went on to explain that he, Beryl and their baby had lived in a flat in Notting Hill, London, and Beryl, who was pregnant, had taken pills which had been given to Evans by a stranger.
Evans said he had told Beryl not to swallow the pills, but when he arrived home from work he had found her dead. So he had entrusted someone to take care of the child and now, wanting the matter resolved, he had come to his home town to tell police where they could find Beryl’s body. He did not say he had killed Beryl, but he was adamant no-one had helped him dispose of her.
When officers of the Metropolitan Police lifted the heavy manhole cover of the drain, it was obvious that no man alone could have done so, indicating that Evans was lying. And it may be they came to the conclusion that he was mad, for the drain was empty. On hearing this, Evans changed his story.
The man, he said, was not a stranger at all. He was Reg Christie, who lived at another flat with his wife, Ethel, at the same address. Evans said that on 8th November, when he was at work, Beryl had gone to see Christie, who had offered to help her abort her child. It was Christie who had removed Beryl’s body, and it was Christie who offered to take care of Geraldine. Christie knew a family, he said, who would take care of the baby. Then Christie, helpful as ever, advised Evans to get rid of his furniture and go, so he did.
Then Evans changed his story again. He said he had helped Christie carry Beryl’s body to his flat, and had later visited him, asking to see his daughter. Christie would not tell him where she was, so Evans asked him to tell whoever had her to contact his mother and give her their address.
Again officers from the Met visited the address, 10, Rillington Place, Notting Hill, but found nothing except a stolen brief case in Evans’ flat. Evans was charged with stealing it and brought to London. So far there was nothing to prove there had been any murder, and Christie, a former Special Constable, told them the whole story was crazy, and that Timothy Evans was a known liar – which he certainly was.
Timothy John Evans was born in Merthyr. His parents’ marriage failed, and was brought up by his grandmother who could not control him. He had a low I.Q. and was illiterate. Above all, he had a reputation as a person who fantasised, and in adulthood he took to drinking heavily and was violent. He married Beryl Thorley, five years his junior and, it seems, about as bright as him. When Beryl fell pregnant they needed more room so went to live in a squalid upstairs flat at 10, Rillington Place.
The baby put a strain on the marriage, mainly because the Evans’s could not afford to live on a van driver’s wages. Timothy and Beryl argued, sometimes violently. Then a friend of Beryl’s, Lucy Endecott, came to stay, ending up sleeping with Beryl whilst her husband slept on the floor. Lucy finally left, but not before attracting the eye of Timothy, who said he would throw Beryl out of the window. Lucy found Timothy Evans too violent for her liking, and departed from the scene. Then Beryl found herself pregnant again. She wanted an abortion, unlawful in those days. She was so angry she told everyone she knew, including the Christies.
When Beryl and baby Geraldine could not be found, the police returned to Rillington Place for another search. They did it properly this time. Having found no trace in the house, they turned their attention to the tiny washhouse in the yard. In the dark recess behind the sink they found a large package wrapped up in a tablecloth tied with cord. Inside was the decaying body of Beryl Evans. Tucked away beneath a pile of wood was Geraldine. Mother and daughter had been strangled, and a man’s tie was still around the baby’s neck.
They had been dead about three weeks. Beryl had been beaten and there were signs of sexual interference. Christie, when spoken to by police, said he thought the tie was similar to one he’d seen Evans wearing. The police, now conducting a murder investigation, again spoke to Evans, who changed his story yet again, admitting the murders of his wife and daughter, and later gave a more detailed account of the entire sequence of events. He said he had murdered Beryl in the morning and placed her in the washhouse, then baby Geraldine when he got home from work, placing her into the washhouse also. But this was not possible, for on 8th November, there were workmen in there all day.
Despite this obvious discrepancy, which needed investigating at least, Evans, the known liar and man of low intelligence, and possibly afraid to say anything against an ex-Special, was charged with the murders. He admitted them to police, but not to his mother. ‘I didn’t do it mam,’ he said. ‘It was Christie.’
John Reginald Halliday Christie was a Yorkshireman. In 1938 he and Ethel moved to 10 Rillington Place, a small, Victorian house. The Christies occupied the ground floor flat, with two other flats upstairs and a small communal washhouse available for shared use by all tenants. There was a small garden.
Christie, it seems, had been regularly flogged as a child. His four older sisters bossed him around. Small wonder, you might think, that he was hardly the type to make friends easily, or that he may have been inhibited sexually, as he was, earning nicknames unsuitable for publication in a family newspaper. During the First World War he saw action, when he was gassed. After getting married in 1920 he became a postman. He also made use of the service of prostitutes, before and after his marriage to Ethel.
In time Christie would go to prison for offences of theft and violence. Ethel left him, and went to live with her mother in Sheffield. Christie’s criminal career thrived, one of his convictions being to hit a prostitute over the head with a cricket bat, for which he got six months. Yet, after ten years’ separation, Ethel returned. Then came the Second World War when Christie, now the reformed character, volunteered for the War Reserve Police and became a Special at Harrow Road.
He also developed a penchant for ‘sexual deviance’, practised on women who visited the flat when Ethel visited her mother. It was in the spring of 1948 when the Evans’s arrived, and the following year came the murders of Beryl and Geraldine.
Timothy Evans stood trial for one murder only, that of his daughter, Geraldine. He pleaded not guilty. The prosecution reasoned he would put up a defence of ‘provocation’ if charged with murdering Beryl, which might have spared him the noose, a defence unavailable to Evans if charged with murdering a baby. They produced four ‘confessions’ of a backward illiterate who would have been interviewed mercilessly when in custody. The prosecution did not call the workmen who were in the washhouse on the day Evans had said he had taken the bodies of his wife and baby there, nor other evidence which did not support their case. Today, let it be said, Timothy Evans would not have been convicted on confession alone, at least not in the manner it was taken.
Christie testified against Evans. Here was a man who had served during the war, and who had been a ‘Special’, giving evidence against someone who had ‘confessed’. As for his previous record of crime, Christie had not been in trouble for seventeen years. Evans was seen as the liar he was, a man who was now blaming Christie to save his own skin. He had described, albeit in changing accounts, the details of the murders; but in custody then, who is to say what details the police gave him? Evans was convicted and sentenced to death. He was hanged on 9th March, 1950.
Which left Mr and Mrs Christie to get on with their lives in Rillington Place. But things did not go well, what with Christie’s hypochondria driving his wife mad, and her repugnance of a Jamaican family who had moved into one of the other flats. Christie lost his job. What an unhappy couple they must have been, living on the site of a double murder and driving one another to mutual distraction. The situation was resolved that December, when Ethel Christie disappeared.
Christie told Ethel’s friends that his wife had returned to Sheffield, although they must have thought it strange that she would do so without so much as a word. He told one that Ethel was asking kindly after her, and even sent gifts to relatives purporting to be from the happy couple – himself and Ethel. Without a job and with no money, he sold his furniture to pay the rent. He even ‘sold’ the rented flat to a couple, who moved in then out again when they discovered the scam. Evidently they were happy to do so, for the place had a strange smell about it. Christie disappeared.
The flat now empty, an upstairs tenant, Mr Brown, was allowed to make use of the kitchen facilities. Mr Brown thought it needed a tidy up – an understatement that would have been – and decided to put a shelf up. The wall was hollow, and behind he discovered there was a hidden cupboard door. He shone a light inside and saw what appeared to be the body of a naked woman. He could not have known that he was about to uncover a horror story, that six bodies would be discovered at 10 Rillington Place, that Reginald Christie would be identified as a mass murderer of women in circumstances of appalling intensity. The police were called and they began a search…
The woman had been strangled. Her hands were tied and the body was well preserved, thanks to the constant low temperature in the cupboard. A second woman’s body was found, also in the cupboard, then a third. Then the police noticed loose floorboards in the parlour, and lifting them they dug in the rubble below where they found the corpse of another dead woman. The next day they searched the entire flat, finding potassium cyanide and a tin of pubic hairs. Then they searched the garden, where they discovered bones, a skull and two more womens’ corpses.
Now the police had the task of identification, which was done quickly. It was apparent that, except in the case of his wife, Ethel (who was one of the victims), Christie had murdered to satisfy the sexual perversions of their killer: necrophilia was his game – having sex with a dead person, or a person near death. Christie’s M.O. (modus operandi) had been to persuade most of his victims to inhale through a tube, believing it was a remedy for something or other, when they were unknowingly inhaling deadly carbon monoxide gas as Christie satisfied his sexual lust.
The hunt was on for Christie. He was arrested on the Embankment at Putney by a patrolling constable, destitute and sleeping rough. Christie was recognised by his description and other than providing a false name gave no trouble. After blaming everyone, including his wife, for his actions, Christie gave the court detailed accounts of all the murders except that of baby Geraldine Evans whom, he said, he did not kill. He was hanged on 15th July, 1953.
In 1966, Timothy Evans was posthumously pardoned for the murder of his daughter, Geraldine.
Christie’s known victims
1943. Ruth Fuerst, 21, Austrian, living in London. She was possibly a prostitute. She visited Christie in his flat and was strangled having sex with him on the bed. Buried in the garden. Christie, confessing, said: ‘I remember experiencing a strange, peaceful thrill’. He admitted the only way he could attain potency was with victims he rendered helpless.
1944. Muriel Eady, 32. Offering her a remedy for catarrh, he invited her to his flat where she inhaled carbon monoxide gas, the smell hidden by the odour of balsam. As she was dying, or possibly dead, Christie had sex with her as he strangled her with a stocking. He buried her in the garden.
1949. Beryl Evans. Christie probably duped her into thinking the ‘gas’ was to help with the abortion and had sex with her as she was dying or dead. The post mortem revealed there was no attempt to abort her baby.
1952. Ethel Christie, his wife. He said he was ‘fed up’ with her moving around in bed. Buried under the floorboards.
1953. Rita Nelson, 25. Pregnant. Body hidden in kitchen cupboard. Gassed. Christie possibly offered to abort her unborn baby.
1953. Kathleen Maloney, 26. Gassed and strangled. Body hidden in kitchen cupboard.
1953. Hectorina Maclennan, 26. Gassed during sexual intercourse. Body hidden in kitchen cupboard.
Margaret Forrest was lucky. She agreed to visit Christie’s flat, to receive ‘treatment’ for migraine, lost the address and didn’t to turn up.
The recovered pubic hairs did not match every body that was found…