In the annals of British true crime, John Christie stands out as a serial killer who not only killed multiple women but actively participated in sending an innocent man to the gallows for crimes he committed.
In 1940s Britain, the wooden structure of the gallows loomed over the condemned and many men fell to their deaths protesting their innocence as the thick rope of the hangman’s noose tightened around their necks. Timothy Evans, a neighbor of John Christie, was one of those men. His protests years later, however, would turn out to be true.
John Christie is believed to have murdered at least eight women across a period of 10 years in London between 1943 and 1953. When he was eventually caught, his home contained the bodies of six of his victims and the tale told by Timothy Evans before he was put to death three years earlier began to sound more believable.
By the time Timothy Evans and his wife Beryl moved into the top-floor apartment of 10 Rillington Place in 1948, their neighbor downstairs, John Christie, had already killed two women. Ruth Fuerst and Muriel Amelia Eady were buried underground and out of sight in the shared back-garden of the three-story building in Notting Hill in west London. Timothy Evans was no match for John Christie. He had low IQ and was easily influenced, looking up to his neighbor as a helpful intelligent man who had once been a special constable in the police force. Timothy and Beryl soon had a daughter Geraldine and they lived as comfortably as they could in the dilapidated house in an area most described as a slum.
When Beryl fell pregnant for a second time the couple worried how they would feed and clothe another child. John Christie came to their aid, telling them he knew how to abort the pregnancy using remedies. At the time, Abortion in the UK was illegal and it was common practice for women to try and abort pregnancies using various potions and chemicals.
The Evans’ believed Christie and happily accepted his help. The result was the death of Beryl Evans on 8 November 1948 when she suffered the effects of Christie’s abortion remedy. While she lay dying and with her husband out of the room, John Christie sexually assaulted Beryl and strangled her to death, making her his third murder victim.
John Reginald Christie, like many who led secret lives as serial murderers, was an unlikely looking man to be killing women behind closed doors. Unimposing, he spoke just above a whisper, causing all who came in contact with him to strain to hear his conversation. He claimed a mustard gas attack during his time in the military as a teenager was to blame.
With a dysfunctional home life growing up as a child, many have surmised his dominant father and overprotective mother were to blame for his issues with women in later life. John Christie struggled with sexual dysfunction, a fact that turned to local gossip as his relationships failed and he was teased mercilessly. He did marry at 22-years-old to a woman named Ethel Simpson Waddington, who would later become one of his murder victims.
Christie was never a settled individual. He switched jobs frequently, mainly due to his inability to prevent himself from stealing from and defrauding those he worked for. A period at the post office came to an abrupt end when he was caught stealing postal orders. Before he progressed to murder, John Christie was well-known to police after numerous stints in prison for charges ranging from theft to assault. His sexual problems did not prevent him from frequently visiting prostitutes, who he regularly assaulted.
Timothy Evans still had no idea that John Christie was not the man he thought he was. When Christie told him Beryl had died due to septic poisoning as a result of the illegal remedies the couple had previously used to try and abort her pregnancy, he believed him. He also followed his advice not to go to the police and to go to his mother’s home in Wales. His baby daughter Geraldine, Christie said, was to be looked after by another family and was quite safe. In the months that followed, Timothy Evans became increasingly distraught over his wife’s death and attempted to fend off the questions from his family as to where she was.
While still in Wales, on 30 November 1948, he went to the police and told them he had accidentally killed his wife and had left her corpse inside a sewer drain outside Rillington Place. When police searched and found nothing, Evans changed his story, becoming flustered, eventually telling them the truth that John Christie had killed his wife. After further searches at the house police found the body of Beryl Evans, stuffed in corner of the wash-house in the back garden. There too they found the body of Geraldine Evans, who like her mother had been strangled.
When police questioned John Christie, putting the accusations from Evans to him, he was able to easily talk them around. He had nothing to do with the two murders he told them, Timothy Evans had clearly killed his wife and child he repeated. Christie’s wife supported everything Christie had told the police, convincing them further that this couple was simply innocent neighbors.
“He was the poshest man on the street, the smartest. He was someone to be respected.” – Christie’s neighbour Patricia Pichler
Under pressurized questioning, Timothy Evans confessed to killing his wife and daughter, confessions he then retracted. He was charged with the murder of his daughter and the murder of his wife was to remain on file. On 11 January 1950, the murder trial of Timothy Evans began.
The police investigation into the murders of Beryl and Geraldine had been inadequate, asking few questions and accepting information on face value. His defense team did little to help him, not probing any of the inconsistencies in the case against him. John Christie testified during the trial. He was presented to the court as a concerned neighbor and an ex-special constable, generating trust immediately.
Christie was proficient in lying and manipulating and he came across as genuine and trustworthy. Just as the police force had not checked his criminal history before accepting him as a special constable, the courts did not look past his helpful and consistent exterior. Timothy Evans was convicted of the murder of his baby daughter and sentenced to hang.
Evans continued to maintain his innocence and point the finger at John Christie but his protests were ignored. He was executed at Pentonville Prison on 9 March 1950.
John Christie, content he had got away with murder, continued to kill. In 1952 his wife fell victim; assaulted, strangled, and buried under the floorboards of the apartment. Over the next year he would murder three more women using the same modus operandi. He met Kathleen Maloney, Rita Nelson, and Hectorina MacLennan either as prostitutes or through offering his help in aborting a pregnancy. Each woman was gassed with carbon monoxide, rendering them unconscious before they were assaulted and strangled to death. Their bodies were hidden in an alcove in the kitchen of the apartment at 10 Rillington Place. Christie was caught after he moved out of the property and a neighbor discovered the bodies while carrying out renovations. Once police began searching further they found the body of his wife and the two victims buried in the back-garden. John Christie was tracked down and arrested on 31 March 1953.
He confessed to seven murders, including the murder of Beryl Evans, but he denied the murder of baby Geraldine. In the same courtroom that Timothy Evans had been tried and convicted three years earlier, John Christie went on trial for the murder of his wife Ethel Christie on 22 June 1953. Christie tried to plead insanity, a defense not accepted by the jury, and he was found guilty of murder. On 15 July 1953, John Christie was hanged at the same prison and by the same executioner as Timothy Evans.
After two Government inquiries into the police investigation and trial of Timothy Evans which disagreed on his guilt in the murders of his wife and child, it was concluded that if he had been re-tried with the truth about John Christie known, it is likely he would not have been convicted of the murder his daughter. “It is now impossible to establish the truth beyond doubt but that it is more probable than not that Evans did not kill his daughter, for whose murder he was tried, convicted and executed,” Home Secretary Roy Jenkins told the House of Commons in October 1966, before recommending a posthumous pardon for Timothy Evans.
“The conviction of Timothy Evans is now recognised to have been one of the most notorious, if not the most notorious, miscarriages of justice.”
10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill, London is an address now infamous for the brutal acts of violence that took place there, and the number of bodies which were found hidden and buried both inside and outside of the property. The row of houses in Rillington Place were demolished in the 1960s and have since been entirely rebuilt and regenerated with the area of Notting Hill today, standing as one of the most affluent areas in London. Its history and the site of 10 Rillington Place, however, will always be remembered for the cunning and calculated acts of John Christie and the tragic story of Timothy Evans.