Friday, 2 May 2014
JOHN REGINALD CHRISTIE
In 1953, the police entered number 10 Rillington Place in London. It was a house of horrors. The scene of 8 horrific murders. The man believed to be responsible for these brutal killings was John Reginald Christie. How was it that a decade of destruction went undetected and how was Christie able to frame one of his neighbours, Timothy Evans, for a murder he didn’t commit?
During the 1940s and 1950s Christie gained the trust of vulnerable women and exploited that trust to sexually abuse, then kill them. He hid their bodies in his house.
How did he get away with it and why wasn’t he brought to justice earlier?
Christie was born in Halifax in 1899. One of 7 children, he was the youngest male in what was a largely female household and he resented the fact that the girls had power over him. It made him crave the opportunity for authority.
As a child, Christie joined the scouts and he sang in the choir. When he joined the scouts, he had a uniform which he wore all the time, even though he wasn’t supposed to. It gave him authority; it gave him a role to play.
Women played an important role in Christie’s life. One of his first teenage sexual experiences is believed to have made a significant impact on the way he viewed the opposite sex. The girl he went with was slightly more experienced and he wasn’t able to have sex with her.
Of course, she told her friends, who told their friends and his name became “can’t do it Christie” or “Reggie no dick.” Christie was humiliated in his small community. These early problems with women were to haunt him all his life and were to play a pivotal role in Christie becoming a serial killer and nechrophiliac. He had impotence problems, certainly when he was with a woman who had power over him; the power that came from her sex, her gender. And that was a pattern for the way that Christie was to behave later with the women that he killed.
On leaving school, Christie worked as a cinema operator and then he found work with the Post Office as a postman. When he was 21 he met Ethel Waddington. She was plain and homely. They married and the marriage appeared to be happy for a while. They were seen as a respectable married couple. But they had their problems. He was to admit later that sex was always sporadic; there was no possibility of children. During his job as a postman, Christie began to steal postal orders. When he was found out, he went to prison for a while. His image of respectability began to crumble.
On his release from prison he separated from Ethel and travelled to London. He became addicted to the seedier sides of life. For a 10 year period Christie existed in a twilight zone, where he lived within the criminal world, visiting prostitutes, mixing with low life; having a job here, losing a job there. He had no particular home; he drifted, going into prison 3 or 4 times.
By the end of World War 2, Christie decided he wanted respectability. He persuaded Ethel to return to him and they relocated to London’s Notting Hill. They moved into a small flat at 10 Rillington Place. Here, nobody knew of Christie’s criminal past and he set about to establish himself as a respected member of the community.
He saw an advertisement in the newspaper for the British Reserve. He applied, not mentioning his previous convictions. No one checked and Christie, the criminal was suddenly in uniform; he was the symbol of all that is good and he was on the right side of the law. And being a Special Constable, gave him further opportunities to meet and engage with people; specifically young women. He was so tenacious about his role that the neighbours described him as; “the Himmler of Rillington Place.” Christie’s position gave him power over the community and he exploited it. If prostitutes gave him free entertainment, he turned a blind eye to their soliciting.
Rillington Place was in a poor neighbourhood, but it was in a perfect position for, the now respectable Christie, to continue with his seedier pastime. Prostitution was a big problem. By the end of the war many women had lost husbands and boyfriends, so there were a lot of women with no men to support a family. And the only way they could earn a living was prostitution.
With no contraception and no legal abortion many of the women found themselves with unwanted pregnancies. Christie and Ethel capitalised on this and performed illegal abortions in their kitchen. Ethel would perform the abortion, while Christie would set up the anaesthetec. A rubber tube from the gas stove put the women out with coal gas. The scheme worked well. The Christies became well known in the area for their procedures.
But life changed in 1943, when Ethel went to visit her sister in Sheffield. With his wife away, Christie became involved with Ruth Fuerst, a local prostitute. She was an Austrian émigré. She came to England to train as a nurse, but by the time she met Christie she was selling sexual services to U.S. air force men. Ruth became a regular visitor at 10 Rillington Place.
A telegram arrived from Ethel informed Christie that she was returning to London. Christie was in a difficult position. Would Ruth spread rumours about him? Was she going to turn up and tell Ethel exactly what had been going on? Christie had to dispose of Ruth.
During their final sexual encounter, Christie strangled Ruth. Years later he would tell the police; “she was completely naked. I tried to put her clothes back on her. I wrapped her leopard skin coat around her. I took her from the bedroom and put her under the floorboards.”
In killing Ruth, Christie had found that he could attain the ultimate form of power over women. This was the beginning of a sexual fetish that informed an emerging pattern. His first kill had given him a thrill. He was soon looking for another victim to satisfy his desires.
The year was 1944. Christie had given up his job as a Special Constable and got a job at the Ultra Radio Works in Acton. It was there that he met Muriel Eady. She was from a respectable family; a spinster in her 30’s. They met regularly in the canteen and Muriel told Christie that she had a problem with catarrh. That set Christie’s mind rolling. His wife was away again and Christie offered to cure Muriel of her affliction using a breathing device. When she visited 10 Rillington Place Christie put a mask on her face; it was connected to the gas supply. It rendered Muriel unconscious. Christie liked women unconscious because that way he could control them further, as opposed to a living breathing woman who might have her own views about what might be happening in terms of the relationship.
With his victim unconscious, Christie raped her and then strangled her. Christie is quoted as saying; “I had this wonderful sense of excitement. A wonderful sense of release.” Christie had now taken the lives of 2 young women; he buried their bodies in the garden. Nobody knew that they had been visiting Christie, which meant he was free to continue his murderous spree. It wouldn’t take him long to strike again.
Christie hid behind his established air of respectability. He was now working as a ledger clerk at the Post Office. He and Ethel returned to their system of helping out young women with unwanted pregnancies.
In 1948 a married couple by the name of Evans moved into the flat above the Christies. Timothy and Beryl Evans were expecting their first baby and they quickly attracted the attention of their sinister neighbour. The Evans were from mid-Wales and they were in London for Timothy Evans to seek work. With a very low IQ he could only find work as a van driver. But it was his wife that interested Christie.
The Evans had their first baby, Geraldine. But family life wasn’t all that they had hoped it would be. The cramped and squalid conditions at 10 Rillington Place were not the ideal conditions to raise a child. With a second child on the way their problems were magnified. Timothy Evans’ wage of £7 a week was not enough. Unknown to Beryl, Christie knew of their situation and he had a solution; an abortion. Beryl agreed, but her husband was against it. Beryl tried to terminate her pregnancy herself with medication and a douche. It didn’t work. While Evans was at work, Beryl was in Christie’s hands.
When Timothy Evans returned from work, he returned to a tragedy. Christie told him that he had tried to carry out an abortion on Beryl, be she had died during the procedure. Christie told him that he, Timothy Evans, was to blame for his wife’s death. With his low IQ, Evans was no match for Christie’s manipulative sophistry. Christie told Evans that both of them would go to jail; Christie for the botched abortion and Timothy Evans for knowing about it. Timothy Evans would be found guilty as an accessory. They decided that the whole mess should be covered up. Beryl’s body was dumped in an empty room at 10 Rillington Place. Christie told Evans that he would get rid of her in a drainage manhole outside. Evans was now left with a small child and having to explain the disappearance to Beryl’s family. And he was susceptible to another idea from Christie. Christie suggested to Evans that he let a couple he knew in Acton have Geraldine. There she would be safe and Evans would be able to visit her.
No such couple existed.
Timothy Evans was a young, unworldly man. He was stressed and he couldn’t have known how to react. He must have thought that Christie was looking after his best interests, so he simply did as he was told. With his wife dead, Evan’s decided to return to Wales. Both his relatives, and Beryl’s asked questions about her death and the whereabouts of Geraldine. On the 30th of November 1948 Evans was unable to maintain the pretense any longer. Racked with guilt he went to the police station in Merthyr Tydfil. He made 2 statements. In the first statement, he said that Beryl had died in a botched abortion and he had put her body into a manhole. The police in London searched the manhole but found nothing. If they had searched the house and garden they would have found Beryl and the bodies of the other 2 victims.
Evans then made a second statement implicating Christie. The police went again to 10 Rillington Place and this time knocked on Christie’s door. The Christies’ presented a united front and denied any wrong doing. The word of a respectable married couple was worth more than the word of working class Evans. Christie told the police that Evans was an abusive alcoholic. When he told the police that he hadn’t seen Beryl for weeks the police carried out a full scale search of the house. They found the bodies of Beryl and little Geraldine behind a woodpile in the wash house. Both had been beaten and strangled. Beryl’s corpse showed signs of sexual interference.
But the suspicion of guilt didn’t fall on Christie. Evans was taken to see the bodies and was of course shocked that Geraldine was dead. He’d believed Christie’s lie about her being safe with a loving family in Acton. At an interrogation at Notting Hill police station the easily led Evans changed his story again. He confessed to murdering his wife and child.
On the 11th of January 1950 Evans was on trial at London’s Old Bailey charged with the murders of his wife and child. By this time he had changed his statement again and he accused Christie of the murders. Evans’ plea was not guilty, but the evidence against him was overwhelming. Christie stood as a key witness against him. The trial lasted 3 days and after just 40 minutes of deliberation the jury found Evans guilty of the double murder and he was sentenced to death. Christie’s evidence had been instrumental in convicting him.
The bodies of Ruth Fuerst and Muriel Eady lay undiscovered; Christie was still free from suspicion. As the Christies left the court Evans’ mother shouted “murderer”. Ethel leapt to his defense. “Don’t you dare call my husband a murderer! He’s a good man!”
Evans’ legal team appealed to the Home Secretary, James Chuter Ede. His appeal was denied and Timothy Evans was hanged at Pentonville prison by the famous hangman Albert Pierrepoint on the 9th of March 1950. Evans protested his innocence to the end.
Relations between Christie and Ethel began to break down. She had caught Christie fondling the genitalia of one of their victims. On the 14th of December 1952 Christie strangled his wife in their bed with a stocking. Unlike his other victims Christie did not have sex with her. He buried Ethel under the floorboards.
A robbery occurred at 10 Rillington Place and the police were called. They paid Christie a visit and were invited in to the killer’s home. One police officer remarked later on the strange smell in the flat.
Christie explained Ethel’s disappearance by saying she’d gone to visit her sick sister in Birmingham. With his wife gone, Christie was free to indulge himself and he actively went looking for new victims.
Rita Nelson worked at a local tea shop and found herself with an unwanted pregnancy. She turned to Christie for a solution. She had gone to Christie for help, but she became the 6th victim at 10 Rillington Place. Kathleen Maloney appealed to Christie’s skills as an abortionist. Christie strangled her and buried her body beneath the floor boards – alongside Ethel.
With Ethel alive Christie had to exercise some sort of control over his behaviour. With Ethel dead the serial killer was out of control. The bodies increased and the time gap between his victims narrowed. Christie was operating in a world that made sense to him as a killer rather than to approach his behaviour in a cognitive way. He was murdering vulnerable women that he knew would not be missed.
Hectorina McGlellan was in need of somewhere to live. Christie heard about her plight and offered her his flat. But Hectorina wasn’t alone. Her boyfriend, Alex Baker moved in with her. After 3 days they decided to leave. Christie asked her to pay a final visit before she moved on; it would be her fatal mistake. He strangled her, before having sex with her. Alex Baker came to Christie’s flat looking for her. Christie let him search the whole house, but he couldn’t find her.
Christie was becoming nervous. The bodies of his victims were beginning to stack up. He decided to move away from the scene of his crimes, but he had no money. He decided to sub-let the flat to a couple from whom he took about £7 – the equivalent of £181 in today’s money. This was fraud. Christie did not own the house. But he took their money anyway and moved away leaving behind him the house that had seen 8 murders and still contained 6 of the bodies.
The landlord visited 10 Rillington Place that same evening and finding people in his house that had no right to be there demanded that the couple leave the next morning. The tenant of the top floor flat, Beresford-Brown asked the landlord if he could use Christie’s kitchen. On the 24th of March 1953 Beresford-Brown was fixing a bracket to the wall at 10 Rillington Place. He noticed that there was wallpaper covering an alcove. He removed it and discovered 3 bodies. The police were called and a citywide search for Christie began. The manhunt was one of the biggest ever seen.
The police left no stone unturned. All 6 bodies were discovered in the house and the 2 bodies buried in the garden. 10 Rillington Place had turned into a real house of horrors.
On the 31st of March a man was stopped by the police on the Thames embankment near Putney Bridge. He told them his name was John Waddington. On further examination they discovered that the man was John Reginald Christie. He was taken to Putney police station. Christie described his killings as acts of mercy, self-defense, or accidents of suicide.
On the 22nd June 1953 it was standing room only at Court number 1 at the Old Bailey. Journalists and the public crammed into the court, keen to see the man whose crimes had shocked Britain. Christie was charged with Ethel’s murder; the trial lasted 4 days. When asked if he’d committed more murders, he said. “I can’t say exactly. I might have done. (He was pleading insanity) He showed little emotion, only bursting into tears at the mention of Ethel’s name. He refused to take responsibility for the murder of Geraldine, the Evans’ baby; the crime that Timothy Evans had been hanged for.
In his summing up, the Judge said; “That just because a man behaved like a monster, it did not mean he was insane.”
After just 1 hour and 20 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Christie was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife. Whilst awaiting his fate at Pentonville Prison Christie received a letter from Timothy Evans’ mother. She wanted him to confess to the murder of baby Geraldine, the crime for which her son had been hanged. Christie not only refused, he retracted his confession of killing Beryl Evans.
It seems that Christie was controlling women, in one way or another, right up to the bitter end.
On the 15th of July 1953 Christie was hanged at Pentonville Prison. He was 54 years old.
But even after his death his crimes and confessions left questions unanswered. In 1966 Timothy Evans received a posthumous pardon but attempts to formally quash his conviction have failed. A judicial review in 2004 described Evans’ fate as an historic and unique injustice. He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and inadvertently moved into a murderer’s lair.
A year later Rillington Place changed its name to Ruston Close; number 10 continued to be rented out to tenants. In the early 1970’s, after the film 10 Rillington Place was filmed, the whole street was demolished. It has been removed from the London map.