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10 Rillington Place

From Academic Kids

10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill, Notting Hill Gate, London, was the site of one of Britain's most notorious serial killers, and a miscarriage of justice which contributed towards the abolition of the death penalty in Britain. It is also the title of a book on the murder case by Ludovic Kennedy published in 1965, and a movie starring Richard Attenborough in 1970.

Contents

Summary

John Reginald Halliday Christie and his wife Ethel lived in the ground floor flat of 10 Rillington Place from 1938. At Easter 1948 Timothy Evans, a 24-year-old Welshman, and his wife Beryl moved in to the top floor flat, and shortly afterwards their daughter, Geraldine, was born. In the summer of 1949 Beryl fell pregnant again, but she could not afford to support another child and was desperate for an (illegal) abortion. Aware that her husband, a lapsed Catholic, would object to an abortion, Beryl made discreet enquiries and mentioned it to John Christie. This was a fatal mistake.

Although he had no medical qualifications whatsoever, Christie persuaded her to let him carry out the abortion. On 8 November 1949, Evans returned home to be told by Christie that the abortion had gone wrong—Beryl was dead. Evans, a weak and gullible character, reacted strangely. Instead of reporting the death he agreed to help Christie move the body into the empty flat on the first floor and let his neighbour take care of the child.

Evans was trying to protect his neighbour, but it was not a favour that would be returned. Dazed and confused, Evans went to work the next day, and when he returned, Christie told him that Geraldine was being looked after by a family in nearby Acton, and he would dispose of Beryl's body down a manhole. He suggested that Evans leave London. Evans agreed, and stayed with an aunt in his native South Wales, but three weeks later, wracked by guilt, he went to the police station in Merthyr Tydfil. He told a detective that he had disposed of his wife's body, but implied that she had died after drinking an abortifacient concoction. When the police investigated the drains outside 10 Rillington Place they found nothing. Surprised and anxious, Evans began to suspect that Christie had double-crossed him, and he made another statement, this time implicating Christie as a bungling abortionist. Police made another search of 10 Rillington Place and found the bodies of Beryl and Geraldine hidden in a wash-house.

Timothy Evans as prime suspect

At this time the police thought they were dealing with a run-of-the-mill domestic murder. Investigation showed that both mother and child had been strangled, which contradicted Evans' account. Evans was brought back to London where without legal advice, he made a third statement admitting that he had strangled his wife, and killed his daughter two days later, and hidden the bodies in the wash-house.

At the trial at the Old Bailey in January 1950, barely six weeks after his arrest, two important facts were withheld from the jury. There was evidence that Beryl had been sexually assaulted after death, which was inconsistent with Evans' statement, and two workmen, who were willing to testify that there were no bodies in the wash-house when they worked there several days after Evans supposedly hid them, were never called to give evidence. This was because Christie only moved the bodies there two weeks later, after the workmen had finished their work.

The jury was convinced by Evans' poor performance in the witness box and by Christie's accomplished denials of any involvement, and took only 40 minutes to find Evans guilty of his daughter's murder. It had been decided not to charge him with his wife's murder as the evidence was not as strong. A few weeks later, on 9 March 1950, Albert Pierrepoint hanged Timothy Evans at Pentonville prison, London.

New murders by Christie

Two years passed. By December 1952, Ethel Christie was in poor health with chronic arthritis and rheumatism. John Christie later claimed that he only put her out of her misery by strangling her one night. He kept up the pretence that Ethel was all right, writing letters to her sister in Sheffield, claiming that she could not write because of the arthritis. Over the next three months, he invited three prostitutes back to 10 Rillington Place. None of them left. Nobody missed Kathleen Maloney from Southampton or Rita Nelson from Belfast, but Hectorina MacLennan was last seen by her boyfriend, Alex Baker, with Christie. Christie claimed that she had wandered off and kept up the pretence for two weeks, even asking Baker how she was when he saw him. Baker assumed that she had gone back to Scotland, but he was soon proven wrong.

Christie's bizarre life fell apart in the first three months of 1953. He did not reply to letters from relatives enquiring about Ethel, and sold all his furniture—even his bed. He became increasingly aware of the unpleasant smell which would no doubt soon be detected by the neighbours, and on 21 March, he illegally sub-let his flat to a couple named Reilly, who paid him seven pounds thirteen shillings—three months' rent in advance—before he left 10 Rillington Place for good.

The landlord soon learned of the sub-letting, and he ordered the Reillys out. He gave permission to the second floor tenant, a Jamaican immigrant named Beresford Brown, to use the ground floor kitchen. Brown decided to tidy up the kitchen, which had become a hovel since Ethel's death. He cleared rubbish into the back yard and tore off some of the peeling wallpaper. In one corner, he discovered not a wall but a door to what had been a pantry. Mr. Brown pulled the door ajar, pointed his torch into the pantry, and saw a sight that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He saw a body, clad only in a bra, stockings and suspenders, and hunched over in a sitting position; not surprisingly he called the police, who soon discovered two more bodies in the pantry.

The bodies of Kathleen Maloney, Rita Nelson, and Hectorina MacLennan had been hidden in the pantry by Christie. A more thorough search revealed the corpse of Ethel Christie under the floorboards in the front room, and two more skeletons were discovered in the garden—those of Ruth Fuerst, an Austrian prostitute, and Muriel Eady, a former work colleague of Christie, who had died in an earlier killing spree in 1943/1944.

Christie captured and put on trial

Within hours the police had named their prime suspect, and on 31 March, Christie was spotted by PC Thomas Ledger standing on Putney Bridge gazing into the River Thames. PC Ledger approached him and asked, "are you John Christie." Christie replied, "you are quite right, officer. I am Christie." He was then escorted to Putney police station where he confessed to the murder of his wife, and later several others. John Christie was charged with the murders of Maloney, Nelson, MacLennan, Fuerst, and Eady, and on 8 June, he admitted killing Beryl Evans. This placed the Crown in an odd position, as it cast doubt on the investigation of 1949—Timothy Evans had been convicted of murdering his daughter, but it was assumed that he had also killed his wife. The legal establishment was able to maintain this legal balancing act because Christie never admitted killing Geraldine—the public was led to believe that two murderers had lived in the same house, and both were guilty.

Christie's trial was held in June 1953. His defence of not guilty because of insanity was rejected, and the jury took 82 minutes to convict him of murdering Ethel Christie. On 15 July 1953, John Christie became another of Albert Pierrepoint's clients at Pentonville Prison.

Pardon

In 1965 the journalist and broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy wrote a book about the appalling miscarriage of justice which had happened in Timothy Evans' case. In 1966 the Brabin Report was issued and shortly afterwards the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins awarded Timothy Evans a long-overdue posthumous pardon.

In 1970 the book was made into the eponymous film starring John Hurt as Timothy Evans and Richard Attenborough as Christie. Sightseeing trips around 10 Rillington Place (renamed 10 Ruston Close) continued until the street was demolished in the late 1970s, and the street was rebuilt as Bartle Road, although the site of 10 Rillington Place is now just a small garden.

On 16 November 2004, Timothy Evans' half-sister, Mary Westlake, started a case to overturn a decision by the Criminal Cases Review Commission not to refer Evans' case to the Court of Appeal to have his conviction quashed. She argued that although the previous inquiries concluded that Evans probably did not kill his daughter, they did not declare him innocent, since a pardon is a forgiveness of crimes committed. The request to refer the case was dismissed on November 19, with the judges saying that the cost and resources of quashing the conviction could not be justified, although they did accept that Evans did not murder his wife or baby.

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