Born in England in 1899, John Christie served a number of prison sentences for theft and assault before becoming a serial killer. He murdered at least six women, including his wife, before being arrested, found guilty and hanged in 1953.
John Reginald Halliday Christie was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1898. He grew up in a household largely dominated by his disciplinarian father and overprotective mother and sisters, and grew up to be a sexually dysfunctional, control-obsessed hypochondriac, with an inherent dislike of women.
He left school at 15 and during World War I he served as a signalman. He was involved in a mustard gas attack that he claimed blinded him temporarily, and caused hysterical muteness that lasted over three years, although some believe that this loss of speech was simply a means to gain attention. His earlier sexual dysfunction and control issues precluded any normal sexual relations, and he started to frequent prostitutes from the age of 19.
This muteness did not, however, prevent his marriage, in 1920, to Ethel Simpson Waddington. Christie's sexual difficulties remained; his visits to prostitutes continued regularly beyond his wedding day.
Christie, who had become a postman, was sent to prison for three months for stealing postal orders, and two years later he was put on probation for violent behavior. He also left Ethel around this time, and moved to London, leaving her to support herself in Sheffield.
By 29 he was back in prison on theft charges, and he spent nine months incarcerated before moving in with a prostitute, then a further six months inside for assaulting her. He was also suspected of other assaults on women, but no charges were brought. A further spell in prison for car theft followed, after which he asked estranged wife Ethel to come and live with him in London, which she did in 1933. The visits to prostitutes to relieve his violent sexual urges continued, which by now also included elements of necrophilia, and these urges intensified over the next decade.
Christie and Ethel moved to 10 Rillington Place in 1938.
Christie's first known victim was killed sometime in 1943. Ruth Fuerst was a 21-year-old Austrian girl who was having an affair with Christie when he impulsively strangled her during sex, and then buried her in the communal garden at Rillington Place. Excited by the ultimate power thrill that the death of his victim had afforded, he took great care in planning his next attack, on 32-year-old neighbor, Muriel Eady. On November 8,1944, he invited her over, claiming to be able to cure a recurring chest ailment with a special inhaler, which actually contained carbon monoxide. Once she was rendered unconscious he strangled her while raping her, and she died during the process. She too joined Fuerst in the back garden.
In 1948, Timothy Evans and his wife, Beryl, moved into Rillington Place, and soon Beryl gave birth to a baby girl, Geraldine. Evans had an IQ of 70, and was an impressionable man, although he also possessed a violent temper. His learning difficulties made it hard for him to hold a steady job, and when, a year later, Beryl found herself pregnant again, she feared that they would not be able to support another child.
Christie claimed that he had some knowledge of abortion, illegal in the U.K. at that time, and offered to assist the couple. Beryl became Christie's third victim, incapacitated, strangled and violated as per his modus operandi. She died on November 8, 1948 as a result of his intervention. He persuaded Evans that her death had resulted from septic poisoning, from the various other abortion remedies that she had tried up until that point, and convinced him not to go to the police. Instead, he was dispatched alone to stay with his mother's sister in Wales, with Christie claiming that he had found a young couple willing to look after baby Geraldine. She was never seen alive again.
Evans' mother, puzzled by the mysterious disappearance of Beryl and the baby, confronted Evans and, on November 30, unable to maintain the charade any longer, he went to the police in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. Wishing to protect Christie, he confessed to accidentally killing Beryl himself, by giving her abortion pills, and then disposing of her body in a sewer drain. Police in Notting Hill duly investigated, and found nothing, and Evans was questioned more intensely a second time, at which time he changed his story and implicated Christie in Beryl's death.
A thorough search of Rillington Place, on December 2, 1949, revealed the bodies of Beryl and baby Geraldine hidden in the washhouse in the back garden. Geraldine still had a man's tie around her neck, which had been used to strangle her.
Further questioning caused Evans to change his story a number of times, which included a confession to having strangled Beryl over mounting debts, but this may have been due to the limitations of his mental abilities and the strenuous police interrogation. Christie was also questioned, but managed to convince police that he had no involvement. With careful coaching from Christie, wife Ethel also corroborated his version.
Evans went on trial at on January 11, 1950, and his ineffective defense team failed to follow up on a number of inconsistencies in the testimony offered by Christie and his wife. Indeed, Christie was a key witness for the prosecution, and his positive impression on the jury was instrumental in Evans being found guilty. Evans continued to maintain his innocence, and attempted one appeal, but he was hanged on March 9, 1950.
Following the trial, Christie's hypochondria grew steadily worse, and he became depressed and lost a considerable amount of weight. He lost his job at the post office, and found it difficult to maintain a job over the next few years. Around December 12, 1952, Ethel Christie disappeared mysteriously, and Christie told neighbors that she had gone back to Sheffield, while relatives were told that she had become too ill to communicate with them, although he continued to send gifts marked as coming from both of them. He had, in fact, strangled Ethel, and placed her body under the floorboards in the parlor. Christie also began treating the house with strong disinfectants, when neighbors remarked on the increasingly bad odors that were coming from the Christie house.
Christie's next victim was 25-year-old Rita Nelson, a pregnant prostitute who was persuaded by Christie that he could assist her with a termination, and who suffered the same fate as Beryl Evans on January 19, 1953. Her body was placed in an alcove that existed behind a cupboard in the kitchen.
26-year-old Kathleen Maloney, another prostitute, was gassed, strangled and raped in February 1953. She joined Nelson, in the alcove behind the cupboard, the next morning.
Christie's final victim, 26-year-old Hectorina McLennan, was similarly gassed, strangled and raped, then also stashed in the alcove. Christie then papered over the cupboard that concealed the alcove, but could do very little about the increasingly bad odor coming from the three decomposing bodies. He finally moved out of Rillington Place on March 20, 1953, defrauding the family who took up residency. He took three months rent money from them, when he was not authorized by the landlord, and they were forced to move out within 24 hours.
With the flat now empty, another Rillington Place tenant was permitted by the landlord to use the kitchen and, when he was renovating the space, he discovered the concealed cupboard and the bodies, and immediately notified the police. Given the previous murders that had been committed there, a thorough search was initiated, which revealed not only the three kitchen cupboard corpses, but also Ethel's body under the parlor floorboards, and two further bodies in the garden.
The hunt for Christie began, and he was apprehended ten days later, on March 31, 1953, having run out of money. He made statements about four of the murders willingly, but had explanations for all. His wife's had been a mercy killing, she had been choking to death anyway when he strangled her; and the three prostitutes had been aggressive and taken advantage of him, driving him to defend himself. His confessions were riddled with lies and evasions. When confronted with the evidence of the garden corpses, he admitted those murders too and, at one point, also admitted to the murder of Beryl Evans, although he described it again as a mercy killing.
Trial and Aftermath
His trial at Old Bailey commenced on June 22, 1953, on the charge of murdering his wife. Christie's defense counsel decided to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and all the murders were brought in to support the insanity plea. The prosecution countered that his concealment of the crimes after the fact showed an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his acts, and the judge instructed the jury to consider only whether he was insane at the time at which he had killed his wife, which was the charge under consideration.
The trial lasted only four days, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty, after deliberating for only an hour and 20 minutes. Christie was sentenced to death and hanged, just over two weeks later, at Pentonville Prison in London, on July 15, 1953.
Following Christie's trial an investigation was undertaken to test Timothy Evans' guilt. It determined, after an investigation of only eleven days, that Evans had indeed killed his wife and daughter. Two years later, an attempt was made to launch another investigation, and extensive evidence was produced to suggest that the first investigation had been rushed, and skewed to support the official version and avoid questioning the methods by which police had extracted Evans' confession.
Finally, an inquiry conducted in 1965 concluded that Evans had strangled his wife but not his daughter, and he was granted a posthumous pardon in 1966, as he was tried and hanged for killing his daughter, and not his wife.
Christie never confessed to killing baby Geraldine, despite having admitted to all the other murders while in prison in the weeks before his execution, so it seems unlikely that the guilt of Timothy Evans will ever be definitively established.
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