Questionable History: The two murderers at 10 Rillington Place

John Reginald Christie, murderer of prostitutes, with his wife Ethel who knew too much.

Most people’s awareness of the Christie murders comes from the famous movie starring Richard Attenborough. The film was in turn based on the book by Ludovic Kennedy who followed the near-universal opinion that Christie was a psychopath who murdered several women, but managed to blame the strangling of Beryl Evans and baby Geraldine on husband Timothy Evans who was hanged in 1950. However, Evans received a posthumous pardon in 1966.

There is no question that Christie was a necrophile who murdered several prostitutes for sexual gratification and hid their bodies in the house and garden. He also murdered his own wife Ethel, probably to silence her for what she knew about his crimes. The Attenborough movie shows the Evans family moving into Rillington Place as lodgers, before Christie murders Beryl under the pretense of giving her an abortion. He then kills the baby to get her out of the way.

Christie was the star prosecution witness at Evans’ trial for murder. After all, Evans had pleaded guilty on at least three separate occasions following his arrest and had fled to Wales to stay with relatives. At the trial, Evans was emotional and contradictory and failed to persuade the jury that Christie was the real killer of his wife and child. He was barely literate and had an IQ of an 11 year old boy.

Timothy Evans, center, is arrested in 1950 for murdering his wife Beryl.

The usual view is that Evans was wrongly hanged because Christie was a proven murderer and it is surely unlikely there were two killers living in the same house at the same time. In 1953 Christie’s own crimes came to light after several bodies of prostitutes and his wife were found rotting on the premises. He was hanged by executioner Albert Pierrepoint the same year. Christie admitted several murders, including that of Beryl, but always denied killing the baby.

But what if the traditional account is wrong and Evans did murder both his wife and baby? Evans was known as a very violent and often drunken person why had certainly indulged in wife battering during their short marriage. Peter Thorley, brother of Beryl, even later wrote a book disagreeing with the official version of events. He believed that Evans had strangled his wife in a fit of temper and then killed the baby to be rid of the responsibility.

It seems unlikely, but there are bits of evidence to suggest Evans’ guilt. The medical reports on Evans post-arrest do indicate he was bordering on psychosis and probably pleaded guilty at first because he was brainwashed by police interrogators. There is also the statement, never used in court, by a deaf labourer who was mixing concrete near the house on the day when Christie was supposed to have murdered mother and child. He claimed he had seen Beryl and Geraldine leaving the house hours after Christie allegedly killed them.

Evans presumed innocence and the campaign to obtain an official pardon strongly coloured the debate about capital punishment in postwar Britain. State executions ceased for good in 1964. But what if Evans was guilty after all? Could two psychopaths have been living in the same house? It certainly seems unlikely, but fiction can be stranger than fact.