JOHN REGINALD CHRISTIE
By Tim Lambert
John Reginald Halliday Christie was a British murderer of the mid 20th century. Christie was born near Halifax in Yorkshire on 8 April 1899. He was one of 7 children. He had 4 older sisters and 2 older brothers. Christie had one younger sister. Their father Ernest John Christie was a carpet designer. The family were reasonably well off. When he grew up John Christie was usually called by his middle name Reg.
However Christie's father was a strict disciplinarian. Christie later said 'we almost had to ask permission to speak to him'. He once beat Christie for stealing a tomato although his son said he did not like tomatoes. In contrast Christie's mother was overprotective and domineering. Christie also said his older sisters were always bossing him around. As a result Christie seems to have grown up with a resentment of women.
It was made worse by his first encounter with a girl. Reg Christie was unable to manage it. Afterwards the girl and her friends called him 'Reggie-no-dick' or 'Can't-do-it-Christie'. This humiliation seems to have made Christie hate women even more. Later Christie went to see prostitutes. He continued to frequent prostitutes for the rest of his life.
However Christie did well at school. He was intelligent and was particularly good at maths. (Later Christie was found to have an IQ of 128, substantially above average). But Christie was not very popular and tended not to mix with the other boys.
When he left school in 1913 Christie got a job as an assistant film projectionist in a cinema. (Photography was one of his life long hobbies). Christie joined the army in 1916. In June 1918 he was injured in a gas attack and he was in a military hospital for 1 month. Afterwards Christie spoke in a hushed voice, which, he claimed was a result of the gassing.
In 1920 Reg Christie married a woman named Ethel. However the marriage was not a success. In 1925 Christie left his wife and moved to London.
Meanwhile Christie became a petty thief. While working as a postman in 1921 he stole postal orders and was given 3 months in prison. In 1923 he was convicted to obtaining money by false pretenses and violent conduct. He was given 12 months probation. In 1924 Christie was in trouble again. This time he was given 9 months in prison for larceny (theft). Christie then managed to stay out of trouble for 4 years. Then in 1929 he was living with a woman. He hit the woman in the head with a cricket bat. This time he was given 6 months in prison. Ominously the judge called it 'a murderous attack'. Finally in 1933 Christie was sent to prison for 3 months for stealing a car from a Catholic priest.
However while in prison Christie wrote to his estranged wife Ethel and asked to come and live with him in London. She agreed. In December 1938 Reg and Ethel Christie moved into the basement flat of 10 Rillington Place in Ladbroke Grove, London. It was later to become an infamous address. It was a 19th century house divided into 3 flats, one above another. At the back was a small garden and a shared toilet and wash house.
At that time Christie was working as a clerk but with the outbreak of war in 1939 he became a special constable in the police. During his time as a policeman Christie was trained in first aid and he won two commendations.
It was while he was a policeman that Christie committed his first murder. His first victim was a 21 year old Austrian woman named Ruth Fuerst. Ruth came to Britain in 1939 to train to be a nurse. In 1943 she was working in a munitions factory and, short of money she became a part time prostitute.
Christie persuaded Ruth to go to his flat while his wife Ethel was visiting her family in Sheffield. According to Christie Ruth undressed. He then strangled her with a rope. Christie temporarily hid the body of Ruth Fuerst under the floor boards of his front room. Later he buried her in the small garden behind his flat.
Christie's next victim was a woman named Muriel Eady, aged 31. In December 1943 Christie left the police force. He then got a job as a clerk in a radio factory in Acton. While there he met Muriel. She lived with her aunt and she had a regular boyfriend. On two occasions Muriel and her boyfriend went to 10 Rillington Place to have tea served by Mrs Christie. Once they went to the cinema.
Christie later said of the murder: 'I planned it all out very carefully'. He also said it was 'a really clever murder'. Muriel Eady suffered from catarrh. Christie pretended he could help using an inhalation device he had used on other people. In October 1944 Christie persuaded her to come to his flat one evening when his wife was away. The 'inhalation device', which Christie showed her in his kitchen was just a glass jar with two holes in the lid. It was filled with Friars balsam and had a rubber tube leading to a small mask which was held over the face. However in the other hole in the lid was a rubber tube leading to a gas tap. Christie persuaded Muriel to put the mask over her face and turned on the gas. Soon Muriel was overcome by the gas and Christie strangled her with a ligature. Christie buried Muriel Eady in the back garden.
The next woman Christie murdered was a woman named Beryl Evans. Beryl was born in 1929. In 1947 she married a van driver named Timothy Evans. He was born in Wales in 1924. Evans was a man of low intelligence. In March 1948 Timothy and Beryl Evans moved into the top floor flat at 10 Rillington Place. They had a daughter, Geraldine, born in October 1948.
However the Evans had financial troubles, which caused rows between them. In the autumn of 1949 Beryl Evans found she was pregnant again but the couple could not afford another child. In 1949 abortion was illegal but Beryl was keen to end the pregnancy and she tried to abort herself.
Unfortunately Beryl told Christie. He persuaded her he knew how to carry out an operation and offered to do it for her. He told Timothy Evans he was training to be a doctor before World War II but had to give it up because he had an accident. However Christie also said that with the method he used one woman in ten would die.
On 8 November 1949 Christie went to the top floor flat to do the 'abortion'. He may have tried to persuade Beryl to inhale some gas. Christie strangled Beryl Evans.
When Timothy Evans returned home Christie told him that Beryl had died during the operation. Christie persuaded Evans not to go to the police. Instead they carried to the body to the middle floor flat. (The inhabitant was was in hospital at the time). Christie said he was going to put the body down a manhole in the street outside 10 Rillington Place. He told Evans to tell people that Beryl had left him and to go and stay with relatives in Wales. That left the problem of baby Geraldine. Christie persuaded Evans that he knew a childless couple in Acton who would adopt the baby. Of course the couple did not exist.
On 14 November 1949 Timothy Evans left 10 Rillington Place and went to Wales. Christie then strangled baby Geraldine with a tie. Christie placed the bodies of Beryl Evans and Geraldine in the wash house behind the house.
However on 23 November Evans returned to London and told Christie he was worried about Geraldine and wanted to see her. Christie said it was too soon and so Evans went back to Wales.
Finally, increasingly anxious Timothy Evans went to the police and told the police his wife was dead. Evans claimed he met a man in a cafe who gave him pills that would cause an abortion. He said Beryl died as a result of taking them. He told the police he put her body down a manhole. (Christie had said he was going to put it there so Evans assumed it was there). The police in London found it took 3 men to lift the heavy manhole and they did not find a body down there.
When told all this Evans said he lied to protect Christie. He now told the police Christie had offered to give Beryl an abortion and she had died as a result. Christie had told him he knew a childless couple who would look after Geraldine. He said he would put Beryl's body down a manhole.
Finally the police found the bodies of Beryl Evans and her baby daughter in the wash house. Yet, incredibly they did not notice the human thigh bone propping up a garden fence, even though it was only a small garden (about 16 feet by 14 feet). Timothy Evans was brought from Wales and late at night the police informed him that his wife and child had both been strangled. Evans was shocked to find out Beryl had not died during an operation but had been murdered. He was devastated when he was told his baby daughter, Geraldine was dead.
Timothy Evans then confessed to the murders of Beryl and Geraldine. However his 'confession' contained phrases like 'she was incurring one debt after another', 'I accused her of squandering the money', 'false pretenses', and 'no fixed abode', which it is very unlikely that Evans would use. Timothy Evans also said that after hiding the bodies in the wash house he locked the door. But the wash house door did not have a lock. Furthermore two workmen gave statements that contradicted Evans confession. At the time of the murders workmen had been doing some repairs in the bottom of the house. (They were probably on their lunch break when Christie killed Beryl Evans). Two of them made statements to the police saying they had gone into the wash house after Timothy Evans supposedly hid the bodies there. However the police persuaded the workmen to change their statements.
Timothy Evans was brought to trial on 11 January 1950. The chief witness against him was the real murderer, John Reginald Christie. He made a poor showing during his trial. When asked if he could suggest any reason why Christie would want to kill his wife and child he could not. Christie on the other hand was a good prosecution witness. He gained sympathy by exaggerating his injuries during the First World War and he claimed he was ill at the time of the murders. Inevitably the jury found Evans guilty and he was sentenced to death. Timothy Evans was hanged on 9 March 1950.
Nearly 3 years passed before Christie killed again. On 6 December 1952 Christie resigned from his job. Then on 14 December he murdered his wife. That morning Christie strangled his wife with a stocking while she was lying in bed. We are not sure why he killed her but it may be that Ethel Christie was starting to suspect her husband was the real murderer. Christie hid her body under the floorboards of his front room. He told people various stories about where his wife had gone. Meanwhile Christie sold his wife's wedding ring to raise money. He also forged his wife's signature to take all the money out of her bank account.
With Ethel Christie dead the way was now open for 'Reg' to murder other women. From 1952 he was also unemployed so he had plenty of time to seek them out. In mid-January Christie met a 26 year old woman named Kathleen Maloney. Christie persuaded her to come back to 10 Rillington Place when she was drunk. Christie gassed her till she was unconscious then strangled her. Christie hid the dead body in a kitchen alcove.
Also in January 1953 Christie murdered a 25 year old woman named Rita Nelson. She worked as a waitress and she was 6 months pregnant. Christie may have told her he could perform an abortion. Instead he gassed her till she was unconscious then strangled her. Once again Christie had sex with the dead body. Once again he hid the body in an alcove.
Christie's last victim was a 26 year old Scottish woman named Hectorina MacLennan. In March 1953 she told him she was looking for a flat and Christie said he could help. She came to view the flat but unexpectedly she brought her boyfriend with her. Christie persuaded her to come again on her own and this time he gassed her and strangled her. He then put the body in the alcove. Her boyfriend noticed her disappearance of course and Christie offered to help search for her.
Christie then decided to abandon his flat in Rillington Place. So Christie illegally sub-let his flat to a couple named Reilly. They gave him 3 months rent in advance. On 20 March 1953 Christie left Rillington Place forever. However when the landlord found the couple living in his property he ordered them to leave. However he gave a man named Beresford Brown who lived in the top floor flat permission to use the kitchen of the empty bottom floor flat. On 24 March 1953 Brown discovered that under some wallpaper was not a wall but a door. He peeled back the wallpaper and through a hole in the door he saw the body of a woman. He called the police and they found 2 more bodies in the alcove. Later they found the body of Ethel Christie under the front room floorboards. Eventually they discovered the bodies of Ruth Fuerst and Muriel Eady buried in the garden.
Meanwhile a manhunt began for Christie. He wandered aimlessly around London sleeping in a shelter then sleeping rough and spending his days in cafes. Christie was finally arrested on 31 March 1953. He was standing on the Embankment near Putney Bridge in London when a policeman named Ledger saw him. Christie first told the policeman his name was John Waddington. However PC ledger recognized him and arrested him.
Christie confessed to the murder of his wife. Christie also confessed to the murders of the 3 women found in the kitchen alcove. He also confessed to the murders of Ruth Fuerst in 1943 and Muriel Eady in 1944 and he confessed to the murder of Beryl Evans in 1949. However he would not admit killing baby Geraldine. Evidently Christie could not bear to admit something so horrible.
On 22 June 1953 John Reginald Christie went on trial for the murder of his wife Ethel. Christie pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial lasted 3 days. One psychiatrist argued that he was insane but two argued that he was not. Christie was an abnormal personality, they said but he was responsible for his actions. The jury agreed. He was found guilty of murdering his wife and sentenced to death on 25 June 1953.
John Reginald Christie was hanged on 15 July 1953 in Pentonville Prison in London.
In 1966, after a long campaign Timothy Evans was granted a royal pardon, 13 years after his wrongful execution.
In 1954 Rillington Place was renamed Ruston Close to discourage sightseers. Finally 10 Rillington Place and the surrounding houses were demolished in 1970-71. The area was redeveloped but no building stands on the exact site of 10 Rillington Place.
Meanwhile in 1955 Michael Eddowes wrote a book about the case called The Man on Your Conscience. 1961 the Ludovic Kennedy wrote another book about the case called 10 Rillington Place. In 1971 a film also called 10 Rillington Place was made. It starred Richard Attenborough as Christie and John Hurt as Timothy Evans. Judy Geeson played Beryl Evans. The film was made in Rillington Place before the area was redeveloped.
John George Haigh
A History of Capital Punishment