Death of a Monster
part 3 of 4
I pulled away a small cupboard in the corner and gained access to a small alcove.
-John Reginald Halliday Christie, 1953
For nearly 10 years, beginning in 1943, serial killer John Reginald Halliday Christie had gotten away with murder. A largely sexually impotent man (stemming from adolescent failures that earned him the disparaging monikers “Reggie No-Dick” and “Can’t-Do-It Christie”) he found his main means of sexual release could only be met by undemanding, submissive prostitutes.Credit: coventrykid.com
Though married in 1920, Christie continued to visit prostitutes the rest of his adult life. In 1943, he murdered a part-time prostitute, Austrian-immigrant munitions worker Ruth Fuerst, strangling her during sex. After burying her in the back yard, Christie’s appetite for the morbid thrill of climaxing as Ruth had died weighed upon his mind.
He devised a glass jar he hoped to use as a means of killing other women so he could have absolute power over their unconscious bodies while he ravaged them as he pleased. The jar had two holes in it: one led to a tube a victim would inhale from, smelling only an aromatic home remedy in the jar, and the other tube went to his apartment’s gas line.
His first chance to use the jar came in late 1944 when a co-worker, Muriel Eady, complained of bronchitis. Christie talked her into coming home with him: he had a “special mixture”, he said, that would cure her respiratory problems. In his flat, Muriel used his jar; overcome by the gas, she passed out. Christie raped her as he strangled her. He buried her in the back yard near Ruth.
On Easter 1948 a young married couple, Tim and Beryl Evans, moved into the top floor of Christie’s building, 10 Rillington Place. Beryl was expecting a child; she gave birth in October of that year. Beryl’s husband Tim was almost 60 IQ points shy of Reg Christie—his tested IQ of 70 put him in the borderline mentally retarded range. Tim, however, had a job driving a delivery van despite the fact he could only read and write his own name.
Over a year after the Evans’ arrival, Beryl turned up pregnant again and wanted to abort her developing baby. In early November 1949, Christie, under the pretext of being an expert abortionist, went up to her apartment while her husband Tim was at work and murdered her. He made up a story of the abortion having gone wrong that the simpleton, Tim Evans, believed when he came home from work and found his wife dead. Reg Christie said he would dispose of Beryl Evans’ body. He and Tim moved it to a temporarily vacant apartment on the second floor. Christie took care of the Evans’ 13-month-old daughter for a couple of days, saying he would arrange for the now-motherless girl to be put in care of a couple he knew. Tim, unsure of himself and deferring to Christie, let this happen. Instead, on November 19 (two days after he had murdered Beryl) Christie took the child up to the second-floor apartment and strangled her, leaving the body alongside her dead mother.
Believing his daughter was in safe hands, Tim let Christie talk him into selling off his possessions and leaving town. He retreated to his childhood hometown in Wales, living with an aunt. Suspicions of his mother (who lived in London) about her grandchild’s and daughter-in-law’s whereabouts led Tim to turn himself in to a Welsh police station where he claimed he had stuffed his wife’s dead body down a storm drain. After much convoluted discussion, police there asked for help from police in London to investigate Tim’s former residence.
Notting Hill police found no body in the drain, but enough strangeness accompanied the case that, after they found a stolen briefcase in Tim’s vacant apartment, they used that as an excuse to charge him with a crime so he could be extradited to London. There, Tim crazily added to his “confession” about his wife’s death, implicating himself in a cover-up, but claiming Christie had caused her death during an abortion attempt.
Their bodies were found in a communal washhouse in the apartment building’s back yard. Upon learning his daughter was dead, Tim Evans then made more confessions, all fraught with factual errors, but used by British authorities to bring him up on charges of murdering his daughter (the Crown held the murder of Beryl in reserve in case he was acquitted). Christie appeared as the star witness for the prosecution at the three-day trial. Tim was handily convicted of murder, and on March 9, 1950, Timothy John Evans was hanged for murdering his infant daughter.
Through all this, Christie sweated. Two bodies were buried in his back yard. A femur had surfaced from one of his burial sites. He had used it to prop up a sagging wooden fence that bisected the back yard. Police failed to notice it when searching the grounds after Tim’s statements to Welsh police. Later, after a second search had yielded Beryl’s and the baby’s bodies, Christie discovered the skull of one of his early victims had been dug up by his dog and was lying on top of the soil. Police hadn’t seen that, either—Christie tossed it into a neighborhood building that had been bombed during World War II’s German Blitz of London.
It seemed that in the wake of Tim Evans’ execution for murders Christie had committed John Reginald Halliday Christie was never going to be touched by the long arm of the law.
Relative peace reigned in the Christie household but for the middle-aged couple’s racism. Both Reg and his wife, Ethel, found their new West Indian—and very black—neighbors loathsome. The third-floor flat (previously occupied by the Evans family) had been let to a Jamaican man. The second-floor tenants (in the wake of that apartment’s becoming available when previous occupant, Mr. Kitchener, had moved out) were also people of color from the Caribbean.
The Christies considered their new neighbors their inferiors (despite the fact that the Christies themselves could be typified easily as what is known as “white trash” today). And Ethel’s racism was as bad as Reggie’s: ever class-conscious as the British are, she thought the English-Africans from the Caribbean were of low status. She was also afraid of them, but mostly she detested sharing close quarters with them (particularly since she and all the residents of 10 Rillington Place had to use the same outhouse to answer Nature’s call).
The Christies complained ceaselessly about their new housemates to the landlord. They hated the smells of the native Jamaican foods cooking in the building. They hated the Caribbean music the new people preferred. Living in harmony was not to be: Ethel brought a criminal action against a neighbor for allegedly assaulting her. And “Reggie No-Dick” scored a coup when through the use of a law service catering to lower income people he managed to legally secure his (long-claimed but never documented) exclusive use of “the back garden”. This meant no one in the house, other than he and Ethel Christie should walk past the falling wooden fence that cut the yard in half. This, at least, gave Christie some peace of mind about no one discovering the strange things he’d “planted” in the garden (Ruth Fuerst and Muriel Eady).
Nagging Too Much
Christie learned as a child to get attention by faking illnesses or by conflating minor injuries into major complaints guaranteed to generate sympathy. Right after Tim Evans’ trial, he sank into a depression (more likely a mild shock-like condition stemming from the close call to being exposed as a murderer). He lost weight, about 28 pounds.
Christie had been working for the Post Office Savings Bank before Tim Evans’ trial. In court, the defense brought up Christie’s past criminal behavior (from 1920 through 1933 he had been arrested and convicted multiple times for petty theft, and in one case, in 1929, of malicious wounding he used a cricket bat to batter a prostitute with whom he was living while separated from his wife). His conservative employer learned of Christie’s criminal history from reports of Evans’ trial. Christie was fired from his job.
On top of that, his job loss from the bank (as a result of disclosures about his criminal history) meant he was home more often, with Ethel nagging him to find work.
His hypochondria and its attendant whining grew worse. He complained of all sorts of nervous and gastro-intestinal problems. Probably for no other reason but to get a break from his limited responsibilities at home (and to get away from Ethel) he checked himself into a hospital for a three-week observation period. A staff psychiatrist felt he should be hospitalized for analysis—had Christie not been worried about the two bodies in his back yard such a “rest’ would have been welcomed. Instead, though, he claimed he couldn’t leave Ethel alone much longer, and he declined the offer. He did, however, see his own doctor for many imaginary complaints: 33 visits over the next eight months were documented.
As time wore on, Ethel became more of a nag. She constantly complained about the West Indians overhead. In the past Reg formerly had gotten some relief from her because she spent time away from 10 Rillington Place on visits to her family in Sheffield (in northern England). However, almost concurrent with the business involving Tim Evans, she suddenly felt the need to stay closer to home.
He found another job as a trucking clerk for the British Road Services in August 1950. Once he was working again Ethel’s nagging eased. However, Christie did not like to work—he gave notice on December 6, 1952. He told Ethel he had quit because he had found something better. Over the next several days, though, it was obvious he had no other employment because he hung around the house.
Ethel (probably for the first time in their marriage) expressed agitation with Christie during this time. He hoped she would go off and visit her relatives, but she rejected the idea, feeling it best to stay home and ride herd on her lazy husband. And, perhaps for the first time in their marriage, she raised the ugly subject of his impotence, telling him of her disappointment in his lack of sexual interest or, if interested, his inability to perform. Every horrible childhood and adult memory Christie had of being humiliated thanks to his “unmanliness” came flooding to the fore.
Christie and she argued, and then he fumed to himself.
The Good Wife
He brooded over Ethel’s nagging about his lack of work and his sexual inadequacies. Despite the fact that she had stood by him (through a nearly 10-year separation, suffering known and continuing infidelities with prostitutes, and probably covering for him somewhat in the murders of Beryl and Geraldine Evans) Christie was sick of her.
To make matters worse she had begun talking about their needing to move out of 10 Rillington Place—she was finding the presence of the black tenants distracting and intolerable. Christie couldn’t risk moving away: the bodies in the back yard might be discovered by new residents and he would surely be linked to them somehow.
Finally, Ethel’s continued presence at the flat made other things impossible as well. He couldn’t bring stray women home for sex, nor could he exorcise the murderous demon living in his head—he desperately wanted to have sex with another unconscious and dying woman, and Ethel was keeping him from that desire.
On Thursday, December 11, 1952, Ethel went to a friend’s place to watch television (the novelty was something Christie had decided they could not afford in their grubby flat, especially with him only working intermittently). The next day, Friday, December 12, she took some dirty clothes to Maxwell Laundries and went home. Ethel Simpson Waddington Christie was never seen alive again.
Most of the weekend passed without incident, but on the morning of Sunday, December 14, 1952, Christie strangled Ethel with a stocking in their bed. He clipped a snippet of her pubic hair (which he put in a tobacco tin). Using a flowered dress as a post-mortem “diaper” and wrapping her in a silk nightgown, Christie bundled the whole mess into an old flannel blanket. He drew a pillowcase over her head. [When the body was found, she was also wearing stockings, completely in place. It is unknown if she had slept in these or if Christie had put them on her.] Her body was dropped into the front room’s crawlspace he had used previously to temporarily store Ruth Fuerst and Muriel Eady. He replaced the loose floorboards.
Reg Christie did not rape her dying or dead body.
After coming down from his murderous high, Christie now had to figure out how to explain Ethel’s disappearance. Unlike his first two known victims, Ethel Christie was a fixture at 10 Rillington Place, known (though not necessarily well-liked) to many. In addition to that she had friends in the neighborhood, such as the woman Rosie with whom she had watched television just a few days before. He settled on the simple, but plausible, story that she had gone off for an extended visit to her relatives. This would buy him some time.
On Monday, December 15, to start the subterfuge, Christie found a letter Ethel had written to her sister in Sheffield but had yet to mail. She had written it on December 10—he changed the date to December 15 and mailed the letter. [He included an overly “helpful”—and unnecessary and suspicious unto itself—explanation that Ethel hadn’t mailed it on December 10 because she had no envelopes. He added that he had mailed it from his job for her, also a lie since he was unemployed.]
To those less intimately acquainted with Ethel’s history he said she’d gone off to Birmingham. He randomly told those who were more familiar with her who asked after her that Ethel had gone off to her hometown of Sheffield. He embellished this lie, paving the way for his own anticipated move, by saying he’d found a new job there as well and would be heading north soon to reunite with her. For those who had seen Ethel in recent days (her friend Rosie, the laundry workers, and those who casually knew her) this seemed surprising—for Ethel Christie, who had nothing of interest in her life to talk about, moving off to Sheffield would be big news yet she had not mentioned it to anyone.
Rosie, in particular, was highly inquisitive about Ethel’s whereabouts (in consideration of having spent hours with the woman on December 11 and her not saying a word about leaving London). Christie lied to her, claiming he’d received a telegram from her in which she had mentioned Rosie with fondness. He felt such a florid detail might allay the woman’s trepidation and stop her prying.
One of Ethel’s relatives wrote to her. Christie took the letter and replied, saying that Ethel had bad rheumatism and couldn’t write herself. He also said she wasn’t feeling well enough to send out written Christmas greetings (as she usually did) or to send gifts. Christie, to keep up the ruse, did send out a few token gifts to those closest to Ethel with gift tags: “From: Ethel and Reg.”
Christie desperately wanted to get rid of Ethel’s corpse, but he could not risk taking her out to bury in the back yard—the Jamaicans living at 10 Rillington Place were unpredictable in their habits and one might suddenly pop into the yard unexpectedly. Living with her corpse under the floorboards, though, may not have been the brightest move on Christie’s part. As she decomposed the smell permeated the building. The upstairs neighbors started complaining about the stench. Christie’s solution was to mask the odor by pouring a heavy disinfectant over the rotting body under the living room floor. Though completely unnecessary (after almost 10 years in the ground) he also doused Ruth’s and Muriel’s burial sites with the chemical.
With no job (though he had quit) Christie somehow was drawing unemployment benefits. [It is possible in England at the time a willful separation from employment did not disqualify the jobless from receiving benefits. Or Christie lied about why he lost his job and some bureaucrat failed to check on it.] Weekly, he went to the Labor Exchange and picked up his paltry money.
He had sold Ethel’s wedding ring two days after killing her. A week after her murder he sold her watch. Having spent precious cash on Christmas gifts, postage, etc., he was running out of funds; with no job he needed more money to survive. On January 8, 1953, he sold nearly all the furniture in their flat. With the bedstead gone, Christie slept on an old mattress on the floor. Of his household furnishings all he had left were three chairs (one of which Muriel Eady had sat in when he gassed her) and the kitchen table.
He also had his glass killing jar.
Start of a Spree: Rita Nelson
Free of Ethel’s prying eyes Christie’s mind turned to murder. Other than Ethel, he hadn’t killed since he strangled Beryl Evans in November 1949, and he had not gotten his full satisfaction sexually from her murder.
Rita Nelson was from Belfast, Ireland. She was a 25-year-old unmarried blond in trouble: she was pregnant. She lived in London. On January 12, she had been seen by a doctor who determined she was 24 weeks into her pregnancy. [A very late stage to consider abortion, legal or otherwise; Rita probably didn’t know she was that far along.] The doctor referred her to the Samaritan Hospital for Women for further prenatal consultation.
Rita had been visiting her sister who lived in Ladbroke Grove, very near Christie’s neighborhood. She and her sister were in a pub drinking heavily (Rita cared little for her unborn baby) on or around January 19 when Christie spotted them. Although Christie later lied outrageously (claiming Rita had been a sexual aggressor toward him, a married man!) the simple truth is that, in chatting up the women, he likely noticed Rita’s condition. Hearing of her distress he probably offered his expertise as an abortionist.
Rita went to 10 Rillington Place with Christie. It can only be imagined what she thought of the squalor in which he lived: a dog and cat in the flat, a moldering mattress on the floor, only three chairs and a kitchen table for other furniture, and a horrific stench barely covered by the smell of an industrial-strength cleaner. Rita sat in a chair in the kitchen. Christie produced the killing jar, probably telling her it contained some kind of anesthesia. He decided to forego the contrivance of sticking the second hose, connected to the gas line, into the jar’s other hole. Instead, he merely placed it close to her face and unclipped the line, releasing the gas. Rita succumbed quickly to the carbon monoxide. He raped her in a frenzy as he strangled her to death with a piece of cord.
His disposal method would change due to circumstance. His temporary stash place beneath the floor held his decomposing wife. He couldn’t bury Rite in the yard safely. The washhouse, having been repaired a few years ago, was used frequently, so that was out as a place to hide her remains. What to do? Christie pondered while he drank a cup of tea as Rita’s body grew colder on the kitchen floor. He went to bed.
In the morning he attacked the problem anew. In the far corner of the kitchen was a small cupboard. Behind that was the doorway to a small pantry that had not been used in years. Its right-hand wall was conjoined to the washhouse outside. Christie would make do with this closet-sized space until he could think of something better. He moved the cupboard aside, exposing the dark interior of the tiny niche behind.
Rita wore a dress, a petticoat, a bra, a cardigan sweater and two vests. Christie took a piece of cloth and diapered her body. He then bound her ankles together with a length of electricalCredit: Vic Dillinger, 2013 cord, tied in a reef (or “square”) knot. He tied a cloth over her head, using the same knot. Standing her upside down, he tucked her into the back corner of the tiny pantry.
Rita Nelson never kept her appointment to see the health care workers at Samaritan Hospital for Women. It was her landlady, noticing her pregnant lodger hadn’t been around, that reported her missing.
Temporarily sated in both mind and body, Christie still needed money. On January 26, 1953, he forged Ethel’s signature on a withdrawal slip and cleaned out her bank account.
Middle of a Spree: Kathleen Maloney
Christie then lapsed into a nearly hermit-like existence. He quit answering letters, asking after her health and what not, from Ethel’s relatives. Instead, he spent much time haunting pubs and cafés.
Down-at-her-heels, Kathleen Maloney was 26 years old with light brown hair. She was an orphan who had borne five children with no husbands or fathers in the picture. Christie had first met her about three weeks before Christmas 1952. He had gone with her and another prostitute to a room where he had been allowed to take nude photographs of the other woman.
He ran into Kathleen again on a night in early February (date uncertain) 1953 in a Notting Hill café. She and another girl had spent most of the day there drinking. Reggie No-Dick joined them; the women were in the midst of a discussion about looking for apartments in the area. Though Christie would again lie about what happened, claiming Kathleen had been sexually aggressive toward him, it is more likely he used her plight (looking for a place to live) as an excuse to lure her back to his flat (perhaps telling her he was planning on moving soon, and she was welcome to come have a look).
Once there, he managed to gas the very drunk Kathleen into submission after settling her into his kitchen’s “killing” chair. As with Rita Nelson, Christie raped the unconscious Kathleen while he strangled her to death with a rope. He did not linger over her corpse this time, though—he diapered her with a white vest she had been wearing. The cotton cardigan and another vest she wore he left in place. He propped her in the chair and went to bed. The next morning, Christie went to his kitchen and made tea.
After that, he wrapped Kathleen’s body in a blanket, wrapping a sock around the blanket at her feet and tying it with a reef knot. He put a pillowcase over her head and secured the opening at the neck with another sock, also tied with the same knot. He set her in the pantry with Rita Nelson. Kathleen was placed on her back with her legs vertically resting against the alcove’s back wall (her torso rested on Rita’s head). Strangely, Christie went out and grubbed up some dirt and ashes; these he threw on Kathleen’s corpse in the closet.
End of a Spree: Hectorina MacLennan
Christie became acquainted with another woman, Margaret Forrest. [Margaret used the honorific “Mrs.” before her name, but it is uncertain if she was married or recently divorced when Christie met her]. She suffered from migraines; Christie used her condition as an excuse to brag about his great medical expertise and the wondrous curative he possessed, his “special mixture”, which, he truthfully told her, involved the use of household coal gas. He managed to convince her of the efficacy of his “cure”, so Margaret made an appointment to come to his place and receive treatment.
Margaret was a no-show; Christie, having worked himself up into a dither over having her, actually went to where she was staying and demanded to see her. He told her angrily that she needed to come over to his home “immediately”. She told him she would, but again she failed to appear (it was later learned she had lost his address).
Christie had met his next victim, Hectorina MacLennan, at a café around the same time he had met Rita Nelson. She was 26, a brunette, and basically homeless, though she had a boyfriend, Alex Baker, with whom she shared whatever sleeping arrangements they could find. Christie met her boyfriend and on several occasions the three of them sat and chatted in pubs.
Sensing an opportunity, Christie invited the indigent couple to come and stay at his place for awhile until they managed to find one of their own. Hectorina and Alex lived in Christie’s reeking flat with nearly no furniture for several days before deciding to decamp.
On the morning of March 6, 1953, Christie caught up with Hectorina and boyfriend Alex at the Labor Exchange where Christie collected his unemployment benefits. He managed to quietly talk Hectorina into coming back to 10 Rillington Place without Alex. [It is unclear what ruse Christie used to get her alone; perhaps it was nothing more sophisticated than offering the hapless Hectorina money if she would have sex with him.]
Back at his murder den Christie had some problems. Hectorina had accepted his offer of a drink, but he had too hastily tried to bring the rubber tubing carrying the gas close to her head. She was alarmed and bolted from the kitchen. Christie caught the fleeing woman in the common pass-through outside the kitchen door. He grabbed her by the throat and throttled her enough that she blacked out. He dragged her back into the kitchen, put her in the preferred killing chair, and gassed her properly. Completely unconscious, he lowered her to the floor and raped her as he strangled her to death with a strip of electrical cord.
He tied her wrists together with a handkerchief, securing them with a reef knot. Her stockings and a garter belt were all she wore on her lower body. A white jacket over a black sweater covered her torso; Christie dragged Hectorina’s lifeless body across the kitchen floor to the pantry (longitudinal scratch marks on her back pointed to this scenario), rucking up her sweater and jacket around her neck in the process, not bothering to straighten them out. He put her into the closet in a sitting position, her back to the doorway, her upper torso leaning forward. To keep her from falling back through the door, he hooked her bra to the blanket covering Kathleen Maloney’s legs.
Hectorina’s boyfriend came to 10 Rillington Place when she failed to make an appearance when she was expected. Christie denied having seen her since he last saw her at the Labor Exchange. He did, however, invite Alex Baker in—while not an open invitation to snoop around his house it helped allay suspicions that she, at least, was not in Christie’s rooms.
Alex had tea with Christie, noting that the foul odor in the apartment lingered. He left, still not knowing where Hectorina was. Christie made a point of seeking out Alex Baker for the next few days, keeping up his charade by asking the confused man if he’d had any word from the missing woman.Credit: Vic Dillinger, 2013
Christie had sold all of his furniture and anything else of value in January. He had been living in an almost empty apartment with his dog and cat for company, slogging along day-to-day. The smell of Ethel’s rotting body had abated slightly. However, the three corpses hidden in the pantry began making their presence known. Christie’s efforts to knock back the stench met with only minimal success. To hide his crimes better, Christie closed and locked the little pantry’s door and wallpapered over it, disguising it from casual observation.
In mid March, Christie spotted a lone woman in the neighborhood. Her surname was Reilly, and he learned she was looking for a place to rent. Either truly planning to leave Rillington Place or solely as a pretext for luring her in to kill her Christie told her to come around and have a look at his ground-floor flat (he may have even have told her that the building was his).
When she showed up later she brought along her husband, something Christie had not only not expected (she hadn’t indicated she was married in their earlier conversation) but was taken aback by. Mr. and Mrs. Reilly were apparently desperate for an apartment—despite the obvious squalor and the bad smell they agreed to let the place.
Christie’s bluff (and it can certainly be presumed he intended to murder Mrs. Reilly until being thwarted) had been called. To avoid suspicion he had no choice but to go ahead with the pretense of moving out. The Reillys gave Christie £7.13s (in 2013 British pounds, £159, or around $265 US in 2013 terms). This was handed over with the understanding it was three months’ rent in advance.
Christie, as a virtual derelict by this time, had no means to gather up his few possessions and vacate. With chutzpah beyond imagining he borrowed a suitcase from the Reillys. Packing what little gear he had left he said farewell to 10 Rillington Place (his home for nearly 15 years) on March 20, 1953. He had his dog euthanized; his cat he left with the Reillys.
Later that evening, Christie’s landlord paid a surprise visit to the property. He discovered the Reillys in residence. He advised the couple that Christie had no legal right to sublet the place, and he told them they had to leave. The landlord did not reimburse them for the money they’d given to Christie for rent. He did, however, allow them to spend the night with the understanding they would get out the next morning. The Reillys left the literal stink of the ground-floor flat at 10 Rillington Place behind, having passed only one night there.
Bounty of Bodies
Christie was oblivious to what transpired that first night away from his former hovel. He booked a room for seven nights (using his real name and his Rillington Place address) in a hostelry in King’s Cross (one of the several Rowton Houses scattered throughout London where a sleeping cubicle with access to clean bathrooms could be had for a shilling a night). All was quiet in his world for the next few days.
The top-floor tenant, Jamaican man Beresford Brown, lived in the flat previously occupied by the ill-fated Evans family. It had no proper kitchen facilities. Beresford asked the landlord (who had just been there evicting the Reillys) if he could use the kitchen on the ground floor as that flat was temporarily vacant.
Beresford was given leave to make use of the room for cooking, at least until a new tenant moved in. The horrible smell of 10 Rillington Place was strongest in the kitchen; he decided to clean it up first. On the morning of March 24, seeking to make his drudge time more pleasant, Beresford brought a radio down from upstairs. He found the perfect spot to mount a couple of brackets to support a small shelf for the unit: the wallpapered corner farthest from the kitchen’s entryway.
It took little for him to accidentally punch through the cheap wallpaper job Christie had thrown up in haste. Surprised, Beresford discovered a rough-hewn door immediately behind the paper, and the horrible stink associated with Christie and his apartment seemed to come from within. Peeling the wallpaper back further exposed more of the door which he found was locked. He grabbed a light and shone it through a crack in the door: he saw the back of a naked woman.
Strangely, his first inclination was not to go for police. Instead, he ran up to the second-floor neighbors and had them come down and confirm that what he thought he was seeing (a dead woman) was in fact real and not a trick of the light. Only then were police called to come to 10 Rillington Place.
Several officers along with the coroner responded. Breaking down the pantry door they discovered there was not one, but three, dead women stashed inside. Pulling the bodies from the pantry it was obvious the women had been murdered—the condition of the bodies (clothes missing or in disarray) suggested they had likely been sexually assaulted as well. The bodies were carted off to the mortuary.
Knowing that a double murder had been committed on these very premises just over 3 years earlier police conducted a search of the entire building. Potassium cyanide was also found in another part of Christie’s apartment. [He may have considered using this as an extra ingredient in his “special mixture” in his killing jar. Or, he may have thought of administering it to a potential victim in tea. Years earlier, shortly after Tim and Beryl Evans had moved into the top floor of 10 Rillington Place, Christie had walked into their apartment uninvited, a cup of tea in hand. Eileen Evans (later, Ashby), Tim’s older sister, had been visiting and was the only one in their flat at the time. Christie offered her the tea—she declined it, possibly saving her own life.]
Other items were found that left police scratching their heads. Oddly, a man’s suit was under the floor of the common hall area on the ground floor (never identified or discovered why such an item was cached there). A man’s tie, fashioned into a reef knot, was found in a kitchen cabinet (certainly, this was of investigative value since the knot was the same as used on the bodies).
A stumble-bum of a police investigator had tripped on a loose floorboard in the front room—lifting it, he found what was left of Ethel Christie (covered with some scanty dirt and yard rubble Christie had dredged up) quietly rotting beneath the floor. Ethel was left in situ until the next day with police guards posted at the front door.
The police made their way through the back “garden”. This time, they spotted the human femur Christie had placed years earlier to prop up the sagging wooden fence (which they had failed to notice on two separate occasions in late 1949). Other bones were turned up in a flowerbed, along with some blackened skull bones (with teeth intact). Pieces of a dress were found in an unused dustbin. Still more bones were discovered beneath an orange blossom bush; near this find, a newspaper fragment dated July 19, 1943, was spotted. Some hair and more teeth were revealed, and the coroner on-site made an informed guess that although only one skull had been found there were two corpses in the back yard.
Police called for a city-wide search for 10 Rillington Place’s former ground-floor tenant, John Reginald Halliday Christie.
The news of the morbid discoveries at Christie’s old homestead spread quickly through London in the evening papers, on radio, and by word-of-mouth. Although he had paid in advance for seven days at his temporary lodging, Christie suddenly vacated (after spending only four nights) late on March 24. He stored his borrowed suitcase in a public locker.
Christie allegedly called London’s News of the World three days later. Despite his “wanted man” status he offered a reporter an exclusive interview with Christie allowing himself to be turned over into police custody once he’d told his story to the press. He never kept the appointment—two police officers who happened by the appointed meeting place scared him off. [This story is likely pure garbage, one Christie would have devised as a means to show he was innocent. He almost certainly would have given the reporter a cock-and-bull story that deflected any and all blame from him. Afterward, if he had gone through with turning himself in, he would have told police the same lies. With his “innocent man” story already printed in the press public opinion could sway in his favor.
What most likely would have happened had the meeting gone off is Christie would have told a pack of lies to the reporter and fled afterward. Had he truly intended to turn himself in he would have marched up to the police who allegedly scared him off and surrendered to them. His attempts to avoid getting caught are clear in his actions up to that time and later as well. This event may have been pure fiction.]
Meanwhile, the coroner had to figure out who was who in the cornucopia of cadavers. The corpse under the floor boards had been an easy one—the poor dentition (several missing teeth), the overweight build, the dowdy dress, etc., all pointed to no one other than Ethel Christie.
The three from the wallpapered-over pantry were slightly harder to nail down, but through forensics work (and Christie’s confessions) they were finally positively identified as Rita Nelson, Kathleen Maloney and Hectorina MacLennan.
The skeletons taken from Christie’s back yard had been reconstructed enough for identification. Based on condition, the coroner put their time in the ground as at least three years but could have been there as long as a decade. Both were quickly determined to be female. A crown from one of the teeth positively identified the remains of Christie’s first victim, Ruth Fuerst.
The other gravesite contained head hairs that were matched to some found on a known dress of missing person, Muriel Amelia Eady. It was from this hair she was tentatively identified with further evidence solidifying that identification as it was developed.
A photograph of Christie in a raincoat, along with a complete description of him, was in every newspaper in the wake of the gruesome finds at 10 Rillington Place. Abandoning his lodging, Christie switched his overcoat with another man, giving him some money in the trade. Though he later claimed he “wandered in a daze” his forethought of at least changing out his overcoat says he was anything but “dazed” and was operating on his cold cunning.
He roamed London for the next week after quitting the Rowton House. Despite the fact his image was published widely he spent a lot of time in very public areas such as cafés. He also napped in movie theaters or on park benches.
His free-wheeling days ended on March 31, 1953, as he loitered on the Thames River bank near Putney Bridge. A police officer, suspicious of Christie’s derelict appearance (he hadn’t been sleeping, and he was grubby and disheveled) asked to see some identification. Christie gave the constable a false name and address. His behavior led the officer, already suspecting he was in the presence of the wanted killer, to demand Christie take off his hat. Christie’s overly large forehead, bulging like that of a porpoise, was compounded by his receding hairline; it was a physical characteristic that had been stressed both in the press and in police bulletins. The constable was sure he had his man.
Christie was uncooperative; the officer turned out his pockets. The only things Christie had on him were some coins, his identity card, an ambulance badge, and a war ration card (why he carried it at this late date was unknown). His most interesting personal item was an old newspaper clipping about Timothy Evans’s arrest for the murders of Beryl and baby Geraldine.
Christie confessed to nothing until he was confronted with the bodies at 10 Rillington Place. He had known of the finding of the four bodies in his former residence but he hadn’t kept up with the news to know police had found the two sets of skeletal remains in his macabre “garden”.
In custody at the Putney Police station, he readily admitted to involvement with the deaths of the four women found in his flat. However, he deflected to the point of absurdity, putting blame on the women and happenstance.
Of Ethel, he said he had awakened in the middle of the night because she was flailing in bed. It seemed, according to Christie, that she was choking, her face already a bluish tint (a sign of someone’s dying of hypoxia). It was too late in the night to call for help, Christie explained lamely, so instead of watching her suffer he grabbed a stocking and strangled her.
He said then that he found a bottle that had contained pills prescribed for his insomnia: it was empty. It was Christie’s theory Ethel had taken them to kill herself, all because she was agitated by the newer tenants (the Jamaicans) in the building whom she felt were harassing her. He claimed he’d then left her in their bed for “two or three days” before he magically recalled there were some loose floorboards in his front room that covered a shallow area beneath.
He said he wrapped her body in a blanket and put her there—to keep her near him! “I thought that was the best way to lay her to rest.” [Police, of course, disbelieved all of this. The physical evidence didn’t support it—Ethel had no pill residue in her stomach. And the “best way to lay her to rest” would have been a proper burial in a cemetery, not under the living room floor. Regardless of such minutiae Christie had already put a rope around his own neck when he admitted to murdering her in this first statement by saying he strangled the “choking” woman. Any embellishments were moot.]
Speaking of Rita Nelson (the first body put into the kitchen’s niche), Christie said he had met her in the street where she attempted to extort him for money (specifically, 30 shillings—£1.50 in the money of the day, equal to slightly over £20 or close to $35 US in 2013 terms). Christie’s claim was she said she would create a scene there on the street, screaming accusations of his assaulting her if he didn’t give her the money she wanted. He walked away; she followed him home and forced her way into his flat and into his kitchen. Rita picked up a convenient frying pan to hit him with. They struggled and Christie said she fell back in a chair that just happened to have a piece of rope hanging from it. Then he blacked out. When he roused he said he found Rita had been strangled, the suggestion being she had accidentally choked herself after falling into the chair with the rope hanging on it. He left her dead on the floor, had tea, and went to bed, sticking her in the alcove (which he just discovered) the next day after diapering her and wrapping her up.
Kathleen Maloney’s story was as contrived as the ones he told of Ethel’s and Rita’s deaths. He told of having met her before Christmas. He said that he ran into her again, and she was looking for a place to live. She came to Rillington Place, and he said she made sexual advances toward him in the hopes that he would put in a good word for her with the building’s landlord. [This was a strange lie considering the building had no units available for rent then.] He claims he rebuffed her, and Kathleen threatened violence. His memory then became fuzzy—he claimed the next thing he knew Kathleen was dead on the floor, and he had no recollection that he had actually killed her. He trussed her up similar to what he’d done with Rita and stuffed her in the pantry. [He did not mention tossing dirt and ashes on her though such detritus was found on her body, a very poor attempt at trying to cover up the crime.]
As for the homeless Hectorina MacLennan, Christie again blamed the victim for her own death. He admitted allowing her and her boyfriend to stay at his flat. He said, though, that after several days he asked them to leave, which they did. Hectorina came back alone the next night to wait for her boyfriend. [This was an obvious lie. If she and her boyfriend had been ejected from Christie’s why would she wait at 10 Rillington Place for him, knowing he had no reason to be there?] When Christie tried to get her to leave, he said they struggled. During the fracas some of Hectorina’s clothing got torn. Suddenly, she fell limp and sank to the floor. Insulting the intelligence of everyone hearing his tale Christie said that some of her clothing got wrapped around her neck as she swooned, and it must have strangled her. He dragged her into the kitchen and sat her in a chair. He figured out that she was dead so he wrapped her up and put her in the alcove with the other two bodies.
In sum, then, Christie’s first statements to police were that Ethel’s death at his hands was a mercy killing and the other women’s deaths were “not his fault”. He insisted the latter three were disreputable, and had been sexually and physically aggressive—he, poor put-upon man—was only defending himself.
Christie had seen the earlier headlines about the corpses found at his old home. Bizarrely, he alleged he did not connect them with himself (though who else at 10 Rillington Place could have done such crimes other than him begged credulity). He only gave statements about those four murders because he knew police had him dead to rights. His hope was to fib his way out of capital murder and the hangman’s noose by claiming all were justifiable or accidents. His mendacity did not sit well with authorities, though.
Police parsed out what they knew in small doses. Christie had only cooperated on a limited basis concerning the known victims, and all of his statements were self-serving. He intimated, through oblique comments, that he may have been involved in other crimes. He did not elaborate, claiming he had “forgotten”. Instead, he fished to try and discover what else the police knew.
He didn’t have to wait very long for the other shoe to drop. Under interrogation, police revealed the discovery of the skeletons in his back yard. Now, Christie had to make up stories about Ruth Fuerst and Muriel Eady, his first two victims.
Ruth Fuerst (murdered on or around August 24, 1943), he said, was a known prostitute, one which he had used many times. She visited him at 10 Rillington Place on those occasions when Ethel Christie was away on family visits. On the day of Ruth’s death, he said the couple had been in bed when he’d gotten a telegram from Ethel, saying she was coming home sooner than expected. Her brother would be with her.
Christie said Ruth used this opportunity to express her undying love and desire to be with him henceforth. Although declaring they had already been in bed when the telegram arrived, somehow Ruth was dressed—she began undressing, wantonly asking Christie to have sex with her. During that act she supposedly begged Christie to leave Ethel and run away with her. He said he rebuked her, strangled her as they had sex, and then temporarily put her body under the front room floor. Ethel and her brother did arrive later, and it was about two days before Christie could take Ruth from the flat for burial in the back yard.
The dumpy Muriel Eady was likewise to blame for her own demise, according to Christie. His original story (modified later into the truth of his gassing her under the pretext of helping her bronchitis and then raping her as he strangled her) followed that of Ruth’s, with Muriel being sexually aggressive and Christie’s having killed her for fear of his wife’s discovering anything illicit.
He mentioned that he had inadvertently dug up the femur bone police finally found, and had used it to prop up the falling fence where it stood for nearly ten years. [This also proved to be a sore spot with London’s men in blue. Several of them from the Notting Hill station had searched the house and grounds at 10 Rillington Place on two occasions in the wake of Tim Evans’ first “confessions” about his involvement with his wife’s demise. Neither time had any of the lawmen spotted this bone, standing in plain sight. It was a public relations nightmare, making police look very foolish indeed.]
Christie’s particular brand of narcissism led him to the erroneous conclusion that he was not only blameless in any of the murders but that he would be exonerated as a hapless victim. He had a history of “illness” behind him (well-documented though all psychosomatic). He was plagued by insomnia. The world in which he lived did not appreciate or understand his greatness. And he was certainly a “man’s man”—in his earliest confessions he made it implicitly clear that the only reason the women (except for Ethel) were dead was because they found him so sexually attractive they became aggressive toward him. [This kind of self-aggrandizing is typical of serial killers and rapists—the whole “she was asking for it” heard from the sexual predator sums up their need to feel like an object of desire, irresistible to women.]
Police began digging into Christie’s background and from his school chums and other acquaintances, including those prostitutes known to have been engaged by him, they learned of his debilitating sexual inadequacy. John Reginald Halliday Christie, a/k/a, “Reggie No-Dick” and “Can’t-Do-It Christie”, had vented his impotent rage on weak women.
The Crown, however, had to determine if Christie was fit to stand trial. He would almost certainly claim an insanity defense. His actions, though, bespoke a man (unlike the tragic and retarded Tim Evans) who was not only in his right mind but knew it. His covert disposal of bodies with a clear intent to hide them, thus knowing what he did was wrong, is opposite of the thinking of a person with diminished capacity—truly “insane” people (by legal definition) are incapable of recognizing their actions as criminal and, therefore, would not have a compulsion to hide evidence. His attempt to disguise himself when fleeing, by changing overcoats with another man, also contra-indicated “insanity”. A person of such a mindset would not flee from authorities in the first place, let alone attempt to throw off attracting attention by changing clothes with another person.
He was held in Brixton prison pending further investigation and a psychiatric evaluation. He did not endear himself with psychiatric examiners. He told many different versions of his crimes with details varying from telling to telling. He was sycophantic at times, puling at others, and the psychiatrists sent in to evaluate him universally disliked him, referring to him as “nauseating” (probably from his relishing all the attentions lavished upon him) and “sniveling.” Doctors also noted Christie’s affected “whispering” (from his pretend chronic problem of not being able to speak in a loud voice after being gassed in World War I). The whisper appeared when he was confronted (as in Tim Evans’ trial when Christie was on the stand), when asked questions that made him uncomfortable, or when he didn’t want to answer. Ha also affected a dissociative quality when talking about his crimes, referring to himself in the third-person sometimes. [This may have been a lame attempt at establishing a “split-personality” defense.]
Christie’s incessant bragging about his crimes did not endear him to other prisoners while he awaited trial. He regaled them with his exploits. He compared himself favorably to another British serial killer, John George Haigh (murderer of six women, he disposed of their bodies in vats of acid). Christie claimed he had planned on bettering Haigh—Christie’s loftier goal, he crowed, had been to kill 12 women (the number may have had significance other than merely being double Haigh’s body count, Christie’s attempt at one-upmanship on Haigh).
Christie came clean about his gas-dispensing killing jar. He finally gave better and more plausible details about the murders of Ruth Fuerst and Muriel Eady. He recanted parts of his earlier statement about Ethel’s death, presenting a version more supported by the evidence at hand. He described the murders of his last three victims in greater, and more truthful, detail even telling that he had gassed the women and had sex with them as he strangled them. He was careful to make sure everyone knew he had not had sex with any of them after they were dead—he didn’t want the world to think he was a necrophiliac. [Technically, Christie was a necrophiliac—most of the women drew their final breaths before Christie had “completed” raping them.]
Perhaps the worst news to come out of Christie’s ongoing confessions (at least for British police and prosecutors) was his finally admitting (after denying it for years) to having killed Beryl Evans in November 1949. He supplied enough detail to lead questioners to know he was speaking the truth (at least, the truth as he could tell it while still trying to help himself look better in the process).
This was a horrible blow for British justice; attempts were made early to deny, trivialize, or quash this information. The Crown had already condemned and executed Beryl’s husband for that crime. All involved remembered Tim’s confessions. But, a seed was planted that led many to recall Tim’s insistence that Christie had killed Beryl during a failed abortion procedure. Christie continued to deny killing the Evans’ baby, Geraldine, though, and it was that crime for which Tim had been convicted and executed.
Christie said that Beryl’s murder was a mercy killing like that of his wife. Distraught over her second, and unwanted, pregnancy, Christie alleged he had walked in on her trying to do herself in with her flat’s coal gas. He rescued her from this, but the craven woman pleaded with him to help her end her life. He said it was the next day, November 8, 1949, that he went up and gassed and strangled her (at her request). He made the outrageous claim Beryl had offered him sex in for payment-in-advance of his helping her commit suicide. He tried—but failed—to achieve an erection and couldn’t do it. [Backpedaling on this confession he later told the prison chaplain that he didn’t think he’d murdered Beryl after all, but his attorney seemed to think it best, in support of his planned insanity defense, to cop to as many murders as possible.]
The pubic hair collection police found was never adequately addressed. Christie claimed one clump was from his wife (proven) and one clipping was from Beryl. No one had checked for such a post-mortem “harvest” when Beryl’s body had been found in late 1949. She was exhumed; her pubic hair showed no signs of having been clipped and none of the hairs in Christie’s possession matched hers. Nor did the hairs from the tobacco tin match any of the women in the pantry. Christie failed to enlighten authorities on the matter, saying he couldn’t recall, when or from whom he had gotten the other three tufts of pubic hair (though two of them could have come from Ruth Fuerst and Muriel Eady though they had been reduced to skeletons and there was no way to confirm or deny such a supposition with the crude techniques available then).
Return of the Star Witness
Christie had been remanded since March 31 pending evaluation and his upcoming trial. During that time he altered his confessions several times.
His criminal trial started in London’s notorious Old Bailey. Christie’s case began on June 22, 1953, and his hearing was assigned to the same courtroom in which Timothy Evans had been tried (and falsely convicted) of murdering his 13-month-old daughter, Geraldine. The sole charge brought to bear was for his killing his wife, Ethel (the strongest case; on April 15 he had been hit with the additional charges of murdering the three women from the pantry but these were held in abeyance to be brought later if necessary).
Christie’s counsel (assigned to him as he was indigent and could not afford a lawyer) entered a plea of “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity”. All of the murders (though he was only charged with the one) were introduced into evidence as proof of just how “insane” Christie was.
A defense expert witness, a shrink named Dr. Jack Abbott Hobson, offered testimony that Christie was a severe hysteric (true enough, as his “injured” whispering and whining bouts of hypochondria had proven time and again). He also stated for the record that while Christie may have known what he was doing as he murdered each his victims he did not appreciate or understand that his acts were “wrong”. He added to this conclusion by saying Christie suffered a severe defect in his reasoning abilities that kept him from fully realizing not only the criminality of his acts but the immorality of them as well. [This is a straight-out falsehood—Christie’s behaviors in the wake of each killing proves he knew the “wrongness” of his murderous fits since he concealed his crimes and conspired to keep them hidden, a sign for sure he knew what he did was “wrong”. Furthermore, such “lacks of understanding” are hallmarks of a true sociopath—it isn’t that they don’t know what they are doing is criminal or immoral it is that they don’t care. Such behaviors are also signs of rampant narcissism, common among serial killers like Christie.]
The prosecution’s experts rebutted by first agreeing Christie had a hysterical personality. However, such a condition was a neurotic behavior and did not present any defect in his abilities to reason. Therefore, he was not “insane”. Details of Christie’s statements to police were admitted; the prosecutor pointed up the things Christie did to avoid detection as proof that he knew that what he had done was wrong.
Christie, like Tim Evans before him, took the stand in his own defense (though, like Tim, he was not legally required to do so). Christie was so overly confident thanks to his prior star turn on the witness stand in Tim’s trial that he was certain he could walk on his own murder charges. He was, after all, an ex-policeman himself with no criminal history after 1933. He had been a proper member of his community (or so he thought) and he was respectable (at least, in his own mind).
The prosecution ripped Christie to shreds on the stand, but no one hurt his case more than he did. While he’d been very self-possessed when testifying against Tim Evans over three years earlier he was not so composed this time. He was visibly fidgety and seemed needlessly agitated (if he were, indeed, blameless in Ethel’s death). He also appeared at a loss over what to do with his hands while testifying: he clasped and unclasped them, he tugged at his shirt collar and his earlobes, he ran his fingers through his hair, and stroked his cheek. He sweated profusely.
The prosecutor walked him through all his known murders (a strange evidentiary allowance in the British jurisprudence system, one that had helped convict Tim Evans when details of Beryl’s murder were introduced as evidence in his trial for the murder of his daughter), though he was only charged with Ethel’s. Much of his responses used his infamous “whispering Reg” voice, and time and again he had to be told to speak up.
Christie had volunteered nothing initially in his confessions to police about having murdered Beryl Evans. The prosecutor asked, since he’d given up so much information earl on (including details about murders he’d committed before Beryl’s) why he hadn’t mentioned killing Beryl until very late in the investigation. Christie answered that he had forgotten about her murder, it had “gone clean out” of his memory. [This did not sit well with the jury. After all, Christie had been the prosecution’s best witness at Tim Evans’ murder trial in that very courtroom only three years earlier. His lie was obvious.]
The Crown’s closing argument was a simple one: for Christie to be truly “insane” at the time of not only Ethel’s murder (the one for which he stood trial) but all the others, too, his compulsion would have to have been so commanding, so overwhelmingly uncontrollable that he would have murdered without regard for the consequences, even going so far as to kill in the presence of police. Clearly Christie had not done any such thing, and he had even admitted he would not have murdered anyone in the presence of police or anyone else. His acts were all covert, occurring indoors way from prying eyes, and he made clandestine efforts to dispose of the bodies. The prosecution made its case by reiterating the obvious: Christie’s actions after he killed Ethel Christie proved neatly that he knew what he’d done was wrong, and he felt a need to hide the deed from others. This showed “sanity” on Christie’s part and an obvious appreciation of the wrongfulness of his crime.
In his closing, Christie’s counsel merely played upon the more morbid aspects of Christie’s personal habits as a means of proving the killer’s “insanity”. He asked the jury to think about how monstrous such a man had to be, one who raped dying or dead women; a sick pervert who collected female pubic hairs; a necrophile who lived, ate, and slept with rotting corpses in his environs. How could such a creature, one capable of such deviance, be sane?
Wisely, the presiding judge found the arguments in favor of Christie’s insanity defense lacking sufficient merit. His acting like what conservative Britain might consider a sexual pervert (frequenting prostitutes, collecting women’s pubic hairs, taking photos of a nude part-time prostitute) did not render him “insane”. Nor did his living among corpses—while certainly distasteful and abominable it did not make him “insane”, either.
Before it retired for deliberations the bench issued the jury instructions to only consider evidence and testimony that centered on whether or not Christie was “insane” at the time he killed his wife, not if he was “insane” before or after, or during some other murder. It was only his mental competence at the time he murdered Ethel that was at issue, nothing else.
Christie’s trial, like Tim Evans’, went quickly. It lasted only four days. Jury deliberations concerning his fate took twice as long as Tim Evan’s jury: after 85 minutes, the jury came back with a “Guilty” verdict.
Christie was sentenced to death. British justice then was swift. Unlike Tim Evans, Christie elected to forego any appeals process. Considering he had no medical conditions to prevent his execution (in one of many ironies involving capital punishment a sickly or dying convict cannot be put to death until he is well enough to die) a short date for his execution was set.
On July 15, 1953, John Reginald Halliday Christie, 54 years old, mounted the gallows at Pentonville Prison. His executioner was Albert Pierrepoint, the same man who had hanged Tim Evans. Christie whined that his nose itched; pinioned, he couldn’t scratch it. A disgusted Pierrepoint deadpanned, “It won't bother you for long.”
The end of Christie’s life, however, did not spell the end of public interest in his crimes.
Part 1 of 4: John Reginald Halliday Christie & the Serial Murders of 10 Rillington Place
Part 2 of 4: Timothy John Evans & the Serial Murders of 10 Rillington Place
Part 4 of 4: Fallout from the Serial Murders of 10 Rillington Place
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