Birth of a Monster
part 1 of 4
I remember . . . experiencing a strange, peaceful thrill.
- John Reginald Halliday Christie, 1953
Serial killers usually have little to recommend them as human beings. They invariably possess unpleasant personality traits: sociopathic, unsophisticated, with little or no education they overcompensate for their very real shortcomings with acts of violence generally directed at weaker members of society.
It is rare to find a serial killer with whom one can feel perhaps just the tiniest bit of sympathy. Professed serial killer of dozens, Henry Lee Lucas, was a fabulous disaster as a human being. He was physically unattractive, uneducated, and raised as a girl by his prostitute mother (who had sex with her johns in front of the boy). He killed her before embarking on a murderous odyssey that spanned decades. And while it is difficult to feel compassion for Henry Lee Lucas, serial killer, it is perhaps possible to find some modicum of pity, if nothing else, for the boy who suffered at the hands of a narcissistic mother.
Aileen Wuornos, the wandering Florida prostitute and serial killer of seven johns, may truly be the only such murderer who could engender great compassion. Her early life—abandoned by her mother into the care of an abusive grandfather, teen pregnancy, truancy and drug use, teen prostitution—all helped shape the train wreck that became the adult Aileen. And while her background is no excuse for her later behavior it did inform her ideas about men as nothing more than users who wanted something from her only to cast her aside when they were finished. In the end, while perhaps not forgiving her crimes, it is possible to feel sorry for Aileen and understand the source of her rage.
At the other extreme of the scale was a mewling coward of a man, a milquetoast with a grudge against women because of his own peculiar inability to adequately perform sexually. With his hypochondria—nothing more than bids for attention—and over-inflated sense of his life’s precious few accomplishments, a more despicable character than John Reginald Halliday Christie would be tough to find. Perhaps only America’s cannibalistic serial killer of children, Albert Fish (the real-life inspiration for novelist Thomas Harris’ fictional Dr. Hannibal Lecter), was more repulsive.
In Christie no one could find any redeeming value. Nor could anyone muster an iota of sympathy. His murders of a neighbor woman and her infant daughter (crimes for which the woman’s husband, Timothy Evans, was executed in a gross miscarriage of justice), several female acquaintances and his own wife were fueled by impotent rage and a tendency toward necrophilia.
And Christie’s squalid address, his killing grounds, at 10 Rillington Place became as well known among criminologists and to the masses as the Prime Minister’s residence of 10 Downing Street is to the average Brit.
John Reginald Halliday Christie, familiarly known as “Reggie” most of his life, was born on April 8, 1899, in the family home near Halifax in north-central England’s Yorkshire. The Christie household was terrorized by a stern disciplinarian father (a carpet designer) and a submissive, albeit loving, mother.
The household was filled with girls – Christie, the only boy, was the sixth of seven children. His father was uninvolved in parenting and did not care for the boy. Thus, Reggie had only older sisters and an overly protective mother as guiding hands during his more critical formative years. His sisters treated him alternately as an object of affection or of ridicule. They dressed him up as a plaything when he was small, putting him in frilly female garb and making up his face.
Male authority figures terrified Reggie. His father was an object of mortal terror for him, and he tyrannically punished all the children at the slightest provocation over the most picayune of offenses. Another equally frightening figure to the boy was Christie’s maternal grandfather, cut from the same callous mold as his dad. The patriarch died when Reggie was 8. His mother, perhaps misinterpreting Reggie’s relief at the old man’s demise for grief or maybe curiosity asked if the boy wanted to see the body. He later wrote that upon seeing the old man dead in a casket he was filled with pleasure and relief: this man who had so frightened him was no longer capable of harming him any longer. He was just a dead thing.
Growing up in the northlands was tough on this odd child. He was a simpering whiner, and he learned early to exaggerate symptoms of illness or injury to attract attention. He also developed a pathological aversion to dirt; as an adult he affected a dapper air in his dress and a fuss-budget aspect in his demeanor.
Later in life, it was learned Christie had an IQ of 128, slightly above average. At school, he was a capable student, having received a scholarship when he was 11 to attend a private institution Credit: skcentral.com(ironically, in Britain these are called “public” schools). His preferred subject was mathematics, more specifically algebra. He joined his church’s choir. He was also a Boy Scout, though he seemed to enjoy the donning of the uniform more than the group’s activities. [The love of the uniform of authority was something he carried with him all his life. He liked the attention and perceived respect a uniform brought. Christie enjoyed the trappings of respectability, something he craved more than anything else, without ever truly being an admired person himself.]
Some of Christie’s schoolmates, interviewed after his murders came to light, did not have many flattering things to say about him. His aversion to dirt, his prissy ways, and his nebbishy “frailty” all contributed to his being considered a “queer lad”. He was also described as a loner who was not very popular with other children.
His sexuality became skewed in his repressive household. As he was beginning to feel the first urgings, he found he was sexually stimulated by the sight of one of his sisters’ bare legs (from her ankle to her lower thigh). He found similar attractions to his other sisters. At the same time he was drawn to this he was also repelled by it, knowing, as he did, his siblings’ low opinion of him. This set up an internal conflict that would lead to impotence later.
His efforts to fit into his schoolboy peer group were disastrous, particularly when it came to sexual matters. Other boys talked about girls and matters of the flesh. Christie, however, was conflicted thanks to his upbringing (his sisters were both objects of desire and revulsion to him). Though a hopeless braggart, he failed in boyish bantering about such things, leading the others to conclude he was hopelessly naïve or, worse, perhaps even a homosexual.
To fit in, Christie made the mistake of engaging in an apparently fairly pedestrian homoerotic experience (at least, among British school boys). A group of them had gone off to engage in a “circle jerk”, an activity wherein adolescent males stand around masturbating in front of each other. The first to ejaculate is the “winner”. Christie tried to do this, but was ashamed of his penis and envious of the other boys’ apparent “success” at the act. He was not able to gain an erection under the circumstances and was jeered.
Hot on the heels of this humiliation came another, more devastating one. A brazen local girl had made herself available to Christie and when it came time for him to lose his virginity he was unable to achieve an erection. The girl did not help matters by spreading the word of his impotence. Within a short time, thanks to this and the “circle jerk” debacle, Christie became known mockingly as “Reggie No-Dick” and “Can’t-Do-It Christie”.
Projectionist, Private, Postman
Christie’s home life became intolerable to him as he aged. He had his overly-protective and doting mother, sisters who found him odd and contemptible, and a stern and uncaring father. In 1913, he suddenly quit school. He then found a job working as an assistant film projectionist. The motion picture industry of 1914 was in its infant silent-screen age then, and the job gave Christie a sense of glamour as well as a small income.
Britain entered the Great War (what they later called the 14-18 War before it became known globally as World War I). In September 1916, when he was almost 17½, Christie joined the British Army. He was not called up into service until the following year in April 1917; he suffered at home till then. His job as a projectionist kept him out of the house enough, though.
As a military man Christie thrilled at the trappings of the soldier’s lot. The uniform, to him, lent him an air of respectability and authority he craved. He spent his first year on the home front; then, in April 1918, his unit was sent to France. He was trained as a signalman. Unfortunately, he was not prepared for the true horrors of war. His persnickety disgust of dirt was met with nothing but bad hygiene, filth in the trenches, and close living conditions. In June of that year he got caught in a mustard gas attack.
Christie milked this event for all it was worth both then and later in life. While there can be no doubt he was concussed in the attack, the extent of his injuries were exaggerated and fabricated by him. He claimed he was blinded. He further claimed that he lost his ability to speak, being mute for a full 3½ years after his exposure to the gas. Neither could have been true – he was discharged from the British Army as “fit for duty”. Had either condition persisted, he would have been medically discharged instead. To Christie, his alleged blindness added to his mythos. As for his alleged muteness, he affected a speech pattern that lasted the rest of his life: he claimed that his exposure to the mustard gas had left him unable to speak above a whisper many times. This sort of psychosomatic malingering became hallmarks of his personality.
Christie’s humiliations as a younger teen had left him virtually impotent with “regular” women. He did not seem to have such problems with prostitutes, however, as he used their services often, beginning when he was 19 years old (something he no doubt learned about in the British Army). It is likely he had no performance issues with them as he did not feel a need to impress or to satisfy them sexually. Regardless, he found sexual gratification through them.
At loose ends out of the Army, Christie had no clear idea what to do. He returned to his projectionist’s job. Furthermore, he was not what any woman could consider a “catch”: his ginger-blond hair was already thinning, he was myopic, and his forehead was disproportionately large for his face.
In early 1920, he met a woman named Ethel Simpson Waddington whose family was from Sheffield (about 30 miles SSE of the Christie family home near Halifax). Ethel was non-threatening to Christie – she was neither dynamic, nor forceful of personality, nor was she overcharged with sexual energy. On May 10, 1920, the pair married, with Christie affecting his “war wounded” murmur during their courtship and ceremony. [This habit of his not speaking in a fully formed voice but a raspy, fey whispering was considered extremely annoying to those who met him. Christie turned it on and off like a switch dependent upon his mood, generally affecting the whisper when he was stressed, confronted, or answering questions he did not care to answer.]
The newlyweds moved to Sheffield. Christie got work as a postal clerk (a menial position that, however, appealed to his sense of belonging to a group with “authority”). Within the marriage, Christie had trouble sexually with Ethel. His impotence was back, obviously a purely psychological condition. She, not terribly experienced and not given to asserting herself, attributed his problem to his “heroic” war injuries when he had been gassed. She merely let the matter drop. Christie continued to frequent prostitutes even after he married.
Less than a year into their marriage, Christie was in trouble with the law. He had stolen several postal money orders from his job and had been caught. On April 12, 1921, he was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for the act. Magically during this time, his voice abandoned him, and he was effectively mute. He continued to not speak until after his release when he began shouting in outrage during a snit (allegedly over something his father had done). Then, he was silent again, keeping mum for another six months.
His life of petty crime continued. His post office job was put in jeopardy in January 1923. He was charged with violent behavior (specifics unknown) and with obtaining money under false pretenses. For these offenses he was granted 12 months’ probation. However, his superiors at the post office had gotten wind of his frequenting prostitutes. That, combined with his recent conviction for theft, led to his being placed on probation at his job.
His recent problems with the law, combined with general marital difficulties, led Ethel and he to separate. She stayed with relatives in Sheffield and found work as a typist. Christie decamped for London.
Down to London
Almost as soon as he arrived in London, Christie was hit by a car. He malingered with his condition, again using it for sympathy and for gaining attention from any who would listen. His need for prostitutes informed much of his remaining criminal behavior. He was convicted of two more larceny crimes and was sentenced consecutively to three and six months’ imprisonment in September 1924.
He burned through a succession of meaningless jobs, none of which he felt suited his delusions of self-importance and bearing. Though he was suspected of violence against local prostitutes in London lack of evidence prevented his being brought up on charges in those incidents.
He had lived with a prostitute in southwest London’s Battersea section, a working-class borough on the Thames’ south shore in 1929. His pettiness became violent in May 1929 when he assaulted this woman, cracking her over the head with a cricket bat. In court, the presiding magistrate called Christie’s act a “murderous attack”. He was sentenced to six months’ hard labor, a very onerous outcome for Christie.
Upon completing that sentence, Christie managed to keep his nose clean, at least with respect to violations of the law, for some time. He still visited prostitutes when he could afford it—some succumbed to his “hard luck” stories of his war injuries and his pedestrian/vehicle accident and allowed him their pathetic homes and bodies free of charge.
His penultimate legal troubles, capping nearly a decade of being in and out of prison, found Christie biting the hand that fed him. A local priest had befriended Christie. Believing his exaggerated tales of woe (injured in the war, wife left him, etc.) the priest tried to help Christie establish himself on a more stable path. He repaid the good father’s kindness by stealing his car in 1933. Christie served three months in prison for the offense late in that year.
For want of anything better to do after getting out of jail, Christie contacted Ethel in Sheffield. He coaxed a reconciliation from her and talked her into moving to London with him. She (at 35 years old, plain, and going over to fat) agreed to the move, probably from sheer loneliness. The pair had been separated for nearly a decade when they resumed co-habiting. They lived peaceably with Christie working intermittently at jobs he considered beneath him. Many times he merely stayed home complaining of imaginary ailments, moaning and whining underfoot. He was a frequent visitor of doctors for various complaints ranging from stomach ailments to unspecified pains and nervous conditions. [Over a 15-year period Christie sought a doctor’s attention 173 times, an astounding average of nearly once per month.]
10 Rillington Place
In the Notting Hill section of London were cheap tenements and houses converted to apartments. One of these pitiful structures squatted in a cul-de-sac called Rillington Place. The house at 10 Rillington Place was a three-story Victorian-era pile, once a bath-house, which had been subdivided into apartments. What exterior trim paint remained was flaking away, and all the bare brickwork needed tuck-and-point repairs. 10 Rillington Place’s walls abutted neighboring buildings, one of which was a factory. Rillington Place was close to a stretch of above-ground rail servicing London’s Metro system. The deafening train rumblings served as a backdrop for the general squalor of the place.
The farthest part of the back yard (which Brits loftily tend to call the back “garden”) was a 16x14-foot rutted, weedy patch of dirt littered with cast offs from earlier tenants. It was fenced by a brick wall. A roughly 4x5-foot dilapidated washhouse (that contained a sink) served as the only lavatory facilities for the address and was located in the back, accessible by first walking into the rear yard from the main house’s common back door. There was a small ramshackle outhouse (with its own door) for toilet usage attached to the washhouse. There was a small fence, doubling as a trellis, in a state of near collapse bisecting the yard (with a rickety wooden gate in its middle) running from the corner of the outhouse to the opposite brick wall.
Inside, the promise of despair was fulfilled at every turn. The house was in a manufacturing district, and industrial grit lay everywhere on the windowsills. None of the apartments had inside bathrooms (the outhouse in the back yard was used by all tenants).
The ground-floor flat consisted of a sitting room, a bedroom, and a small kitchen. In December 1938, Reggie Christie, his wife, Ethel, moved into the ground floor unit of 10 Rillington Place. The living room faced the street, visible from a small bay window. The kitchen was in the rear.
The floor plan was not conducive to privacy – access to every room was via a common passageway that led from the front door to the back near the kitchen. The living room faced the street with a small bay window. To get to the next room, used as a bedroom, the Christies had to first walk into the hallway and then into that room. Finally, the kitchen (with a window looking out into the desolate back yard) was in the rear—its door was directly opposite the one all residents had to use to gain access to the outhouse in the back yard.Credit: Vic Dillinger, 2013
The unit directly overhead carried a similar floor plan. The third-floor flat did not have a full kitchen, just a sleeping and living area that also served as a food preparation area. Occupants up there had to draw their water from the ruined washhouse; similarly they all had to trudge downstairs, past the Christies’ living room, bedroom, and kitchen doors to use the outhouse.
This was home for Reggie No-Dick and Ethel for the next 14 years.
From Prisoner to Police Man
Britain had been dragged into what became known as World War II in 1939. On the home front civil support staff were in great demand as most able-bodied men had been carted off as cannon-fodder.
One of the country’s jobs in desperate need of manpower was policing. Two main reasons applied: 1) during wartime, extra security measures were needed on the streets, and 2) civil defense – especially once Germany’s Blitzkrieg bombing of London was in full gear – required leaders to help people get to and from bomb shelters. Ethel Christie had a part-time job. Christie only worked intermittently between bouts of hypochondria. However, he jumped at the chance to be a volunteer police officer.
“Reggie No-Dick” Christie had always held doctors and other professional men in very high esteem, but they did not instill a sense of absolute power, though they were respected. His dream of wearing the uniform of real authority, thus commanding what he thought was instant (and well-deserved and long-overdue) reverence, was realized when he applied for, and was accepted into, a slot as a War Reserve Police officer. [No one during the processing of his application bothered to look into his criminal background. If anyone had, he would have been rejected. And the lives of several women might have been spared.] Unlike a Boy Scout’s uniform or that of a soldier, the uniform of the police officer carried the weight of law behind it. And, like many people with self-esteem problems, the second Christie was accepted into the job he became a tyrant.
Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) was a self-made “crusader” of public morality. At least, he fought against what he personally thought was immoral. Pornographers, abortionists, and any other purveyors of what he perceived as “immoral materials” were harassed by he and his followers. Unfortunately, the US Government made this agitator a special agent of the US Post Office. His job was to squelch the use of the mails for transporting pornographic and other “obscene” materials. With the full weight of the law behind him, though, he went after anyone and everyone – including Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw – not because they were breaking any laws, but because his extreme moralizing was offended by what such people espoused. As a result, many innocent artists and others (including those dispensing legitimate information about non-abortive birth control) were harassed, fined, and jailed.
So, too, did Christie wield his position of Special Constable like a bludgeon. He drilled a peephole into his kitchen door, giving him a discreet view of the back yard. He lurked behind theCredit: crimelife.com curtains of his front room (overlooking the cul-de-sac) waiting for anyone to violate wartime curfews or black-out requirements (during such black-out conditions, residents were supposed to extinguish all interior lights, draw blackout curtains across the windows, and refrain from using exterior lighting, even the lighting of a match). His overzealousness earned him the unpleasant nickname “The Himmler of Rillington Place” from denizens of the neighborhood.
Christie reported to his district’s police station in Harrow Road. He met a woman there whose husband was serving in Europe. [This woman was either working there or may have been brought in on prostitution charges; it is otherwise unclear how Christie managed to meet her at a police station.] He and she started a sexual relationship that lasted for the next few years until the middle of 1943.
His wife, Ethel, visited her family often in Sheffield. Whenever she was away Christie visited his paramour. Ethel was unaware of the affair – if she ever knew of his being gone for hours at a stretch in the evenings or even overnight in her absences she likely assumed that he was on some police business. Chances are Christie played up this belief if not outright lying to her. However, the woman’s husband returned from service in 1943 without forewarning. Finding Christie in the house where his wife was living, the man beat him up and threw him out. The returning soldier filed for divorce and named Christie as a co-respondent in the action.
A perquisite to Christie’s newfound police duties was harassing prostitutes. As he was well-acquainted with the local girls, he often rousted them. Under threats of arrest, he coerced them into providing him with free sex on occasion. And it is from this side-benefit of his position that Christie found the opportunity to commit his first murder.
Rosie Getting Riveted
During the war, many women previously not in the work-force were compelled to find jobs: their providers (husbands, boyfriends, casual lovers) were off fighting in Europe. The men that remained behind—the elderly, the infirmed, criminals, and all-around losers—could not be looked toward for any financial support.
Women filled manufacturing and other service jobs vacated by men away at war. However, many times some women found they could not make ends meet. Part-time prostitution presented a means of topping off household coffers. It was not only common in the UK, it was also a given in the United States and in other countries involved in World War II. [The iconic US 1940s pop image of “Rosie Riveter” could as easily have featured a big brass bed in the backdrop as a secondary work space for some women during those years. The knowledge that any woman might turn to this as a means of making money is what allowed Tokyo Rose’s Japanese propaganda broadcasts to successfully chip away at American GI morale. The men were in foreign countries making use of prostitutes some of whom were indigenous women engaging in the practice only temporarily. In America, it was known some women prostituted for supplementary income. The thorn that Tokyo Rose (of which there were several) stuck in the GI’s brain was that maybe their own wives and girlfriends back home were doing it, too.]
One such woman who worked in a factory and who also made a few shillings on the side with her body was a young Austrian named Ruth Margaret Fuerst. Austria had been annexed by Germany in 1938; Ruth had emigrated from her native land to England in 1939 in her late teens (about the time Hitler’s Jewish persecutions were achieving the earliest levels of atrocity leading to the Holocaust). She had light brown hair and brown eyes, of a petite build (though she was tall for the times, 5’7” or 1.7m), and a Kewpie doll’s mouth. She had some training as a nurse. She held a regular job at a munitions factory; she also had an irregular job as a part-time prostitute.
Ruth lived in a single room within shouting distance of 10 Rillington Place. Christie was a shirker for the most part, and he spent much time in local street cafés and lunch rooms, whiling away the hours. In August 1943, Ethel Christie was away from the couple’s squat, visiting her relatives in Sheffield. Christie, still abusing his authority as a War Reserve Police officer, reveled in her absence, doing next to nothing around the house and spending his time in local eateries. On the last day before Ethel returned (on or around August 24, 1943), Christie happened to be in a Ladbroke Grove snack bar. Ruth Fuerst was also in the snack bar discreetly soliciting potential johns.
The time-line of what happened afterward is convoluted. Christie gave differing accounts and his position as a police officer complicates matters. First, it is unknown if Christie was wearing his police uniform (though he probably was since he loved it). Spotting Ruth making her way from male customer to male customer he might have been compelled to threaten her with a solicitation arrest, thus gaining her coöperation for sex later at his home. Or, he may have been in casual garb and she approached him as she would any other john. At that time, Christie may have produced a police id, threatening her with arrest unless she gave in to his sexual demands. Or, he may have been approached, agreed to whatever terms she asked, and the pair went off to 10 Rillington Place.
Regardless of the scenario that put Ruth Fuerst in the presence of a monster (and she may already have been known to him before this meeting) the 21-year-old ended up in his grubby flat. She had sex with him (voluntarily for money or grudgingly through coercion). And, according to Christie, during intercourse he felt some compulsion to strangle her. He exerted himself greatly in the process – he found it was no easy task to murder someone barehanded. Ruth struggled violently, and according to Christie, as he strangled her he achieved levels of sexual gratification unknown to him previously; he ejaculated as she evacuated her bowels and urinated. [Ruth’s release of excrement and urine puts Christie clearly in the saddle with a corpse – it occurs at the time of death.]
Ruth, he lied later, had been the sexual aggressor. He alleged they had many previous liaisons. This time, though, while she was in his bed with him, he’d received a telegram from his wife saying she was coming home sooner than expected and she would be accompanied by her brother. Ruth, he claimed, was hopelessly enamored of him, wanted him to run away with her, and threatened to expose their relationship to Ethel as soon as she came home. He alleged that he panicked and strangled her.
While Christie may not have set out that morning to meet and murder a young woman, nonetheless that is what he did. Nor did he panic when he realized the gravity of the situation facing him. The mess had to be cleaned up – telegram or no telegram he knew when Ethel was due home. He stripped the bed of its feces-stained and urine-soaked linens. [This part of the clean-up, for Christie, was the worst because of his phobia about filth. It would inform his later decision to use garments as a sort of diaper to at least keep post-mortem feces off the furnishings.]
His aversion to excretory functions aside, what to do with Ruth’s body was of greater concern: Christie would not have been above humiliating himself to his wife (or anyone, for that matter) by saying he had been “sick” and had defecated and urinated in their bed had that been noticed. The body was something he could not explain away with a hypochondriac’s excuse, however.
Rattling around the flat, Christie discovered some loosened floor boards in the living room. He hastily pulled these up. He wrapped Ruth in the leopard coat she had worn and dropped her into the crawlspace the open floor afforded. Her clothes followed her into the dark. Replacing the boards, he tidied up the place and waited for his wife to come home. Ethel and her brother arrived later. Nothing seemed out of the norm for either. The brother stayed the night with the Christies and left the next day. Ethel went off to her part-time job.
As soon as he could, Christie pulled Ruth up from beneath the floor and wrestled her out to the little-used washhouse in the back yard. He started a shallow grave in the right-hand side of the yard to drop her into. He was interrupted in this that particular day, though, when Ethel came home from work. Christie left his tools: Ethel merely thought he’d been tidying up the yard and didn’t question his activities. The couple had tea together and lounged until bedtime.
Once Ethel was soundly asleep, Christie crept back into the yard and finished his hole. He dragged Ruth from the washhouse and dumped her and her clothes into the small shallow. He covered it over and went back inside to bed. The next day, with Ethel off to work again, he went back out into the yard. He pulled up some of Ruth’s clothing from the dirt and burned them in an old disused dustbin. He raked over the grave to help it blend in better.
Ruth Fuerst’s disappearance was finally reported to the police on September 1, 1943 (with her last known sighting being the day she met Christie at the snack bar).
Benzoin is a gum resin from the plant Styrax benzoin, a thick-stemmed tree of Southeast Asia. It is a yellow solid. The material is slightly soluble in hot water, in hot alcohol, and in ether. Commercially, it has several uses, one of which is a compound called “tincture of benzoin”. This efficacious material is made from the tree resin combined with benzoic acid. Tincture of benzoin was popularly used as an expectorant, an antiseptic, and a general healing agent under the name “Friar’s Balsam”.
It was also used with steam as an inhalant in treating congestions of the upper respiratory tract.
Strangling Ruth Fuerst had not been easy. She fought for her life; but for Christie’s bulk on top of her she might have made good an escape. Such physical exertions—for a man who did as little as possible—were beyond him generally. However, he could not escape reliving the thrill of choking the life out of her and achieving an orgasm after she drew her last breath. Determined to repeat the experience, Christie contrived a way of subduing his next victims to make them more pliant and manageable, certainly when it came time for the coup de grâce. Thus, he moved from the milieu of manslaughter to pre-mediated murder.
Residential gas at 10 Rillington Place was supplied by an antiquated system that delivered “coal gas” for cooking and (in earlier years) for lighting the home. As the name implies, the gas was distilled from coal. Unlike methane (natural gas), the pungent coal gas used in British homes in the 1940s had a ridiculously high carbon monoxide content, roughly 15%. Inadvertent asphyxiations and intentional suicides from coal gas exposure in poorly ventilated situations were well-known.
Christie’s problem, as he saw it, was a need to make a woman pliant, preferably unconscious. Because he was not a “hands on” sort of man, the idea of pressing a chloroform- or ether-soaked cloth to a potential victim’s face seemed impractical. He would have to hide the subduing agent from his wife until needed, yet it had to be ready to use at a moment’s notice. The application would require a surprise assault, meaning the victim would have to be sitting just so where he could apply a knock-out compound to a cloth and then press it to her face, all without her seeing the preparations. Furthermore, he would have to hold a struggling female still long enough for the anesthetic affects to kick in. No, he needed something easier.
As all Brits knew, the gas in their homes was potentially lethal. In those homes formerly lighted with gas sconces, most had been capped off to prevent leaking when electricity was made widely available. This left cook stoves and some heating units the only appliances using the gas.
Reggie Christie had always admired members of the medical profession. He coveted their education, the money they made, and the respect they seemed to cultivate. He bought many secondhand medical books to educate himself, at least in terms of medical jargon, to regale his more easily-impressed acquaintances with his catholic battery of knowledge.
Christie created a murder device centered on his grandiose ideas of being a man with “medical” expertise. He rigged up a jar with two holes punched in its lid. Rubber tubing went into each hole. Into the jar he dropped Friar’s Balsam, the aromatic chemically known as tincture of benzoin. The first hose was to be used by the victim—Christie would use some pretext to get her to inhale from the jar, smelling only the fragrant Friar’s Balsam. The second hose led to the grubby flat’s coal gas line and was clamped off. When Christie decided the time was right, he would insert the second hose into its hole in the jar’s lid and unclamp it. The woman would inhale the gas through the smell of the tincture of benzoin and soon be rendered sluggish or—still better for Christie—completely unconscious.
At the end of 1943 (a couple of months after he murdered Ruth Fuerst), Christie either quit his position of War Reserve Police Special Constable or was terminated. He malingered around the house doing little except perfecting his murder jar, mulling over his chances to use it. Ethel worked for an electric light company; most likely because of her nagging on the subject, Christie found a job in 1944. He was a clerk in a radio factory, Ultra Radio Works.
Muriel Amelia Eady worked in the assembly area of the plant. She was 32 years old with dark hair. She was a bit chubby, but also very short, standing only about five-feet-one-inch tall (1.5m). Christie first met her in the company’s canteen. He learned much about her over a short time: she lived with an aunt, and she had a steady boyfriend.
Christie befriended the woman. He invited her and her boyfriend over for tea. Ethel served up while the two couples chatted. Another time the foursome went to a movie together. In short order he gained Muriel’s trust. Christie had favorably impressed this simple woman with his (to her) vast knowledge of medical matters, his war exploits, and his worldliness.
In October 1944, Ethel had gone off once again to visit her family in Sheffield. Muriel Eady came to work with some congestion and bronchial problems. He told Muriel he had expertise in first-aid from being with the War Reserve. He told her he had developed a “special mixture” guaranteed to cure bronchitis. Knowing of Christie’s “medical” background it took little persuading on his part to get her to his house with a promise of easing her misery.
Back at 10 Rillington Place with Ethel out of the house Christie made tea for Muriel. He then put her in a kitchen chair. He had her place a scarf over her head to hold in the fumes from his “special mixture”. He rigged up his jar. Muriel sat with her back to Christie as he manipulated the hosing for her. She began breathing deeply from one of the hoses, only smelling the Friar’s Balsam. Christie slipped the gas tube into the jar’s other hole. With Muriel inhaling to her lungs’ full capacity (at Christie’s direction) she was soon overcome by the carbon monoxide in the coal gas roiling through the jar. She passed out.
Christie set to work immediately. He lowered her to the floor and in a blissful state of extreme arousal raped her and strangled her with one of her stockings as he did so. She was dead. Christie dressed her and trundled her body out to the washhouse. He dug a hole in the back yard and hastily buried her and her belongings near Ruth Fuerst. He professed ignorance of Muriel’s whereabouts when later queried by her boyfriend.
John Reginald Halliday Christie had perfected a means of completely controlling women so they could never complain about his sexual performance, his lack of work, cast aspersions on him, or otherwise belittle or humiliate him ever again.
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