While still emerging from the rubble of World War II, England discovered another monster in its midst.
John Reginald Halliday Christie was a self-loathing sexual deviant, chronic hypochondriac, and habitual thief who despised women enough to fatally strangle at least eight of them at an address that would become notorious the world over: London’s 10 Rillington Place.
After repeated busts for all kinds of theft and taking out his violent sexual impulses on prostitutes, John Christie moved to Rillington place with his wife, Ethel in 1938.
Five years later, Christie impulsively strangled his mistress, Ruth Fuerst, during intercourse and buried her in the back garden. From there, it was on.In 1944, Christie tricked neighbor Muriel Eady into thinking he was performing a homespun medicine treatment on her. He then raped her while choking the life from her body and, once again, Christie buried the results of his wicked deed in the garden.
After convincing destitute pregnant mother Beryl Evans that he knew how to perform an abortion in 1948, Christie murdered her and hid the body in the same manner.
Christie then manipulated Beryl’s husband Timothy Evans — who had an IQ of 70 — into confessing to the crime. Christie also offered to find a home for the couple’s baby, Geraldine. He didn’t.
After police found both Beryl and Geraldine dead in the Rillington Place garden, Christie actually testified for the prosecution, leading to Timothy Evans being hanged for the crime on March 8, 1950.
From there, Christie killed his wife in 1953 and stashed her body under floorboards in the parlor. That same year, he murdered prostitutes Rita Nelson, Kathleen Maloney, and Hectorina McLennan, and concealed their remains inside an alcove that he slapped wallpaper over.
Once he could no longer explain all the foul odors, Christie swindled new tenants into taking his apartment and fled from the scene.
A neighbor discovered the bodies in the alcove on March 21, 1953. Immediately, then, 10 Rillington Place became known as a house of horrors forever after.
Police caught Christie ten days later. He confessed to all the killings, except that of baby Geraldine, for some reason, and offered a bunch of dopey excuses for each one (i.e. — his wife was already choking on food, the prostitutes were beating him up, etc).
Christie’s defense team tried to plead insanity. The jury didn’t buy any of it though, and John Christie met with the hangman on June 22, 1953.
Following Christie’s execution, demands arose for a new look at Timothy Evans’ conviction. Years of controversy followed and, in 1965, prompted largely by outrage over this miscarriage of justice, the United Kingdom banned capital punishment.
That same year, an inquiry into the Evans case exposed police misconduct and a rushed investigation. As a result, Evans received a posthumous pardon for the baby’s death, but he still wasn’t cleared of killing Beryl. Finally, in 2004, a court ruled that it would not officially quash Evans’ original convictions, but it declared him officially innocent of murdering Beryl and Geraldine.
With all its sex and death and unthinkable evil, plus the fact that it instigated a profound systemic change in the British justice system, it was inevitable that the 10 Rillington Place murders have fueled multiple book, film, and even musical examinations of the subject.
Here are five of the most powerful.
CHRISTIE IN LOVE by Howard Brenton
London’s Portable Theatre Company first mounted the play Christie in Love by esteemed writer Howard Brenton in 1969. That production, directed by the Portable’s iconic founder David Hare, attracted vast acclaim and won Brenton a John Whiting Award for playwriting.
The show opens with a police and a detective digging for bodies in the Rillington Place garden while sharing obscene jokes. It then shifts to the interrogation of John Christie and allows the audience, through monologues, to explore the twisted workings of the killer’s mind for a riveting, but horribly upsetting, hour or so.
Christie in Love is performed often worldwide. It had a major UK revival in 2009 and it’s often required reading for theater students.
10 RILLINGTON PLACE by Ludovic Kennedy
As a journalist, broadcaster, author, and an eventual member of Parliament, Sir Ludovic Kennedy was a major figure in British society. He took up miscarriages of justice and the abolition of the death penalty as his main causes. Naturally, then, he expressed a deep interest in the cases of John Christie and Timothy Evans.
10 Rillington Place, Kennedy’s book on the murders and their aftermath, is a masterwork of reporting, and it instantly became a true-crime classic. It is at once hugely riveting and enjoyably readable, even as it is horrific and heartbreaking.
In addition, Kennedy’s passion in regard to setting the record straight about Evans is absolutely inspiring.
10 RILLINGTON PLACE (1971)
Director: Richard Flesicher
Cast: Richard Attenborough, John Hurt, Judy Geeson
Adapted from the book of the same name by Ludovic Kennedy, 10 Rillington Place perfectly casts Richard Attenborough (main photo, top) as John Christie, and John Hurt as Timothy Evans.
Prolific director Richard Fleischer’s deceptively straightforward telling of the story slowly and almost imperceptibly hammers home the atrocities committed first by Christie on his victims and then by law enforcement against Evans.
The movie was an international hit, and Hurt deservedly got a BAFTA nomination for his performance, but initial reviews of 10 Rillington Place were mixed. Critical opinion of the film has escalated in the years since, though, and a devoted following has turned its reputation into that of a minor classic.
RILLINGTON PLACE (2016)
Director: Craig Vivieros
Cast: Tim Roth, Samantha Morton, Nico Mirallegro
Rillington Place is a large-scaled, three-part BBC miniseries about the case that showcases a powerhouse performance by Tim Roth as John Christie and a contrastingly effective understated turn by Nico Mirallegro in the role of Timothy Evans. Samantha Morton makes a similarly stunning impact as Ethel Christie, John’s wife.
While both reviews and ratings for Rillington Place were strong, numerous viewers complained early on about Roth’s “mumbling” and Mirallegro’s sudden switching of accents from Welsh to Cockney.
Alas, both actors stated that these character touches were true to the actual figures. Once that was established, audiences apparently adjusted to the performances, and Rillington Place stood as one of the most respected TV events of the year.
“GO DOWN YE MURDERERS (THE BALLAD OF TIM EVANS)” by Ewan MacColl
Left-wing British folk musician Ewan MacColl, creator of standards ranging from “Dirty Old Town” to “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” immortalized the wrongness of what happened in the aftermath of the Rillington Place murders with his Celtic-flavored anthem, “Go Down Ye Murderers (The Ballad of Tim Evans).”
The song’s closing stanza is especially powerful:
“They sent Tim Evans to the drop
For a crime he did not do
It was Christie was the murderer
And the judge and jury too”
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Main photo: 10 Rillington Place movie poster [promotional image][screenshot]