HERE’S THE TALE OF A QUIET LAD from a village in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He had an IQ of 128, sang in the church choir, was a Boy Scout, and won a scholarship to Halifax Grammar school, where he excelled at mathematics. He volunteered to fight in 1916, served, perhaps not heroically, but survived long enough to be invalided out after a gas attack in 1918.
John Reginald Halliday Christie (left) moved to London in the 1920s, and developed into a career criminal, albeit of a petty sort. He had married Ethel Simpson in 1928, but they became estranged. They were reconciled, and set up home in a threadbare flat at 10 Rillington Place, Ladbroke Grove. It seems that Christie ticked a depressingly recurrent box on the checklist of serial killers. He was impotent under normal sexual circumstances, but seemed able to perform, after a fashion, with prostitutes.
In 1943 Christie, who was sheltered to an extent by his role as a reservist policeman, began his murder spree. His first victim was an Austrian factory worker, and part-time prostitute, Ruth Fuerst. After strangling her during sex, Christie disposed of her body in his back garden, but only after hiding under the floorboards for a time. His next victim, in 1944, was a co-worker, Muriel Eady. She was killed, bizarrely, by a device Christie had fabricated to relieve, so he claimed, Eady’s bronchitis. Instead of breathing emollient Friars Balsam, the poor woman was inhaling carbon monoxide. She, too, was buried in the back garden.
Christie’s murderous adventures slowed down for a time, until 1949 brought the murders for which he became most notorious. He killed fellow lodgers Beryl Evans, and her baby daughter Geraldine. Due to a fatal combination of duplicity and police incompetence, Beryl’s husband, Timothy, was convicted of the murders and hanged in Pentonville prison on 9th March 1950 – by Albert Pierrepoint. Evans’ conviction was never formally quashed, but judges ruled in 2004 that “Evans did not murder either his wife or his child.”
In December 1952 Christie murdered his long-suffering wife, Ethel, and then sold her watch, wedding ring and furniture. With Ethel now unavoidably absent – in a conscious sense – from Rillington place, Christie’s vendetta against women intensified. Three more victims, Kathleen Maloney, Rita Nelson and Hectorina MacLennan were lured to the house of death, murdered, and disposed of in a half-hearted fashion.
Christie’s downfall came when he left the property, and another tenant tried to install kitchen shelves. The ghastly relics of Christie’s abominations were then, one by one, discovered. Below, a policeman stands guard in the unholy graveyard of 10 Rillington Place.
Christie was arrested, charged, tried and, despite pleading insanity, was found guilty, condemned to death, and hanged in Pentonville by the ubiquitous Pierrepoint on 15th July 1953. What seems scarcely credible is that the seven decomposing bodies, over a period of ten years, attracted no interest. Dead bodies, so I am reliably informed, smell bad. What must the background ambience of the dismal little house in Rillington Place have been like, in order for the smells of mortality to remain un-noticed? Below are the seven known adult victims of John Reginald Halliday Christie. Missing are the 13 month-old child, Geraldine Evans and her father Timothy.
The scene of Christie’s atrocities, like other infamous sites such as Cromwell Street Gloucester and Wardle Brook Avenue, Hattersley, is long gone. For those who like to seek out such places, here are then and now maps.