John Christie: Hidden Secrets of a Serial Killer

Last week we covered the case of Timothy Evans. Evans, you may recall, was hanged in 1950 for killing is infant daughter. But the real murderer was the man we discuss today, John Christie.

John Christie

John Reginald Halliday Christie (“Reg” to friends and family) was born in 1899 in Yorkshire, in northern England. The sixth of seven children, he had a troubled relationship with his father. Also, his mother and older sisters alternately coddled or bullied young Reg, so his childhood couldn’t have been very happy.

John Reginald Halliday Christie
John Reginald Halliday Christie

Christie served as a signalman in the British Army during World War I. During June 1918, he was wounded in a mustard gas attack and convalesced in a hospital in Calais. He later claimed that the attack left him blind and mute for three years but there is no historical evidence for this. His inability to speak much above a whisper was likely a psychological reaction to the gassing, not a physical one.

John Reginald Christie and his wife Ethel
John Reginald Christie and his wife Ethel

Christie married Ethel Simpson on May 10, 1920. The separated after four years, likely because of his habit of visiting prostitutes and his criminal activities.

Christie’s Criminal Career

Beginning shortly after his marriage, John Christie had run-ins with the law that sent him to prison several times. His first conviction was in 1921 for stealing postal orders (he worked as a postman). Other convictions were for obtaining money under false pretenses, larceny, and assaulting a woman with a cricket bat.

Police outside the flat at10 Rillington Place
Police outside 10 the flat at Rillington Place

After his release from H.M. Prison Wandsworth in 1934. Christie abandoned his career of petty crimes. He and Ethel reunited and moved to the top floor flat at 10 Rillington Place in the Notting Hill section of London. At the time, Rillington Place consisted of houses cheaply built in the 1870s that had deteriorated from poor upkeep. By the 1940s, they had become multi-tenant rentals. There was no indoor toilet and the street was close to an above-ground section of the Metropolitan rail line. The squalor is evident from photographs taken in 1953 after Christie’s murders came to light.

Christie and Ethel moved to 10 Rillington Place’s ground floor flat in 1938.

The Murders Begin

John Christie committed his first murder (at least the first he admitted) on August 24, 1943. He lured Ruth Fuerst, an Austrian munitions worker and sometimes prostitute back to his home for sex and strangled her afterwards with a rope. He initially hid her body under the floorboards of his living room, later burying her in the back garden.

The back garden at 10 Rillington Place where Christie buried his first two victims
The back garden at 10 Rillington Place where Christie buried his first two victims

Christie’s next victim was Muriel Amelia Eady, a coworker at the Acton radio factory where he was a clerk. Promising to cure her bronchitis with a “special mixture,” he instead had her breathe domestic gas, which soon rendered her unconscious. He then raped and strangled her. (Note that domestic gas in the 1940s was coal gas, which is 15 percent carbon monoxide). He buried Eady beside Fuerst.

John Christie Murders Beryl Evans

In 1948, Timothy Evans and his wife, Beryl moved into the top-floor flat at 10 Rillington Place. When Evans went to the police in late 1949 and told them his wife was dead, he blamed Christie, saying it was a botched abortion.

When police found Beryl’s and daughter Geraldine’s bodies in a detached washhouse, they extracted a confession from Evans. Charged with murdering his daughter, Evans recanted his confession, but a jury convicted him anyway. He was hanged at H.M. Prison Pentonville on March 9, 1950.

After the discovery that John Christie was a serial killer, he confessed to murdering Beryl Evans. Although he didn’t confess to strangling Geraldine, authorities assumed he killed them both and most historians agree.

John Christie is a Serial Killer

On December 14, 1952, Ethel Christie became John’s next victim when he strangled her in bed. He placed her body under the floorboards of the front room of the flat. Since he had quit his job, he sold Ethel’s wedding ring and clothes as well as some furniture to support himself.

Between January 19 and March 6, 1953, Christie lured three more women to 10 Rillington Place. There he gassed them with carbon monoxide-laden domestic gas before raping and strangling them. He then placed the bodies in a small alcove behind the back kitchen wall. He later papered over the entrance to the alcove.

The kitchen alcove where the last three bodies were discovered
The kitchen alcove where the last three bodies were discovered

Discovery

John Christie fraudulently sublet his flat to a couple on March 20, 1953 and moved out. That same evening, the landlord popped in and, discovering the couple and not Christie, demanded that they leave the next day. He also gave the tenant of the kitchen-less top floor flat, Beresford Brown, permission to use Christie’s kitchen. Brown found the alcove when he went to hang brackets for a radio. Peeling back the wallpaper, he saw the bodies. He informed police and a manhunt for Christie began.

Meanwhile, Christie had booked in at an inexpensive hotel. He’d booked seven nights but left after staying only four when news of the Rillington Place murders broke. He wandered London until March 31, when police arrested him near Putney Bridge. He was virtually penniless.

John Christie under arrest
John Christie under arrest

Trial and Conviction

John Christie went on trial for the murder of his wife on June 22, 1953. He sat in the same courtroom where, three years earlier, he had testified against Timothy Evans. Christy pled insanity and claimed to have a poor memory of events. A Dr. Matheson from H.M. Prison Brixton testified that Christie had a “hysterical personality” but wasn’t insane. The jury rejected the insanity plea, taking only 85 minutes to return a guilty verdict.

A police van delivers John Christie to court for trial
A police van delivers John Christie to court for trial

Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe said that he couldn’t find any grounds to reprieve Christie. He went to the gallows at H.M. Prison Pentonville—as did Evans—on July 15, 1953. Evans’ executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, also did the honors for Christie.

A crowd outside H.M. Prison Pentonville awaits news of Christie's execution
A crowd outside H.M. Prison Pentonville awaits news of Christie’s execution

Epilogue

There has been speculation that Christie may have had more victims than the seven women and one child attributed to him. No attempt was made at the time to link him to other missing women. However, historian Jonathan Oates considers it unlikely Christie would have deviated from his standard method of killing in his residence.

As mentioned last week, several books discuss the crimes at 10 Rillington Place. The classic work on the case is Ludovic Kennedy’s Ten Rillington Place, but it appears to be out of print.

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