Timothy Evans: A Murder Case Hangs the Wrong Man

From last week’s tale of an Old West badman, we go to postwar England. There we meet Timothy Evans, a man who—spoiler alert—went to the gallows for a murder he didn’t commit.

Timothy Evans

Timothy Evans was born in Wales in 1924. His childhood was nothing to envy. His father abandoned the family even before young Timothy’s birth. As a boy, Timothy had difficulty learning to speak and didn’t do well at school. An ailment that caused him to miss a lot of school, which further impeded his education. He also had a habit of making up boastful stories as a means of boosting his self-image.

Timothy Evans
Timothy Evans

Evans married Beryl Thorley in the fall of 1947. They initially lived with his family but moved when Beryl found out she was pregnant. They rented the top-floor flat at 10 Rillington place in the Notting Hill District of West London. Their downstairs neighbors were postal clerk John Christie and his wife, Ethel.

Evans and Beryl fought a lot. He claimed she was a lousy housekeeper and unable to manage the family finances. For his part, Evans spent much of the family income on liquor, which made his already short temper even worse. That was the situation when Beryl turned up pregnant again in 1949. Already struggling financially, Beryl decided to have an abortion (illegal in Britain at the time).

Timothy and Beryl Evans
Timothy and Beryl Evans

Beryl Evans Disappears

On November 30, 1949, Evans reported to police that his wife had died under unusual circumstances. At first, he said he’d accidentally killed her when he gave her a bottle of a supposed abortifacient. Police examined the sewer drain where he claimed to have stashed the body. They concluded he was lying when they found nothing and discovered it took three officers to lift the manhole cover.

When questioned again, Evans claimed his downstairs neighbor, John Christie, had agreed to perform an abortion on Beryl. Evans said he returned home from work only to have Christie tell him the operation was a failure and Beryl was dead.

On hearing this second story, police made a preliminary search of 10 Rillington Place, finding nothing. However, a second search on December 2 uncovered the body of Beryl Evans. She had been wrapped in a tablecloth and placed in a small outbuilding on the property. Beside her was the body of the Evans’ infant daughter, Geraldine.

Timothy Evans on Trial

In an investigation that was later to come under much criticism, police extracted a confession from Evans. Writers after the fact have accused the police of feeding Evans details for his confession. Some believe police also edited the confession after the fact to make it more incriminating. Evans himself said he feared violence at the hands of the police if he didn’t confess. Furthermore, there was a shocking lack of forensic investigation.

Timothy Evans (center), being escorted by police from Paddington Station to Notting Hill Police Station, December 1949
The photograph was obtained from the online version of the Camden New Journal, www.camdennewjournal.co.uk, the specific article from where the photo came from being http://www.camdennewjournal.co.uk/archive/r100703_6.htm. Copyright lies with the press agency who employed the photographer who took the photograph, which was Associated News according to Ludovic Kennedy's Ten Rillington Place (Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1961)., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24197378
Timothy Evans (center), being escorted by police from Paddington Station to Notting Hill Police Station, December 1949

Evans went on trial on January 11, 1950, charged with the murder of his daughter, Geraldine. He recanted his confession and blamed his neighbor, John Christie for the murders. Christine and his wife, Ethel, appeared as witness against Evans. Christie denied having anything to do with an abortion and described in detail the quarrels between Evans and Beryl. After a three-day trial, it took the jury only 40 minutes to return with a conviction for murder. After a failed appeal, he went to the gallows at H.M. Prison Pentonville on March 9, 1950.

Epilogue

Several books discuss the crimes at 10 Rillington Place. One of these is a short treatise called A House to Remember by Edna Gammon. Another is John Eddowes’ The Two Killers of Rillington Place. Of course, the classic work on the case is Ludovic Kennedy’s 10 Rillington Place, but it appears to be out of print.

In the event, it turned out the Evans’ claim that Christie committed the murders was true. Three years after Evans’ execution, the discovery of three bodies inside 10 Rillington Place revealed John Christie to be a serial killer. We’ll discuss Christie in more detail in next week’s blog.

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