BBC drama Rillington Place tells a chilling tale of murder but the real-life story behind the three part TV series is equally upsetting, especially in the case of Nico Mirallegro's Timothy Evans.
Who was Timothy Evans?
Welshman Timothy Evans was born in the town of Merthyr Tydfil in November 1924. History tells us that Timothy had some developmental difficulties growing up and suffered with a tubercular sore on his right foot.
As a result, he could barely read or write his own name by the time he left school. When his family moved to London he found work as a painter and decorator, before moving back to Merthyr Tydfil in 1937 and attempting to find work in the coal mines.
He moved back to London in and around 1946, settling in the Notting Hill area. It was there that he met Beryl Thorley, who he married on September 20th 1947.
How did Timothy Evans meet John Christie?
Not long after their marriage, Beryl and Timothy moved into a new top floor flat at 10 Rillington Place, where they met their new neighbours, John and Ethel Christie.
What happened to Timothy’s wife, Beryl Evans?
In October 1948 Beryl gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, Geraldine Evans. The pair were said to have a bit of a tumultuous relationship, thanks in no small part to their less than ideal financial situation, Beryl’s poor housekeeping, and Timothy’s heavy drinking.
So by the time Beryl found herself pregnant again, in late 1949, the pair considered terminating the pregnancy early.
Evans turned up to Merthyr Tydfil police station on November 30th 1948, claiming that his wife had died after he’d given her a concoction to abort their unborn baby. He said he had disposed of his wife’s body in a drain outside the house, but when police searched the area nothing was found.
Timothy then changed his story, claiming that Christie had agreed to carry out an abortion for the couple, and that Beryl had died during the procedure. He said he’d come home and been told of his wife’s death by Christie, who wouldn’t allow him to see Geraldine. He’d been told his daughter would stay with a couple known to the Christies, and was advised to leave London.
A second search of the house revealed nothing untoward either, but eventually – during a more thorough search of the property – Beryl’s body was found in the wash house at the back of 10 Rillington Place. She had been strangled, along with little Geraldine.
What happened to Timothy Evans?
Evans was taken in for questioning and confessed to the murder of his wife and child, though it later transpired that he may have been put under intense pressure to do so.
Evans was put on trial for the murder of his daughter on January 11 1950, by which point he had recanted his confessions and was now adamant that Christie was to blame for the murders. Christie testified against Evans, refuting all of his claims about offers of abortion and providing evidence of the fights between Beryl and the accused.
The defence raised Christie’s criminal past – including convictions for thefts and malicious wounding – in an attempt to prove he was responsible for the murders, but his apparent reformation and experience serving with the police force during World War II had the jury convinced that such a respectable man would surely have no motive for murder.
Within three days the jury had found Evans guilty, and after a failed appeal on February 20th, Evans was hanged on March 9th, 1950 at Pentonville Prison, by Albert Pierrepoint, one of England’s most famous long-serving hangmen.
Was Timothy Evans REALLY guilty?
Just three years later, in 1953, John Christie’s crimes finally came to light with the discovery of a number of bodies at 10 Rillington Place.
During his trial he confessed to the murder of Beryl Evans, but an inquiry into Timothy’s conviction – commissioned by the serving Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe – still upheld his guilt in the case of both murders. The inquiry argued that Christie had only confessed to Beryl’s murder to strengthen his plea of insanity.
The people and the press were not convinced. Throughout the course of the next decade numerous prominent figures in the media industry pushed for new inquiries.
Attorney Michael Eddowes wrote a book entitled The Man on Your Conscience, which protested Evans’ innocence based on an examination of the case, while Lydovic Kennedy’s Ten Rillington Place strongly criticised the police investigation and argued that Evans had been coerced into a false confession.
In 1965 the Liberal Party’s Herbert Wolfe and the editor of The Northern Echo, Harold Evans, formed the Timothy Evans Committee. After a lengthy campaign a second inquiry was commissioned by Home Secretary Sir Frank Soskice.
However the Brabin Enquiry – named for the High Court judge who chaired it – still found that it was “more probable than not” that Evans had indeed killed his wife. However, it did clear him of the murder of his daughter and, as that had been the charge he was convicted of and hanged for, he was finally granted a royal pardon in October 1966.
When was Timothy Evans’ name finally cleared?
It took a further 37 years for the Evans family to clear Timothy’s name. In 2003 the Home Office’s independent assessor, Lorn Brennan QC declared that “the conviction of Timothy Evans is now recognised to have been one of the most notorious, if not the most notorious, miscarriages of justice.”
“There is no evidence to implicate Timothy Evans in the murder of his wife”, he continued. “She was most probably murdered by Christie.”
Did his case contribute to the abolishment of the death penalty?
Not directly but Evans' wrongful killing did have an impact on public opinion around the time that abolishment was up for debate. His was one of three cases that caused public outcry during a similar period – the others being 19-year-old Derek Bentley who was hung in 1953 and Ruth Ellis who went to the noose for shooting her abusive on-off boyfriend in 1953.
All three executions came after the Second World War when efforts were being made, chiefly by Labour MP Sydney Silverman, to end the death penalty, with the 1957 Homicide Act dramatically reducing its use. With the tide of public opinion turning, the last two prisoners were hanged in August 1964 before capital punishment was suspended for a trial period in 1965. It was abolished for murder altogether in 1969.