Just in case you thought Rillington Place wasn’t dark enough, tonight’s episode of BBC’s serial killer drama follows the viewpoint of John ‘Reg’ Christie himself. Not his wife Ethel, not his co-tenant/fall guy Timothy Evans – we’re getting the full graphic tale from “The Rillington Place Stranger” himself.
But as well as being one of the most shocking dramas you’ll see this year, it’s also one that leaves a lot to the audience to work out – especially with its regular forward vaults through time.
Fill in the blanks with this timeline of the (downright horrible) life of John Christie:
April 8th 1899 – John Reginald Halliday Christie is born in Northowram, a quiet village in North Yorkshire
1907 – Christie sees the open coffin of his maternal grandfather. He later said after this he was never scared by a corpse and that they always held a “fascination” over him.
The real John Christie (date unknown)
1916 – Christie joins the army aged 17 and a half. He is sent to France a few months before the war ends and is caught in a mustard gas attack. It’s this attack that Christie said prevented him talking for three and a half years – a claim that many now say he exaggerated.
May 10th 1920 – Christie marries Ethel Simpson. The couple began an unhappy marriage in Sheffield – Christie suffers from impotence and regularly visits prostitutes. Friends and neighbours gossip that she stays with him out of fear.
1920-21 – Remember in episode one when Ethel refers to a time when Christie was wrongfully accused “in the post office”? She was talking about this: early in their marriage, her husband took a job as a postman but went on to serve three months in prison during 1921 for stealing hundreds of pounds worth of postal orders.
During this time Ethel suffers a miscarriage.
1923 – Christie leaves Sheffield for London. The reason isn’t exactly known, but Christie himself said it was because Ethel had an affair.
He worked briefly as a painter in Manchester before moving to London and joining the RAF as a non-ranked aircraftman.
August 15th 1924 – Christie is discharged from the RAF for unknown reasons.
1924-33 – Christie lives an almost nomadic life around the capital, never settling in one place for long and making no friends. He often engages in petty crimes, such as stealing a 12-year-old bicycle and raiding an office in a cinema.
1928 – John Christie commits his first violent crime that we know of. He briefly moves in with Mrs Maud Claude (and her schoolboy son), but the two began to argue after Christie refused to get a job. Christie would later hit her in the back of the head with a cricket bat.
He was found guilty of grievous bodily harm. Despite claiming he’d only been “testing” the bat, Christie was given six months in prison with hard labour.
1932 – Ethel Christie starts a relationship with another man – telling him her husband had died from injuries caused by a mustard gas attack. However, the couple broke up after Ethel revealed she didn’t want children.
1933 – John Christie is arrested for stealing a priest’s car and is imprisoned for three months. It’s then that he reaches out to Ethel. The two reconcile, but Christie continues to take out his increasingly violent urges on prostitutes.
1936 – John and Ethel Christie move into 10 Rillington Place. John applies to join the police and is assigned to Harrow Road station after they fail to notice his criminal record during recruitment.
Some speculate that during this time Christie killed his first victims – he was in the perfect position to get away with it.
1939 – Christie begins an affair with a woman working at the police station – her husband is a serving soldier. The affair continues over four years as Christie serves as an officer, gaining the first aid certificate Ethel mentions in episode one.
1943 – Christie’s affair is uncovered and the husband beats him.
In August this year he kills his first (known) victim, Ruth Fuerst, an Austrian munitions worker and part-time prostitute. Christie later said he strangled her during intercourse at Rillington Place. He hides her body under the floorboards before burying her in the garden.
Christie soon resigns from the police and becomes a clerk at a radio factory. There he meets his second victim, colleague Muriel Amelia Eady.
1944 – Christie kills Muriel. He tells her he has a “special concoction” that will cure her bronchitis. The special mixture is actually household gas containing carbon monoxide. Once she is unconscious, Christie chokes her to death while raping her. Christie buries Eady by Fuerst in the garden.
Easter 1948 – Timothy Evans and his wife Beryl move into the top floor flat at Rillington Place.
Timothy Evans (played by Nico Mirallegro) and Beryl Evans (Jodie Comer)
October 1948 – Beryl gives birth to daughter Geraldine.
November 8th 1949 – After spending a year struggling to raise a child in their cramped flat, Beryl finds out she is pregnant once again. Christie says he can help, thanks to his “special gas” which he uses to incapacitate Beryl. He then strangles and rapes her until she dies.
Timothy comes home to find his wife dead – he’s told the abortion went wrong. Abortion is illegal at the time and Christie convinces Evans they have to cover up the murder. Evans leaves 13-month-old Geraldine with Christie and flees to Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. It’s the last time he will see his baby.
November 21st 1949 – You didn’t see this in the show, but Evans briefly returns to Rillington Place to check on the baby. Christie tells him it’s too soon and Evans returns to Wales.
November 30th 1949 – Evans goes to the police and says his wife Beryl had accidentally killed herself after drinking a mixture intended to abort her baby. He tells police he put her body down a drain.
The real Timothy Evans
December 2nd 1949 – After Evans informs the police Christie killed his wife, they search 10 Rillington Place and find the bodies of Beryl and Geraldine. Both had been strangled. After extensive police questioning Evans falsely confesses and is charged with their murders.
January 1950 – Timothy Evans goes on trial. He blames Christie for the murders, but the jury doesn’t believe him. They take only 40 minutes to come to a ‘guilty’ verdict. Evans is hanged for the murder of his daughter Geraldine.
February-August 1950 – After his criminal record was brought to light at the trial of Timothy Evans, Christie lost his job at the Post Office Savings Bank. He sank into deep depression and lost 28 pounds. He then finds a clerical position with British Road Transport services.
1951 – Beresford Brown and his family (black immigrants from the West Indies) move into Rillington Place, much to the horror of the Christies.
December 1952 – Christie suddenly resigns from his job for unknown reasons. He kills his wife Ethel in bed a few days later. He buries her underneath the floorboards in the front room.
January 19th 1953 – Christie kills his 6th victim, the 25-year-old Rita Nelson. She was pregnant and Christie offered to help her with his “special gas”. Like his previous victims, Christie strangled and raped her until she died.
February 2nd 1953 – The still unemployed Christie is running out of money, so forges his dead wife’s signature on her bank account and empties it.
Exact day unknown, February 1953 – Christie kills 26-year-old Kathleen Maloney. She was a prostitute Christie had picked up in a Notting Hill café.
March 6th 1953 – Christie kills 26-year-old Hectorina MacLennan. She and her boyfriend were looking for a flat to live in and Christie offered to sub-let his own flat. However, Christie soon changed his mind.
It’s not clear exactly why MacLennan went back to 10 Rillington Place (Christie told many different accounts of the murder), but it is clear he murdered her with a combination of gas and rope.
Like the other two women, Christie hides the body in the secret alcove his kitchen.
March 20th 1953 – Here’s what you don’t see in the TV show: Christie moves out of Rillington place after fraudulently sub-letting his flat to a couple. After taking their rent, he flees to the King’s Cross Rowton House. Meanwhile, the real landlord visits Rillington Place and evicts the illegal tenants.
March 24th 1953 – with Christie out of the way, the landlord permits tenant Beresford Brown to use the downstairs kitchen. While attempting to nail up a shelf for a radio, Beresford peels away some wallpaper and discovers the alcove – and the bodies. He alerts the police.
March 25th – 31st 1953 – a city-wide man hunt sends Christie on the run. He slept in movie theatres and on park benches, spending many hours in London cafes. He also changed his coat and hat as a disguise after seeing photos of himself in newspapers.
Eventually he was spotted by the police around Putney Bridge in south London. At first Christie gives a fake name and address, but is arrested after further questioned by an officer.
At the time of arrest Christie was carrying an identity card, a ration book, his Union card, an ambulance badge and, oddly, an old newspaper clipping about the remand of Timothy Evans.
John Christie arriving in court, 1953.
July 15th 1953 – after a short trial that found him guilty, Christie waived his appeal and was executed. He was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, the same man who had also executed Evans three years before.
While the gallows were being prepared Christie complained of an itchy nose – Pierrepoint allegedly assured him that “It won’t bother you for long” – although that particular line is absent from the BBC drama.
October 18th 1966 – Timothy Evans receives a posthumous royal pardon, but is still legally responsible for the death of his daughter Geraldine. As the series’ closing moments reported, his family are still campaigning for justice.