Who was John Christie? The real story of the Rillington Place serial killer

The true (and very grim) history of the murderer played by Tim Roth in the new BBC drama

Right, hit me with the worst of it. What’s the most awful thing John Christie did?

He killed fellow Rillington Place tenant Beryl Evans and her 13-month-old daughter Geraldine. And then framed Beryl’s husband, Timothy, for the murder.

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Beryl and Timothy moved into the top flat in 10 Rillington Place in 1948, where Beryl soon gave birth to Geraldine. The couple struggled to raise the newborn in cramped conditions for a year. And then they found out Beryl was pregnant again.

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Timothy Evans (played by Nico Mirallegro) and Beryl Evans (Jodie Comer)

The couple decided they couldn’t afford another child, but also couldn’t get an abortion (it was illegal in the UK until 1967). But guess who was there to save the day? John Christie. He said he could abort the baby with the help of a “special gas”.

So, when Evans returned from work one night, Christie told him that Beryl had died during the procedure, and that he had to hide the body. He also convinced Evans to stay with a relative in Wales and leave Geraldine in his care. The baby was never seen alive again.

Evans was found guilty of the murder of his wife and was hanged in 1950.

Why was Timothy Evans blamed for the murders?

Timothy wasn’t a smart man and had an IQ of around 70 (compared to Christie’s 128). He was easily manipulated and after some tough police questioning, Evans falsely confessed to his wife’s murder. Evans changed his story a second time, blaming Christie for the murder. But then he flip-flopped back to his first story and back to his second.

In total, Evans gave four different confessions. None of them correctly stated where the bodies were buried.

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Christie’s flat and garden were searched, but police didn’t find any bodies and failed to notice the human bones propping up his backyard fence. On a second search, the decaying bodies of Beryl and Geraldine were found in Christie’s washhouse.

But Christie blamed Evans in court and, backed-up by his wife Ethel, the jury believed him. It took them only four minutes to decide Evans was guilty.

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The real Timothy Evans

What happened to Ethel Christie?

On 14th December 1953, Ethel Christie was strangled by her husband in bed for unknown reasons. John Christie buried her under the living room floorboard and tried to cover up her death for as long as possible.

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By this point, Christie was unemployed and sold his dead wife’s jewellery for money. He also forged Ethel’s signature and emptied her bank accounts.

In the weeks after his wife’s murder, he also strangled three other women: three prostitutes in their twenties. He hid their bodies in the secret alcove in his kitchen.

Did John Christie get caught?

Yes. In 1953 an unemployed Christie had run out of money and moved away from Rillington Place after fraudulently sub-letting his flat to a couple. The landlord quickly noticed this, threw out the couple and allowed the tenant upstairs, Beresford Brown, to use Christie’s kitchen while the downstairs flat was empty.

While putting up a shelf for his radio, Brown discovered a hollow wall. He then pulled back the wallpaper to find the secret alcove with the bodies inside. After the police were alerted there was a city-wide manhunt for Christie.

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The back room of 10 Rillington Place where John Christie hid some of the bodies

Christie went on the run for 10 days, hiding in cafes in London before finally being caught by police at Putney Bridge.

What happened when he was arrested?

Christie confessed to all the killings, including the murder of Beryl Evans. However, he was only put on trial for the murder of his wife Ethel.

Christie pleaded insanity, but the jury rejected the plea and found him guilty of murder.

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John Christie arriving in court, 1953.

Was Christie telling the truth when he confessed to all murders?

Doubtlessly, Christie committed the murders he confessed to. But he always threw lies into his accounts of the killings. He gave several conflicting stories about the same murder and, contrary to the forensic evidence, lied about having sex with the bodies.

In fact, esteemed criminologist F. Tennyson Jesse said it was impossible to believe anything Christie says unless somebody else could back it up.

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The real 10 Rillington Place

Is John Christie still alive?

No. After being found guilty he was hanged at Pentonville Prison by Albert Pierrepoint, the same man who previously excuted the innocent Timothy Evans.

While preparing to be hanged, Christie complained about having an itch on his nose. Pierrepoint is supposed to have told him “It won’t bother you for long”.

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Rillington Place is on 9pm Tuesdays, BBC1