Published On: Sat, Aug 22nd, 2020

The truth of what happened Inside 10 Rillington Place – by the only surviving witness | Books | Entertainment


Peter Thorley

Peter Thorley and the book he has written about Rillington Place (Image: Mirror Books)

One house that is definitely ingrained on the public psyche – so much a film was made using it as its title – is 10 Rillington Place, a grotty end of terrace house in a cul de sac in Notting Hill, west London. The house was divided into flats and on the ground floor from December 1938 lived John Reginald Halliday Christie and his wife, Ethel. The tenant in the first floor, a Mr Kitchener, was often away in hospital and on the second floor lived a young couple, Timothy and pregnant Beryl Evans.

They had moved in on March 28, 1948.

Life for 19-year-old Beryl Evans was not easy even after the birth of Geraldine on October 10, 1948.

Her husband, an illiterate van driver, was handy with his fists and spent money on gambling and drinking.

In 1949, Beryl found that she was pregnant again and the tensions in the marriage bubbled to the surface again.

Beryl and Evans – he would go on to kill her

Beryl and Evans – he would go on to kill her (Image: Peter Thorley)

Beryl’s surviving brother, Peter Thorley, has written a fascinating account of life inside Rillington Place.

He recalls often visiting his sister and when she was out being entertained to tea and sticky buns by Reg Christie.

He remembers “Uncle Reg” as softly spoken and fastidious about his appearance in a day when male grooming was non-existent.

Deodorant was for sissies.

He also recalls Christie warning him of Evans’s violent behaviour towards Beryl.

Unbeknown to Peter Thorley, Christie had a dark side and had been jailed for theft and malicious wounding.

The memorial garden showing where No 10 stood

The memorial garden showing where No 10 stood (Image: –)

Christie and Mrs Christie

Uncle Reg and his wife Ethel who he would murder (Image: –)

A huge fight erupted towards the end of 1949 and Peter Thorley told his father about the bruises he had seen on his sister.

Instead of intervening, Mr Thorley told his son he was being sent to live in New Zealand for a “better life”.

On November 2, 1949, brother and sister had a final farewell.

Beryl Evans was left alone with a violent husband.

Six days later, she was dead.

The Evanses with a friend

The Evanses with a friend (Image: Peter Thorley)

History records that the couple were offered an abortion by Christie.

On 8 November, Evans returned from work and Christie told him that the operation had gone wrong and Beryl had died at 3pm.

The men decided to store the body in the unoccupied middle flat.

Christie said that he would dispose of the body, arrange for the care of Geraldine and suggested that Evans should leave London.

Drawing of the Christies' ground floor flat

Drawing of the Christies’ ground floor flat (Image: –)

It was all untrue.

There was no attempt at an abortion on Beryl.

Peter Thorley believes that Evans confessed to Christie he had killed his wife.

Christie for reasons that would become apparent later could not go to the police.

He wrapped Beryl in a blanket and expertly tied the “parcel”.

He told anyone who asked that Beryl had gone to her father in Brighton and taken Geraldine with her.

Drawing of the Evanses' first floor flat

Drawing of the Evanses’ first floor flat (Image: –)

On November 9, he returned from the pub and took off his tie and strangled his daughter with it.

A day or two later, Evans with the help of Christie moved the remains of his wife and daughter to the outside wash house where they were put under the sink and covered by bits of old wood.

On November 30, he went to a Merthyr Tydfil police station where he told the police he had killed his wife.

The bodies of Beryl and Geraldine were discovered on December 2. That night Evans again confessed to killing his wife but also this time murdering his daughter.

Evans went on trial at the Old Bailey on January 11, 1950 for the murder of Geraldine; Beryl’s murder lay on file. Christie and his wife were key prosecution witnesses.

Beryl Evans

Beryl Evans was abused by her husband and later history was no kinder (Image: Peter Thorley)

In the book, Peter Thorley recounts that after the summing up of the defence and prosecution barristers the judge, Mr Justice Lewis, said, “Members of the jury, I have no more to say to you. You will go out now, if you will, and consider your verdict and tell me how you find, whether this accused man is guilty or not of the murder of his child, Geraldine Evans.”

This gives the reader the impression that the judge did not give a summation and left the jury with only the barristers’ last words to consider before they brought in their verdict.

This is far from correct.

Mr Justice Lewis’s summation takes up 25 pages in F. Tennyson Jesse’s account of the case in the Notable British Trials series (Trials Of Evans and Christie, Hodge, 1957), with which all students of true crime should be familiar.

Peter Thorley has done some incredible research and this is the only time it, perhaps, lets him down.

Geraldine pictured shortly before her death.

Geraldine pictured shortly before her death. (Image: Peter Thorley)

The jury retired for only 40 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty on January 13. Evans was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Pentonville on March 9, 1950.

That summer the house was sold.

Three years later, on March 21, 1953, Christie left Rillington Place and three days after that Beresford Brown, a new tenant, found six bodies in the garden, kitchen and under the sitting room floor.

All had been strangled and raped – in that order.

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Beryl holding baby Geraldine

Beryl holding baby Geraldine (Image: Peter Thorley)

Christie was arrested on March 31 on the Embankment near Putney Bridge and went on trial at the Old Bailey on June 22 but was charged only with the murder of his wife. His defence was that he was mad and as a consequence the body of Beryl Evans was exhumed to see if it contained traces of carbon monoxide poisoning – like Christie’s other victims – it didn’t for very obvious reasons.

He was convicted and hanged at Pentonville, London, on 15 July 1953, also by Albert Pierrepoint.

An inquiry by John Scott Henderson into the possibility of two stranglers operating at 10 Rillington Place confirmed that highly unusual notion – the case against Evans was “an overwhelming one” and that he was guilty of the murders of Beryl and Geraldine Evans.

Peter Thorley with a photo of his sister and her wedding ring

Peter Thorley with a photo of his sister and her wedding ring (Image: Peter Thorley)

And there the matter would have rested had liberal journalist Ludovic Kennedy not decided to get involved.

In 1961, Kennedy published a book about the case and on October 18, 1966 Evans received a royal pardon exonerating him of the murder of Geraldine but not Beryl.

The 1971 film also took liberties with the truth – Evans’s foul temper was brushed aside and Christie had no forged medical certificates on his wall and there is no evidence he ever performed abortions.

Even the smallest details are wrong.

Beryl Evans, left, with siblings Peter, Basil and Pat

Beryl Evans, left, with siblings Peter, Basil and Pat (Image: Peter Thorley)

One scene opens with the doorbell at 10 Rillington Place ringing as Christie goes up the stairs to perform the abortion on Beryl.

There was no doorbell, just a knocker. In fact, the house had no electricity.

The “medical cabinet” in the kitchen where Christie kept his abortion tools merely contained cups and saucers.

Peter Thorley places flowers on the grave of his sister and niece

Peter Thorley places flowers on the grave of his sister and niece (Image: Peter Thorley)

Peter Thorley has written a fascinating book about one of the most notorious murder cases of the 1950s.

His brother-in-law Timothy Evans remains the only killer to receive a royal pardon for a murder he committed.

Inside 10 Rillington Place by Peter Thorley (Mirror Books, £8.99). Available from expressbookshop.co.uk.



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