John Reginald Halliday Christie (8 April 1899 – 15 July 1953), born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, was a notorious English serial killer active in the 1940s and ’50s. He murdered at least eight females – including his wife Ethel – by strangling them in his flat at 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill, London. Christie moved out of Rillington Place in March 1953, and shortly afterwards the bodies of three of his victims were discovered hidden in an alcove in his kitchen. His wife’s body was found beneath the floorboards of the front room. Christie was arrested and convicted of his wife’s murder, for which he was hanged in 1953.
While serving as an infantryman during the First World War, Christie was apparently injured in a gas attack, which he claimed left him permanently unable to speak loudly. He turned to crime following his discharge from the army and was imprisoned several times, for offences including theft and assault. On the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he was accepted for service in the War Reserve Police, when the authorities failed to check his criminal record. He committed his murders between 1943 and 1953, usually by strangling his victims after he had rendered them unconscious with domestic gas; some he raped as they lay unconscious.
There was formerly some controversy over the responsibility for the deaths of Beryl Evans and her daughter Geraldine, who, along with Beryl’s husband Timothy Evans, were tenants at 10 Rillington Place during 1948 and 1949. Timothy Evans was charged with both murders, found guilty of the murder of his daughter, and hanged in 1950. Christie was a key prosecution witness, but when his own crimes were discovered three years later, serious doubts were raised over the integrity of Evans’s conviction. Christie himself subsequently admitted killing Beryl Evans, but not Geraldine. It is now generally accepted that Christie murdered both Beryl and Geraldine Evans, and that a serious miscarriage of justice occurred when Timothy Evans was hanged. Police mishandling of the original enquiry, and their incompetence in searches at the house allowed Christie to escape detection, and enabled him to murder four more women.
In an official inquiry conducted 1965–6, Mr Justice (Sir Daniel) Brabin concluded that it was “more probable than not” that Evans killed his wife but that he did not kill his daughter Geraldine. This finding, challenged in subsequent legal processes, enabled the Home Secretary to grant Evans a posthumous pardon for the murder of his daughter in October 1966. The case contributed to the abolition of capital punishment for murder in the United Kingdom in 1965.
John Christie, who received a death sentence for the murder of his wife, in April 1953.
John Reginald Halliday Christie was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey tonight for the murder of his wife. One hour and 26 minutes after the jury had retired from No. 1 Court to consider its verdict the black cap was being laid on Mr Justice Finnemore’s head and he was uttering the words “… there is only one sentence known to our law … and there suffer death by hanging.”
Today’s proceedings consisted of the final speeches by Mr Derek Curtis-Bennett, QC for the defence, and Sir Lionel Heald, QC the Attorney-General, followed by the Judge’s summing-up, which lasted just over two and a half hours.
When the jury retired the old hands were saying that it might be midnight on a case like this before a verdict was reached. But far sooner than that a crowd was pushing round the courtroom door as the signal was given that the jury was returning.
The court was hushed and still in the interval until the Judge returned to his place. Then “Have you arrived at your verdict?” — “We have.” And in another second or two the unwavering voice of the foreman – all eyes upon him – is saying not the three words which were the best Christie could hope for but stopping short at the one: “Guilty.”
Now the formula of the law. “Have you anything to say before… ” but Christie does not wait for it to be finished. He breaks in mouthing “No” and shaking his head. No emotion is visible on his face at the sight of that black symbol on the Judge’s wig.
In the court as the day wore on and the thermometer climbed steadily to the middle seventies the atmosphere was soporific. Here and there eyelids drooped and heads nodded.
“Thirty years ago,” Mr Curtis-Bennett told the jury, “you would have heard distinguished people talking so loudly – with tears running down their faces – they could be heard next door. Fortunately advocacy of that kind has died out.”
And suiting his actions to his words he proceeded to speak at times so low that only a few could hear.
For just over an hour Mr Curtis-Bennett pursued his theme that the murders were motiveless, that the verdict should be “guilty but insane.”
George Smith, the “Brides in the Bath” killer, had insured his victims. “Here as I see it,” he went on, “it is absolutely motiveless.” Insanity was the only clue. Christie he called “an object of pity rather than of horror – he is a man who should be locked up for the rest of his life.”
Sir Lionel Heald scorned the view that if a man could be shown to have killed enough people he must be mad and he was sure the jury would not accept it.
When the time came for his summing up Mr Justice Finnemore went over the accounts Christie had given of the murders, over the medical evidence and through a summary of the evidence for the defence. “The mere fact,” he told the jury, “that a man acts like a monster cruelly and wickedly is not of itself evidence that he is insane.”
Perhaps no jury before in this country had seen a man charged with murder go into the witness box and say: “Yes, I did kill this victim and I killed six others over a period of ten years.”
Later he said that if the jury accepted the scientific evidence then Christie’s story was plainly untrue. Mr Ambrose Applebe, Christie’s solicitor, said tonight that the question of an appeal was being considered.
Corpses found at 10 Rillington Place
John Christie was executed at Pentonville Prison on 15 July 1953