4


THE PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS

‘We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.’ Ernest Hemingway


The following is a guide to the principal characters in the story in order to assist the reader in placing them within the narrative.


John Reginald Halliday Christie (1899 - 1953) - born in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Tried and hanged in 1953 for the murder of his wife Ethel. Confessed to the murder of five other women between the years 1943 and 1953. Believed by some to have also been responsible for the deaths of one or both of Beryl Evans and her baby daughter Geraldine. Universally condemned as irredeemably evil, albeit in the “Jekyll and Hyde” modus, although inevitably more complex, and evidently not devoid of all human virtue.


Ethel Christie (née Simpson) (1898 - 1952) - her maiden name was not “Waddington” or “Simpson Waddington” as erroneously reported by some writers - this was apparently something adopted by her brother Henry in 1938. Usually disparaged, unfairly and inaccurately, as gullible, easily-led and unattractive, she married John Christie on 10th May 1920. He, by his own confession, murdered her by strangulation on or about 14th December 1952, her body being placed beneath the floorboards of the ground floor front room at 10 Rillington Place until its discovery there at the end of March 1953. Her mortal remains were, in due course, cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery and her ashes taken away by her brother, Henry Simpson.

 

Timothy John Evans (1924 - 1950) - born in Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales; when aged nine, he suffered an injury to his foot which led to a chronic disability requiring frequent periods of hospitalisation and consequent missed schooling. His IQ was assessed in late 1949 as being of the order of 65-75 which would otherwise (i.e. when he was much younger) have placed him just at the borderline of the mildest category of mental retardation in the terminology of the day. Often characterised as mischievous but essentially good-natured and harmless when this is by no means certain - and not a view universally held by those directly acquainted. There was some history of mental illness in the family and his grandfather was said to have been an exceptionally brutal wife beater. Evans’s mother, Mrs Probert, said of Timothy at a subsequent Inquiry, “He was pretty rough at times. Sometimes he used to wander and he was a bit rough as everybody knows he was backward…if he didn’t get his own way when he was a child he used to kick and scream and if he didn’t want to go he would not go.” On one occasion Mrs Probert had herself slapped her son when he had struck Beryl in the street. Evans acquired a criminal record having been convicted of theft in 1946. He met Beryl Thorley in January 1947. Evans was tried and hanged in 1950 for the murder by strangulation of his infant daughter Geraldine in November 1949. He was also charged with the murder, also by strangulation, of his wife Beryl at the same time but not tried on that count. Granted a posthumous royal pardon in 1966, he was initially buried within the precincts of Pentonville prison, but later reinterred in the consecrated ground of St Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery, Leytonstone.


Beryl Susanna Evans (née Thorley) (1929 - 1949) - born in Lewisham on 19th September 1929. Met Timothy Evans in January 1947 and married him in September of that year. Often characterised as an inept housekeeper in the context of their marital difficulties, the sheer lack of money, and her husband’s apparently irresponsible habits, may equally, if not more likely, have been the root cause. Beryl had something of a flirtation with a man during the time she worked locally at a newsagent’s shop which provoked a violent reaction from her husband; a confrontation took place on the premises and resulted in her summary dismissal. At a later Inquiry it was suggested that there had been rumours at the time that Evans believed her unborn baby was not his.  She was murdered by strangulation on 8th November 1949, interred in the Gunnersbury Cemetery, Acton, in December 1949, later being exhumed by judicial order in May 1953 and subsequently reinterred there.


Geraldine Evans (1948 - 1949) - the infant daughter of Timothy and Beryl Evans - born to them on 10th October 1948 at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital Hammersmith, dying by strangulation on or about 8th November 1949 (by which time she had therefore not quite attained thirteen months of age rather than fourteen as universally reported). Buried in the same coffin as her mother (as above). Oddly, her parents apparently preferred the spelling “Jeraldine” and it was in this form that her name appeared on the coffin plate (which is now held at the Crime Museum - formerly the Black Museum - of the Metropolitan Police at New Scotland Yard, London).


Thomasina Agnes Probert (née Lynch, formerly Evans) (1901 - 1982) - mother of Timothy John Evans and his sister Eleanor, also mother to half-sister Mary and half-brother John. Her first husband, Daniel Evans, deserted her in 1924 whilst she was pregnant with son Timothy.


Penry Probert  (1901 - 1953) - Thomasina Evans’s second husband. Married in 1933, and the father of Mary Probert who was born in September 1929.


Eleanor (Eileen) V Ashby (née Evans) (September 1921 - May 2007) - Timothy Evans’s sister and daughter of Thomasina and Daniel Evans.


Mary (Maureen) J Westlake (née Probert) (b. September 1929) - Timothy Evans’s half-sister, daughter of Thomasina and Penry Probert. With her half-sister, Eleanor Ashby, she has been a long-time campaigner to have Evans officially and publically exonerated.


Basil Thorley (b. May 1931) - William Basil Clayton Thorley, (sometimes styled Basil William Clayton Thorley) - Beryl Evans’s younger brother, also born in Lewisham. Thorley worked for a time as a projectionist at the Royalty cinema in Lancaster Road. It was in the café opposite there that he apparently met an ashen-faced and agitated Evans on the morning after he (Evans), as Thorley believed, had killed baby Geraldine. A few days before Evans’s arrival in Merthyr Vale on 15th November 1949, Thorley had established from his father that Beryl and Geraldine were not in Brighton with him as Evans had told his mother on Wednesday 9th November. He had lived at 323 Portobello Road during this time.


Cornelius & Violet Lynch - Timothy Evans’s mother’s maiden name was Lynch; Mr Cornelius Lynch was her brother and Mrs Violet Gwendoline Lynch her sister-in-law. It was to their address, Mount Pleasant in Merthyr Vale, that Evans first went after departing Rillington Place in November 1949.


Lily Bartle (née Simpson) (1895 - 1980) - christened Lilly, Ethel Christie’s elder sister. Married Arthur Bartle in 1918. Living at No. 61 Hinde House Lane, Sheffield, next door to No. 63 where Ethel had herself once lived between about 1928 and 1934 with their brother Henry Simpson - who later styled himself Henry Simpson Waddington.


Charles Henry Kitchener (1877 - 1964) - the tenant, since at least 1918 and originally with his wife Sarah Ann, of the middle-floor rooms at 10 Rillington Place. A retired railway worker, Mr Kitchener’s eyesight was problematic which increasingly led to him being away from home and in hospital. It was in his kitchen, according to all of Evans’s confessions except the first, where Beryl’s body was initially placed prior to being transferred to the outside wash house.


Lucy Endicott (b. September 1932) - a young female friend of Beryl’s with whom Timothy Evans had a short-lived dalliance, adding to the already worsening marital discord between himself and wife Beryl. At the end of 1949 she gave a lengthy statement to police describing events in August 1949 which included accounts of violent arguments between the Evanses and false accusations against herself concerning her involvement with Timothy. The same statement ventured the view that Evans hated his mother “like poison” because she always adopted Beryl’s side in an argument. The impression given is that Timothy was attempting to “carry on“ with her rather than the reverse, but she had ended any involvement with him after only one night and returned to her mother due to his violent temper. The note Lucy left for Evans resulted in him saying he would “smash her up or run her over with (his) lorry.” Her surname is usually spelled “Endecott” in other accounts but apparently wrongly.


Joan Frances Vincent - an old school friend of Beryl’s who, according to Ethel Christie’s recollection, visited the house on the morning of 8 November 1949 to see Beryl who, apparently, did not wish to see her. It was she who recounted going up to the top floor kitchen door but gaining the impression that it was being held closed against her. Joan was, however, uncertain as to which day precisely this had taken place when questioned subsequently but later stated at the Scott Henderson Inquiry that it had been Monday 7th November 1949 and so not the day of Beryl’s murder.


Maud Cole - the woman with whom Christie was living in Almeric Road, Battersea, and whom he assaulted with a cricket bat in May 1929, resulting in a sentence of six months’ hard labour. Usually unnamed, and unjustly described as a prostitute, in most accounts.


Ruth Margarete Christine Fuerst (1922 - 1943) - Christie’s first-known victim - murdered by strangulation in 1943. A half-Jewish Austrian refugee living and working casually in London, including at a munitions factory in Mayfair. She also trained very briefly to become a nurse, and is usually described as a part-time prostitute although this is not at all certain.


Muriel Amelia Eady (1912 - 1944) - Christie’s second victim - a co-worker of his at Ultra Electric Limited in Acton whom he murdered by strangulation in 1944.


Kathleen Maloney (1926 - 1953) - Christie’s fourth victim, (his wife Ethel having been his third), murdered by strangulation in January 1953.


Rita Elizabeth Nelson (1927 - 1953) - Christie’s fifth victim, murdered by strangulation in January 1953 (and six months pregnant at the time of her death).


Hectorina Mackay Maclennan (1926 - 1953) - Christie’s sixth and final victim, murdered by strangulation in March 1953 - unfairly described in most accounts as a prostitute; unlike the previous two victims, there was no evidence for this or indeed any other record of convictions for drunkenness, vagrancy or dishonesty.


Dr Robert Donald Teare, FRCP, FRCPath (1911 - 1979) - one of the leading pathologists of the day, he carried out the autopsies upon Beryl and Geraldine Evans following the discovery by police of their bodies in the wash house at 10 Rillington Place on 2 December 1949.


Dr Francis Edward Camps, FRCP, FRCPath (1905 - 1972) - the renowned pathologist who carried out the autopsies on the four sets of human remains, including those of Ethel Christie, discovered in the house and garden at 10 Rillington Place in March and April 1953. He also carried out the post-mortem examination on John Christie’s body following his judicial execution at HMP Pentonville in July 1953.


Dr Jack Abbott Hobson, FRCP (1910 - 1977) - a consultant psychologist at the Middlesex Hospital who interviewed John Christie numerous times during his detention and who gave evidence at his trial.


Dr Cedric Keith Simpson, CBE, FRCP, MD, MA, LLD, FRCPath (1907 - 1985) - the pathologist representing the defence in the trial of John Christie. He attended the examination of the bodies of Beryl and Geraldine Evans following their exhumation on 18th May 1953.


Dr Matthew Odess - General Practitioner (family physician) to the Christies; his surgery was at 30 Colville Square, some 0.6 miles (approximately 1 km) distant from Rillington Place.


Dr John Campbell McIntyre Matheson, CBE, DSO, MB ChB (1892 - 1972) - Principal Medical Officer at HMP Brixton who interviewed Timothy Evans upon his arrival there on remand in December 1949. He also interviewed John Christie during his confinement there in 1953. He was previously the Governor and Medical Officer of HMP Holloway. He had lost his left leg and the sight in his right eye during the First World War.


Dr Desmond R Curran, MB, FRCP, DPM, CBE (1903 - 1985) - Head of the Department of Psychiatry, and later Professor of Psychiatry, at St George’s Hospital, London and a psychiatric adviser to the Royal Navy in which he had previously served at the rank of Captain. Along with Dr Matheson he interviewed Christie whilst in Brixton Prison awaiting trial and subsequently acted as an expert witness for the prosecution in the case of R. v Christie [1953].


Detective Chief Inspector George Jennings - the Metropolitan Police detective who assumed responsibility for the Evans enquiry from 1 December 1949. He retired from service in 1963 having reached the rank of Detective Superintendent.


Detective Inspector James Neil Black, QPM - the Metropolitan Police detective who led the investigation from the time when Evans had made his second statement in Merthyr. He became the secondary officer investigating the case once DCI Jennings had assumed charge, and was the officer who, with Detective Sergeant Corfield, travelled to Wales in the early hours of Friday, 2 December 1949 to arrest Evans, initially on suspicion of theft of a briefcase found the day before in his vacated flat at 10 Rillington Place. In due course Evans was to form a very high opinion of DI Black. He retired, also in 1963, having served for some thirty-six years.


PC 400V Thomas Ledger - the police constable who, whilst on routine foot patrol, challenged and arrested John Christie at just after 9 a.m. on 31 March 1953 alongside the River Thames at Putney Embankment, adjacent to Putney Bridge.


PS Leonard J F Trevallion - a Metropolitan Police officer serving at Notting Hill from 1948 and so during Timothy Evans’s brief period of custody there at the beginning of December 1949. He reported a conversation in which an admission was made by Evans, calmly and without hysteria, to the killing of his wife and baby. Retired at the rank of Inspector in 1965.


Detective Chief Inspector Albert Griffin - the senior officer present during the search of 10 Rillington Place on 24 March 1953, and subsequently in charge of the case against Christie.


Mr John Scott Henderson, QC - the Recorder of Portsmouth (a senior circuit judge) who, assisted by Mr George Blackburn, the Assistant Chief Constable of West Riding, and Mr G A Peacock of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, led the inquiry ordered by the Home Secretary in July 1953. This was to ascertain whether any miscarriage of justice had occurred, three years prior, with the conviction and execution of Timothy Evans in light of the recent Christie case.


Mr Justice Sir Daniel James Brabin, MC, QC (1913 - 1975) - led the public inquiry (the Scott Henderson inquiry in 1953 had been held in private) to re-examine the case of Timothy Evans. Ordered by the then Home Secretary, Sir Frank Soskice, it convened in 1965 and reported in October 1966. This reached the unexpected conclusion that, on the balance of probabilities, Evans had killed his wife (for which he had been charged but not tried) but not his daughter Geraldine (for which he had been tried, convicted and hanged in 1950) thus leading to the royal free pardon which was granted soon afterwards on the recommendation of then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins.


Mr Justice Sir Wilfrid Hubert Poyer Lewis  (1881 - 1950) - the judge at the trial of Timothy John Evans in January 1950. Described by Ludovic Kennedy in his book Ten Rillington Place (1961) as having only days to live at the start of the trial whereas it was actually two months after the trial had ended that he died (on 15 March 1950).


Mr Justice Finnemore - the judge who presided at the trial of John Christie for the murder of his wife, Ethel - R. v Christie [1953]. Said, in Ludovic Kennedy’s book, to have been in tears when passing sentence of death upon Christie, but not apparently in any other account of the trial.


Travers Christmas Humphreys, QC (1901 - 1983) - prosecuting counsel in the Evans trial. A Buddhist and author on the subject, Humphreys also later prosecuted Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. During his career he was involved in many important prosecutions, including some of those carried out in respect of war crimes - the so-called Tokyo Trial - between 1946 and 1948. In 1968 he became a judge sitting at the Old Bailey.


Malcolm John Morris, QC (1913 - 1972) - defence counsel for Timothy John Evans at his trial in January 1950. Aged only 36 at the time, and not to take silk (be invested as a Queen’s Counsel) until some ten years later, Morris did all that was possible for his client in the circumstances but laboured against insuperable odds.


Frederick Henry Derek Curtis-Bennett, QC (1904 - 1956) - defence counsel for John Christie in the trial of R. v Christie [1953]; succumbed to alcoholism and died of accidental asphyxiation whilst intoxicated, aged 52, only two months after his young wife’s death by suicidal drug overdose.


Sir Lionel Frederick Heald, QC (1897 - 1981) - Attorney General and lead counsel for the Crown in the trial of R. v Christie [1953]


Sir David Patrick Maxwell Fyfe, PC, QC (later, Lord Kilmuir) (1900 - 1967) - Home Secretary at the time of Christie’s trial. He ordered the Scott Henderson Inquiry. It was also he who gave final authority for Christie’s execution. Earlier in his career he had acted as defence counsel to John George Haigh - the so-called Acid Bath Murderer - at his trial in 1949.


James Chuter Ede, CH, PC (later, Lord Chuter-Ede) (1882 - 1965) - Home Secretary at the time of the Evans trial, R. v Evans [1950]


Beresford Dubois Brown - a jazz musician and Jamaican, he arrived in the UK at the end of December 1950. An upstairs tenant at 10 Rillington Place who, on 24 March 1953 whilst clearing Christie’s erstwhile kitchen, discovered the wallpapered-over door to the alcove cupboard wherein lay the bodies of Christie’s last three victims, Kathleen Maloney, Rita Nelson and Hectorina MacLennan.


Charles Brown - since August 1950 and until 1965* the headlessee  (having previously briefly held a sub-lease of the whole from a Mr Jack Hawkins) and landlord of the house at 10 Rillington Place during the Christies’ last years, and subsequently as 10 Ruston Close. Brown himself lived nearby at 26 Silchester Terrace. Christie’s complaints about Brown, and the running of the house, may not have been without justification - in his 1987 book, Crime In London, Gilbert Kelland CBE, QPM, the Assistant Commissioner (Crime) at New Scotland Yard between 1977 and 1984 and a serving Metropolitan Police officer since 1946, described how the same landlord, Charlie Brown, later ran 10 Ruston Close as an illegal out-of-hours drinking club, the “Celebrity Club” where he would send patrons of the more legitimate club in Kingly Street, Soho, where he worked as a doorman, once it had closed for the evening. There were early suspicions that the house was being run as a brothel. Press reports from 1954 make reference to drug dealing from the house. For a time, part of the front elevation of the house had been daubed in bright blue paint.


* In June 1965 ownership of the house, or rather the remaining nine years of the headlease, was acquired for a sum believed to have been in excess of £2,000 (a very substantial sum for such a property at the time) by Michael Eddowes who was a retired solicitor and author of the 1955 book The Man On Your Conscience: An Investigation of the Evans Murder Trial. It is said that he did this in order to facilitate free access to the house for “the authorities” as part of his long and costly campaign to bring about the eventual exoneration of Timothy Evans. It is further said that he collected no rent from the numerous, mainly Jamaican, occupiers during his ownership and his intention was that, once Evans had been cleared of guilt, the whole house was to be demolished. As is known, his objective was achieved insofar as Evans’s royal pardon was granted in the following October although the house continued in existence for a few years longer until its eventual demolition in October 1970 as part of the local area slum clearance programme. The street had remained standing just long enough to allow for the exterior location shooting for the 1970 film.


An article in The Sunday Times Magazine dated 4th September 1966 commented that the ground-floor front room (previously occupied by the Christies and beneath the floorboards of which Ethel Christie’s body was discovered in March 1953) had been tenanted since 1958 by a Jamaican-born ex-RAF corporal, Mr Gaston King, who had paid landlord Charles Brown £2 - 10s per week in rent until Michael Eddowes became the owner. Brown had himself apparently returned to Jamaica in 1958.

 

Mr King, described in the article as educated and articulate, was a plumber by trade but unable to obtain employment locally. He described his shame and despondency at his reduced and squalid living circumstances and how, during his first year in the house, he had awoken with an oppressive sense of a woman’s presence in the room which had led him to buy frankincense and myrrh to burn in an attempt to ‘smudge’ - exorcise - the dark energy attached to his surroundings.


The broken window - familiar in photographs of the house - was apparently occasioned by local children having kicked a football against it. For a time, a somewhat inadequate repair had been made using the side of a cardboard box, and other windows were protected using wire mesh screens. The curtains remained constantly closed, presumably to afford some minimal degree of privacy - Mr King was, he said, continually disturbed at all hours of the day and night by persons loitering outside.


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(Revision: January 2017)