Timothy Evans: Wrongfully Executed
Timothy John Evans was born in 1924 in Wales. He was sickly and mentally retarded, he never learned to read or write anything other than his name. His father ran off when he was young and left his mother to cope with three children. This difficult childhood led to an alcoholic adulthood and some violent outbursts.
Evans Moves to London
In 1939, Evans settled in London’s then-seedy Notting Hill district.
In 1947, he married Beryl Thorley, five years his junior. The Watford Observer records that Beryl was “about as bright as [her husband]. When Beryl fell pregnant they needed more room so went to live in a squalid upstairs flat at 10, Rillington Place.”
Executed Today says the marriage was “tempestuous,” and the birth of baby Geraldine put an even greater strain on the relationship, with Evans finding it very difficult to support his family on a van driver’s wages. When Beryl became pregnant a second time she decided to seek an abortion, something that was illegal at the time.
Timothy Evans Confesses to the Murder of his Wife
The police file on Evans opened on November 30, 1949. Bob Woffinden in his book Miscarriages of Justice writes that on that day Evans “walked into the police station at Merthyr Vale, South Wales, and told the duty constable that he had put his wife’s body down a drain.”
The immediate investigation turned up no body and Evans changed his story. Now, he said, his wife died when a tenant in a flat in the same building in which he and Beryl lived had tried to abort her fetus; he named ground-floor tenant John Reginald Christie. Police went to 10, Rillington Place and interviewed John Christie who denied Evans’s allegations. Police decided Evans was unhinged and left.
Later, when it became obvious that Beryl Evans and Geraldine seemed to have vanished, police returned to the dwelling and during a search found the decomposing bodies of Evans’s wife and child hidden in a small washhouse. Both had been strangled.
Timothy Evans Tried in Old Bailey
Evans was charged with the murder of his wife and child and gave two statements to police confessing to the crimes. Later, it turned out the “confessions” had been written by police; Evans signed them after they were read to him.
He was brought to trial for the murder of Geraldine only at the Old Bailey on January 11, 1950 where Katherine Ramsland, writing for truTV, says he got shoddy advocacy from his lawyer, Malcolm Morris: “It was as if [he] thought him obviously guilty and had no reason to expend any effort.”
Evans’s defence centred on his withdrawal of his confessions and his assertion that “Christie done it.” He said he confessed because he believed police would beat him up until he owned up to the crime and he wanted to save himself the pain.
But, Christie showed up as a prosecution witness and gave far more compelling testimony than Evans. In addition, police fudged some evidence that firmly pointed the finger of blame away from Evans.
The jury took just 40 minutes to pronounce Evans guilty, the trial judge, Mr. Justice Lewis, donned the black cap and delivered the death sentence. Evans was hanged in Pentonville Prison three months later, maintaining his innocence to the end.
Christie’s Life Takes a Turn for the Worst
Following the trial and execution of Timothy Evans life turned sour for Christie and his wife Ethel. Christie lost his job as a postman and the couple squabbled. In December 1950, Ethel disappeared; gone to live with relatives in Sheffield, Christie told her friends.
Christie sold his furniture to pay the rent and then moved out of Rillington Place when he ran out of money.
Another tenant, a Mr. Brown, was putting up a shelf in the Christie’s old flat, when he found the wall to be hollow. The Watford Observer picks up the story: Brown “shone a light inside and saw what appeared to be the body of a naked woman. He could not have known that he was about to uncover a horror story, that six bodies would be discovered at 10 Rillington Place.” One of them was Ethel, stuffed under the floorboards of the front room, the others were women Christie had picked up and killed as part of a perverse sexual ritual. Another two victims were, of course, Beryl and Geraldine Evans, bringing his total to eight.
Police had completely botched their earlier search of the property when they focussed solely on Timothy Evans. Unbelievably, Christie had used the thigh bone of one of his victims to prop up the fence. Other bodies had been concealed around the property and investigators had failed to find them.
Christie had also buried the head of one of his victims in the garden. When his dog dug up the remains, Christie hid them in a bombed-out building. The skull was found by some children and handed over to police who ignored it.
Evidence that would have saved Evans from the gallows was staring at police and they failed to see it.
Reginald Christie Goes on Trial
On June 22, 1953 Christie faced justice in the same Old Bailey courtroom in which he had played a part in the wrongful conviction of Timothy Evans.
Christie tried the not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity defence; Katherine Ramsland writes that, “His own attorney called him a maniac and madman.”
The jury deliberations took a little longer than in the Evans case (80 minutes), but the verdict and sentence were the same. On July 15, 1953 John Reginald Christie was hanged by the same executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, in the same execution chamber as Timothy Evans.
Final Justice for Timothy Evans
An inquiry was held to determine what went wrong and incredibly upheld the guilty verdict and sentence registered against Evans. However, a campaign to overturn this ridiculous outcome was waged by Evans’s sister and the journalist Ludovic Kennedy.
In 1966, Evans was given a posthumous pardon.
Even with the pardon, it was another 37 years before the family of Timothy Evans was able to clear his name. Lord Brennan QC was appointed to assess the case. In his 2003 report he noted that “the conviction of Timothy Evans is now recognised to have been one of the most notorious, if not the most notorious, miscarriages of justice.
“There is no evidence to implicate Timothy Evans in the murder of his wife … She was most probably murdered by Christie.”
In common with two other controversial cases, the wrongful execution of Timothy Evans led to the suspension of capital punishment in Britain in 1965 and its abolition in 1969.
10 Rillington Place was pulled down and a garden planted in its place. The street itself was renamed Ruston Mews.
In 1971, Richard Fleischer made the movie 10 Rillington Place. It starred John Hurt as Timothy Evans and Richard Attenborough as John Christie. In 2016, the BBC dramatized the same story.
At his execution, Christie complained that his nose itched but he couldn’t scratch it because his arms were pinioned. The executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, comforted him by saying “It won’t bother you for long.”
- “The Trial of Timothy Evans,” Katherine Ramsland, truTV, undated.
- “The Execution of Timothy Evans.” Phil Carradice, BBC Wales, January 12, 2012.
- “Rillington Place: The Tragic Real Life Story of the Trial of Timothy Evans.” Sarah Doran, BBC Radio Times, December 13, 2016.
- “1950: Timothy Evans Instead of John Christie.” Executed Today, March 9, 2010.
© 2017 Rupert Taylor