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1953: Christie to hang for wife's murder

VIDEO : Timothy Evans' mother claims her son is innocent

John Christie has been sentenced to hang for murdering his wife and then hiding her body under the floorboards of their Notting Hill home in London.

Christie, 54, had admitted murder but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. It took the jury an hour and 22 minutes to reject his defence and declare him guilty.

In his final speech to the court, defence lawyer Derek Curtis-Bennett QC argued that Christie was suffering from "a defect of reason" - although he knew what he was doing, he did not know that it was wrong.

Mr Curtis-Bennett told the jury Christie had begun showing signs of hysteria as long ago as 1918. During World War I he had served in the army and lost the ability to speak for three-and-a-half years after being caught up in a mustard gas shell explosion.

It was, he concluded, no exaggeration to say Christie was "as mad as a March hare".

Earlier, the court had been told that eight female bodies, including that of a baby girl, had been found at Christie's home at 10 Rillington Place. They had all been strangled.

The bodies also included Christie's wife, Ethel. Mr Curtis-Bennett said her killing was the most insane of all and the best example of a "motiveless, purposeless killing of the one person he liked".

The court was told Christie had forged his wife's signature to take money out of her bank account and buried her body under the floorboards. His defence counsel said these were the actions of a man desperate to cover his tracks after belatedly realising what he had done.

Two of the other bodies belonged to the wife and child of Christie's former neighbour Timothy Evans.

Evans was executed in 1950 for killing his baby daughter, Geraldine. Although he was also charged with murdering his wife, Beryl, that charge was not pursued after the first conviction and Christie was subsequently charged with her murder.

Attorney-General Sir Lionel Heald QC, acting for the prosecution, pointed out that Christie had a habit of remembering details of the case only when it suited him and at other times he appeared very forgetful.

He said Christie's motives were sexual. Several of his victims were prostitutes and there was evidence he had had sex with them shortly before he killed them.

In his summing-up, Mr Justice Finnemore said: "I do not know whether any jury before in this country or perhaps in the world has seen and heard a man charged with murder go into the witness box and say, 'Yes I did kill this victim, I killed six others as well over a period of 10 years.'"

He said the defence's claim that Christie was insane required careful consideration. But he cautioned against declaring him insane on the basis of evidence of his sexual perversion, that by itself was not necessarily insanity, he said.

In Context
Christie was hanged at Pentonville prison on 15 July 1953. According to newspaper reports, there were 200 people waiting outside the gates to see the notice of execution posted.

A private inquiry, published shortly before Christie's execution, concluded Evans had killed his wife and daughter. There was some criticism of the report which was seen as a whitewash to protect police handling of the Christie case.

A later inquiry concluded Evans had probably not killed his daughter and he was granted a posthumous pardon in 1966.

In March 2004, the Criminal Cases Review Commission concluded that it would not refer his conviction for review on the basis that even if the conviction were quashed it would bring no tangible benefit to the family.

Christie's Notting Hill home was torn down and the whole decrepit street was rebuilt in the 1970s as Bartle Road.


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