Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast #53 - The Other Side of 10 Rillington Place - Part Six (Ethel Christie/Simpson)
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Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within one square mile of the West End.
Episode Fifty-Three: On Sunday 14th December 1952, Ethel Christie died of an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets in bed, her husband tried to save her, but it was too late. And yet, was this the truth... given that her husband was John Reginald Halliday Christie and he had already murdered four people and sent an innocent man to his death?
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Ep53 – The Other Side of 10 Rillington Place – Part Six (Ethel Christie)
INTRO: Decisions. Life is a never-ending series of decisions, and being faced with an endless procession of moral dilemmas, personal preferences and potential outcomes, without a decision, our lives cannot move forwards or backwards, they simply stall and stagnate.
We make billions of decisions every day; from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, to the places we go, and to the people we see; with each decision ranging from the massive, the middling to the microscopic, from the birth of a baby to the blink of the eye. And conscious or not, everything is decided.
Each decision has two outcomes, right or wrong, with varying degrees of success or failure in-between. And although our choices are often based on prior knowledge and experience garnered from a similar circumstance, sometimes we still make the wrong decision for (what we feel) is the right reason.
If we learn from our mistakes, bad decisions can make us stronger, wiser and braver. They can make us, but they can also break us, with even the most inconsequential of decisions proving fatal.
During the murders of Ruth Fuerst, Muriel Eady, Beryl and Geraldine Evans, one other person (beyond Reg Christie) was a resident at 10 Rillington Place, but being sweet, polite and timid, she remained hidden in her husband’s shadow. And yet, twenty years earlier, when her life had hit a crossroads, she made a bad decision (for good reasons) which would bring about her death.
Some of what follows is based on the killer’s own memories and perspective; so what part of this story is true… is up to you. My name is Michael. I am your tour-guide. This is Murder Mile. And I present to you; part six of the full, true and untold story of The Other Side of 10 Rillington Place.
SCRIPT: Today, I’m standing one street east of Rillington Place, on the junction of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road; on the north-west corner is the boarded-up remnants of the KPH public house, on the north-east corner is the floristry shop where David Griffin’s Refreshment Room once stood and on the south-east corner is the North Kensington Public Library at 108 Ladbroke Grove.
Opened in 1891, after the Public Libraries Act of 1850 gave each borough in the United Kingdom the power to provide everyone - regardless of age, class, race or gender - with books, knowledge and an education for life, North Kensington was one of London’s first public libraries.
As an imposing two-storey building with long ominous windows, black wrought iron gates and a dark shadowy door, as it looms over the street like a screaming face, it doesn’t look welcoming. And with the inside being outdated, like most libraries, it’s mostly empty, except for several soft seats which soak-up old people’s widdle, a musty damp smell which could easily be a dead tramp, a moaning Minnie going “shush” at the tinnitus in her ears, an old dear getting moist over the mere mention of a “trouser protuberance” in a Mills & Boon, and a backwards boy ending-up bent double owing to a brief flash of boob in a photography book. Ah, great days Michael, great days.
Sadly, with plans to turn it into a prep school for little posh shits, the tax-paying public are being booted out as the seeds of Satan with silver spoons up their sphincters are moved in, paying almost six grand a term to be educated and entirely defeating the reason why the library was built.
And yet, it was here, in peace and solitude of North Kensington Library, clutching a well-thumbed copy of the Penny Poets, that Ethel Christie came to escape, having married a murderer. (Interstitial)
At 9:45pm, on Friday 2nd December 1949, in Notting Hill Police Station, Timothy John Evans made his third and final confession. (Tim) “She was incurring one debt after another and I could not stand it no longer. I came home about 6:30pm. She started to argue and threw a milk bottle at me, so I hit her across the face with the flat of my hand. She then hit me back. In a fit of temper I grabbed a piece of rope and strangled her with it. When I knew everything was quiet, I wrapped my wife’s body in a green table cloth, I tied it up with a piece of cord, carried her down to the washhouse, placed it under the sink and blocked it in with pieces of wood. I locked the washhouse door and slipped back upstairs whilst The Christie’s were in bed. On Thursday evening, I done my day’s work, I left the job, I went home, got my baby from her cot, I picked up my tie and I strangled her with it. I sold my furniture, caught the train to Cardiff and made my way to Mount Pleasant, and that’s it”.
And in a strangely detailed confession, which the exhausted and grief-stricken husband, father and fantasist had made only after the Police had informed him how, where and when the bodies of his wife and baby were found; having signed his confession as accurate and true, Tim the terrible liar sighed, “it is a great relief to get it off my chest, I feel better already”. And with that, Timothy John Evans was charged with the murders of Beryl & Geraldine Evans and the case was closed.
Prior to 2nd December 1949, 10 Rillington Place was just an anonymous tumble-down terraced house tucked away in a gloomy dead-end amidst the craters, rubble and waste of West London, but now, it was infamous. And with two constables stood guard by the washhouse, two posted by the front door and several having cordoned off the street to hold back a throng of gawkers, gossips and giggling kids, as the rapid burst of flashbulbs bathed the unlit street in a blinding white light, into an ambulance were loaded two corpses; both curled-up, one as big as a bundle of rags, one small as a shoe-box.
In the front room, the Christie’s sat several feet apart; Ethel on the sofa, Reg in his armchair; his face giddy with glee as he snipped cuttings about the Evans killings from the newspaper, circled his name and stashed each article in his little brown suitcase of treasured memories, as Reg relished this infamy.
Where-as Ethel did not. Being a timid and fragile lady with frayed nerves, sullen eyes and a haggard face, Ethel tried to hide from the horror of the last few days with a hot tea, a roaring fire and a book of poetry, but with her home sullied by a feted stench, every time she breathed, she smelled death.
Ethel looked older than her fifty-one years, and being a shadow-of-her-former-self, all that was left was a pale, dowdy and down-trodden woman haunted by a three-decades of bad decisions. (Reg flashback) “Ethel, he’s only gone and killed the baby”, (Ethel) “No, Tim would never do that”, (Reg) “I’m telling you Ethel, that’s what he’s done, strangled them both”. (End)
As a migraine creeped in - with no kiss, hug or eye-contact - Ethel muttered “I’m off to bed now, night Reg”, which he ignored as he snipped another cutting about the killings. And as her slippers shuffled down the dark drab hall - passed the deckchair, the gas stove, the square glass jar, the length of rope, the washhouse, the fence propped up by half of human thigh bone and their garden where two bodies still rotted in shallow graves - as Ethel curled-up on her bed, her portly frame nestled into the deep recess of the mattress where Ruth Fuerst was strangled… and soon, Ethel would be too. (Interstitial)
But her life could have been so different had she made the right decision for the right reason.
Ethel Simpson was born on 28th March 1898, the youngest of three children to William, the foreman at an iron foundry and Amy, a full-time mother, with older siblings Henry and Lily. As an upper working-class family raised in the industrial town of Halifax (West Yorkshire) during an economic boom, with a proud father who protected his flock and ensured their safety and stability, a doting mother who kept her brood warm, safe and well-fed; and all three siblings having developed a strong stable bond which would remain till their dying days, Ethel couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Sadly, in 1904, tragedy struck when William died, and with his untimely death having left Amy with Henry aged ten, Lily aged five and Ethel aged just three - living in an era which was unjust to single mothers - life could have collapsed. But with William having provided for their future, Amy being their rock and the siblings being close, the Simpson family weathered this tragedy and flourished. And yet, unbeknownst to Ethel, just a few streets away, lived a little boy, called Reg Christie.
Described as refined, well-bred and educated, although she lived in the stifling surroundings of a post-Victorian era, Ethel was very much a modern woman; she was self-sufficient (having started work aged 13 as a milliner’s assistant), she was skilled (being trained in shorthand), and being blessed with her father’s work ethic and her mother’s family bond, being a deeply maternal woman with a dream that - one day – she would have a family of her own, although timid and reserved, Ethel was intelligent.
As a child, Ethel was instilled with a deep love of poetry, absorbing the literary greats like Shakespeare, Robert Burns, John Keats, Walter Scott and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, which fuelled her sensitive heart with dreams of romance. And a keen writer with a life-long love of language, every Christmas and birthday, without fail, Ethel would send cards to her friends, family and co-workers, having signed it “from Ethel” and later in life from “Ethel… and Reg”.
Eager to find true love, although she was timid and shy; being a shapely petite brunette with a warm smile, soft skin and a motherly nature, who was impeccably dressed, well-spoken and always polite, Ethel easily attracted the attention of men, but being as a romantic soul, she needed him to be special.
Even with her siblings, Ethel rarely discussed her private life, so exactly how they met is uncertain.
But in the autumn of 1919, whilst working as a typist for John Sutcliffe’s woollen mill, over a nice cup of tea in the canteen, Ethel met a young clerk. He was kind, caring and a good listener; a bespectacled man with a small frame, a sweet-nature and a soft whispering voice, who was totally unthreatening, and as a decorated war-hero with dreams of continuing his training as a doctor, who – just like her – he didn’t drink or smoke and had strong moral beliefs - soon she began to trust him and to love him.
The young clerk’s name was John…
…(Christie’s whisper) “but I prefer it if you call me Reg?” Eight months later, on the 10th May 1920 in Halifax Registry Office, Miss Ethel Simpson became Mrs Ethel Christie. And in the first of three bad decisions made for good reasons, she married her murderer. (Interstitial)
Married life for The Christie’s started badly.
Having moved into a cosy little flat at 9 Brunswick Road in Halifax, although they ate well and the rent was paid, it was Ethel’s strong work ethic and secretarial skills for Garside Engineering in Bradford which kept them afloat. As with Reg living off a disability award of eight shillings a week, having been injured in a mustard-gas attack during The Great War and unable to hold down a regular job for more than a few months – whether as a van driver, an office clerk and a doorman – although she held her husband in high regard, Ethel became the breadwinner, whilst Reg was always broke.
With her sister Lily having given birth to a baby boy called Edwin who Ethel adored and as a deeply maternal woman who wanted to become a mum, with Reg plagued by impotence, the Christie’s struggled to conceive. And even though, after many months of stress and failure, a baby began to grow inside Ethel, having cruelly suffered a miscarriage, their hopes of having a family fell apart, and as their marital bed chilled, their love-life became distant, cold and unaffectionate.
Then on 12th April 1921, eleven months into their marriage, as Ethel grieved the loss of her baby, Reg was found guilty of stealing postal orders whilst working as a postman and sentenced to three months hard-labour in Strangeways Prison. Although shocked, Ethel supported her husband throughout, but having later been sentenced to a further twelve months’ probation for obtaining money under false pretences, after his second conviction on 15th January 1923, Reg deserted his wife and disappeared from her life, with no goodbye, no excuse and no reason, Reg Christie had simply vanished.
Married for just two and a half years, although distraught, being a strong, skilled and self-sufficient woman who was educated, refined and attractive, Ethel was given a second chance at a new life.
In 1924, Ethel worked as a typist for The English Electric Company in Bradford; she was quiet but polite, friendly but reserved, and remaining loyal to her colleagues and the company even after she was laid-off, every year for the rest of her life, she would send them all a Christmas card, signed “from Ethel”.
In 1928, Ethel moved-in with her brother Henry at 63 Hinde House Lane in Sheffield, and with her sister Lily, brother-in-law Arthur and nephew Edwin at number 61, she was surrounded by family.
That same year, whilst dancing at the Abbeydale Ballroom, Ethel met and fell in love with a prosperous business man called Vaughan Brindley, who owned a radio shop on the Prince of Wales Road. And just like her, he was loyal, quiet and loving, he didn’t drink, smoke or lie, but best of all, he made her happy.
For those four years, Ethel’s life was bliss; she had a steady job as a typist at Saville’s Steel Works, she lived side-by-side with her beloved siblings, and being besotted by Ethel, Vaughan Brindley began to talk of wedding bells and babies, in a life which would have been pure poetry. But Ethel had lied…
…stunned by the revelations that she wasn’t a widow, that Reg wasn’t dead, that she was still married, and that she could never have children, as his business collapsed, so did their love affair. And as a deeply moral woman weighed down by guilt and failure, in the second of three bad decisions made for good reasons, she gave Reg one last chance. (Interstitial)
In February 1934, nine years after he had deserted her, Ethel travelled from Sheffield to South London to see her husband. He was thinner, smaller and paler, and with thick glasses, false teeth and a bald head, he looked feeble and pathetic. And being dressed in ill-fitting blue fatigues, having come to the end of a three month sentence for car theft in Wandsworth Prison, and two prior offences for larceny and malicious wounding, Reg apologised and promised that (if she took him back) he would change.
And he did…
…turning his back on petty crime, across the next twenty years of their marriage, he held down three full-time jobs (as a cinema doorman at The Commodore, a driver for Ultra Electric and a clerk for the Post Office), he served his country during war-time as a Special Constable, and as a law-abiding, teetotal respectable married-man with a love of animals and gardening, he remained by her side.
In December 1938, having lived in the second floor flat since the summer, as the Smith family moved out, Ethel & Reg Christie moved-in to the ground-floor flat of an old Victorian terrace. It wasn’t a great flat; the bricks crumbled, the floors creaked and the walls shook as the tube trains thundered by, and with no electric lights only gas, a garden with no privacy and a washhouse and a lavatory shared with the other tenants, it wasn’t much, but to Ethel, Reg and their dog Judy, 10 Rillington Place was home.
…and yet this new veneer of respectability helped her husband to hide his darker side.
And as the years went on, lacking any love, romance or affection, as the stresses and strains of married life took its toll; Ethel went from slim to rotund, elegant to frumpy and attractive to sallow, and as her health deteriorated, being plagued by migraines, rheumatism and varicose veins, she retreated into solitude, silence and remained hidden in her husband’s shadow.
In the sanctuary of the North Kensington Library, Ethel whiled away many hours; absorbing poetry and writing letters to friends and family. Her words were always heartfelt, her wishes were thoughtful and her kisses were true, but as a deeply private woman she never expressed the fears she faced, as throughout she remained a loyal wife and a good woman who wished her loved ones well.
With war declared and their marriage strained, the safety of the library wasn’t enough and as Ethel’s stays with her siblings (Henry and Lily) grew longer and more frequent, she never spoke ill of Reg. Not once during the twenty years they lived under the same roof, sat in the same chairs, or slept in the same bed… but the signs were there.
The loose floorboards under the front room, the uneven bumps in the back garden, the locked brown suitcase under the sofa, Judy digging up unusual bones (Ethel) “tea’s up Reg”, the milky white stick that propped up the fence, the strange stains on her bedsheets (Christie) “She were Austrian I believe, a nice girl, plain but sad-looking”, the deck-chair with the missing length of rope (Christie) “I were medically-trained, you know, she believed I could cure her”, the square glass jar with the rubber tubing (bubbling sound) (Christie) “breathe deeply Muriel” and his obsession with Beryl Evans (Christie) “I thought you might like a cup of tea, dear?”, who he spied on through a hole in the kitchen door.
So what Ethel actually knew, we shall never know…
…but on Tuesday 8th November 1949, as she lay in the deep recess of her once-badly stained double bed, she may have heard this (dragging sound, thud – Christie) “here, give us a hand lad” from two floors above. And two days later (Christie) “Ethel, he’s only gone and killed the baby”, (Ethel) “No, Tim would never do that”, (Reg) “I’m telling you Ethel, that’s what he’s done, strangled them both”. (End)
It was shortly after that, in the winter of 1949, that Ethel’s trips to see her siblings suddenly stopped. As in the third of three bad decisions made for good reasons, whether through loyalty or fear, Ethel Christie lied for her husband. (Interstitial)
On 11th January 1950, in Court One of the Old Bailey, (Justice Lewis) “Timothy John Evans, you stand accused of the murder of your wife and daughter, how do you plead?” (Tim) “not guilty”, and with that, the prosecution called their chief witness; who – unlike Tim the terrible liar – was a happily married man (Christie) “twenty nine years to be precise”, a former Special Constable “commended twice” and a decorated war-hero “awarded the British War & Victory Medal”.
In court, Christie stated: “About midnight on Tuesday 8th November, my wife and I were startled by a bang, I heard something very heavy being moved. I don’t think I saw Tim Evans on the Wednesday till about 11pm. I was by my bedroom door, he was coming in and my wife put the hall-light on. Beryl and the baby weren’t with him, I asked him where they were, and he said they’d gone to Bristol”.
When asked if he had any training as a doctor, Christie replied “no”. When asked if he knew a “young couple in Acton”, Christie replied “no”. When asked if he had performed an abortion on Beryl Evans? Christie replied “no”. All of which was the truth, and his story was corroborated (in court) by Ethel.
On 14th January 1950, after three days of evidence, including a stained green table cloth, a set of pink baby clothes, a man’s blue tie with a red-stripe and three false confessions made to the Police, after just forty minutes of deliberation, Timothy John Evans was found guilty of murder.
And although Tim was an easily led boy with a wild imagination, a volatile temper and a limited grasp on reality; who was barely literate, had an IQ of just 65 and the mental age of an eleven year old, prison doctors deemed him mentally incapable and punishable for his crimes.
On 9th March 1950 at 9am in the cold grey execution chamber of Pentonville Prison, Albert Pierrepoint, a master of his craft – so skilled that a convict could go from sitting-down in a seat to dangling from a rope in just seven seconds – placed the prisoner on a twin trap-door, and with an eight foot drop, a sudden stop, two fractured vertebrae and a severed spinal cord, Timothy John Evans was dead.
An innocent man had been hung, a guilty man had walked free and no-one was any wiser, but Ethel.
For the next two years, she remained with Reg in the dank dark ruins of 10 Rillington Place; the carpets were as frayed as her nerves, the bricks as broken as her heart and the walls dripped with the feted stench of death, as their home, the street and their names were forever besmirched by the murders.
Growing fatter, weaker and paler, as the stresses and strains of sharing a roof, a room and a bed with a liar, a fantasist and a sexual sadist ate at her soul; being too sick to work, too scared to sleep and with their arguments occurring almost nightly, 54 year old Ethel Christie was plagued by migraines.
On Friday 12th December 1952, Ethel dropped off a quilt, a bedsheet and a two pillow cases to Maxwell Laundries at 138 Walmer Road, she received a receipt, but never collected them. She returned a copy of Penny Poets No2 to the North Kensington Library, but never took another book out. On the Saturday she watched television with Rosina Swann at 9 Rillington Place, an almost daily event, which would never happen again. And oddly, that Christmas, Ethel Christie would send only one card, to one person - her sister Lily – and with rheumatism having supposedly crippled her hands, it was written by Reg.
On the morning of Sunday 14th December 1952, (Christie’s whisper) “I remember waking and finding her shaking violently, her face was all blue and she was choking, I tried to restore her breathing, I did artificial respiration, but it was hopeless. I got out of bed, there was a bottle of blue capsules which I had got from the hospital for my insomnia; beside it was half a cup of water and only two pills left when there should have been twenty-five. It was too late to call for assistance. I couldn’t bear to see her like this, so I got a stocking, tied it around her neck and put her to sleep”. (End)
There she lay, on the bed, for several days, all bloated and blue, a black stocking tied tight and buried deep into her swollen neck. And with a locked door and no-one to disturb him, her naked body was his to do with as he wished. Only he didn’t. As her corpse slowly cooled, he wouldn’t grope, kiss, mutilate or rape her, as he had with the others, because Ethel was different. And as inactive as their sex-life was when she was alive, it would remain so, when she was dead.
Mourning the loss of his wife of thirty-two years in his own perverse way (Christie) “I think in my mind I didn’t want to lose her”; having wrapped her rigid and decomposing body in a blue flannel bedsheet, tied it shut with a safety pin, covered her aghast face with a pillowcase, and – strangely - positioned a makeshift nappy made from a woollen vest between her legs, he pried up the loose floorboards of the front-room, and in a cold and shallow grave, he covered her with dirt.
Fifty-four year old Ethel Christie - the faithful friend, the grieving mother and the forgiving wife, who was timid, kind and caring, intelligent, refined and was once beautiful - was buried one foot below her own sofa, where most nights she sat, silently by the fire, reading poetry and dreaming of happier times… with her brother Henry, her sister Lily, her mum, her dad and of the life she could have had with her lover - Vaughan Brindley - had she not made three bad decisions for good reasons.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
If you enjoyed parts one to six of this ten part series, part seven of The Other Side of 10 Rillington Place continues next Thursday, with an omnibus edition once it’s finished. And for any murky milers, stay tuned for the verbal equivalent of dribbly bum-squits after the break, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week; which are Brew Crime and Disturbed State. (PLAY PROMO)
A big thank you to my fabulous Patreon supporters whose kind donations have been wisely spent travelling to/from the National Archives to fact-check this current series and prepare us all for season three. Oooh. So this week’s absolute legends are Geri Katz, Lise Rosenlund, Anne Devine-Pride, Mandi Laing and Suzanne Fox. Thanks folks, you are the glace cherry on my Belgian bun.
And as a very special Christmas treat, I would like to wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Stephanie Baca (Ba-ka) from Texas. Yes Stephanie, I mean you. I wanted to say to you, have yourself a truly fabulous holiday, stay safe (which is the moral of Murder Mile) and give an extra special smooch to Matthew, as he (being the loveliest husband ever, am I right?) organised this just for you. Merry Christmas Stephanie. And if any other Murder Mile listeners are currently screaming at their spouse or loved-one, hurling sprouts and shouting “why aren’t you as amazing as Matthew?”, you can arrange a special shout-out via the Merch shop, just click in the show-notes.
Murder Mile was researched, written and performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed by various artists, as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0. A list of tracks used and the links are listed on the relevant transcript blog here.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British podcast Awards 2018", and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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