He was known for his tall tales, grandiose stories focused on his heroics. They undermined him when he tried to defend himself on the charge of murdering his baby.
November 30th, 1949, Timothy Evans entered the police station in Merthyr Tydfil. He was worried for the safety of his eighteen-month-old Geraldine, he told them.
Where was the baby’s mother, they asked him.
Dead, he told them. Died in unusual circumstances.
What unusual circumstances?
She was pregnant again, he told them. A man had given him a liquid to abort the foetus. He’d given it to Beryl to drink. She’d died. He’d stuffed her body down a manhole outside the house where he lived, №10 Rillington Place, London. He’d arranged for Geraldine to be looked after before returning to his home town.
He was just twenty-five. Looked much older. Never had much of a life. His Tad, great hero, abandoned his Mam in her pregnancy. Timothy’s every developmental milestone was late: slow to crawl, slow to walk, slow to talk.
How do you teach reading to a child who can’t talk? Behind the class from the very foundational stages, he struggled in school, and could just about write his name when he left, aged thirteen.
In 1939, he moved with his Mam to London, and watched as German bombers pounded the city to rubble. In the desperate housing shortage that followed the war, they were grateful to find a home in Notting Hill, insalubrious though the neighbourhood was.
The next year, he married Beryl Thorley. They lived initially with his mother but, after Beryl became pregnant, in true valleys style, they moved around the corner from Mam, into the upstairs flat of №10 Rillington Place.
Timothy Evans escorted by detectives off the train at London’s Paddington station
On October 10th, Geraldine was born.
It wasn’t a happy marriage. Brought up with Welsh valleys’ values of good housekeeping, he resented her messiness. She resented his drinking. They were permanently broke, both incapable of managing a household budget.
So the “joyful news” in November 1949 that Beryl was pregnant again was appalling.
November 14th, Timothy Evans was back in Wales, staying with relatives who were less than pleased. Had he, like his Tad, abandoned his pregnant wife?
First, they persuaded him to return to London to check on the baby’s welfare, but he was sent away. Finally, Evans was persuaded to go to the police on November 30th. For two days, they detained him in the cells while police in Notting Hill did a cursory search of №10 Rillington Place. They found nothing. And nothing in the manhole either, although it did take three officers to pull off the cover. Who were Timothy Evans’ accomplices?
Timothy and Beryl Evans, posing with their daughter Geraldine, and Beryl’s sister
Timothy Evans’ second confession: his neighbour in the downstairs flat, John Christie, had offered to abort the foetus (abortion was illegal at the time). The morning of November 8th, Timothy Evans had gone to work, leaving Beryl in his neighbour’s “capable” hands. That evening, he returned home to be told Beryl was dead. His neighbour had promised to dispose of the body down the manhole, and find a couple to adopt Geraldine. He said it would be best if Evans got out of London in the meantime.
This should have given the police pause for thought. Guilty men often confess to crimes they have committed. Innocent men often confess to crimes they have not committed. But for a man voluntarily to confess to a crime, and then invent a cock-and-bull story to explain how he did it — that’s unusual, to put it mildly.
But the police didn’t believe a word of it. They manipulated and suppressed evidence not because they feared Evans might be innocent, but because they had no doubt of his guilt.
The photo of Evans being dragged off the train at London’s Paddington station by two burly, grim-faced detectives show a man terrified. Bewildered, grieving, racked with guilt, knowing nothing except that Beryl wasn’t down the manhole, he arrived at Notting Hill police station to be informed that a second search of his home had found the bodies of a woman and a baby in the old washouse. Both had been strangled. He was shown articles of clothing taken from the bodies. He identified them as Beryl’s and Geraldine’s.
On and on went the questions, the interrogation, always with a threat of violence should the exhausted Evans fail to cooperate. Hour after hour into the night, past midnight, into the early hours.
Finally, Timothy Evans signed his third confession: one that sounded more like the statement of a policeman than that of a man who rarely read anything more challenging than the Beano: Timothy Evans had strangled Beryl during an argument over money and hid the body in the washouse on November 8th. Then he’d strangled his baby on November 10th before returning to Wales.
Police obtained the employees’ register at Timothy Evans’ workplace. It could have provided an alibi, but we’ll never know. It was lost, never to be seen again.
Children playing in a nearby bomb site handed police a skull they’d found. Police ignored it.
Builders were making repairs to №10 in November, storing their tools in the washouse. None of them had seen any bodies. But police re-interviewed them, believing “wrongly and stupidly, but none the less sincerely, that the witnesses had got muddled” (in the later words of the prominent journalist, Ludovic Kennedy), and persuaded them to amend their statements. They were not summoned to give evidence in court.
Timothy Evans’ trial began on January 11th 1950. In accordance with the legal practice of the time, he was tried only for the murder of Geraldine, but evidence against him for the murder of Beryl was presented to connect him to the baby’s death. It came down to Evans’ word against that of his downstairs neighbour. Evans withdrew his confession and alleged that John Christie was the murderer. His attorney drew attention to Christie’s record as an habitual petty thief, who had served six months in jail after hitting a woman on the head with a cricket bat.
But the defence could offer no motive for Christie, and besides, John Christie’s testimony was backed up by his wife, Ethel.
The trial lasted three days. The judge summed up the arguments. In the conclusion of the journalist Ludovic Kennedy, who investigated the case with more thoroughness and professionalism than the Notting Hill police, “it is appalling that any English judge should have so grossly distorted the truth.”
But everybody was convinced of Timothy Evans’ guilt. The jury took just forty minutes to convict him. Even the campaign on his behalf focused on opposition to capital punishment rather than pleading his innocence.
On March 9th, 1950, Evans was hanged.
As for his neighbour in the downstairs flat, John Christie, he lost his job in the Post office as a result of his criminal record being made public in court, and struggled to find an alternative. Running out of money, he fraudulently sub-let his flat in March 1953, and disappeared with the rent.
A new tenant began stripping the wallpaper in the kitchen and discovered a closet, papered over. Inside were the corpses of three women.
Buried in the garden police found two skeletons, one with the skull missing, and a human thigh bone propping up the fence. They’d overlooked that on the previous two searches. And under the floorboards, Christie’s wife, Ethel, who had upheld his testimony in court.
Christie wasn’t on the run for long. After a week of spending hours in cafes and sleeping on park benches, he was recognised by a policeman on the Thames embankment, near Putney Bridge.
Four times, he confessed to the murder of Beryl Evans, although he always denied strangling the baby. He denied agreeing to perform an abortion, claiming instead that that he’d killed her during a moment of intimacy, and then that he’d assisted her to commit suicide.
He suggested that he’d had sex with the corpse, although he said he was unsure. This implies that Christie, who routinely hired prostitutes, was responsible for far more murders than just the bodies found in №10, Rillington Place, and frequently, although not always, had sex with the corpses.
On July 15th 1953, the same man who hanged Timothy Evans hanged John Christie. Christie, his hands tied behind him, complained as the noose was being lowered around his neck, that his nose was itching. “It won’t bother you for long,” replied his hangman.
By the late 1940’s, capital punishment was becoming a major controversy in Britain. The year before Timothy Evans’ execution, the House of Commons had heard during a debate that the only way an innocent man could conceivably be hanged would be if the police, the attorneys, the judge and the jury had all gone collectively mad.
Timothy Evans’ case blew that argument out of the water. In the early 1960’s, capital punishment was at first suspended, and then abolished, sparing by a few weeks the most notorious of Britain’s child murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
The gloomy, rickety houses at Rillington Place have all been demolished now, replaced by modern, comfortable accommodations. But just at one point is a little gap in the buildings, containing a small garden. That’s №10.
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