London Serial Killer John Christie

This week we are doing a listener suggestion, serial killer John Christie. John Reginald Christie was an infamous serial killer in London in the 40s and 50s. He liked to go by Reggie, but it feels weird calling him that and I don’t really care what he liked to be honest because he was a horrible dude so I will not be calling him Reggie.

John, the sixth of seven kids, was born April 8, 1899 in Yorkshire, England. His father, Ernest John Christie (makes it sound like describing John Christie as Ernest lol) was a carpet designer with whom John did not have a good relationship. Ernest was described as an austere (severe or strict) and uncommunicative man who displayed little emotion towards his children and would punish them for trivial things. His mother, Mary Hannah Halliday (s/o to family search bc google didn’t even know her name), and his older sisters would coddle him and were overprotective, but they also had their moments and were said to bully him as well. He did have an older brother too, but he was born in 1882 so he was already 17 when John was born and I doubt he was still around given the fact it’s the 1800s.

When John was 11 almost 12, his grandfather David Halliday who was 75 at the time, died. He had been staying in the Christie’s home as he had been struggling with a long illness. There’s not much about his relationship with John, but I’m assuming it was similar to his relationship with his father because he later said that seeing his grandfather’s body laid out on a table gave him “a feeling of power and well-being; a man he had once feared was now only a corpse.” Let’s unpack that.

Around the same time, he was awarded a scholarship to a good secondary school and did well. It’s said he had an IQ of 128 which I googled what the significance was of this because it was mentioned in a bunch of sources and 128 is where you jump from superior to very superior He also sang in the church choir and was a boy scout. He left school in April of 1913 at the age of 14. Which initially I was like wow that is pretty early to leave, did something happen? But then I remembered it was different back then so after another quick google about the history of education in Europe, I found that in 1899 (the year he was born), there was an act passed to raise the school leaving age to 12. So he actually stayed in school on the longer side, staying an extra two years past the requirement.

Anywho, after leaving school in April 1913, he entered the lovely world of employment as an assistant projectionist. He was described as “a queer lad” who kept to himself and wasn’t very popular. From a young age he struggled with impotence and he got a lot of slack for it. He was nicknamed “Reggie-no-dick” and “Can’t-do-it-Christie” so that wasn’t helping matters. He struggled with this impotence his whole life and it is said that most of the time he could only perform with prostitutes. (Prostitutes are often viewed as dirty, lesser, and non-important “throw-aways”. Pretty much like using them and then throwing them away. Disposable. For a man that has been made to feel lesser due to mocking comments about his inability to perform by his peers, it is not surprising that he could only “perform” when he was with someone he viewed as inferior to him. And, a prostitute would fit that mold. ) Maybe not even on a conscious level. Maybe his back and forth coddling/bullying from females in his childhood affected this?* It was definitely mental and not a physical problem because according to a post mortem done his genitals were physically normal.

He enlisted in the British Army in 1916 during the first World War and served as an infantryman (soldier) and signalman (send and receive signals). In June of either 1918 or 1919 he was injured in a mustard gas attack and had to spend a month in the hospital recovering. He claimed that it left him unable to speak loudly for the rest of his life and even went so far as to tell people it left him blind and mute for three and half years. This was never substantiated though and it’s pretty much accepted that this was just a massive exaggeration which he was known for doing to gain sympathy. It has also been argued that his inability to speak loudly was psychological rather than a lasting effect of the mustard gas.

He was demobilized from the army in October 1919. He worked a few different jobs over the next few years and also met and married his wife Ethel Simpson in 1920. He was still struggling with impotence and frequented prostitutes behind Ethel’s back. Early in the marriage, she suffered a miscarriage and there were whisperings that she only stayed with him out of fear. In 1921 he was working as a postman and was convicted for stealing postal orders. He served three months in prison for this. In January 1923 he was convicted of obtaining money on false pretenses and of violent conduct. This left him on probation for 12 months. During this time, he and Ethel ended up separating after four years of marriage. Maybe she felt safer leaving him since he was on probation.

At this point he moved to London and she moved in with relatives.
He briefly joined the Royal Air Force in December 1923, but that didn’t last long as he was discharged in August 1924. (Idk if they just didn’t know about his record or didn’t care). In 1924 he committed two crimes of larceny and was sentenced to three months in prison for the first and 6 months for the second. He cooled down for a bit after this (at least with what we know of) and his next offense wasn’t until May of 1929. He had been working as a lorry (truck) driver for a little over two years and living with a woman named Maud Cole. He had hit Maud over the head with a cricket bat and was sentenced to six months hard labor for this. In 1933 he was convicted of stealing a car and served three months for this. (Certainly seems like his level of crime is increasing. Whereas his previous crimes were not physical in nature, now they are beginning to escalate. And, it appears to be against women, who if I had to guess, he viewed as inferior to him.)

When he was released in 1934 he and Ethel ended up reconciling. He of course continued to sneak around and see prostitutes though. In 1937 he moved them into the top floor flat at 10 Rillington Place. This was in Notting Hill, which at the time was a more run down part of London. In December 1938 they moved down to the ground level flat. It was poorly maintained, the only bathroom was outside and shared by all of the building’s occupants, and the street was also close to an above ground section of the Metropolitan line which meant tons of noise.

He worked as a foreman for a few years before applying to join the War Reserve Police at the beginning of WWII. Shockingly, he was accepted as they didn’t check for a criminal record. He was assigned to Harrow Road police station where he met Gladys Jones. They began an affair which lasted until mid 1943 when her husband returned from the war. Gladys’ husband actually found out about the affair and went to John’s house and assaulted him for it.

So he’s had his fair share of run ins with petty crime and it’s been a while since he committed any crime, so you might think he was in fact rehabilitated, but we wouldn’t be talking about him if that were the case. He was still seeing prostitutes and having affairs and in 1943, I’m assuming after Gladys left him, he started seeing Ruth Fuerst, a 21-year-old Austrian girl who occasionally engaged in prostitution to supplement her income. He impulsively strangled her during sex, and then after hiding her under the floorboards of his living buried her in the communal garden at Rillington Place the next evening.

He realized that this had excited him by providing the ultimate power thrill. He decided he wanted to do it again and rigorously planned his next attack, on 32-year-Muriel Eady. Some sources say they were neighbors and others say that they met after he quit the police force and started working at a radio factory. Regardless of how they met, he ended up inviting her over on November 8, 1944, claiming to be able to cure her recurring bronchitis with a special inhaler. This special inhaler actually contained something called “Friar’s Balsam,” which is categorized as a protectant. According to JAMA Pediatrics, it has been used externally in lotions for chapped hands, internally as an expectorant, and by steam inhalation for croup. He used this because it has a very strong smell and masked the smell of what he was really using – carbon monoxide. Once his concoction had rendered her unconscious he strangled her while raping her, and she died during the process. He then buried her with Ruth in the back garden.

During Easter in 1948, Timothy and Beryl Evans moved into the upper level flat of 10 Rillington place. They had a baby, Geraldine, in October and money was tight. Timothy had a hard time holding down a job so when Beryl learned she was pregnant again a year later, she was worried about being able to support another child. Abortion was illegal and John saw this as an opportunity. He told her that he knew how to perform an abortion and that he had been on his way to becoming a doctor and had the knowledge, but it was never made official because of the war. Having lived in the same building as him for a while and establishing a friendly relationship with John and Ethel, Beryl trusted him. This was obviously a bold faced lie and after she agree to him performing the abortion, he strangled her. He also strangled baby Geraldine and left their bodies in a washhouse in the back garden. This is different than the previous two murders because Beryl wasn’t a prostitute and he didn’t really hide the bodies. Because of this, they were discovered and their murders were investigated. Someone else was actually convicted of the crime and the subsequent information that came to light when it was discovered John Christie was in fact their murderer caused a huge upset in the judicial system. I’m not going to say anything else about this though because Jennifer is actually going to give us all the details in our mini episode coming out on Patreon tomorrow, so I won’t steal her thunder ;).

Over the next few years, his hypochondria got worse, he became depressed, and started losing a lot of weight. He lost his job and had a hard time getting a job that he could maintain. Around December 12, 1952, Ethel suddenly disappeared. He told neighbors that she had gone to be with family for a while and told her family that she was ill and unable to communicate with them. He would still send them gifts that were marked as coming from the both of them though so this delayed suspicion when he had in fact on December 14 he had strangled her and put her body under the floorboards. To help with the smell he would treat the house with strong disinfectants but neighbors were starting to notice the stink.

On January 8, 1953, he sold most of his furniture, keeping only three chairs, a kitchen table, and a mattress. On January 19, he persuaded Rita Nelson, a 25 years old prostitute that was pregnant to let him perform an abortion for her. Like Beryl, she believed that he knew what he was doing and she became his next victim. He strangled her and put her body in an alcove behind a cupboard in the kitchen. On February 2, he forged Ethel’s signature on her bank account and emptied it. Also in February, he pulled out his abortion ruse and raped and killed two more women, 26 year old Kathleen Maloney and 26 year old Hectorina McLennan. He put them in the same alcove behind that kitchen cupboard as Rita. By the end of February he wasn’t bothering to respond to Ethel’s family’s letters anymore. He’s clearly spiralling out of control and for someone who was supposed to be so smart is, fortunately for us, making some really stupid decisions.

He papered over the cupboard to hide the alcove, but the smell was getting worse and worse. He decided it was time to move out and on March 20 he took three months of rent money from the next tenants and bounced. Unfortunately for the tenants, they weren’t supposed to be paying John as he wasn’t the landlord so when they then didn’t have money to give the landlord, they were given 24 hours to leave.

Since the flat was empty now, the landlord gave another tenant permission to use the kitchen and this tenant decided to renovate. John of course wasn’t expecting this and the bodies of the three women were discovered very quickly. Police were immediately brought in and because of Beryl’s murder years earlier, they decided to do a thorough search because the odds of it being a coincidence were pretty unlikely. This led to them finding Ethel under the floorboards and Ruth and Muriel in the garden. There wasn’t much of a question who was responsible and John Christie was apprehended by March 31 when he ran out of money.

He initially admitted to the murders of Rita, Kathleen, Hectorina, and Ethel. He said that he had killed Ethel as an act of mercy because she was already choking to death when he strangled her. He said that Rita, Kathleen, and Hectorina had been aggressive and taken advantage of him, so he had killed them out of self defense. Obviously he was full of it and no one believed his stories. They then confronted him about finding Ruth and Muriel in the garden and he admitted to those and eventually Beryl’s murder as well, which of course he claimed was a mercy killing because he doesn’t know how to take full responsibility for his actions. But I digress.

The trial for his wife started June 22, 1953, where he decided to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. To support this plea, the other murders he committed were brought in. The prosecution argued that his concealment of the crimes after the fact proved that he understood the consequences of his actions and that they were wrong. The trial lasted four days and after deliberating for only an hour and twenty minutes, the jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to death and decided not to appeal the sentence. There were some who wanted the execution postponed because they thought they might be able to get more information on the earlier murders, but the request was denied and John Christie was hanged on July 15, 1953.

If you want to know more, there is a three part series the BBC did in 2016 called “Rillington Place” that was really good. It isn’t your typical documentary where they have interviews and stuff, but is moreso a reenactment of his adult life and it was really interesting to watch. I was surprised it had some names I recognized like Tim Roth and Jodie Comer and they were amazing as always, so definitely go watch that if you want more and don’t forget that our mini episode for Patreon will be out tomorrow and Jennifer will be diving into the story of the man falsely convicted of Beryl’s murder.

 

Sources:
BBC 3 Part Series “Rillington Place”
Accessed May, 2022. Murderpedia “John Reginald Christie” https://murderpedia.org/male.C/c/christie-john.htm
Accessed May, 2022. Biography “John Reginald Christie” https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/john-christie
Accessed May, 2022. Wikipedia “John Christie (serial killer)” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Christie_(serial_killer)#Early_life
Accessed May, 2022. Wikipedia “History of education in England” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_England#Balfour_and_Local_Education_Authorities
Accessed May, 2022. Jama Network “Friar’s Balsam and Respiratory Tract Fluid” https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/501831
Accessed May, 2022. Family Search https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/LBHS-V3F
Accessed May, 2022. 1900-2000: Changes In Life Expectancy In The United States

1900-2000: Changes In Life Expectancy In The United States


Accessed May, 2022. Myth or Fact: It Takes Seven Years to Digest Chewing Gum https://www.dukehealth.org/blog/myth-or-fact-it-takes-seven-years-digest-chewing-gum
Accessed May, 2022. Serial Killers: Insane or Super Intelligent? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/captivating-crimes/202006/serial-killers-insane-or-super-intelligent
Accessed May, 2022. 10 ways the UK is ill-prepared for a heatwave – BBC News https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23341698