In British true crime history, there is one address that has stood out and been remembered for shocking and tragic reasons. 10 Rillington Place was a three-story, end of terrace property, split into three small flats in Notting Hill, North Kensington. The events that took place there have caused controversy and devastation for over 70 years. Peter Thorley is Beryl Evan’s younger brother. He has lived for seven decades with what he knows is the truth.
On November 30, 1949, 25-year-old Timothy Evans visited a police station in his hometown of Merthyr Tydfil in Wales and told them his wife Beryl had died during a botched abortion back at their home in London. Beryl lived with Evans in the top-floor flat of 10 Rillington Place along with their baby daughter Geraldine. They had married when Beryl was just 18 years old and their relationship was turbulent with Evans known as a drinker and an angry man quite comfortable with violence.
In the ground floor apartment were John Christie and his wife Ethel, a couple the Evans’ had become friends with during their time at 10 Rillington Place. Evans said John Christie had tried to abort the baby Beryl was carrying and it was his fault Beryl had died. He said Christie currently had their baby Geraldine and was going to find people to adopt her.
When police searched 10 Rillington Place, the bodies of Beryl and Geraldine were found in the shared washhouse. In a different story under heavy questioning by police Evans said he had killed his wife. He went on trial in January 1950. Evans said at trial he didn’t kill Beryl, he once again said John Christie was the one who killed his wife. He was however found guilty. On March 9, 1950, Timothy Evans was hanged for murder.
The story did not end there. Three years later, John Christie had moved out and was renting his small flat out to a tenant. While decorating the kitchen the tenant uncovered a hidden cupboard. Inside were the bodies of three women. When the police came and searched the house and grounds they found a further two bodies in the garden. Under the floorboards in the front room was Ethel Christie, John Christie’s wife. John Christie was a serial killer.
Captured after being on the run for a few days, Christie confessed to multiple murders. He also said he murdered Beryl Evans. He was found guilty of murder and hanged on July 15, 1953.
There can’t be two killers in one property, living so close together yet both be independent murderers. That would be too unbelievable, so it was taken as fact that Timothy Evans was actually telling the truth when he accused John Christie of murdering Beryl and Geraldine. The truth that has been accepted is John Christie is responsible for all the killings and Timothy Evans was hanged as an innocent man.
But you need to read on as that is not the real story, far from it. Peter Thorley remembers 10 Rillington Place, Timothy Evans, and John Christie. His many visits there to see his older sister who he adored are ingrained in his memory. What follows isn’t what’s been read in a book or in a newspaper article. This is a first-hand account of what went on inside that house and what really happened to beautiful Beryl and her baby daughter Geraldine.
I want to give you some of the words of Lea Thorley, Peter’s adorable, devoted and dedicated wife. Peter and Lea married in 1965. She has watched the torment and silent devastation in her husband across all of these years. She has researched and painstakingly pieced the truth together with Peter and now they are bringing it to the world and rightly so.
“Peter can now tell the real story of 10 Rillington Place, providing ultimate closure to a lifetime of sadness. He will finally be able to put all previous literary interpretations behind him and have acceptance of everything he has always believed for seventy years to be ‘truth’. I promised him many moons ago that this project would become a reality. There were two killers in 10 Rillington Place. John Reginald Halliday Christie and Timothy John Evans were both rightly hanged.”
– Lea Thorley
I don’t usually feature a book that comes with a side note, but I have here and it is an important one.
Both Peter and Lea are not entirely happy with this book. The final printed version has omitted a great deal of information, facts, and context they feel is so important to this story, this truth and to the lives of Beryl and Geraldine.
By all means, do get a copy of this book and read the horrifying story of 10 Rillington Place. There is valuable detail and an incredible true story contained in those pages. But do so in the knowledge and acceptance that this book is not entirely how the author intended it to be.
Mirror Books, November 06, 2020
Paperback and Kindle, 304 Pages
Q & A with Peter Thorley
Peter Thorley has very kindly given me some of his time to answer my questions about this case, his beloved sister and niece, and what happened inside that house.
Q1: Please do tell us about Beryl and what she was like; it’s clear the two of you were very close. She was murdered so young at just 19 years old.
Peter: Beryl was the eldest of the four of us and I was the youngest by five years, and we were always very close. When our mother died, Beryl stepped up to the mark. Despite being the tender age of seventeen years, she became very protective of us all. She was kind, loving, and enjoyed family life such as it was. She was not one for going out a great deal. Besides, it was so soon after the war and money wasn’t exactly plentiful. Looking back, she was naïve and far from worldly and vulnerable as we were soon to find out.
Q2: You visited Beryl many times at 10 Rillington Place and got to know both her husband Timothy Evans and John Christie. Timothy Evans you’ve described as a brutal man, nasty to your sister, and at times violent. Did you immediately get this sense of him or did his character emerge the more you got to know him?
Peter: Yes, I visited 10 Rillington Place regularly when Tim and Beryl moved in, and I began to see Tim for exactly what he was. I disliked him intensely from day one and it didn’t take long to find out what a compulsive liar he was. Added to this he was the biggest bragger in creation and a heavy drinker and gambler into the bargain. I noticed that, after his bouts of heavy drinking, he became aggressive and violent towards Beryl. He even threatened to kill her on a number of occasions. I witnessed this, as did other people at the time. Nobody ever thought that he really would kill her and that it was just talk. Christie, on the other hand, seemed quiet, pleasant, and friendly as did his wife Ethel. He certainly didn’t cast any fear in either Beryl or me. In fact, Christie was protective of her on many occasions once he realised what an evil little moron Tim Evans was. Needless to say, there was a dark side to Christie which we never knew at the time but were to find out three years later.
Q3: In contrast, you looked at John Christie as almost an uncle figure to you back then. A man you used to play cards with and who seemed to care for your sister’s well-being. You spent a lot of time with John during your visits, how did he come across to you as a person?
Peter: I was of course only a kid, but Christie did portray a typical ‘uncle’ figure. When I called round to see my sister after school, Beryl might not have arrived back from shopping. And so Uncle Reg, as I respectfully referred to him, would invite me into his flat. Ethel would make tea and offer me a sticky bun. The snack was always served properly with cup and saucer and plate, and never given to me in my fingers! I liked Reg. He would play cards with me, or I would play ball with Judy, their pet dog, in the garden. I was oblivious of the fact that we were running over the two buried bodies of Muriel Eady and Ruth Fuerst. I do remember most clearly Reg Christie saying to me: “You need to watch that Tim Evans, he’s a nasty bit of work.”
Q4: You were only 14 years old when Beryl and Geraldine were murdered and you were out of the county I understand after your father had sent you to New Zealand. How did you find out about the murders and were you able to come back to London?
Peter: I found out about the murders when my father sent a letter to Mr and Mrs Manson; I worked for them in New Zealand. Inside that letter was a separate one for me from Dad. The tragic news of the murders of Beryl and baby Geraldine was left to Mr Manson to deliver, while my letter contained news about the Christmas pantomimes they had been to see. That has always struck me as being inappropriate in the circumstances. The letter was dated 11 January 1950, the date Evans’ trial began. I have that letter to this day, and it appears in the book.
I had no doubt at that time that it was Evans who had murdered Beryl and Geraldine.
I couldn’t return to England for two years, and it was a very difficult time. It wouldn’t be like that today.
Eventually, I worked my passage on a fridge ship, doing every menial job in existence, and arrived six weeks later.
Q5: Did you feel immediately it was Timothy Evans that murdered your sister, from the moment you found out or was it something that grew stronger as you grew older?
I have never had any doubt of Evans’ guilt. As time passed our many years of research have proved that, despite the bizarre prospect of two killers in the same house, their murdering techniques were different.
Q6: Evans initially confessed to murdering Beryl and then a few days later his daughter Geraldine, before he then changed his story and blamed the killings on John Christie. Considering his story had been very strange from the moment he walked into the police station, why do you think the police just didn’t believe his confessions?
Evans did confess to both murders. Over the course of time, he made five varying statements to the police which contained numerous fabrications and contradictions. But the truth was there. Only the killer himself could know the details about the murders; he shared this knowledge with the police.
Q7: How much do you remember of the house at 10 Rillington Place? The discovery of John Christie’s murderous acts there and where he had hidden bodies in the house and garden, that must be very difficult knowledge when you had spent time there as a child?
Peter: I remember every detail about the house, 10 Rillington Place. It is firmly ingrained in my memory. After Christie’s crimes came to light, I knew exactly where each body had been placed. Those memories will never go away.
Q8: It must be very hard to marry up in your mind the John Christie you knew, who you ate sticky buns with and seemed protective of your sister, to the man that was revealed in 1953 as a serial killer. His acts against his victims were quite brutal.
Peter: It was difficult to accept the crimes Christie had committed. To me, he never appeared aggressive in any way…quite the opposite. People find it hard to understand that, but they never knew him. After all, you can only judge by what you see and know. Clearly, there were two very different personalities in Christie: the side I saw as a kid, and the dark side that only he knew.
Q9: When John Christie was found and arrested he did claim he killed Beryl. He always denied killing baby Geraldine. Why do you think he made this confession if he wasn’t her killer? Was he trying to add to the number count to increase his status as a serial killer, or take credit in some macabre way knowing Timothy Evans couldn’t respond?
Peter: Yes, Christie did claim to have murdered Beryl. His belief was ‘the more the merrier’ on the grounds that he would put forward a plea of insanity. That way, he would escape the death penalty. Needless to say, that wasn’t accepted and he was regarded as fit to stand trial for the murder of Ethel, his wife. He was hanged for that crime.
It should be noted that Christie never admitted or confessed to the murder of baby Geraldine.
Q10: The story in the public realm is very clearly that Timothy Evans was innocent and suffered a terrible miscarriage of justice. You’ve had to watch and listen to this since the discovery of John Christie’s crimes in 1953. It must have been extremely difficult to watch knowing the truth from your own memories?
Peter: The trial of Evans lasted only three days. That would be ridiculous by the standards of today. There was so much to be criticised. For a start, the numerous people who knew Evans and his capabilities and threats towards Beryl. These included her brother Basil who did very little to support her. There were many others including her closest friend Joan Vincent who was so well aware of Beryl’s marital problems. Neighbours saw and heard the regular violent rows in the Evans household. Also, several workmen had been present at No.10 for nearly three weeks. Not one of these people was called to give evidence at his trial. Had they done so there would have been no question of his guilt. For me, this has been a lifetime of frustration and regret.
Q11: You have had a very positive response to your book and the extensive research you have carried out for the last 35 years into the murder of your sister and niece. What is the main message you wanted to get out to the world through your book? Do you feel satisfied now after all this time that you’ve been able to achieve that?
I am positive and satisfied that the right person, Tim Evans, was executed for the murder of baby Geraldine. Although he was charged with the murders of both Beryl and Geraldine, at that time cases were dealt with one at a time. Evans was pardoned, but his actual murder conviction was never lifted, and the charge relating to Beryl was allowed to stay on file.
Do I feel satisfied that I have achieved in proving what I set out to do? Not entirely. I am now eighty-seven years old. I have spent most of my life grieving. I have spent many, many years researching with my wife and producing never-before-seen information and supporting documentation. However, the publishers responsible for producing the book destroyed a perfect manuscript by editing out invaluable information. They altered the continuity and made so many basic errors; we tried to correct as many as we could. All right, it has been very well-reviewed, but you should see what was taken out. We provided lovely pictures of Beryl, for example, and they were left out! One of the key missing images was a stunning portrait. We insisted on a warning about a graphic image showing Beryl’s body; no warning was given. Enough said! I conclude with the fact that this was NOT THE BOOK WHICH WAS WRITTEN BY ME.
Thank you Peter for giving me your time and sharing your memories in such an amazing and insightful interview.