If, like us, you cowered behind the sofa watching Tim Roth and Samantha Morton in the BBC's new serial killer series ‘Rillington Place’ last night, prepare for the full, shocking story behind the drama. Warning - potential spoilers abound.
If you mention the name ‘John Christie’ to an older generation of Londoners, they’ll know exactly who you’re talking about. Christie was a serial killer hanged for his crimes in 1953. He’s now being played by Tim Roth in the new three-part drama series ‘Rillington Place’, with Samantha Morton playing his wife, Ethel. But what is the real story behind John Christie’s murders? Who was he? Why did he become notorious? And what happened to the real Rillington Place in west London?
What did John Christie do?
John Christie killed at least eight women between 1943 and 1953 in his flat at 10 Rillington Place in Ladbroke Grove, west London.
Where is the real Rillington Place?
This Ladbroke Grove street was demolished in the late 1970s – after having been renamed Ruston Close in 1954 shortly after the murders were uncovered (at the request of residents). The site of 10 Rillington Place now sits roughly in the area of St Andrew’s Square, which is off Bartle Road.
Who was Christie?
Originally from a large family in Yorkshire, Christie served in World War One as an infantryman and was gassed – reportedly causing him to speak in a whisper for the rest of his life. He married Ethel in 1920 in Sheffield but they were separated between 1924 and 1934 before getting back together. In 1924, Christie moved to London and he committed a lot of petty crimes in these years, served several short prison sentences and frequently used prostitutes. He and Ethel moved into 10 Rillington Place in 1937 and Christie served in the War Reserve Police during the Second World War – the police having failed to check his criminal record.
Who were Christie’s victims?
Five of the known victims were strangers. Christie’s first two victims in 1942 and 1943 were an Austrian prostitute, Ruth Fuerst, and a colleague at a local munitions factory, Muriel Eady. He strangled both in his flat. He gassed Eady first, rendering her unconscious – it was a method he would later use on his last three victims in the early months of 1953, all of them local women he lured back to his flat and whose bodies he then hid behind the wall of his kitchen.
And what about the three murders of people known to him already? Who were they?
In between the murders in 1942-1943 and those in 1953, in 1949 he also killed his neighbour, Beryl Evans and her 13-month daughter, Geraldine – hiding their bodies in the garden shed. Beryl’s husband, Timothy, was wrongly hanged for killing his wife and daughter in 1950. Christie also killed his own wife, Ethel, in December 1952, strangling her in bed and hiding her body under the floorboards.
How was Christie caught?
Christie hid the bodies of his last three victims behind an alcove in his kitchen between January and March 1953. Christie moved out of the Rillington Place flat on March 20 1953 and the landlord allowed the upstairs tenant to use Christie’s old kitchen in the ground-floor flat. The tenant found the hidden bodies when trying to fit a bracket for a radio, and a citywide search for Christie was launched. He was identified and arrested on March 31 near Putney Bridge. He was only tried for his wife's murder. He was found guilty and he was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint on July 15 1953.
Wasn’t there an earlier film about the case?
Yes, Richard Attenborough starred as Christie in the 1971 film ‘10 Rillington Place’, directed by Richard Fleischer. The filmmakers shot the film on the actual street – but they only filmed the exteriors of number ten; the interiors were shot in number eight.