Timothy Evans (centre), being escorted by police from Paddington Station to Notting Hill Police Station, December 1949
|Born||Timothy John Evans
20 November 1924
Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, Wales
|Died||9 March 1950
HMP Pentonville, London, England
Cause of death
|Execution by hanging after a miscarriage of justice|
|Known for||Wrongful execution for murder of 13-month-old daughter, Geraldine Evans.|
Timothy John Evans (20 November 1924 – 9 March 1950) was a Welshman accused of murdering his wife and infant daughter at their residence at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill, London. In January 1950 Evans was tried and convicted of the murder of his daughter, and was sentenced to death by hanging. During his trial, Evans had accused his downstairs neighbour, John Christie, of committing the murders.
Three years after Evans's execution, Christie was found to be a serial killer who had murdered a number of other women in the same house, including his own wife. Before his own execution, Christie confessed to murdering Mrs Evans. An official inquiry concluded in 1966 that Christie had also murdered Evans's daughter, and Evans was granted a posthumous pardon.
The case generated much controversy and is acknowledged as a serious miscarriage of justice. Along with those of Derek Bentley and Ruth Ellis, it played a major part in the abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom in 1965.
Evans was a native of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. His father abandoned the family in 1924 shortly before Evans's birth. Evans had an older sister Eileen and a younger half-sister Maureen, born when Evans's mother re-married in 1929. As a child, Evans had difficulty learning to speak and struggled at school. Following an accident when he was eight, Evans developed a tubercular verruca on his right foot which never completely healed and which caused him to miss considerable amounts of time from school for treatments, further setting back his education. Consequently, he was unable to read or write anything beyond his name as an adult.
He was also prone to inventing stories about himself to boost his self-esteem, a trait which continued into adulthood and would later interfere with his efforts to establish his credibility when dealing with the police.
In 1935 his mother and her second husband moved to London and Evans worked as a painter and decorator while attending school. He returned to Merthyr Tydfil in 1937 and briefly worked in the coal mines but had to resign because of continuing problems with his foot. In 1939 he returned to London to live again with his mother and in 1946 they moved to St Mark's Road, Notting Hill. This was just over two minutes' walk from 10 Rillington Place, his future residence after he married.
On 20 September 1947, Evans married Beryl Susanna Thorley, whom he had met through a friend. They initially lived with Evans's family at St Mark's Road but in early 1948 Beryl discovered she was pregnant and they decided they would find their own place to live with their child. On Easter Monday 1948, the couple moved into the top-floor flat at 10 Rillington Place in the Ladbroke Grove area of Notting Hill. Their neighbours in the ground-floor flat were John Christie, a post office clerk and former Special Constable, and his wife, Ethel Christie. Unknown to Evans, Christie was also a serial killer who had already killed two women at the property prior to the Evanses' arrival; he would go on to murder at least another four women, including his wife, over the next five years. Timothy and Beryl's daughter Geraldine was born on 10 October 1948.
Their marriage was characterised by angry quarrels, exacerbated by Beryl's poor housekeeping and inability to manage the family's finances. However, Timothy also misspent his wages on alcohol and his heavy drinking at the time exacerbated his already short temper. The arguments between Timothy and Beryl were loud enough to be heard by the neighbours and physical violence between them was witnessed on several occasions. In late 1949, Beryl revealed to Timothy that she was pregnant with their second child. Since the family was already struggling financially, Beryl decided to have an abortion. After some reluctance, Evans agreed to this course of action.
Events leading to Evans' arrest
Several weeks later, on 30 November 1949, Evans informed police at Merthyr Tydfil that his wife had died in unusual circumstances. His first confession was that he had accidentally killed her by giving her something in a bottle that a man had given him to abort the foetus; he had then disposed of her body in a sewer drain outside 10 Rillington Place. He told the police that after arranging for Geraldine to be looked after, he had gone to Wales. When police examined the drain outside the front of the building, however, they found nothing and, furthermore, discovered that the manhole cover required the combined strength of all three officers to remove it.
When re-questioned, Evans changed his story and said that Christie had offered to perform an abortion on Beryl. After some deliberation between Evans and his wife, they had both agreed to take up Christie's offer. On 8 November, Evans had returned home from work to be informed by Christie that the abortion had not worked and that Beryl was dead. Christie had said that he would dispose of the body (abortion being illegal in the UK at the time) and would make arrangements for a couple from East Acton to look after Geraldine. He said that Evans should leave London for the meantime. On 14 November, Evans left for Wales to stay with relatives. Evans said he later returned to 10 Rillington Place to ask about Geraldine, but Christie had refused to let him see her.
In response to Evans' second statement, the police performed a preliminary search of 10 Rillington Place but did not uncover anything incriminating, despite the presence of a human thigh bone supporting a fence post in the tiny garden (about 16 long by 14 feet wide). On a more thorough search on 2 December, the police found the body of Beryl Evans, wrapped in a tablecloth in the wash-house in the back garden. Access to the locked wash-house was only possible by using a knife kept by Mrs Christie. Significantly, however, the body of Geraldine was also found, alongside Beryl's body—Evans had not mentioned he had killed his daughter in either of his statements. Beryl and Geraldine had both been strangled. But the police once again failed to discover earlier human remains left in the back garden, only a few feet away from the wash house.
Although they examined the garden, the police did not find traces of the skeletal remains of two prior victims of Christie, despite their shallow burial. Christie actually removed the skull of Miss Eady when his dog dug it up from the garden shortly after the police search, and he disposed of it in a bombed-out building nearby. This vital clue was ignored when the skull was then discovered by children playing in the ruins, and handed in to the police.
When Evans was shown the clothing taken from the bodies of his wife and child, he was also informed that both had been strangled. He was asked whether he was responsible for their deaths. This was, according to Evans's statement, the first occasion in which he was informed that his baby daughter had been killed. To this, Evans apparently responded, "yes, yes". He then apparently confessed to having strangled Beryl during an argument over debts and strangling Geraldine two days later, after which he left for Wales.
This confession, along with other contradictory statements Evans made during the police interrogation, was formally cited as proof of his guilt. Ludovic Kennedy, however, showed that the confessions were fabricated and dictated to Evans by the investigating officers, and that they interrogated the accused over the course of late evening and early morning hours to his physical and emotional detriment, a man already in a highly emotional state. Evans also stated in court that he was threatened with violence by the police, and it is likely that they coerced Evans to his false confession. The police investigation was marred by a lack of forensic expertise, with key evidence largely overlooked or ignored (e.g., the bones of Christie's previous victims in the back garden of 10 Rillington Place).
Trial and wrongful execution
Evans was put on trial for the murder of his daughter on 11 January 1950 (in accordance with legal practice at the time, the prosecution proceeded only with the charge of murdering Geraldine; Beryl's murder, with which Evans was still formally charged, was left on file, though evidence from this murder was allowed to be used to prove Evans's guilt in the murder of Geraldine). Evans was represented by Malcolm Morris. He recanted his confession during consultations with his solicitor and alleged that Christie had always been responsible for the murders. This was the basis of Evans's defence in his trial, which Evans maintained as the truth until his execution. Subsequent events were to confirm the veracity of Evans' beliefs.
Christie and his wife, Ethel, were key witnesses for the prosecution. Christie denied that he had offered to abort Beryl’s unborn child and gave detailed evidence about the quarrels between Evans and his wife. The defence sought to show how Christie was the murderer by highlighting his past criminal record. Christie had previous convictions for several thefts and malicious wounding. The latter case involved Christie striking a woman on the head with a cricket bat. But his apparent reformation, and his service with the police, impressed the jury. The defence also could not find a motive for why a supposedly respectable person like Christie would want to murder two people, whereas the prosecution could use the explanation in Evans' confessions as Evans' motive for wanting to kill the victims. Evans had no criminal record. Had the police conducted a thorough search of the garden and found the bones of two prior victims of Christie, the trial might not have occurred at all, and a serial killer prevented from murdering again. However, Evans's reputation for conflicting statements fatally undermined his credibility. That reputation was created by the police themselves in preparing several false confessions, forcing Evans to incriminate himself with threats of violence.
The case largely came down to Christie’s word against Evans' and the course of the trial rapidly turned against Evans. The trial itself lasted only three days and much key evidence was omitted, or never shown to the jury. The judge was prejudiced against Evans from the start, and his summing-up biased against the defendant. He was found guilty two days later — the jury taking just 40 minutes to come to its decision. After a failed appeal held before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard, Mr Justice Sellers and Mr Justice Humphreys on 20 February, Evans was hanged on 9 March 1950 by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Syd Dernley.
The safety of Evans' conviction was severely criticised when Christie's murders were discovered three years later. During interviews with police and psychiatrists prior to his execution, Christie admitted several times that he had been responsible for the murder of Beryl Evans. If these confessions were true, Evans's second statement detailing Christie's offer to abort Beryl's baby is the true version of events that took place at Rillington Place on 8 November 1949. Ludovic Kennedy provided one possible reconstruction of how the murder took place, where an unsuspecting Beryl lets Christie into her flat, expecting the abortion to be carried out, but is instead attacked and then strangled. Christie claimed to have possibly engaged in sexual intercourse with Beryl's body after her death (he could not remember the precise details) but her post-mortem had failed to uncover evidence of sexual intercourse. In his confessions to Beryl's death, Christie denied he had agreed to carry out an abortion on Beryl. He instead claimed to have strangled her while being intimate with her, or that she had wanted to commit suicide and he helped her do so.
One important fact was not brought up in Evans' trial: several workmen were willing to testify that there were no bodies in the wash-house when they worked there several days after Evans supposedly hid them. They stored their tools in the wash-room, and mended the roof during this period. Their evidence in itself would have raised doubts about the veracity of Evans' alleged confessions, but the workmen were not called to give evidence. Indeed, the police reinterviewed the workmen and forced them to change their evidence to fit the preconceived idea that Evans was the sole murderer. The murderer, Christie, would have hidden the bodies of Beryl and Geraldine in the temporarily vacant first-floor flat, and then moved them to the wash-house four days later when the workmen had finished. Christie had used a similar procedure in both his previous murders of Fuerst and Eady according to his confession in 1953.
Three years later, the landlord allowed the new upstairs tenant, Beresford Brown, to use Christie's vacated kitchen. Brown found the bodies of three women (Kathleen Maloney, Rita Nelson and Hectorina Maclennan) hidden in the papered-over kitchen pantry, a recess immediately next to the wash house where Beryl and Geraldine Evans had been found. A further search of the building and grounds turned up three more bodies: Christie’s wife, Ethel, under the floorboards of the front room; Ruth Fuerst, an Austrian nurse and munitions worker; and Muriel Eady, a former co-worker of Christie, who were both buried in the right-hand side of the small back garden of the building. Indeed, Christie had used one of their thigh bones to prop up a trellis in the garden, which the police had missed in their earlier searches of the property.
Christie was arrested on 31 March 1953, on the Embankment near Putney Bridge and during the course of interrogation confessed four separate times to killing Beryl Evans. He never admitted to killing Geraldine Evans, however. He confessed to murdering Fuerst and Eady, saying he had stored their bodies in the wash-room before burying them in shallow graves in the garden. It was in the same wash-room that the bodies of Beryl and Geraldine Evans were found earlier during the investigation into their murders. Christie was found guilty of murdering his wife and was hanged on 15 July 1953 by Albert Pierrepoint, the same hangman who had executed Evans three years prior.
Because Christie's crimes raised doubts about Evans' guilt in the murders of his wife and daughter, the serving Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe, commissioned an inquiry to investigate the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. It was chaired by the Recorder of Portsmouth, John Scott Henderson, QC. The inquiry ran for one week and its findings upheld Evans' guilt in both murders with the explanation that Christie's confessions of murdering Beryl Evans were unreliable because they were made in the context of furthering his own defence that he was insane. The conclusion was met with scepticism by the press and the public alike: if Christie's confessions were unreliable, why should those of Evans be acceptable? The enquiry ignored vital evidence, and was biased to the prosecution case. It led to more questions in Parliament, especially from Geoffrey Bing, Reginald Paget, Sydney Silverman, Michael Foot and many other MPs. The controversy was to continue until it led eventually to the exculpation of Evans and a declaration of his innocence of the murder of both his wife and his daughter.
The murder of Beryl Evans was never a primary charge in either of the trials of Evans or Christie. The former had been charged with the murder of his daughter and the latter with the murder of Mrs Christie. Hence questions that went to the murder of Mrs Evans were not those with which the trials were especially concerned. When Christie was later the subject of the Scott Henderson Inquiry, questions drafted by a solicitor representing Evans' mother were deemed not relevant and Scott Henderson retained the right of deciding if they could be asked.
Campaign to overturn Evans' conviction
In 1955, David Astor, editor of The Observer, Ian Gilmour, editor of The Spectator, John Grigg, editor of The National and English Review and Sir Lynton Andrews, editor of The Yorkshire Post, formed a delegation to petition the Home Secretary for a new inquiry because of their dissatisfaction with the conclusions of the Scott Henderson Inquiry. In the same year, attorney Michael Eddowes examined the case and wrote the book The Man on Your Conscience, which argued that Evans could not have been the killer.
The television journalist Ludovic Kennedy's book Ten Rillington Place went on to criticise the police investigation and evidence submitted at the 1950 trial in which Evans was found guilty. This produced another Parliamentary debate in 1961 but still no second inquiry.
In 1965, Liberal Party politician Herbert Wolfe of Darlington, County Durham contacted Harold Evans (no relation), the editor of The Northern Echo. He and Kennedy formed the Timothy Evans Committee. The result of a prolonged campaign was that the Home Secretary, Sir Frank Soskice, ordered a new inquiry chaired by High Court judge Sir Daniel Brabin in 1965–66. Brabin found it was "more probable than not" that Evans murdered his wife and that he did not murder his daughter. This was contrary to the prosecution case in Evans' trial, which held that both murders had been committed by the same person as a single act. The victims' bodies had been found together in the same location and had been murdered in the same way by strangulation.
Despite this conclusion, the Brabin enquiry exposed police malpractice during the Evans case, such as destruction of evidence. The neck tie which had been used to strangle Geraldine, for example, was destroyed by the police prior to the discovery of Christie's crimes in 1953. Even the record book in which the destruction had to be noted was itself destroyed by the police. In most serious cases, police are required to preserve all material and documentary evidence, so the removal of evidence in this case is suspicious. Many police statements were contradictory and confused as to dates and times of interviews with key witnesses, especially of the Christies during the first murder case.
Brabin went to great lengths to prefer police evidence wherever possible, and exonerate them of any police misconduct (such as threats of violence against Evans during his interrogation), and he didn't address the allegations made by Kennedy about the validity of several of the confessions allegedly made by Evans. He never considered the incompetence of the police in their searches of the garden at Rillington Place, and had a poor understanding of the importance of forensic evidence. The enquiry did little to settle the many issues which arose from the case, but, by exonerating Evans of killing his child, was crucial in subsequent events.
Since Evans had only been convicted of the murder of his daughter, Roy Jenkins, Soskice's successor as Home Secretary, recommended a royal pardon for Evans, which was granted in October 1966. In 1965 Evans' remains were exhumed from Pentonville Prison and reburied in St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone, Greater London. The outcry over the Evans case contributed to the suspension and then abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom.
Innocence of Evans
In January 2003, the Home Office awarded Timothy Evans's half-sister, Mary Westlake, and his sister, Eileen Ashby, ex-gratia payments as compensation for the miscarriage of justice in Evans's trial. The independent assessor for the Home Office, Lord Brennan QC, accepted that "the conviction and execution of Timothy Evans for the murder of his child was wrongful and a miscarriage of justice" and that "there is no evidence to implicate Timothy Evans in the murder of his wife. She was most probably murdered by Christie." Lord Brennan believed that the Brabin Report's conclusion that Evans probably murdered his wife should be rejected given Christie's confessions and conviction.
On 16 November 2004, Westlake began an appeal in the High Court to overturn a decision by the Criminal Cases Review Commission not to refer Evans's case to the Court of Appeal to have his conviction formally quashed. She argued that Evans's pardon had not formally expunged his conviction of murdering his daughter, and although the Brabin report had concluded that Evans probably did not kill his daughter, it had not declared him innocent. The report also contained the "devastating" conclusion that Evans had probably killed his wife. The request to refer the case was dismissed on 19 November 2004, with the judges saying that the cost and resources of quashing the conviction could not be justified, although they did accept that Evans did not murder either his wife or his child.
- Ewan MacColl wrote the song "The Ballad of Tim Evans" (also known as "Go Down You Murderer") about the case.
- The film 10 Rillington Place was released in the UK on 10 February 1971. It was directed by Richard Fleischer and starred Richard Attenborough as Christie, Judy Geeson as Beryl Evans and John Hurt as Timothy Evans.
- Kennedy, Ludovic (1961). Ten Rillington Place. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd. p. 51.
- Kennedy, Ten Rillington Place, p. 53
- Kennedy, Ten Rillington Place, pp. 53-54
- Kennedy, Ten Rillington Place, pp. 57-58
- Eddowes, John (1995). The Two Killers of Rillington Place. London: Warner Books. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-7515-1285-4.
- Kennedy, Ten Rillington Place, p. 103
- Fielding, Steve (2008). Pierrepoint: A Family of Executioners. John Blake Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781844546114.
- Kennedy, Ten Rillington Place, p. 65
- Brabin, Rillington Place, pp. 62-63. Kennedy (p. 137) argued that there was evidence that sexual intercourse had been performed on Beryl Evans after death, pointing to a brief from Evans' legal team saying so. As Eddowes, J. (pp. 117-124) highlights, the pathologist, Dr Teare, on whose work the brief was based, denied this is what he meant and that the evidence referred to pointed rather to a self-inflicted injury carried out by Beryl to abort herself.
- Marston, John Christie, pp. 85-86
- Eddowes, John (1995). The Two Killers of Rillington Place. London: Warner Books. pp. xvi–xv. ISBN 978-0-7515-1285-4.
- Eddowes, J., The Two Killers of Rillington Place, p. xvi
- Mary Westlake v Criminal Cases Review Commission  EWHC 2779 (Admin) (17 November 2004), High Court (England and Wales). It includes a segment from the Hansard transcript of Jenkins's decision to recommend a pardon in the House of Commons.
- "Hanged man's pardon 'inadequate'". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 16 November 2004. Retrieved 6 September 2010.
- Francis Camps
- List of miscarriage of justice cases
- Mahmood Hussein Mattan
- Philip Allen, Baron Allen of Abbeydale
- Report of an inquiry into certain matters arising out of the deaths of Mrs. Beryl Evans and of Geraldine Evans and out of the conviction of Timothy John Evans of the murder of Geraldine Evans. Report by Mr. J. Scott Henderson, Q.C. Cmd. 8896. HMSO, July 1953.
- The case of Timothy John Evans. Supplementary Report by Mr. J. Scott Henderson, Q.C. Cmd. 8946. HMSO, September 1953.
- Michael Eddowes, The Man On Your Conscience: An Investigation of the Evans Murder Trial, Cassell and Co (1955).
- Jesse, F. Tennyson (1957). The Trials of Timothy John Evans and John Reginald Halliday Christie. Notable Trials series, William Hodge.
- Ludovic Kennedy (1961). Ten Rillington Place. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd.
- The case of Timothy John Evans. Report of an Inquiry by The Hon. Mr. Justice Brabin. Cmnd. 3101. HMSO, October 1966.
- Daniel Brabin (1999). Rillington Place. London: The Stationery Office. ISBN 978-0-11-702417-5.
- John Eddowes (1995). The Two Killers of Rillington Place. London: Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-7515-1285-4.
- Edward Marston (2007). John Christie. Surrey: The National Archives. ISBN 978-1-905615-16-2.
- Discussion of the case
- Archive of Documents
- Discussion of the murders
- Parliamentary discussion of events surrounding the re-interment of Evans' remains in 1965
- Go Down Ye Murderers (The Ballad of Tim Evans) sung by Christy Moore on YouTube
- Go Down Ye Murderers (The Ballad of Tim Evans) sung by Paddy Reilly on YouTube
- Location and Mythology
- The long wait for justice