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Hectorina Mackay Maclennan
With March this year, 2023, came the seventieth anniversary of the death of Hectorina Mackay Maclennan, who occupies the only marked grave in existence for any of Christie’s six victims.
Relentlessly disparaged and misrepresented as having been a prostitute – she was not – by those to whom truth is evidently either inconvenient or simply unimportant.
She occupies the modest plot, with two other contemporary burials, at HD298 in Gunnersbury Cemetery, West London. Noted only as ‘aged 27 years’ as the precise date of death was unknown.
Nearby, but in unmarked graves, lie the remains of Rita Nelson and Kathleen Maloney who were Christie’s previous two victims earlier in 1953.
May they, and all the other casualties in this dark story, rest in eternal peace.
Everyone who wants to know the truth already does. Those who still believe the “official” story don’t want to know the truth. [Once said of the events of 9/11 in New York].
August 2020 brought with it the publication of a new book entitled Inside 10 Rillington Place. Far from being ‘just another’ book to add to the many already written upon the whole subject, this constituted a historical watershed in that the writer was none other than Beryl Evans’s youngest brother Peter Thorley.
Aged 85 years at the time of publication, it follows that Thorley was but fourteen in 1949 when the fateful events occurred that deprived him of his sister and niece, and the book provides a most credible, moving and compelling account of what really went on at that house, recounted in a way, and in such detail, that only someone who was actually present and deeply involved could ever have brought forth.
The book should be read by any and all who have an interest in the subject and by the legions of readers, and viewers, whose perceived knowledge and understanding derive from the mass of previous works, that of Ludovic Kennedy in 1961 chief among them.
Many who had delved further into the research for themselves already harboured grave misgivings about the so-called Standard Version of events – that which had Christie as the sole guilty man and Evans the hapless innocent victim, framed by a wily older man and condemned under a corrupt, incompetent and vengeful judicial system.
The advent of this book must surely now remove all reasonable doubt – it exposes Timothy John Evans as a devious, foul-tempered drunkard who boozed and gambled away the family’s meagre means of support and left his young pregnant wife frightened, lonely and in complete despair for their future and that of their infant daughter and unborn son. Beryl’s increasingly frail body already bore the marks of the physical assaults upon her and she seemed to have come to the realisation that her husband’s threats to do her extreme harm were by no means idle.
And so, just as his detailed confession made apparent, it really does seem that Evans indeed did strangle to death his young pregnant wife and his infant daughter – the latter crime for which he was tried and convicted – and for which he suffered the only penalty available under the law of the day. Painfully for her youngest brother, no conviction in respect of Beryl’s murder was ever obtained.
It is, of course, an established fact that Christie was a serial killer and this new account reinforces the belief that he was, far from being ignorant of it all, a party to dealing with the aftermath of Evans’s deeds which would have left him open to charges as an accessory under the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861, still fully in force at that time. Penalties for such offences could be as severe as those imposed upon the principal offender. However, this is of course merely academic given Christie’s subsequent fate for his own crimes little more than three years later.
The book is not without its errors, mainly as to matters of more minor detail, but a little disappointing nonetheless; it is understood that this was at least contributed to by an inordinate degree of intervention by copy editors for the publisher leading up to the final text which resulted in mistakes being introduced or indeed reintroduced despite correction in earlier drafts.
Above all, this book is a moving personal story of the enduring love a boy had, and still has, for his beloved big sister and tiny niece, both of whom he still misses and mourns to this day. As though such pain were not enough to have borne, he and his family have had also to live with the sensationalised, endlessly trawled over and almost always erroneously depicted events which are so very far from the truth as he alone knew it to be – alone, that is, until now, thanks to this belated but heartfelt and crucially valuable contribution.
No doubt there will continue to be controversy and disagreement, sometimes bitter, amongst those who understandably prefer the sanctuary of the long-held version of a story and who suspect or perceive bad faith in those who come to unsettle it even though their only real motive is to dispel falsehood with truth. Ultimately, it is for each to reconcile for themselves.
On or about this day in 1943, Ruth Fuerst, Christie’s first known victim was murdered at 10 Rillington Place. Born on 2 August 1922 in Bad Vöslau in Lower Austria, she was half-Jewish and, having moved to Vienna in October 1938 following the German annexation of Austria in March, Ruth lost contact with her parents for a time and arrived as a refugee in Britain in June 1939.
Initially, she worked in various casual employments but was later interned as an alien on the Isle of Wight until December 1940. Once released, she moved towards London and found work as a waitress in the Mayfair Hotel; she met a Cypriot man by whom she had a daughter, born in October 1942, who was later given up for adoption.
By 1943, Ruth was in London and again working as a waitress. Previously at an address in Elgin Crescent, she moved to 41 Oxford Gardens in Notting Hill which was close by to Rillington Place and, thus, within Christie’s sphere of activity, both as a local resident himself and as a War Reserve Constable. By this time she was working in a munitions factory at the Grosvenor Works of John Bolding and Sons in Davies Street WC1. Having left that job, Ruth may have resorted to casual prostitution to provide income although this is not known for certain. In any event, she had by now become acquainted with Christie and had, according to him, already visited the house at No. 10 twice; on this occasion, Christie’s wife Ethel was away in Sheffield visiting her family and Christie later recounted how, during intercourse with Ruth, he had strangled her with a rope. With his wife’s return home imminent, Christie described how he had bundled up Ruth’s body and moved it temporarily to beneath the front room floorboards before subsequently moving her to the outside wash house and finally burying her in a shallow grave in the back garden – where she was to remain until discovered by police ten years later in 1953.
Today brings the sad news that actor John Hurt has died at the age of 77. First seen by a wide audience in Robert Bolt’s classic 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, starring the great Paul Scofield as Thomas More, Hurt played the villainous and ruthlessly ambitious Richard Rich who betrays More for the reward of being appointed Attorney General for Wales. In real life, Rich later became Lord Chancellor of England and, history tells us, the – by then Baron – Rich, died peacefully in his bed aged 70. But many will regard Hurt’s BAFTA-nominated portrayal of Timothy Evans, in the 1970 film 10 Rillington Place, as his finest hour and, alongside Richard Attenborough as John Christie, it is certainly a compelling performance and one of the most impressive aspects of that film, for all its factual failings.
The third and final episode opens with a brief recap on last week’s death of Beryl Evans and a short sequence in which the Notting Hill police are pressing Timothy Evans to confess (although the official records, still in existence and held at The National Archives, reveal that the confessions were volunteered and received in an atmosphere of calm and restraint. Evans himself made no allegations against the police of any duress, undue influence or aggression).
We then start to hear the rather incongruous-seeming strains of Whispering Grass (Don’t Tell The Trees) – a popular song first heard on the radio in 1940.
There are some interesting pieces currently in the press regarding the story of how one of Beryl Evans’s siblings, Mr Peter Mylton-Thorley, now aged 82, has expressed the wish to have the mortal remains of his sister, Beryl (née Thorley), and her daughter Geraldine, disinterred from their current whereabouts in Gunnersbury Cemetery and reinterred with him in a Jewish cemetery as an act of reunion, once the time comes.
Now that the second of the three episodes of the BBC’s 2016 drama series Rillington Place has aired, it becomes clearer that the so-called ‘Standard Version’ of events – that is, the account embodied in Ludovic Kennedy’s 1961 book Ten Rillington Place – has, as expected, been used as the basis. As before, the atmospherics and portrayals are exceedingly good and make for chilling and impressive viewing – even the apparent discrepancies about Timothy Evans’s seemingly variable accent has been explained as symptomatic of his ‘chameleon’ persona and desire for acceptance, which sounds plausible although observations have been made, by those in a position to have knowledge, that his accent was indeed Welsh and, thus, this portrayal is actually erroneous.
Well, the long wait for Rillington Place is over and we can, at last, see the some of the fruits of the BBC’s labours in bringing this compelling story to a whole new audience. Tonight’s episode, the first of three in the series, centres on Ethel Christie and starts from the time of her reconciliation with husband John Reginald ‘Reg’ Halliday Christie after an eleven-year separation. Tim Roth presents a chillingly convincing depiction of the main character whilst the external scenery shots, particularly of the street itself, are also impressively authentic-seeming. The pace is slow – perhaps too slow for some – but understated in an effective way but the quietly delivered dialogue is a little difficult to follow in places.