Sixty years ago today, Timothy Evans was hanged at Pentonville Prison still protesting his innocence of murdering his wife and daughter — three years before a neighboring tenant was revealed to be a serial killer.
A drunkard with a tempestuous marriage, Timothy Evans didn’t look like a compelling innocence case when he walked into a police station and confessed to killing his wife while attempting to administer an abortifacient.
Evans’s confession didn’t add up, and he kept changing it — to indicate the involvement of neighbor John Christie. The “botched abortion” angle got complicated when the Evans’s older, un-aborted daughter also turned up dead: like her mom, she’d been strangled.
“I didn’t do it, Mam,” he told his mother. “Christie done it.”
But the dim suspect’s iterative interpretations of how his family wound up throttled had left his credibility in tatters by the time he came to trial insisting that the confession was wrong. And you’d have to admit that the looming shadow of Executioner Pierrepoint presented a compelling reason to disbelieve his latest revisions.
The jurors disbelieved.
Three years later, that very Christie who had so smoothly inculpated Timothy Evans, was arrested for a killing spree that turned out to have lodged at least six corpses hidden on the same premises at 10 Rillington Place.
And why not?
Here was a man desperately and (to the public) implausibly implicated by a convicted murderer recently hanged: that this man subsequently turned out to be a prolific serial killer did a job to undermine public confidence in the death penalty.
Christie himself hanged for his own crime spree in 1953. He admitted to murdering Beryl Evans, Timothy’s wife, though never to killing daughter Geraldine.
Little more than a decade after that, England’s gallows fell into disuse.