Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Christie

The Trial of Timothy Evans

On January 11, 1950, Evans was tried at the Old Bailey for the murder of his baby, but his wife's murder was also included in the testimony. Mr. Justice Lewis, whose health was quickly deteriorating, presided. Christmas Humphreys was the prosecutor and he relied on Christie as his chief witness. He wanted to avoid the kind of motive that the defense could put forth in the case of Beryl — provocation — because that could introduce a charge of manslaughter, with a lesser sentence. In cases where two murders occur that can be linked as part of one transaction, evidence about both can be included. The baby's murder was clearly cold-blooded and without motive, so that was the best one on which to proceed.

The firm of Freeborough, Slack, and Company took up Evans' case, but failed to follow through on any investigation. It was as if they thought him obviously guilty and had no reason to expend any effort. They failed to question Joan Vincent and the carpenters, and never looked into Christie's criminal record. All of these things would have gone toward reasonable doubt.

What the prosecution had, however, was not one but four separate confessions by Tim Evans, along with evidence that matched what he said.

One of the odd statements taken by police was from Mrs. Christie, who claimed that they used the washhouse to get water each day, but she had never noticed anything unusual. That would mean that she had entered on two dozen occasions while the bodies were there and had not smelled anything. She had a dog that also had detected nothing. The room only measured four by five feet. Her statement seems unlikely. (In court, she claimed they never used the washhouse, but no one noticed the discrepancy.)

Christie claims that he had noticed the wood in front of the sink on November 14th at 7:30 a.m., but had not put it there. However, it was the wood given to him by the carpenter who pulled up the flooring, and that was done on November 14th, at 10 a.m. Again, no one spotted this problem.

In fact, no one's statement supported what Evans had said, including those of the workmen who had been on the premises. They had kept their tools in the washhouse and had cleared the place out on the 11th. Had there been two bodies, someone would have noticed. However, no written statement was taken from the carpenter who had given the wood to Christie.

Apparently the police were aware of this problem. Subsequent to another police interrogation, Kennedy claims, the carpenters changed some of their statements. One was even shown a photo of a dead baby, unrelated to this crime, as an attempted emotional manipulation. The carpenter, Anderson, was shown a photo of the wood that Evans had said he'd used to hide his wife. He recognized it as the flooring pulled up on the 11th, but he reworded his statement to pulling it up a few days earlier to accommodate police. Yet he got it wrong, because he did not give Christie the wood until three days after he had pulled it up, so it still could not have been used by Evans to hide his wife and daughter on the 8th and 10th. In addition, one time sheet that proved that the original statements by the carpenters were true appears to have been confiscated by police and never returned. It is the only one missing from that company's files.

Malcolm Morris, the barrister who defended Christie, received a brief from Freeborough that suggested an insanity defense or an alternative charge of manslaughter. It could be, they said, that he had killed his child as the result of an insane impulse to avoid the discovery of the murder of his wife. The autopsy evidence from Dr. Teare that there may have been a post-mortem attempt at sexual penetration on Beryl suggests a "sadistic mania." Freeborough believed they should keep a lid on this information. Morris viewed it as a piece of information that would make his work harder, so he ignored it. No one knew at the time that Christie was capable of such a thing.

Morris visited Evans several times, whereupon Evans told him that he had believed that the police would beat him up if he did not confess. That was important information for a false confession defense. In addition, there was no evidence that Evans was insane, making such a defense hard to prove. Evans kept insisting it was Christie who did it, but Morris thought it unlikely that they would succeed in pinning it on the neighbor. Nevertheless, Evans stuck to his story that this is what had happened, so Morris agreed to prepare it.

His first move was to try to bar any testimony about Beryl Evans' murder, but the judge allowed it. That meant Morris had to work hard.

The prosecution presented the following case: Evans and his wife had difficulty and when he lost his job, he became depressed. He then killed his wife and child, telling lies to everyone he knew about their whereabouts. His various stages of confession ended with a full telling of how he had killed both. The fourth confession was accepted as the true story.

They called Dr. Teare and Reginald Christie, but did not call the carpenters, and since the defense knew nothing about them, these men never testified.

Christie's demeanor on the stand impressed people. His pleasant, thoughtful testimony, sprinkled with references to himself as both a hero and victim, was in sharp contrast to Evans' apparent dazed and guilt-ridden presentation. Christie made sure the jury knew of his war service and the physical ailments he currently suffered. His voice was quiet and often difficult to hear. He considered each of his answers and tried to be as detailed and specific as possible. It seemed clear that this virtuous man was doing his best to be helpful.

Morris attempted to show another side. At the last minute, he had learned of Christie's criminal past and he tried to bring that out, but the fact that Christie had been on the straight-and-narrow for the past 17 years further impressed the court: A man who could have gone bad had turned around.

Oddly, Morris raised the issue of the builders, but did not himself check into the facts. Christie told several lies to make it look as if the wood had been available to Evans earlier than it had, but that meant that Evans had dragged Beryl over a floor that had been torn up. Was that true? Christie could not make a definitive point, but he took the opportunity to play up his ailments, for which there was no medical proof. He played to the sympathies of the jury to deflect them away from Morris's line of thought.

For some unexplained reason, no one thought to call the furniture dealer, whom Evans said Christie had recommended, to determine if the man knew Christie and had spoken to him before buying Evans' furniture. That would have been a telling point and a clear indication that Christie was lying.

Evans claimed to be innocent, but it was popularly believed that he was trying to save himself by throwing the blame on Christie. Since Evans was already a known liar, and since he conducted himself poorly in the witness box, he proved to be less than convincing. He claimed that he had not known of his daughter's death until he was shown her clothing in the Notting Hill Police Station. Her demise stripped him of all hope, so he had capitulated into a false confession. He was also afraid that the police would beat him up to get him to confess, so he had spared himself the physical abuse. The last thing he noted was that he felt he should protect Christie, but he failed to adequately explain why. He also could not say why Christie had killed his wife and daughter, other than to say, "Well, he was home all day."

Kennedy claims that Evans, being unable to read, had mixed up the exhibits and made statements about his demeanor during certain confessions that were inaccurate. That confusion further turned the jury against him. His reasons for confessing appeared to be absurd.

How had he managed to describe the murders in such accurate detail? He said that the police had given him enough information to do so. He had also seen what Beryl had been wrapped in. The police officers involved denied this.

The prosecution's closing speech lasted less than ten minutes. Christie had been too ill at the time to have done what Evans claimed he had done and also had no motive. Evan's guilt is obvious.

Morris was unprepared for such a short speech. He had expected to have overnight to get his notes together, but he had to go ahead. He locked onto the idea that at no time until he was directly told did Evans mention that his daughter was dead. He only confessed it after being shown the evidence, whereas he had talked freely of disposing of his wife's body. In fact, it was odd that he would come back to a murder scene if he in fact knew that both his wife and daughter were dead. Rather, he would have stayed away. Yet he did visit Christie on the 23rd, even making the statement that no one had seen him. That indicated that he believed little Geraldine was still alive and that Christie must know something. At the police station, Evans even asked that his mother go find out the address of the couple that Christie told him had taken her. Morris emphasized Evans' second confession in which Christie was implicated. Much of the information in that statement, he pointed out, could not have been made up by an uneducated man. In fact, the very idea that he would know of a medical book that Christie had when he himself did not read was incongruous. He also had included circumstantial details that indicated something he had heard rather than something he had fabricated. He reminded the jury that they did not have to say that Christie did it in order to say there was some doubt that Evans did it. The case did not have to be resolved.

The next morning the judge then gave his charge to the jury that the case was about the child's death only. He ignored Morris' point about the medical text and Evans' inability to read. He also gave the jury only two options: either Dr. Teare was lying about his autopsy results or Evans was lying. He never even mentioned Christie's dishonesty as a possibility. In fact, he went so far as to remind jurors of Christie's shining record since his early transgressions, and of Evans' record as a liar. He also used sarcasm when summing up Evans' reason for killing his child. Altogether, it was prejudiced against Evans and toward Christie. There seemed no doubt to some who listened that the jury knew what the judge wanted them to do.

It took them only 40 minutes to reach a verdict: Guilty. Evans was swiftly condemned to die. Christie, in the courtroom, burst into tears. Outside, Mrs. Probert shouted at Christie, "Murderer, murderer!" Mrs. Christie defended him as a good man.

Although he stuck to his story and tried one attempt at an appeal, Evans went quietly to the gallows on March 9th that same year.