Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Christie

Discovery at Rollington Place

The landlord now had an empty flat, so he allowed the upstairs tenant, Beresford Brown, to use the kitchen. Brown noticed a bad smell, so he began to clean things up. It then occurred to him that he might install a new shelf on the wall for his wireless radio. He began to knock on the walls to find the proper place and discovered one that sounded hollow. He assumed there was a cupboard behind it.

Brown pulled away some of the wallpaper. He was pleased to see that there was a door, but it was closed fast. He shone a light through the crack and then stepped back, uncertain that he had seen what he thought he'd seen. It looked to him as if a naked woman were inside that wall. He had seen her back.

The first body found (POLICE)
The first body found (POLICE)

He contacted the police. Chief Superintendent Peter Beveridge attended to the matter. Several officers arrived at Rillington Place, along with the coroner. Chief Inspector Percy Law of Scotland Yard was also among them, as was a pathologist. When the door was opened they all saw the corpse of a woman sitting amid some rubble. She was leaning forward, her back to them.

Behind her was something equally large, wrapped in a blanket. The blanket was knotted to the victim's bra, which was pulled up high toward her neck. Otherwise, she wore only a garter belt and stockings. Her black sweater and white jacket were pulled up high around her neck.

She was removed and taken to the front room for a photograph and examination. It was soon clear that she had been strangled with a ligature. Her wrists were tied in front of her with a handkerchief that had been wrapped into a special knot, known as a reef knot. The body was fairly well preserved.

The three bodies as they were discovered (POLICE)
The three bodies as they were
discovered (POLICE)

Next, the police focused on the other object in the cupboard. As they photographed it, they noticed another tall, wrapped object just beyond it. They pulled out the first one and soon discovered that it was another body. It had been stood on its head in the cupboard and propped like that against the wall. The blanket had been fastened with a sock into a reef knot around the ankles, and the head was wrapped in a pillowcase, also tied into a reef knot with a stocking.

The third object was yet another corpse. This one was also upside down, with her head beneath the second body. Her ankles were tied with an electrical cord, using a reef knot. A cloth covered the head and was similarly knotted.

Nothing else was produced from that cupboard, and the bodies were shipped to the mortuary. The police prepared to do a more thorough search, not fully aware as yet of what the Reillys had slept with on their one and only night in the flat.

The wrapped body of Mrs. Christie (POLICE)
The wrapped body of Mrs. Christie

The investigators noticed some floorboards loose in the parlor, so they pulled these up and found more loose rubble. They started to dig and quickly found yet another female corpse. They left it with a police guard for the night and determined to return the next day to go through the entire place.

At the mortuary, four autopsies were performed. The results were as follows:

  1. Brunette, age around 20 (later determined to be 26); she had been dead around four weeks. She had died from strangulation and carbon monoxide poisoning. It was surmised that she had been under the effects of the poisoning when she was strangled with a smooth-surface type of cord. She had been sexually assaulted at the time of death, or shortly after. Scratch marks on her back indicated that she had been dragged across the floor after she died.
  2. Around 25 years old with light brown hair, poorly manicured hands and feet, healthy. She was pinkish in color — a sign of gas poisoning — and had been asphyxiated by strangulation. She also had had sexual intercourse near the time of death, and had been drinking heavily that day. She wore a cotton cardigan and vest, and another white vest had been placed between her legs in a diaper-like fashion. She had died eight to 12 weeks earlier.
  3. Blond, around 25 years old, poorly manicured. She wore a dress, petticoat, bra, cardigan, two vests, with a piece of material placed between her legs. She was pinkish in color, and had been gassed and asphyxiated. She had been drinking shortly before death, which had taken place eight to 12 weeks earlier. She was also six months pregnant.
  4. The fourth body, brought to the mortuary the next day, was of a much older woman, in her 50s, plump, and with several teeth missing. She had been rolled up in a flannel blanket, her head covered with a pillowcase. A silk nightgown and a flowered dress were wrapped around her, under the blanket. She wore stockings, pulled up. She had been dead 12 to 15 weeks. Unlike the others, there were no signs of coal gas poisoning or sexual intercourse. She had been strangled, probably by ligature.

It was now time to find out who they were. It was not hard to discover that the older woman under the floorboards was Ethel Christie. The others were all prostitutes whom Christie had brought home to his near-empty flat: Hectorina McLennan, 26; Kathleen Maloney, 26; and Rita Nelson, 25.

Police went through the entire flat, aware that a double murder had been committed there in an upstairs flat. They found a man's suit under the floor of the common hall area, which had been open during the time of the Evans' murders. In the kitchen cupboard was a man's tie, fashioned into a reef knot. They also found potassium cyanide in another area of the apartment and a tobacco tin that contained four clumps of pubic hair — none of which came from the bodies found in the kitchen.

Searching the garden at 10 Rillington Place (POLICE)
Searching the garden at 10
Rillington Place (POLICE)

Police had also searched the garden. They noticed the human femur this time, in plain view supporting the wooden fence. More bones were found in flowerbeds and some blackened skull bones with teeth and pieces of a dress turned up in a dustbin. Bones were also found beneath an orange blossom bush. Nearby was a newspaper fragment dated July 19th, 1943. A quantity of hair was discovered, along with some teeth. They determined that, although only one skull was found, there were two female corpses in the garden. That made a total of six at Rillington Place.

The skeletons were reconstructed for identification purposes. It was soon determined from a tooth crown that one of the victims, both of whom were female, was from Germany or Austria. She was young, around 21, and tall — around five-feet, seven-inches. The other was between 32 and 35, and only about five-feet, two-inches. They both had been in the garden at least three years and may have been there as long as ten years.

It was soon discovered that Ruth Margarete Fuerst had arrived in England from Austria in 1939 and had been missing since August 24th, 1943. She was then 21, about five-feet, eight-inches. When she disappeared, she had been staying in Notting Hill.

The other victim seemed likely to be a Muriel Amelia Eady, 32, who had worked at a factory with Christie. She was five-foot, one-inch and had dark hair. The hair in Christie's garden matched hair from one of Eady's dresses, still kept at her former home. She had been wearing a black wool dress when last seen, like the remains of one found in the garden soil.

The search was now on for Christie himself.

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