On this day in history….25th June 1953

On this day in history : 25th June 1953 – John Christie is sentenced to hang for the murder of his wife and then hiding her body under the floorboards of their Notting Hill home, 10 Rillington Place….

John Christie – Fair use

Before his own trial Christie had been a key witness for the Crown in another murder trial – that of Timothy Evans, another resident at the Notting Hill address…. Evans had stood trial, accused of the murder of his wife and child – and although the murder charge for his wife was not pursued he was convicted of killing his daughter and was sequently hanged….

Christie himself was no stranger to the criminal world…. Throughout his adult life he had committed a string of petty crimes and had spent time in prison…. He had served a three month sentence for stealing postal orders whilst working as a postman, nine months for theft, six months for assaulting the prostitute girlfriend he had briefly lived with and another three months for stealing a car from a priest he had befriended….

Christie had a troubled childhood and grew up with some abnormal ideas on how a healthy sexual relationship should be conducted…. He married Ethel in 1920 but because of his sexual hang-ups was impotent with her – he could only perform with prostitutes and so he continued to use their services…. After four years the marriage broke up – but in 1933, after his last prison sentence, they got back together….

In December 1938 the Christies moved into the ground floor flat of 10 Rillington Place in the Ladbroke Grove area of Notting Hill…. Ten years later, in the April of 1948, Timothy Evans and his pregnant wife, Beryl, moved into the top floor flat…. She gave birth to a little girl soon after, who they named Geraldine – and then in the November of 1949 Beryl discovered that she was pregnant again…. The couple were worried as they could not afford to have another baby – and so Christie said he could help them, by performing an abortion…. Only, what he actually did was strangle her and because his depraved sexual gratifications now included necrophilia – he then raped her….

When Evans arrived home Christie claimed she had died during the termination procedure…. As abortion was illegal he managed to convince Evans that they had to hide Beryl’s body and he also persuaded him to leave Geraldine with him and to go to relatives in Wales to lay low for a while…. When Evans returned to London and wanted to see his daughter Christie refused….

On the 30th of November 1949 Evans went to the police and explained he had accidentally killed Beryl by giving her a potion to end her pregnancy…. He said that he had hidden her body in a sewer – but after a search the police could not find a body…. Evans then told the truth – how Christie had offered to help them and how he, Evans, had found his wife dead on returning home from work…. He explained how Christie arranged for the disposal of her body and somebody to look after Geraldine while he disappeared to Wales….

But this late admission of the truth only added to the tangled web that had already been woven…. A search of 10 Rillington Place revealed the bodies of both his wife and child hidden in an outside wash house…. Evans was then tried for murder, the jury took just 40 minutes to find him guilty…. After a failed appeal Timothy Evans was hanged on the 9th of March 1950….

Timothy Evans, 1949 – Fair use

Ethel Christie was last seen on the 12th of December 1952…. Christie told people that he had been offered a good job out of the area and that his wife had gone on before him…. He eventually moved out of Rillington Place on the 20th of March 1953, booking seven days lodgings in King’s Cross…. However, he had only been there four nights when Beresford Brown, the new tenant at 10 Rillington Place, discovered the remains of three women in an alcove which had been wallpapered over…. When the news broke Christie left his lodgings and took to wandering London, sleeping rough…. The police eventually caught up with him on the 31st March 1953, on the Embankment near to Putney Bridge….

A total of eight female bodies in all were found at Rillington Place…. Those of his wife, Beryl and baby Geraldine Evans and five others:- Ruth Fuerst, a 21-year-old Austrian prostitute – Muriel Amelia Eady, a work colleague of Christie – Kathleen Maloney, prostitute – Rita Nelson, who was six months pregnant – and Hectorina MacLennan, who Christie had befriended, along with her boyfriend, Alex Baker….

At first Christie only confessed to the murders of the three bodies that had been found in the alcove and that of his wife…. He eventually admitted to Beryl’s murder – but not that of Geraldine…. He went on trial for the murder of his wife – in the same court that Evans had been convicted in – on the 22nd of June 1953…. He pleaded insanity but the jury rejected this plea – and after just 85 minutes of deliberation found him guilty…. There was no appeal….

Christie was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, who had also executed Evans, on the 15th of July…. Two-hundred people people waited outside the prison to see the execution notice…. After being restrained for the procedure to take place Christie had complained that his nose was itching – only to be told by Pierrepoint that it wouldn’t bother him for much longer….

10 Rillington Place was demolished – in the 1970s the whole street was redeveloped…. Timothy Evans was granted a posthumous pardon in 1966….

Memorial garden on the approximate location of 10 Rillington Place

On this day in history….24th March 1684

On this day in history : 24th March 1684 – English woman Elizabeth Ridgeway is burned at the stake after being convicted of poisoning her husband of just three weeks….

Born Elizabeth Husbands, during the mid 1600s, she had been brought up in the Christian faith on the family farm near to Ibstock, Leicestershire…. She didn’t leave home until she was around 29-years-old….

She married Thomas Ridgeway, a wealthy tailor, on the 1st of February 1684…. However, he owed his sister £20, a debt she called in almost immediately after her brother had married – the newly weds were now virtually bankrupt….

One Sunday morning, just over three weeks after they were married, Thomas went off to Church, whilst his wife stayed at home to prepare his dinner…. When he returned for his meal she served him up a bowl of broth, of which he ate most but left some complaining it was ‘gritty’…. Less than 30 minutes later he was vomiting violently, which continued to around midnight – when he died in agony….

Thomas’s young apprentice told his master’s relatives that he had seen something in the bottom of the bowl as Elizabeth removed it from her husband…. He was convinced it was poison and Thomas’s family reported it to a Justice of Peace, who ordered an inquest…. Thomas’s body was examined and indeed showed evidence of poisoning…. Elizabeth was arrested and taken to Leicester Gaol….

On Friday the 14th of March she was brought to trial before Lord Judge Street – she pleaded ‘not guilty’…. However, after some deliberation the jury returned a ‘guilty’ verdict…. Elizabeth was sentenced to burn…. There were those who claimed the sentence to be too harsh and called for a reprieve – but the Judge was having none of it…. He did, however, ask local clergyman, John Newton, to counsel her…. But Elizabeth had no interest in making her peace with God – in fact on the morning of her execution she had a shocking confession to make….

Not only did she admit to poisoning her husband, with arsenic, it transpired she had quite a catalogue of murders to her name…. Elizabeth had poisoned her own mother, after an argument, the year before she had left the family home to take up work as a servant…. It was whilst in this employment that she fell out with a male, fellow servant – being one to bear a grudge she decided to poison him too….

She then found herself entangled in a romantic liaison with a suitor by the name of John King…. Elizabeth had quite a few suitors – but after having promised too much to King she could not see a way of backing out…. She had her eye on the wealthier prospect of Thomas Ridgeway…. She solved her little problem by getting rid of King with more poison…. Of course after marrying Thomas, only for him to instantly lose his wealth, he was to meet the same fate….

Elizabeth burned at the stake….

On this day in history….4th March 1702

On this day in history : 4th March 1702 – The birth of Jack Shepherd – also known as ‘Honest Jack’ – a notorious criminal who escaped from prison several times, making him a hero to the public….

Attributed to Sir James Thornhill, chalk and pencil, circa 1724 – Public domain

Jack was born in Spitalfields, London – the son of a carpenter…. When his father died Jack’s mother could no longer provide for him and his brother, Thomas – and so she put them in the workhouse…. From here Jack was apprenticed out but badly treated…. Eventually he went to work as a shop boy for a draper, Mr William Kneebone – his mother’s employer…. It was Kneebone who taught Jack to read and write and then got him an apprenticeship with a carpenter….

For four years or so Jack was a decent hardworking young man….but there were those who wished to lead him astray…. Near to Jack’s workplace was a button maker’s shop belonging to Joseph Hayne, who also owned the Black Lion ale house in Drury Lane…. It was here that Hayne would entice young apprentices – as it was the hang-out of a hardened bunch of criminals always on the lookout for new blood….

Jack began to frequent the Black Lion and found himself spending time in the company of fallen women – especially one in particular – ‘Edgworth Bess’’ so-called because she hailed from Edgworth….although her real name was Elizabeth Lyon…. Soon Jack was stealing small items from the houses he worked in, trinkets, silverware and the like, to keep his new lady friend happy….

George Cruikshank – Public domain

It wasn’t long before Jack’s carpentry work began to suffer…. With only two years of his apprenticeship left to complete he quit his position…. Encouraged by Edgworth Bess he took up a life of crime, progressing on to breaking into houses to supplement his income…. He continued to work as a tradesman carpenter so he could carry on stealing from his clients….

Jack and Edgworth Bess started to live together as common-law man and wife…. When she was arrested and imprisoned in St Giles Roundhouse he was refused permission to visit her…. Undaunted, he broke into the prison and ‘rescued’ her….

He was now leading the life of a seasoned criminal – and he wasn’t the only one…. His brother, Tom – also a carpenter – already had a conviction for stealing his master’s tools and had received a branding on his hand for his trouble…. Jack, Tom and Edgworth Bess committed a burglary on a linen draper’s in Clare Market – scared he would hang this time Tom put all the blame on to his brother…. A warrant was put out for Jack’s arrest – only he couldn’t be found….

There was no honour amongst this group of thieves…. Jack was invited to an ale house for a game of skittles by fellow felon James Sykes – also known as ‘Hell and Fury’…. Sykes had laid a trap, by tipping off a constable, so that he could get his hands on the reward money…. Jack was arrested, taken before the magistrate and imprisoned in St Giles Roundhouse – only to make his escape by breaking out through the roof….

It was a short while after that Jack was crossing Leicester Fields with Benson, an associate…. Seeing a chance to steal a gentleman’s pocket watch Benson thought he would try his luck….only it wasn’t his lucky day…. The gentleman cried out “pick pocket!” – and Jack found himself back in prison, the St Ann’s Roundhouse this time…. When Edgworth Bess turned up to visit him she too was detained on suspicion of being an accomplice….

The following day, after an appearance before the magistrate, the pair were sent to New Prison…. As ‘husband and wife’ they were allowed to stay together and were housed in ‘Newgate Ward’…. They were visited by well wishing acquaintances, who smuggled in tools for Jack to attempt an escape…. A few days later he sawed through his shackles, made a hole in the wall and then using bedsheets tied together he and Edgworth Bess lowered themselves to the ground below…. They then managed to scale the prison gates and made their escape….

George Cruikshank – Public domain

By this time Jack was gaining fame for his exploits…. He was a good looking chap, with a likeable character and a cheeky line in banter…. Other thieves begged to be allowed to go a-thieving with him…. He was to go into partnership with Joseph ‘Blueskin’ Blake – but they were to be betrayed by some rival crooks and Jack was to be arrested yet again – and held at Newgate Prison…. He faced prosecution on three accounts at the Old Bailey – but was to be acquitted of the first two through lack of evidence…. However, he was found guilty of the third and sentenced to death – the date being set for Friday the 4th of September 1724….

Jack wasn’t beaten yet though…. He managed to loosen an iron bar on a window of his cell….when visited by Edgworth Bess and another female friend, Moll Maggot, the two women distracted the guards and he removed the bar…. Being of slight build and only 5ft 4” tall Jack managed to squeeze through the gap – he was then smuggled out of the prison dressed in women’s attire – once again he had escaped….

George Cruikshank – Public domain

After two weeks of freedom Jack was rearrested on the 9th of September by a posse from Newgate Prison – and he was returned to the condemned cell…. His fame had spread – he was visited by many, some out of curiosity and others wanting to help…. However his plans to escape were thwarted when a stash of files and tools were found in his cell…. He was taken to a strong room within the prison, known as ‘the Castle’…. Here he was clapped in leg irons and chained….and when he managed to pick the lock to those found himself handcuffed as well….

Public domain

Jack’s brother and Blueskin were arrested on the 9th of October and the following day Tom was transported…. Blueskin faced trial on the 14th – when evidence was given against him, by a rival, Blueskin attacked him in the courtroom with a pocket knife – slashing his throat…. The disturbance quickly spread throughout Newgate Prison, which was situated next door…. Jack took advantage of the commotion – he managed to unlock his handcuffs and broke through the ceiling…. Still wearing leg irons he continued to break through another six rooms until he reached the prison chapel, from there he managed to reach the prison roof…. He returned to his cell, fetched a blanket, which he then used to reach the roof of an adjacent house…. Jack then broke in, crept down the stairs, out of the door and onto the street…. He made his way to Tottenham, where he hid in a barn…. When discovered by the owner he convinced him that he had escaped from Bridewell Prison where he was being held for not supporting a bastard son! Telling the same story to a passing tradesman he paid him 20 shillings to remove his leg irons….

People were astonished by Jack’s escapades…. Daniel Defoe, who was then a journalist, covered his story and wrote pamphlets about him…. However, two weeks later Jack was arrested one last time…. He had broken into the establishment of a pawn broker and helped himself to a black silk suit, a silver sword, wig and all the finery of a gentleman…. He then went on a bender with two of his lady friends…. He was apprehended during the early hours of the 1st of November 1724 absolutely rip-roaring drunk…. He was taken back to Newgate and placed in a stone room where he could be watched at all times…. As an extra precaution he was chained down with 300lbs of iron weights…. Such was the interest in him that his gaolers charged 4 shillings a time to see him…. The King’s painter, James Thornhill, painted his portrait…. A pubic outcry called for his sentence to be commuted to transportation and when he was taken before Mr Justice Powis, at Westminster Hall on the 10th of November, he was offered the chance to reduce his sentence – if he informed on his associates…. But he refused and the death sentence was upheld…. The following day Blueskin was hanged and Jack took his place in the condemned cell….

Engraving by George White – Public domain

On Monday the 16th of November Jack was taken to Tyburn, to the gallows…. A last attempt at escape failed, as the penknife he had been intending to use to cut the ropes, that bound him on the way to the gallows, was discovered…. The procession of his cart through the streets had something of a carnival atmosphere – some 200,000 people lined the streets to see him go by…. Rather than the usual rotten fruit, stones and worse hurled at a cart making its way to Tyburn, the good natured crowds celebrated Jack….

Once the hangman had the noose in place sadly, for Jack, it was not to be a quick death…. Due to his slight stature he had to endure a long, traumatic strangulation…. After the obligatory 15 minutes waiting time following death, his body was cut down…. The crowd surged forward, preventing Jack’s friends from snatching his body, as was their plan – in the vain hope that by whisking him away to a doctor he may be revived….

Engraving by George Cruikshank – Public domain

Jack’s remains were buried in the churchyard of St Martin-in-the -Fields later that evening….

On this day in history….28th January 1953

On this day in history: 28th January 1953 – Derek Bentley is executed at Wandsworth Prison for his part in the murder of PC Sidney Miles….

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Derek Bentley – Fair use

Bentley was 19-years-old when he was hanged; he allegedly had a mental age of 11, was illiterate and suffered with epilepsy – probably resulting from a broken nose he received as a young child….

On the 2nd of November 1952 he and his 16-year-old friend, Christopher Craig, set out to commit a burglary on a warehouse in Croydon belonging to confectionary company Parker and Barlow…. However, while the pair were on the roof of the building they were spotted by a young girl living in a nearby house, who informed her mother – and she subsequently called the police….

Bentley was armed, with a knife and knuckle duster…. Craig too had a knife but he also carried a .455 Eley revolver….

A patrol car arrived with a uniformed constable and detective constable Fairfax – who proceeded to climb a drainpipe to get to the roof of the warehouse…. The would-be burglars attempted to run for it – but Bentley was restrained by Fairfax…. Craig shot the policeman, wounding him in the shoulder…. Notably, Bentley made no attempt to escape, he remained with the injured Fairfax….

Other police officers arrived on the scene….some were armed…. Craig, trigger-happy, was shooting haphazardly at any moving target…. It was as PC Sidney Miles reached the rooftop that the fatal shot was fired, hitting the constable in the head – he died instantly….

Craig, who had now run out of bullets, ran and threw himself off the roof of the building, landing some 30 feet below on a greenhouse – he broke his back….

Both Craig and Bentley were charged with murder…. At some point in all the shooting Bentley had supposedly uttered those fateful words “Let him have it Chris”…. Did he mean a bullet? Or was he in fact urging Craig to hand over the gun?

The controversial trial began on Thursday the 9th of December 1952, both Craig and Bentley pleaded ‘not guilty’…. It took the jury just 75 minutes to return a verdict of ‘guilty’ – but made the recommendation to mercy in the case of Bentley…. However, Judge Lord Goddard did not include this in his report to the Home Office…. Bentley was condemned to hang….

Due to his age Craig was spared the death penalty – instead he was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure…. He was released in 1963 after serving ten years….

Considering his mental age should Bentley have been sentenced as such? Yes, he had set out to commit a burglary and he was armed – but he was not the one who fired the gun….

An appeal hearing was held on the 13th of January – but the sentence was upheld…. A campaign was led by Bentley’s father – over 200 MPs signed a petition for a reprieve to be granted….

The night before the execution date crowds protested outside Parliament chanting “Bentley must not die”…. On the morning of the execution a large crowd gathered outside Wandsworth Prison, some sang the hymn ‘Abide With Me’…. Boos were heard when the notice it had been done was brought out….

Bentley’s sister, Iris, continued to campaign…. finally, in 1993, Home Secretary Micheal Howard, granted a partial pardon – saying Bentley should never have been hanged…. Later new evidence came to light that three officers had lied under oath about Bentley saying “Let him have it Chris”…. In 1998 the Appeal Court quashed Bentley’s conviction…. Sadly Iris did not live long enough to see this day….

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Photo credit : Steve Brown via Flickr

On this day in history….3rd January 1946

On this day in history : 3rd January 1946 – The execution for treason of William Joyce – the Nazi propaganda broadcaster, known to the British public as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’….

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Photograph of Joyce taken some time between 1939 & 45 – No known copyright restrictions – Archives of the Law Society via Flickr

‘Haw-Haw’ was a term first coined by Jonah Barrington of the Daily Express…. It actually referred to a number of announcers, with their exaggerated English accents, broadcasting during WW2 to the United Kingdom from the German radio station ‘Reichssender’, in Hamburg…. However, in time the name was to become primarily associated with Joyce….

Broadcasts would always start with “Germany calling, Germany calling”…. The aim was to attempt to break the morale and spirit of the British people – along with that of the allied troops…. Inaccurate reports of the sinking of ships and the shooting down of aircraft…. Urging the British to surrender – attacking the government and the British way of life…. Of course, most people knew it was propaganda – but at a time of heavy censorship it was often used as a way to try and find out information as to what may have become of a missing loved one…. Whilst not illegal to listen to the broadcasts it was discouraged – despite this some 18 million people in Britain are believed to have listened on occasion….

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From the collections of the Imperial War Museums

So, how did the likes of Joyce come to be working for the Germans during the war? To understand this it is necessary to learn more about the background of the man….

William Brooke Joyce was born on the 24th of April 1906, in Brooklyn, New York…. He was the son of immigrants – his father was Irish and his mother Anglo-Irish…. When Joyce was 3-years-old the family returned to live in Galway, Ireland….

In 1921, during the Irish War of Independence, Joyce was recruited as a courier by Captain Keating of British Army Intelligence, in the fight against the IRA…. After an attempted assassination on him Joyce was taken to England for his safety…. He was recruited into the Worcester Regiment – but soon discharged after it was discovered he was underage….

Joyce remained in England and finished his education at Kings College School, Wimbledon…. He then studied at Birkbeck College – part of the University of London – graduating with a first-class honours in English…. After being turned down for a position with the Foreign Office he took a job as a teacher….

He began to take a keen interest in Fascism…. It was on the 22nd of October 1924, whilst attending a meeting for Jack Lazarus, Conservative candidate for North Lambeth, that Joyce was attacked by Communists…. He received a deep razor slash across his right cheek, leaving him with a prominent scar from his ear lobe to his jaw….

Joyce took a paid job in the British Union of Fascists (BUF), under Sir Oswald Mosley – and in 1934 he was made Director of Propaganda…. It was after being sacked by Mosley in 1937 that he joined a splinter group, the National Socialist League…. On learning that the British authorities intended to arrest him Joyce fled with his wife in August 1939 to Germany – just before the outbreak of WW2…. He became a naturalised German citizen in 1940 and managed to get a job at the Rundfunkhaus (the German equivalent of Broadcasting House)…. Here he made radio announcements and wrote scripts – but he was to go on to become the best-known of the propaganda broadcasters….

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Still frame from 1943 – Allied propaganda cartoon – ‘Tokio Jokio’ – depicting Joyce as Lord Haw-Haw – ‘Lord Hee-Haw, Chief Windbag’

His final broadcast was made on the 30th of April 1945, during the Battle of Berlin…. He finished the broadcast with “Heil Hitler and farewell” – the following day Radio Hamburg was seized by the British – but Joyce had managed to make his escape….

Nearly a month later, on the 28th of May, Joyce was captured at the German/Danish border by British intelligence officers…. During his arrest he was shot through the buttocks – as he had gone to his pocket to produce his false passport but the officers had believed him to be armed….

THE CAPTURE OF WILLIAM JOYCE, GERMANY, 1945
THE CAPTURE OF WILLIAM JOYCE, GERMANY, 1945 (BU 6910) William Joyce lies in an ambulance under armed guard before being taken from British 2nd Army Headquarters to hospital. He had been shot in the thigh at the time of his arrest. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205192927

Initially it was thought that due to his American nationality Joyce would have to be acquitted – it was reasoned that he could not be convicted of treason against a country that was not his own…. However, at his trial it was successfully argued that since he had obtained a British passport, by not revealing his true nationality, he had in fact had allegiance to the King and country whilst the passport was valid – and this happened to be the period of time during which he was working for Germany…. Joyce was convicted and sentenced to death on the 19th of September 1945….

The sentence was upheld on the 1st of November 1945 after an appeal – and he was executed at Wandsworth Prison on the 3rd of January 1946 by hangman Albert Pierrepoint…. As he went to the gallows Joyce was unrepentant – as he fell the pressure from the drop split the old scar on his face wide open….

Joyce was buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls but – after a long campaign by his daughter – in 1979 his body was reinterred in Galway, Ireland….