Peter Thorley, who has lived in Arundel for the past 20 years, is determined to set the record straight… a record which has ruined his life.
At the age of 86, he says his only hope is to get the truth out and that people will accept the truth.
And that truth, he says, is that his sister Beryl Evans wasn’t murdered by serial killer John Reginald Halliday Christie as everyone now believes.
She was, in fact, killed by her husband Timothy Evans – precisely the man who was actually hanged (for the murder of their daughter) in Pentonville Prison on March 9 1950.
Everyone’s assumption was that Evans had also murdered his wife – Peter’s sister.
Three years after Evans’ execution, Christie’s own crimes were revealed – and attitudes to Evans’ execution started to change.
When Christie moved out of his flat, a new tenant complained about the smell. Grim discoveries followed. The bodies of Kathleen Maloney, Rita Nelson and Hectorina Maclennan were in a papered-over alcove in the kitchen. Christie’s wife Ethel was buried under the floorboards.
The police conclusion was that Christie had strangled at least eight people.
Christie was tried for the murder of his wife Ethel. He pleaded insanity – a plea rejected by the jury.
They deliberated for 85 minutes before finding him guilty.
Christie did not appeal against his conviction and was hanged on July 15 1953 at Pentonville Prison, just as Evans had been – executed, just as Evans had been, by Albert Pierrepoint.
Inevitably the belief grew that Evans was the victim of an appalling miscarriage of justice and a campaign began to have his “innocence” recognised.
Evans was posthumously pardoned in October 1966; five years later, in 1971 the film 10 Rillington Place – starring Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson and John Hurt – seemed to correct the wrong, portraying Christie as Beryl’s murderer.
And in January 2003, the Home Office awarded Timothy Evans’ half-sister and his sister ex-gratia payments as compensation for the miscarriage of justice in Evans’ trial.
Other TV dramas and books have followed, convinced that Evans was a wronged man.
Peter will have none of it.
70 years after Evans’ execution, Peter – a retired businessman and vintage car enthusiast – is as convinced as ever: Evans was in fact “a vile, vicious brute” and that “Christie never murdered my sister.”
“It has ruined my life. My sister and I really did love each other.
“My mother died when I was 12, and my sister Beryl took over.
“She was lovely. I never heard her swear. She had a couple of funny little habits, but she was lovely.
“She was five years older… and she looked after me… until that object (Evans) came into her life.
“I just didn’t like him. I thought she could do better than that. She was a shy, quiet girl. I just couldn’t understand her. She was my older sister. She never went gallivanting. She just had a couple of girlfriends.
“Evans was just one of those little cocky sort of men… you know that thing when you meet someone and you know that you are just not going to like them.
“It was a rebound for Beryl. There was nothing at home for her.
“My father was a night-worker, and she went out with Evans on a blind date, and I would say that it all went wrong from the word go.”
Beryl Thorley, then 18, married Timothy Evans in 1947.
Baby Geraldine followed quickly and, determined to stand on their own two feet, the couple rented a room in the same building as Christie and his wife Ethel in Rillington Place in the Ladbroke Grove area of Notting Hill.
At Easter 1948, the couple moved into the top-floor flat. In the ground-floor flat were John Christie and his wife. It wasn’t long before young Peter met them.
“I liked him. He was a good man. I used to pop in.
“I had to go past the place every day as I went to school, and if I left home early I would pop in to see Beryl, and when I came back from school, there was nothing for me at home so I would pop in to see Beryl again or, if she wasn’t in, I would see Reg Christie. He would say come in and we would have a chat and a cup of tea and a sticky bun, and we would chat or play cards. I treated him as an uncle and his wife Ethel as an aunty. I had no fear of him.”
Peter even sat in the infamous rope chair where Christie seated his victims during their final moments.
“I used to play in the garden. I didn’t know that there were two bodies there. Nobody did. I would have been about 12 or 13 at the time.”
Peter was heading for New Zealand – against his wishes – when Beryl was murdered. On November 5 1949, Peter saw his sister for the last time. Two days later she was dead.
“My father had met this woman, and he moved down to Brighton, and she wanted to get rid of the kids.
“She got my father to do this £10 New Zealand immigration scheme. Unbeknown to me, he had married this woman. And they sent me to New Zealand.”
Peter didn’t know that Beryl was dead until his father wrote to the farmer on the farm where he was working. He wrote on January 11 1950, the day Evans’ trial began. Beryl had been murdered the previous November, just a few days after Peter had left the country.
“I stayed in New Zealand because that was the contract with the New Zealand government, and I stayed for two years until I worked my passage back on a ship.”
By then, Evans had long since been executed.
“And I am totally convinced that he murdered my sister.
“He was a drunkard, a thieving, lying, nasty little devil.
“I used to be up there when he was knocking my sister about. (Evans’ and Beryl’s daughter) Geraldine would be standing up in the cot, and I would go up to her and put my hands over her ears and make funny faces while Evans was bashing my sister. He threatened to kill her several times. He was just a nasty bloke. He was the worst bloke I have ever met in my life.
“Christie wasn’t nasty. He came across as a gentleman. He was always smart. He never said anything wrong to me.”
Peter is convinced that Christie and his wife Ethel, later one of the victims, cared about Beryl.
“I treated him as my uncle, and he would say ‘Watch Evans. He is a nasty man.’ Sometimes he would go upstairs to stop the rows.”
Ludovic Kennedy, journalist, broadcaster and humanist, became a prominent campaigner for Evans’ innocence. The 1971 film was based on his book.
“But that film was absolute nonsense. The actors were excellent. It was the script that was the problem and it was a script from Ludovic Kennedy’s book.
“But Ludovic Kennedy didn’t know any of the people he was writing about. I knew them all.
“He got thick with the Evans family. But I really knew the people.”
Why now for Peter’s book?
“Because it has been 85 years in the research.”
With the help of wife Lea, Peter has scoured hundreds of documents over the past 35 years
“I wanted to get it right. I wanted to write a book that captured the truth of 10 Rillington Place.
“I was there. It was only two days after I left for New Zealand that my sister got murdered.
“And I want the truth to be told.
“It has ruined my life because so many other people think they know.
“But nobody was ever convicted of my sister’s murder. It is a case that has never been resolved.”
Peter isn’t calling for the case to be reopened: “It is too late now. But I just hope that people accept the book and accept the truth of what really happened.”
Inside 10 Rillington Place: The Untold Horror Of My Life With A Serial Killer by Peter Thorley has been published by Mirror Books, £8.99 paperback; 978-1-913406-11-0.
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