Ethel Christie and the Sheffield connection to the 10 Rillington Place murders.

The recent showing on BBC Television of the drama "Rillington Place" has awakened interest in the murders and the people involved. One of the main figures and victim was John Reginald Halliday Christie's wife, Ethel. On the morning of 14 December 1952 at about 8.155am, Christie strangled Ethel in bed with astocking and after three days placed her body under the floorboards of the front room. She was wearing a silk nightdress and had been wrapped in a blanket which was secured with a safety pin, and rubble piled on top of her.

After his arrest a few months later, Christie made a number of false statements regarding the death of his wife:

"I'll tell you as much as I can remember. I have not been well for a long while, about 18 month...My wife has been suffering a great deal from persecution and assaults from the black people in the house 10 Rillington Place and had to undergo treatment at the doctor for nerves. In December she was becoming very frightened from these blacks and was afraid to go about the house when they were about and she got very depressed.

On 14 December I was awakened by my wife moving about in bed. I sat up and saw that she appeared to be convulsive, her face was blue and she was choking. I did what I could to try to restore breathing but it was hopeless. It appeared to late to call for assistance. That's when I couldn't bear to see her, so I got a stocking and tied it around her neck to put her to sleep. 
Then I got out of bed and saw a small bottle and a cup half full of water on a small table near the bed. I noticed that the bottle contained two Phenol Barbitone tablets and it originally contained 25. I then knew that she must have taken the remainder. I got them from the hospital because I couldn't sleep.

I left her in bed for two or three days and didn't know what to do. Then I remembered some loose floorboards in the front room. I had to move a table and some chairs to roll back the lino about half way. Those boards had previously been up because of the drainage system; there were several of these depressions under the floorboards. Then I believe I went back and put her in a blanket or a sheet or something and tried to carry her, but she was too heavy so I had to sort of half carry and half drag her and put her in that depression and cover her up with earth. I thought that was the best way to lay her to rest..."

In a further statement, Christie claimed that he had put Ethel under the floorboards so that he could still be near her, "I think that in my mind I did not want to lose her." The post-mortem failed to substantiate this poisoning. As Ethel usually visited her family in Sheffield [without Christie] and would be expected for Christmas. Christie
invented several stories to explain his wife's disappearance, and in reply to a letter from her sister, Lily, in Sheffield, he wrote that Ethel had rheumatism and could not write herself. 

To one neighbour, he explained that she was visiting her relatives in Sheffield; To another, he said that he  had a new job in Sheffield and would follow Ethel shortly. Some of them were surprised that Ethel had not said good-bye, nor mentioned any such plans. Christie then told one person, that Ethel had sent a telegram and had mentioned her with affection. He thought that was sufficient to keep her from prying any further. Another neighbour was told that she had gone to Birmingham. Christie had resigned from his job on 6 December 1952 and was unemployed. To support himself, he sold Ethel's wedding ring, watch, and furniture. Shortly afterwards, he forged his wife's signature and emptied her bank account.

Ethel was born Ethel Simpson on 1898, the youngest daughter of William and Amy Simpson. She had a brother Henry (born 1st January 1890) and a sister Lily (born 1896). Ethel was born in Halifax whilst her two older siblings were Bradford-born. It is worth noting that her father William Simpson who took the surname Waddington from his stepfather. This has confused researchers in the past. The son Henry used to go by the name Henry Simpson Waddington in adulthood.     

 

1901 Census - Ethel was three years of age

Ten years later, Ethel was living at 2 Havelock St, Claremount Halifax with her widowed mother and siblings. Her father William Simpson died in 1904 at the age of 47. All three of her children were in work   

Name: Ethel Simpson
Age in 1911: 13 Estimated birth year: abt 1898
Relation to Head: Daughter Gender: Female
Birth Place: Halifax, Yorkshire, England Civil Parish: Halifax County/Island: Yorkshire-West Riding Country: England
Street address: 2 Havelock St, Claremount Halifax
Occupation: School Milliner's Errand Girl
Registration district: Halifax Registration District Number: 496 Sub-registration district: Halifax North ED, institution, or vessel: 18 Piece: 26534
Household Members: 
Name Age
Amy M Simpson 54
Henry Simpson Baker 20
Lilly Simpson 15
Ethel Simpson 13 

She married John Reginald Halliday Christie at Halifax Registry Office on 10th May 1920. It has been suggested that they met whilst Christie was posted to the Redmires Camp in Sheffield during the First World War. This is highly unlikely given that Christie and Ethel lived in the same area of Halifax and remained there after their marriage living at the now demolished 9 Brunswick Road. From what scant evidence is available it was to prove a difficult marriage. Christie tended to paint the marriage in glowing terms - "they had a few differences but they did not amount to much." But Ethel appears to have had a miscarriage early in the marriage and the couple never did have children. And within a year of getting married Christie was sent to prison for three months for stealing postal orders whilst employed as a postman. It was a lenient sentence given the seriousness of the offence but his previous good record and war service stood him in good stead. When he left Strangeways in June 1921 after serving his sentence he went to stay with his parents. He says that he stayed with Ethel for the next couple of years but there is no way of proving this. 

In January 1923 he was in court again accused of obtaining money under false pretences but was given probation. He left Halifax never to return. Christie said that the reason he left was that his wife was having an affair with her employer, a Mr. Garside of Garside Engineering Co, Ironbridge Road, Bradford. Again it is only Christie's word. Ethel's family denied this was true but it would not have come as a surprise - Ethel was an attractive, intelligent employee with secretarial qualifications who must have been concerned about her husbands descent into petty criminality. A more plausible reason for his departure was that his parents house was burgled and he was thought to be the culprit. Property was taken but no charges were pressed.

Ehel's sister Lily was also living in Bradford in 1923. Lily married Arthur Cecil Bartle (Marriages Mar 1918 - Bartle Arthur C Simpson Halifax Volume 9a Page 838. I believe she had just one child Edwin (Births Dec 1923 Bartle Edwin Simpson Bradford Volume 9b Page236)

Ethel remained in Bradford. She was employed by the English Electrical Co in Thornton Road, Central Bradford as a typist. She remained close to her sister Lily and was enchanted by her young nephew Edwin. After four years with the company she was made redundant and came to live in Sheffield in 1928. She lived with her brother at 63 Hinde House Lane, a clerk in local government. He sister and husband moved into the adjoining property 61 Hinde House Lane. Ethel secured employment as a shorthand typist at a steel works on Saville Street and it was in 1928 that she met a Vaughan Brindley at the Abbeydale Ballroom in Sheffield. Friendship turned into a full blown affair that continued up until the end of 1932. Early on she told  Brindley that she was married but her husband had died of his wounds after being gassed in the war, a story that Vaughan accepted. Ethel also stated that she had fallen in love with Vaughan Brindley. In the excellent book "John Christie of Rillington Place - Biography of a Serial Killer" the author Jonathan Oates states that the affair ended when it became apparent that Ethel could not have children, a result possibly of her earlier miscarriage. She wanted to marry Vaughan but he wanted to have children. She even went to see Vaughan's father but that led to a massive row and the final break up.

Jonathan Oates also states that by 1932 Vaughan's job prospects were improving and it was this that led to talk of marriage. If they had married it would have been bigamous, Ethel had never divorced Christie. And secondly the following year Brindley's business went bankrupt. He had a radio shop on Prince of Wales Road at the time of his affair with Ethel.

It was only after the beak-up of this relationship that Ethel re-established contact with her husband, a man she had not seen for over a decade. Ethel met up with him in Wandsworth Prison sometime in 1934 where he was finishing a three month sentence for car theft. Faced with a choice of divorce or "giving it another go" the couple opted for the latter, a decision that would lead to Ethel's death in the bedroom of 10 Rillington Place, eighteen years later.

It is important to point out at this stage the type of woman Ethel was. Looking back on his relationship with Ethel in 1953, Vaughan stated that she was "a refined, well-bred and educated young woman" She was "extremely attractive" She was also respectable, did not frequent pubs and did not smoke. She was also an "extremely competent shorthand typist." And he did state that she had a timid, sensitive nature and a burning need for male attention.

I found this difficult to believe as I had seen Ethel in her middle age, usually alongside her rather sinister husband. But whilst researching this article I located this photo of a young Ethel that was taken before the years of living with Christie had taken their toll. Vaughan was correct when he said that she was an attractive young woman which begs the question - what did she ever see in Christie!. 

Many authors have portrayed Ethel as a bit of a downtrodden doormat who was sexually frigid and uncomfortable with other people. But whilst she was in Sheffield, this is clearly not the case.

 

 

  

The 1939 National Register - Lily and her son are living at 61 Hinde House Road and her brother Henry at 63 Hinde House Road. Henry is using the surname Waddington. Arthur Cecil Bartle, Lily's husband, is not mentioned in the Register. After a bit of a search, I found Arthur living as Cecil Arthur Bartle in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Living at the same address is a 26 year old cook Beatrice Sutherland. 

Sutherland Household (2 People)
120 Girlington Road , Bradford C.B., Yorkshire (West Riding), England

FIRST NAME(S) LAST NAME(S) DOB SEX OCCUPATION MARITAL STATUS SCHEDULE SCHEDULE SUB NUMBER 
Cecil Arthur Bartle 18 Mar 1894 Male Time Keeper Married 54 2 
Beatrice Sutherland 23 Mar 1913 Female Cafe-Head Cook Single 54 1

Both Arthur and Lily state that they are married in their respective entries but by 1939 they appear to be separated. One can only speculate at the reason for the separation but Arthur does not feature in the narrative after this point. In fact, it appears that Arthur remained in Bradford for the rest of his life. I discovered his Probate record which confirms that Arthur died in hospital on 24th November 1962. 

   

 

Ethel on the beach at Brighton - the photo was taken by her husband John who amongst other things was a keen photographer 

Ethel kept in close contact with her family in Sheffield by post and by regular visits. Molly Lefebure in her 1958 book "Murder With A Difference" remarks that Ethel that during the war years made frequent trips to see her relatives in Sheffield, and it was whilst on these trips that Christie murdered his first victims. The visits continued after the war, but they more or less stopped altogether after the murders of Beryl and Geraldine Evans at 10 Rillington Place. One explanation is that Ethel's health had deteriorated to such an extent that she found the traveling to Sheffield and back exhausting. Another was that she stayed at Rillington Place to keep a close eye of her husband's activities. There is no concrete evidence that Ethel had any knowledge of the murders at Rillington Place but she was certainly aware of her husbands predilections for covertly spying on young attractive women such as Beryl Evans, and seeking the company of prostitutes. She may even had suspicions but if she did she kept them to herself.

But by not visiting her relatives in Sheffield Ethel probably sealed her fate. Christie was unable to pursue his hideous fantasies with his wife present, and so he strangled her with her stocking. Once Ethel had been removed from the scene he was unleashed - three other women were murdered by Christie in the space of a few months 

Christie did visit Sheffield on occasion but his visits were far and few between. The last contacts between Ethel and her brother and sister were described at Christie's trial for Ethel's murder in April 1953

 

The Sunderland Echo dated 22nd April 1953

The Sunderland Echo dated 22nd June 1953

Lily and her brother continued to live in Sheffield after the trial and execution of John Christie. And also her son Edwin but he died at the young age of 46 in 1970. (Deaths Mar 1970 - BARTLE Edwin 13Se1923 Sheffield Volume 2d Page 934)

Lily's brother Henry lived to be 88 years of age . It is interesting to note that he has reverted back to Simpson at the time of his death in 1978(Deaths Mar 1978 SIMPSON HENRY 1JA1890 SHEFFIELD Volume 3 Page 1709).

Two years later Lily died at the age of 85

First name (s) LILY Last name BARTLE
Gender Female
Birth 14th July 1895
Death quarter September 1980
District SHEFFIELD County Yorkshire
Country England
Volume 3 Page 1043
Record set England & Wales deaths 1837-2007 Category Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records

Lily was the last of the Simpson siblings to die. Her only child Edwin had died 10 years earlier, and neither Ethel or Henry had children. Lily left a considerable estate and so it would be interesting to know the names of the beneficiaries. But it does pose a bit of a mystery. Lily died in August 1980 but this auction of Ethel's letters die not take place until 1998. The letters must have come from the house Lily occupied at 182 Firth Park Road but it took nearly 18 years for them to surface. I would like to know where they were in the interim

Rillington Place fear of Mrs Christie
Daily Mail (London); Jul 9, 1998; p. 32

PERSONAL letters written by the wife of serial killer John Reginald Christie have been auctioned for GBP 4,600.

Criminologists led the bidding for batches of the 62 letters, which reveal the growing anguish of Ethel Christie in the five years leading up to her death at her husband's hands in 1952.

Christie was found guilty of eight murders, seven women including his wife and a baby. He buried his victims in his flat or garden at the notorious 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill, West London, over 14 years.

After yesterday's auction in Nottingham, Tim Davidson, partner of T. Vennett-Smith auctioneers, said: 'There has been interest in this material because the hunt was the first real 
investigation of a serial killer in this country.' Police first arrested Timothy Evans, who was tried and hanged for the murder of his wife, Beryl Evans, and their baby daughter, Geraldine - both lived in the flat above Christie.

It was not until 1953 that Christie was caught. He was hanged for the Evans murders along with the killing of his wife, two other women and three prostitutes. Evans was posthumously pardoned in 1966.

The letters, all hand-written, were found by Terry Hill and Paula Rankin, market traders from Rotherham, among bric-a-brac that came from a house in Firth Park, Sheffield, near where Ethel Christie's sister Lily Bartle lived. Most were addressed to her.

The early letters set a happy tone, but they develop an anguished mood as bodies were discovered at the house. Shortly after the discovery of the Evans bodies, Mrs Christie writes: 'I do not want to worry you, but would like to know if you have seen something about this address in the newspapers, about a woman and baby who lived in the top flat here. We have had a great shock.' By the early Fifties, Mrs Christie's letters develop into a cry for help. In 1952 she wrote: 'I wish I could move.'

Another letter  is a 4-page in length and reads in full

(10 Rillington Place, St Mark's Road, London, W11, Sept 27th 1938), to Lil (Lily Bartle, Ethel Christie's sister in Sheffield), handwritten in blue fountain pen ink. 

Dear Lil
I have not received a letter from you in reply to my last one.
Of course I did not expect you to come on Sunday last in view of the state of the Country & it would not be wise to come up to London until the Crisis has passed (peacefully I hope). There are a lot of emergency measures being taken here. You know it is the worst place to be in at such a time as this.
We have got our "Gas Masks" to-day. How are you all, going on? Have you got them? In Hyde Park they are digging Air Raid Shelters on a large scale & various other things. I suppose you have some of these precautionary measures in Sheffield, all of which I hope will be unnecessary.
I should like to see you all very much & if it is possible I shall try & come up to see you if possible.
I should like to hear how you are all getting along,
Hoping you are well.
With love
Ethel

After the discovery of Ethel's body under the floorboards at 10 Rillington Place a post mortem was carried out which established the cause of death as being asphyxiation. No evidence of sedatives were found. The post mortem also reveled that Ethel's reproductive organs had atrophied which meant that Ethel could never have had children. According to the Rillington Place website Ethel's remains were cremated at Kensal Green Crematorium and her ashes were collected by her brother Henry Simpson Waddington. It is not known where her ashes were scattered or interned.

Notes

1. 13 Jul 1898 Ethel baptised at Charlestown (Halifax), St Thomas, Yorkshire, England

Marriages Mar 1918 Bartle Arthur C Simpson Halifax Volume 9a Page 838

Births Dec 1923 Bartle Edwin Simpson Bradford Volume 9b Page 236 Deaths Mar 1970 Bartle Edwin 13Se1923 Sheffield Volume 2d Page 934

Deaths Mar 1978 - SIMPSON HENRY 1JA1890 SHEFFIELD Volume 3 Page 1709 

1951 Kellys gives Lily Bartle Shopkeeper 61 Hinde House Lane

Arthur Cecil Bartle - 1901 Census 

Arthur Cecil Bartle - 1911 Census 

Sources

UK Census

John Christie of Rillington Place - Biography of a Serial Killer by Jonathan Oates

Murder with a Difference - Molly Lefebure (1958)

Find My Past

Sheffield Indexers

Sheffield History Forum

Daily Mail (London); Jul 9, 1998; p. 32

Sunderland Echo dated 22rd April 1953 and 22nd June 1953

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