The cup of tea is said to be quintessentially English. It also seems to have been the preferred tipple of the notorious wartime serial killer John Christie.
So it was fitting that tea (and biscuits) were on offer for a talk by Christie expert Dr Jonathan Oates earlier this month for the Acton History Group in west London.
The subject was Christie’s second victim Muriel Eady, who lived with her aunt in Acton between 1923 and 1939. In 1944 she met her killer while working at the Ultra Radio factory in Park Royal. In Christie’s own words:
She was short and rather plump and I should say she was about 30 years old. We used to meet at the works canteen over a cup of tea and we became good friends. One day when my wife was working away I asked Muriel Eady to come one day to the house and she accepted. At the time she was suffering from catarrah and I told her that I was able to cure her of it. I had planned well in advance to murder her, and I had got ready a small glass jar with a metal lid. I had bored two holes in the lid and through them injected a rubber pipe. I fitted the jar with perfumed water. Muriel Eady did not know that the other end of one of the rubber taps was connected to the gas pipe. I told her that in order to cure her catarrah, she must inhale from the jar. The perfume destroyed the smell of the gas, and therefore as she inhaled she had no suspicions at all that she was about to die. After a while she became dreamy and dozy. This was the moment I had been waiting for. In this semi conscious state I led her from the kitchen into the bedroom. I put her on the bed. This was my first affair with Muriel Eady. She was too dazed to resist. She had no objections at all. Then I strangled her.
Christie then buried Muriel Eady in the garden, although the skull was apparently later dug up by his dog. To make it look like she had been the victim of a German air raid, Christie left it in a bombed out house nearby.
All of which left me with one crucial question: What was Christie’s dog called? [Google seems unable to bring up the answer].
Sadly it was something I neglected to ask Dr Oates, although he kindly told me more about his biography of Christie, which is planned for released in 2013.
Dr Oates, who has already published six true crime books, has spent hundreds of hours poring over police files, newspapers, army records, court registers, electoral registers and even a 1998 poem called ‘The Ballad of John Reginald Halliday Christie.’ For those interested, it begins
Before that wicked lady
Hindley and her chum Brady,
Before the Yorkshire Ripper and his kind,
There was a strange old fellow
Whose ways were quiet and mellow,
The last man you would think would blow your mind.
One of the problems of revisiting the more famous parts of London’s history is the accumulation of myths, falsehoods and speculation. The Christie story was also made into the film ‘Ten Rillington Place’ starring Richard Attenborough in 1971 and although touted as a ‘true story’ it is by nature a drama rather than a documentary.
Dr Oates, an archivist by profession, intends his book to set out the definitive story. As he explains: ‘History doesn’t repeat itself – ‘historians’ do. It is a product of lazy research and has happened a lot with the Ripper murders.
‘The biography aims to cover Christie, his family and his victims. I think I know more about this than anyone alive, and certainly far more than all previous authors.’
Dr Oates’ previous books, including “Unsolved murders in Victorian and Edwardian London” can be found here via Amazon.