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Ballad Of Tim Evans by Ewan MacColl

Album: Distant ShoreReleased: 1968
  • Anyone hearing this Ewan MacColl composition might conclude it is a song about an innocent man who was hanged for the murder of his wife and daughter. It remains to be seen if Evans was totally innocent of either murder; the evidence that he killed his wife is overwhelming, but clever propaganda and willful distortions by Michael Eddowes and others opposed to capital punishment have misled the public for decades.
    In November 1949, Timothy John Evans walked into a police station in his native Merthyr and told the officer on the desk he had "disposed of" his wife some three weeks previously, giving the police a cock and bull story about procuring an abortificant for her - reluctantly and almost accidentally - and claimed to have found her dead after she had used it against his wishes. Initially they thought he was impaired by alcohol, but when he mentioned his young daughter they became sufficiently concerned to contact their colleagues in London where the family had been living. After an initially fruitless search, officers found the bodies of Beryl Evans and baby Geraldine stashed in an outhouse; they had been strangled. Evans changed his story, claiming his neighbor Christie had assisted Beryl with an illegal abortion, and that he had concocted the previous tale in order to protect him after the operation went wrong. He and Christie had disposed of the body together he said, and Christie had given the baby to a local couple to look after.
    Confronted with the evidence though, Evans confessed freely and voluntarily to both murders, and even shook hands with one of the detectives assigned to the case telling him he felt better already. In all he confessed no fewer than five times, without the slightest pressure being put on him, but when he realized the enormity of his position, he had a change of heart.
    This may have been due to his meeting Donald Hume while on remand in the hospital wing of Brixton Prison. Hume was awaiting trial for the murder of Stanley Setty - for which he was acquitted, although after serving a lengthy sentence for disposing of Setty's body he confessed to a newspaper. Setty's headless torso had been washed up in the Thames Estuary after Hume had thrown it into the sea from a light aircraft, although it was believed at the time to have been dumped from a motor vehicle. Evans - who was widely and erroneously believed to be illiterate - had followed the headless torso case, cuttings of which had been found in his flat; the police believed he had intended to dump the bodies of his wife and child in similar fashion, but he had lost the use of a motor vehicle after being sacked from his delivery job. Hume told Evans to blame anyone but himself. And who else could he blame but his neighbor, Christie?
    John Reginald Halliday Christie was the chief witness against Evans; he denied any involvement or knowledge of either murder, and unsurprisingly, Evans was convicted. He was not tried for both murders, as MacColl seems to think, only for the murder of his young daughter. At that time, if an accused was charged with more than one murder it was standard practice to try him separately for each crime. The Crown elected to try him for the baby's murder first because there could be no issue of provocation - although his legal team had considered running an insanity defense.
    His appeal rejected, Evans was duly hanged at Pentonville Prison, and there things might have ended, but in 1953, a new tenant who had moved into Christie's ground floor flat which he had sub-let illegally, made an horrific discovery. After a thorough investigation, the bodies of Christie's wife Ethel and of the three other women (all of them prostitutes) he had recently murdered and secreted in the house, were supplemented by the skeletal remains of two women he'd killed and buried in the back garden during the Second World War.
    During the Evans trial, Christie's criminal past had been brought up, he was sacked from his clerical job, and sitting brooding at home had clearly "lost it". Soon after the discovery of the "house of horrors" he was picked up wandering around the Thames Embankment. His only real defense was insanity; knowing this, he confessed to the murder of Beryl Evans - seven murders being slightly madder than six. He did not appeal his conviction, and was hanged. A contemporary inquiry by John Scott Henderson, Recorder of Portsmouth, found no fault with the earlier murder inquiry, and concluded that Evans rather than Christie had murdered both his own wife and daughter. But in 1965-6, an extensive inquiry chaired by the High Court Judge, Sir Daniel Brabin, concluded that Christie had probably murdered the baby but that Evans had probably murdered his wife, Beryl. Evans was therefore granted a posthumous pardon and his body exhumed, and re-interned in consecrated ground.
    In 1958, in an interview with the Daily Express after his release from prison, the aforementioned Donald Hume said Evans had told him Christie had murdered the baby while he, Evans, watched. If Hume is to be believed - and he had no real motive to lie - this is quite likely another example of Evans passing the buck.
    There is an extensive literature on the cases of Evans and Christie, the most well known of which is Ludovic Kennedy's book 10 Rillington Place, which was also made into a film, in which, among other errors, Christie is portrayed as the landlord. By far the most compelling book though is the 1994 study The Two Killers Of Rillington Place in which John Eddowes tears to shreds the earlier work of his late father, Michael, who was largely responsible for the Evans was totally innocent hypothesis. Among other things, Eddowes points out that at the time Beryl was murdered, Christie had a rock solid alibi. Other very good judges believed Evans had attempted to frame Christie, who in this case was totally innocent. Beryl Evans had been beaten up prior to being strangled; this was not necrophiliac Christie's modus operandi, however vile his crimes.
    Because both men were habitual liars, the entire truth will never be known, but the idea that Evans - a drunkard and a wife-beater to boot - was totally innocent is simply not tenable.
    Ewan MacColl's heart may be in the right place, but he would have served his cause better if he had chosen a more worthy subject for his anti-capital punishment rant. The song has been covered by Judy Collins, among others.
  • See a photo and learn more about Evans in Song Images.
  • In his autobiography Journeyman, MacColl says of this song it is "a ballad dealing with a sensational murder case and a gross miscarriage of justice" adding it was "the most widely circulated of the new songs in the folk idiom...and was considered to be newsworthy by television companies. It was featured in news programmes and documentaries a dozen times or more, before one of the companies developed cold feet and insisted that we cut a vital stanza from the text. We refused and there followed a series of ridiculous conferences of programme planners, lawyers, station heads and hired men with suits and anguished faces."
    He doesn't say what that vital stanza was, but it is quite likely its final refrain. The song is also mentioned in The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook: Sixty Years Of Songmaking which was published some twelve years after his death. According to this it was composed in 1953 - when the so-called Christie scandal erupted. Copyright 1968, it was published by Stormking Music.
  • The song ends "They sent Tim Evans to the drop for a crime he didn't do,
    It was Christie was the murderer and the judge and jury too."
    The refrain is "Go down, you murderer, go down!", but the final refrain is "Go down, you murderers, go down!"

    It is hardly any wonder that the media took issue with this outrageous slur on the jury and the trial judge, especially when one considers the overwhelming evidence against Evans, which even in 1966 was considered strong enough to hold him responsible for murdering his wife, if not his daughter too.
  • This song is also known as "The Ballad Of Tim Evans" and more generally "Go Down, You Murderers" or "Go Down, You Murderer". (thanks, Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above)
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Comments: 8

This is my final response as I have more important things to research. You might by the way check out my songfact for "Keep A Workin' Big Jim" which covers the Kennedy assassination.

I am, believe me, the wrong person to challenge about the veracity or lack thereof of the police because I have not only seen the results of their duplicity but been on the receiving end of it. They are liars of the first order, although their lies are persistent rather than consistent.

Unlike you I have spent many hours researching the original files at Kew; your "knowledge" comes entirely from Ludovic Kennedy, who dogmatically refused to entertain even the slightest suggestion that Evans was guilty. This smugness derived only in part from his desire to abolish capital punishment, the rest came from the arrogance so many people of his ilk have; they think a university education makes them better, certainly smarter, than the rest of us. The truth is that many people without much formal education can run rings around soft science graduates; I am living proof of that.

It has yet to be shown that the police did anything wrong in this case; they did not doctor the time sheets - that is Kennedy's and if I recall Michael Eddowes' suggestion. Indeed, they were very clever when they investigated it. They lured Christie to the police station on the pretext of taking a statement, and questioned his wife seperately. And they searched his flat. The only thing they found was a syringe, which Ethel used for women's issues.

Many good judges formed the opinion that Evans had committed both murders, including the pathologist Keith Simpson. Far from being a pro-police dogmatist, he was a firm believer in the innocence of Dr Bodkin Adams - who is still maligned by the police as a serial killer to this day. Simpson also makes the point that Beryl had been beaten up, not in Christie's modus operandi.

And Evans' reaction was not that of an innocent party; he comes home, finds his wife dead - doesn't notice she'd been strangled - and agrees to cover it up and dump her body for fear of implicating his wonderful neighbour? Get real. Evans was a consumate liar, and a plausible one, but not plausible enough in this case, thankfully.

Look at the evidence against Evans; he sold his property, bought a new flash coat, stole the wedding ring off his dead wife's finger, showed not a flicker of remorse over her death, then when his money and luck were running out, he came out with one cock and bull story after another. It was only when he was confronted with the evidence that he confessed freely and voluntarily, and he did it so fast that they couldn't shut him up. Afterwards he shook hands with the arresting officer. Later he told him, after I murdered my wife I stole her wedding ring; he told them where he disposed of it, and it was recovered. Altogether he confessed on at least five occasions including to Beryl's brother; it was only when he'd had time to think that he changed his tune.

John Eddowes makes a very strong case, both against Evans and against his own father. I have actually just heard from an academic who is writing another book on the case; he too said he was amazed at some of the guff that is parotted about it, and shares my view of Kennedy.

The views of John Eddowes were undoubtedly coloured by other events in his life. Most people would not write about the affliction of a parent in such fashion, and would prefer to bury his mistakes with him. His book is very courageous in that respect.

As I have said before, if you allow for the coincidence of two murderers living under the same roof, there is not a lot to be said for the innocence of Evans.
Alexander - London, United Kingdom
In response to Alexander, you have not provided a convincing argument that Evans murdered his wife and daughter. All you do is make snide attacks by referring to Kennedy's seminal book as 'self serving'. Also, your attack on Michael Eddowes relies on vindictive opinions expressed by his son, who may well have had a private axe to grind against his father, which are irrelevant to the facts of the murders at 10 Rillington Place. So what, if Eddowes' theory on the remains of Lee Harvey Oswald were disproved. It doesn't mean that he was mad, there are plenty of people who (mistakenly in my opinion) believe the Kennedy assassination was a cover-up. I would also like to add that the fact Christie was not the landlord is a highly significant fact and not a minor detail. The landlord had sent the workmen around to repair the outhouse during the time that Evans was in Wales, and it was where, after the plastering was carried out, Christie disposed of the bodies of Beryl and the baby. The workmen were put under by the police to falsify the dates that the work was carried out, so as to close the case against Evans. Kennedy's book and the outstanding film portrayal of the events bear out the truth of what happened. The rest of your review is meaningless anecdotes and non-sequitirs. Your supposed 'legal' contacts and references are pure sophistry. I didn't say that the people who condemned Evans were 'puerile and dishonest'. They were certainly gullible, but they belonged to an era when noone dared question the fallibility of the police and were taken in by the dishonesty of a charlatan like Christie. Their attempts to cover up their mistakes were particularly craven and are well pointed out in Kennedy's 'self serving' book. I find it rather sad that you hang on to a rather sad and contrarian view on a shameful case that happened 60 years ago. This little forum is probably one of the few spaces for you to express your unconvincing and bogus arguments.Andrew - London, United Kingdom
So, wait, you consider it literally impossible that a drunkard and wife-beater (citation needed) could not be involved with some sort of murder? By that logic, all drunks and wife-beaters are guilty of murder, and my, but we'd have a slim population if that were the case.

There was a murder down the street the other day and my roommate was with me at the time, getting drunk. Should I turn him in?
Denise - Edmonton, Ab
This is a response to Andrew and Peter and their quite vacuous attacks on my SongFact for "Ballad Of Tim Evans". You don't appear either of you to have actually taken in what is written in this review, and have relied on the distortions of the recently deceased Ludovic Kennedy.

The one point one of you has half right is about the film and the reference to Christie as the landlord. I saw this film many years ago, and found a reference to it in a movie database in which it said Christie was portrayed in the film as the landlord. It was on TV again recently and I watched a snippet of it, in which Christie let the room to Tim and Beryl; you can argue that he was subletting but whether or not he had the right to do it he was portrayed as the de facto landlord, so this is not worth arguing about.

My SongFact contains a lot of facts, facts that were gleaned not from Kennedy's self-serving book but from other books and from the original files at the Public Record Office.

Evans was not hung for the murder of his wife and child. Read the review. He was tried for the murder of the baby only. Part of the basis of his appeal was that much of the evidence related to the murder of Beryl, for which he had not been tried, and that there should have been severence. This was at best an attempt to exploit a technicality, but the Court of Appeal would have none of it.

Evans was pardoned in 1966 because Brabin concluded that he had probably not murdered the baby, but he also concluded that he had probably murdered his wife.

The Brabin Inquiry opened November 22, 1965 with a preliminary hearing on October 18 and concluded on January 22, 1966 after thirty-two days, so it was hardly a rush job. Ludovic Kennedy was given a rough time in his so-called evidence.

Evans was not illiterate and he was not simple. He read the "Daily Mirror", and in those days the "Daily Mirror" was a proper newspaper, not a tabloid comic. Evans was also a driver, and you couldn't drive even in 1949 if you were functionally illiterate. His apparent slowness was due to a childhood impairment which left him educationally backward. Lots of people succeed in business with no great formal education; Evans was street smart, and he was sly.

If he was so incapable of manipulation, how did he come up with a sophisticated story of procuring an abortificant? At first he blamed his wife, then he blamed Christie, then when he realised the game was up he confessed freely and voluntarily, not once, but five times.

The police did not take Christie at face value, in fact they were very clever. When Evans implicated Christie, they split him and his wife up, luring him to the police station on the pretext of making a statement, and searching his flat. All they found was a syringe which Mrs Christie said she used for women's issues.

Michael Eddowes was not a barrister but a solicitor; he was branded mad by his son John, who wrote an excellent rebuttal. Michael Eddowes also believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was an imposter and foisted his delusion on the American state. When the body was exhumed, tests confirmed it was indeed Oswald.

Leaving aside the madness of Michael Eddowes, both he and Kennedy had an agenda, and they were not interested in facts that stood in its way.

File CAB 143/22 is headed

"DOCUMENTS SUPPLIED
BY D.P.P.
1. EVANS FILE PAPERS
2. CHRISTIE FILE PAPERS"

It contains a list of witness statements, etc. The file includes also what appears to be a draft of "FURTHER GROUNDS OF APPEAL" in "Rex V. TIMOTHY JOHN EVANS".

The ten grounds all appear to be very weak.

The file contains also an amusing document, a letter dated December 21, 1965 to F.N. Charlton from Maurice Crump of the Treasury Solicitor's office concerning a conversation the latter had with Ludovic Kennedy. Crump says: "I regret to have to record that I found Mr. Kennedy interested in things which could somehow or another be construed as consistent with Evans's innocence to the exclusion of anything tending to prove his guilt."

The inference of necrophilia is not sustained. Beryl Evans had not been violated after death, but she had been beaten up prior to death. This was not in Christie's modus operandi, but it was in Evans'; on one occasion he nearly defenestrated the poor woman; I believe that scene made its way into the film.

So with the confessions, all five of them, all that remains is the coincidence of two murderers living in the same house. Is that such an enormous, unbelievable coincidence? One day in 1998 I was at Inner London Crown Court where I ran into a barrister from my chess club. When I went to the toilet I passed the jury room where unbeknown to the barrister I ran into the secretary of my chess club, who was doing jury service. When I left the building and walked up to London Bridge Station - getting lost on the way - I ran into another barrister and sort of friend, who was on his way to a magistrates court. What are the chances of that?

In her book, "Murdered By Mumia", Maureen Faulkner reproduces a photograph taken of her mother with three other people in a restaurant called "The Cove" at 1234 Locust Street. This was taken December 9, 1942, fourteen years before she was born. On December 9, 1981, 39 years to the day, her husband was murdered by Mumia Abu-Jamal in that very street. Some coincidence, huh?

Your e-mail has demolished nothing, rather you have used the ad hominem and innuendo you wrongly accuse me of employing. My songfact is based on research conducted in the original files; yours is based on the revealed truth of one campaigner. If my review is puerile and dishonest so too were the pathologists and countless others familiar with all the facts of the case that affirm Evans' guilt, not the least of which is the inconvenient fact pointed out by John Eddowes that Christie had a cast iron alibi for the murder of Mrs Evans.

A Baron
Independent Researcher and Author
Alexander - London, England
I would just like to inform you of my incredulity at the appalling, infantile and dishonest information in the review of Ewan MacColl's 'The Ballad of Tim Evans,' which contains barely a single fact. This abysmal review accuses Timothy Evans of being guilty of murder. If you don't know about this case, Evans was hung in 1950 for the murder of his wife and child. The real murderer was Evans's downstairs neighbour at 10 Rillington Place, London, John Reginald Christie. Christie had murdered two women previously during the second world war and kept them buried in his back garden. After Evans's execution, Christie went on to kill four more women at the same address, including his wife, before being arrested and hung in 1953. Evans was eventually pardoned in 1966.

In Britain this was a heinous miscarriage of justice. Christie had previous criminal convictions and lied to get into the police force during the Blitz. In July 1943, he murdered Ruth Fuerst, a young Austrian woman, who he buried in his back garden. The overwhelming guilt and fear of being found out by fellow policemen led him to quit the force not long after. Christie was to use his previous employment with the police as proof of good character during the trial of Evans, a performance which the police and establishment swallowed hook. line and sinker.

Poor Timothy Evans was illiterate and had the mental age of a 10 year old child. He was a fantasist, not a sophisticated liar like Christie. This terrible case is an example of the naivety of the period when nobody ever questioned that the police could make wrong judgements. In the review, Evans is portrayed as a devious liar; in reality Evans was not capable of manipulation: he was too simple minded. It would also be a staggering coincidence for there to have been two necrophiliac murderers living at the same address with one trying to frame the other one, who already had two dead women buried in his back garden.

The review of this song contains no 'facts' at all, but infantile supposition which has long been disproved. I think this puerile and dishonest 'review' should be removed or replaced. Some of the language in the review is comical, particularly when he describes the barrister Michael Eddowes' succesful campaign to pardon Evans as being achieved through 'clever propaganda'. If Evans really was guilty, why would an experienced and established legal professional deliberately want to overturn a verdict that was more than 10 years old? What would Eddowes have to gain? Perhaps, the ridicule that your stupid review invites.

Alas, my question is why are there people using the internet just to be contrarian to appear intellectually superior (ha, ha, ha!)? I have just demolished in this email any pretensions of intellectual superiority that your reviewer might have. I recommend he reads Ludovic Kennedy's '10 Rillington Place' and get his facts straight.
Andrew - London, United Kingdom
Oh, dear. You really have got your facts wrong. The film does not portray Christie as the landlord. When the workmen come to plaster and clean up the outhouse, they tell Christie (Richard Attenborough) that they have been sent there by the landlord. Although he was a tenant, Christie did behave like a landlord in that he advertised vacant rooms and bossed the other tenants around, but at no point in the film is he ever referred to as the landlord. Ironically (in the context of your poor review), it was the dates of the work carried out on the outhouse that established Evans's innocence beyond any reasonable doubt, and which the authorities refused to allow as evidence in the trial - evidence that could have saved Evan's life. It's also worth noting that Evans had a mental age of a 10 year old child and would not have been smart enough or capable enough to 'pass the buck' on to Christie: he simply would not have had that level of self-awareness. The conviction of Evans was a tragic travesty and it's quite sad that 60 years later a few sad conspiracy theorists believe that Evans could in any way have been responsible for murder. Also, what a staggering coincidence it would have been to have had two necrophiliac murderers of opposite poles of intelligence living at the same address.Andrew - London, United Kingdom
I quote: 'Because both men were habitual liars, the entire truth will never be known, but the idea that Evans - a drunkard and a wife-beater to boot - was totally innocent is simply not tenable.' The weak and pathetic insinuation of Evans being guilty is tired, old prattle. It was proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Christie was the murderer, and the most significant distinction between Christie and Evans is the one of a liar and a fantasist. Christie was a liar who concealed the truth of his horrific murders; Evans was a harmless fantasist who hurt noone. The comment that Evans 'was not totally innocent is not tenable' protests too much, and if you believe Evans was guilty of murder then you're a bigger fantasist than he ever was. By making stupid assertions that you can't prove you undermine the integrity of this site.Andrew - London, United Kingdom
but the idea that Evans - a drunkard and a wife-beater to boot - was totally innocent is simply not tenable.
Rubbish ! It was beryl that used to beat up Tim !
Peter - Worthing, United Kingdom