The film dramatises the case of British Serial killer John Christie who committed most or all of his crimes in the titular apartment, and the miscarriage of justice involving Timothy Evans.
Christie strangled at least eight women (including the baby Geraldine Evans), the first two victims being buried in the back garden of the house during Worlds War 2. After Evans moved into the building with his wife Beryl and infant daughter Geraldine in 1949, Christie convinced his new tenants that he could help Beryl terminate her unwanted pregnancy; he then raped and strangled Beryl. He told Evans that she had died accidentally, and that Evans should leave town until the investigation died down.
Evans entrusted Christie with his daughter, whom Christie then murdered as well. Police neglected to search the property thoroughly, they missed the bones of the earlier victims visible in the garden. As a result of false confessions, Evans was tried for their murders (specifically, his daughter), and executed in 1950. Christie went on to murder his own wife and three prostitutes at the house before his crimes were detected. He was hanged in 1953.
The film relies on the same argument advanced by Kennedy in his book that Evans was innocent of the murders and was framed by Christie. That argument has now been accepted by the Crown, when Evans was officially pardoned by Roy Jenkins in 1966. The case is one of the first major miscarriages of justice occur in the immediate post-war period.
In 1954, the year after Christie's execution, Rillington Place (in Ladbroke Grove) was renamed Ruston Close, but number 10 continued in multiple occupation. The three families living there in 1970 refused to move out for the shooting of the film which was therefore set in the empty number 7. Richard Attenborough, who played Christie in the film, spoke of his reluctance to accept the role:
|“||I do not like playing the part, but I accepted it at once without seeing the script. I have never felt so totally involved in any part as this. It is a most devastating statement on capital punishment||”|
The house was demolished later and the area has changed beyond all recognition.