“Please come!” cried the frantic woman rapping on the window of a car parked outside a house in Hampstead. “Fire burning! Children sleeping!”
The man in the car got out and ran with her to the house, following her into the kitchen of a flat. A young woman’s near-naked corpse lay on the floor, and there was a strong smell of paraffin. Someone had set the body on fire, the flames spreading round the kitchen.
The woman who raised the alarm was 53-year-old Mrs. Styllou Christofi. The victim was her 36-year-old German daughter-in-law.
Police called to the flat learned that Mrs. Christofi’s son Stavros had come from Cyprus to become a waiter in London where he had married Hella, a tall, attractive brunette. In 1953 his mother had left Cyprus to join the couple and their three children, but she couldn’t stand her daughter-in-law and the feeling was mutual. Styllou Christofi couldn’t forgive Hella for supplanting her in her son’s affections.
Hella had endured her mother-in-law’s constant criticism for as long as she could. Then she had told Stavros she was taking the children to Germany on holiday. On her return she would expect his mother to be gone, sent back to Cyprus. Stavros said he would arrange it.
After he went to work on the evening of JULY 29th, 1954, Hella had said she was going to have a bath. Wearing only her panties, she had gone to the bathroom unaware that her mother-in-law was following her, carrying an ashplate from the kitchen stove which she brought down on Hella’s head, knocking her unconscious.
After dragging her daughter-in-law to the kitchen, Mrs. Christofi had strangled her with a scarf, poured paraffin over her and set fire to it. But as the flames spread she had panicked, fearing for the lives of her grandchildren, and had run for help.
She said she had found Hella on fire and had tried to put out the flames with water, but detectives saw the tell-tale red mark round Hella’s neck. And where was Hella’s wedding ring? They found it in her mother-in-law’s room.
Hanged at Holloway Prison on December 13th, 1954, for Hella’s murder, Styllou Christofi had experienced mother-in-law problems herself when, like. Hella, she was a young daughter-in-law. In 1925 she had been acquitted of the murder of her husband’s mother, who had died after having a burning torch thrust down her throat…