Styllou Pantopiou Christofi – A Greek (Cypriot) tragedy?


The penultimate British female hanging was that of Styllou Pantopiou Christofi (pictured here), a fifty four year old Greek Cypriot, at London’s Holloway prison on Wednesday the 15th of December, 1954.


Styllou had been convicted of the murder of her daughter in law, thirty six year old Hella Dorothea Christofis whom she had battered and strangled to death at their home at 11 South Hill Park, Hampstead, London on Wednesday the 28th of July, 1954. 

Hella who was of German origin, had been married to Styllou’s son, Stavros, for some fifteen years and the couple had three children.  They enjoyed a happy marriage until Styllou went to live with them in July 1953.  The two women bickered and rowed about the way that Hella bought up the children which did not accord to Styllou’s old fashioned views.  The situation reached the point where Hella had had enough and decided to take the children and herself on holiday to Germany, telling Stavros that she didn’t expect to find her mother in law still there when she returned. 


It was now that Styllou decided to kill Hella.  Once her son had gone off to his work as a waiter at the Café de Paris and the grandchildren were safely tucked up in bed, she firstly hit Hella over the head with the ash can from the range.  She now dragged the unconscious woman into the kitchen and strangled her with a scarf.  In a futile attempt to destroy the evidence of murder Styllou pulled the dead body out into the yard where she put paraffin soaked newspaper round it and set fire to it.  A neighbour, John Young who was letting his dog out, noticed the fire in the back yard and could see what appeared to him to be a tailor’s dummy being burnt.  Styllou went into the street and raised the alarm with a passing motorist around one o’clock on the Thursday morning, shouting “Please come. Fire burning. Children sleeping”.  The fire brigade were able to save the house and the children who were asleep upstairs.  They discovered the charred body of a woman in the yard and noticed a long red mark around the neck.  Styllou had hoped that the body would be too badly burned to reveal anything.  The police were now called and a search of the house revealed Hella’s wedding ring wrapped in a piece of paper in Styllou’s room.  She told the officers that she had been asleep and had been awakened by the sound of two male voices downstairs.  She went down stairs and had seen one man in the yard, before going to Hella’s bedroom where she got no reply when she knocked on the door.  She then saw the body on fire in the yard and went for some water to douse the flames with.  The police were less than impressed with this tale and arrested Styllou at the scene. She was subsequently charged with murder after Hella’s post mortem and the inquest had established the precise causes of death.

Stavros begged his mother and her lawyers to plead insanity but Styllou declined, saying that “I am a poor woman of no education, but I am not a mad woman.”


Dr. T. Christie, the Principal Medical Officer at Holloway Prison, examined Styllou while she was on remand and stated in a report dated the 5th of October, 1954, that after observation of the prisoner since the 30th of July, 1954, he had formed the conclusion that she was insane, but was medically fit to plead and to stand trial. He found her to be suffering from a delusional disorder that made her fear that her grandchildren would not be bought up properly by Hella and that she would in time be excluded from seeing them due to the clash of cultures between the two women.  This seems an entirely reasonable conclusion but did it make Styllou insane?  A copy of that report was furnished to the defence.  Styllou would not consent to an electro-encephalograph examination and this was not carried out.


Styllou came to trial at the Old Bailey on the 25th October 1954 before Mr. Justice Devlin.  Evidence was presented by Mr. Christmas Humphreys of the injuries to Hella and the subsequent fire and conflicting stories told to the police by Styllou.  It took the jury of ten men and two women just under two hours to bring in a guilty verdict. Styllou was returned to Holloway.  She appealed against her conviction on the 29th of November 1954 (appeal number 912) but this was dismissed.


Under the provisions of the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1884 the Home Secretary had a duty to have a condemned prisoner examined by prison psychiatrists if there was concern over their sanity.  Gwilym Lloyd George, the then Home Secretary, ordered this and Styllou was found to be sane by three psychiatrists against the legal standards of the day.  The doctors reported that the prisoner was not in their view insane; and that in their view she did not suffer from any minor mental abnormality which would justify them in making any recommendation for a reprieve on medical grounds.  On the 12th of December it was announced that there would be no reprieve and that the execution would be carried out on Wednesday the 15th of December.  Six Labour MP’s tabled a motion condemning the decision not to reprieve.


Her execution was the to be the first at Holloway since Edith Thompson had been hanged there over thirty years previously in January 1923 and took place in the execution room on E Wing.

In the Condemned Suite Prisoner 8034 Christofi was guarded round the clock by teams of wardresses and asked for a Greek Orthodox Cross to be put up on the wall of the execution chamber where she would be able to see it in her last moments.  On the morning of execution Styllou was made to wear the mandatory rubberised canvas underpants.  Albert Pierrepoint carried out the execution at nine o’clock on the Wednesday morning, assisted by Harry Allen.  Being of slight build at under five feet tall and weighing just one hundred and seventeen pounds, Albert gave her a drop of eight feet four inches.  The notice of execution was posted on the prison gates a few minutes later.  Styllou’s body was autopsied and a formal inquest held at 11 am, prior to burial within the grounds just after noon conducted by Fr. Kalenicos and Rev J. H. William.

Albert Pierrepoint noted in his autobiography how little press interest there was in Styllou’s execution.  One wonders if it was because she was middle aged, unattractive and foreign?


Styllou’s body was exhumed and reburied in Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey when Holloway was redeveloped in 1971.


After the execution it was revealed that Styllou had been tried for murder once before.  She had been acquitted of the murder of her mother in law in Cyprus in 1925.


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