It was February 18th, 2001, a Sunday evening. I was 25 years old, and living with my then girlfriend, Katie, in her house in Oxford. As usual we were sitting in the kitchen at the back of the house, when a friend, Chris, turned up at the door. Chris had been a close friend of mine since 1993, actually, I was his registered next of kin, since he was estranged from his family, for very tragic reasons.
At the time, Chris (sometimes known as Kit), was 39. He suffered from very severe mental health problems, mainly paranoid schizophrenia, as well as having some fairly unusual physical problems, including a hunched back. In addition to this, he had been known locally, on the streets, often begging, wearing a long world war one Great Coat, sporting a long wild looking beard, with longish, unkempt dark hair. He was normally seen as quite a wild character, he tended to talk loudly, loved dancing and singing along, in a fittingly crazy manner, to classic and progressive rock, which he had a habit of playing very loud. Despite his appearance, and his deeply troubled and tragic past, Chris was, though, generally, and genuinely a very nice person, he was generous and caring, but there was a deep darkness, and sadness about him, for good reason.
There was something very unusual about this visit from Chris on that Sunday, and it was easy to spot why, because Chris, was very quiet, thoughtful, and subdued in his manner. Maybe because Chris wasn’t his typically loud self, his sadness, seemed to me, to be almost deafening, it more than filled the gap where the madness usually was, Perhaps this was why Chris was normally the way he was, the overt loudness would fill up the space, so the sadness had little room to show. It was always there though really. I could see it in his dark eyes, and I knew very well, his history.
Chris sat with us in the kitchen, though relatively quiet, he was still a potent presence in the room. Katie made us all some food, we talked a bit, and then went upstairs to my room where he sat in his wicker chair, and we watched an episode of his favourite TV programme, Star Trek: The Next Generation, on my old colour TV. After watching Star Trek, Chris just got up out of the chair, and quietly left. Katie and I talked afterwards, noting how strange the visit had been, due to Chris’s manner.
A few days later, we were in the kitchen again this time with another friend, Larry, when two police officers appeared at the door. I opened the door to them and they started asking questions. They asked us if we knew Chris, and asked us when we’d last seen him, so we told them about his visit on the Sunday. The officers explained that he’d not been seen for a few days, and then left, with the intention of visiting his flat again. After the police had left, we talked about what had happened, and I think we probably knew something bad had happened, but at the same time, Chris had gone missing before, for many days, then later turned up.
I can’t remember exactly what happened next, I think the officers may have come back later that evening. They brought with them some of the saddest news I’ve ever had. The police had been unable to locate Chris, I think they’d looked through his letterbox, and something roused suspicion, so they broke down his door.
That evening, when the police entered Chris’s flat, they found it in a mess, and they found my friend, lying there, dead.
Chris had a very tragic background, which I’ll explain a bit more about shortly, but although his apparent suicide, was a shock, it wasn’t a surprise. He’d talked many times about how he would take his own life, he even had some fantastical ideas about how he’d do it, including a plan make some homebrew wine, and fill his flat with gas from the wine, to suffocate himself. In the end, he used his bootlaces and a pair of pliers. Perhaps because I knew Chris so well, I think strangely, it was fairly easy to accept his passing. He’d been in so much mental pain, every day of his life, I knew it was like torture for him, and this was a release from that.
I was of course, still distraught though, I’d lost my friend. I considered him my best friend, and since I was his registered next of kin, I was considered family, and initially I was asked to formally identity his body. We got to the hospital to identify him, but fortunately, I was saved from a probably horrific, and damaging experience, due to the fact that Chris had some fairly unique physical aspects, which meant he could be identified easily.
So, to why it came this point.
About 8 years earlier, when I was 18, I was living in a shared house in Oxford. These were generally very crazy times, I was unemployed, very poor, and I had alcohol and drug problems. I lived in a culture that existed around people with serious problems. One of my housemates, had been doing Tai Chi lessons at the local community centre, and he mentioned this schizophrenic man, called Chris, who had also been in the lesson.
The house next door to me, 20 Crown Street, was ’emergency housing’, the landlord, Mr. Farooq, had a contract with the home office, he owned about 50 houses around East Oxford at the time, and these houses were filled with people with severe problems, ranging from alcoholics, heroin addicts, women who’d been in abusive relationships, criminals, people with HIV and AIDS, and schizophrenics, often all under one roof.
Chris was one of those people, placed in the emergency housing next door to me, and seemingly left to get on with it, for the most part, aside from having a Community Psychiatric Nurse, and a Social Worker.
My first encounter with Chris, was suitably Chris-like, a first impression that probably should have been shocking to me, but which seemed authentic. There was a knock at the front door of my house, and since I lived in the room closest to the front door, I opened it. Standing there, was a hunched back man with wild hair and beard. The next thing that happened, was this man walked up to me and said, “Hello, my name is Chris, and I killed my grandmother.”
Despite the very shocking introduction to Chris, for some reason, I did not feel threatened, I didn’t feel unsafe. Those words “I killed my grandmother”, I think were probably somewhat detached, possibly conditioning as a result of being in various mental institutions, an openness, that cannot be denied, it was what it was. I think I was quite immature though, possibly naïve even. It wasn’t the first time I’d met murderers who were seemingly ordinary, pleasant enough people, either. I had thing of just accepting people as they were, and not judging them simply for who they had been, and what they had done. I’d already met people who I instinctively knew, were dangerous, and I didn’t get that feeling from Chris, despite his honesty about the terrible crime he’d committed.
I am sure that Chris himself, knew more than anyone, just how awful what he’d done was. He often said that what he’d done, was the worst thing possible, and I believe, he totally believed that. He woke up every morning, knowing the full extent of what he’d done, and hated himself for it.
In the following few days, possibly weeks, I spend a lot of time with Chris. We talked all night at one point. Chris was very open about his experiences, what he’d done. At one point, we were in Chris’s flat, listening to various pirated cassettes of rock music, on a tape machine that had no fast forward button, it was late at night, and Chris rummaged through some of his possessions, then pulled out a stack of papers and handed them to me. The large volume of typed papers, were Chris’s psychiatric reports. Which I then read through.
Thinking back, I don’t think I ever realised what effect all of this might have had on me. There I was, still a teenager, but one who had already been through plenty of struggles, living on benefits, in a house full of people with serious problems, sitting up all night, with a paranoid schizophrenic who had murdered someone, reading through his detailed psychiatric papers.
I learnt a lot about Chris’s life, very quickly.
So what brought Chris to this point?
It seems Chris had experienced a very difficult, probably very lonely childhood. He told me that he’d been told, by his mother, I think, that he was the product of a rape. I heard stories about how Chris believed his could control the weather, how he’d spent some time locked in a cupboard. Chris had some physical problems, particularly with his spine, I can’t remember the name of the condition, but I think it might have been genetic, and to do with the curvature. The story goes, that Chris, maybe still a child, or teenager, had an operation on this spine at one point, a metal plate of some sort had been inserted. Perhaps the worst thing he recounted, was that he’d had to lie down for a whole year of his life.
Chris’s mental state got gradually worse as he got older. Clearly he was suffering from paranoid delusions. He experienced a range of voices in his head, but to him, they were real, including the voices of seven sisters, and the obligatory voice from under the bed.
Chris lived in Bracknell, quite an uninteresting town, I think home to the 3M company. At one point, later on in his life, in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Chris decided to visit a friend on a caravan site. He walked to the site, in the pouring rain, wearing only a pair of jeans. At one point, the police stopped Chris during his journey, but for some reason, they just let him carry on. Chris reached the caravan site, soaking wet, and went inside. His friend had an open fire, maybe a stove, and as he was drying himself, a voice told Chris to put his hands in the fire, which he did.
There are probably a lot of stories that I’ve forgotten about and may never remember, but most important are the events leading up his grandmother’s death.
After leaving home, and I think this is coming up to around 1982, Chris was living in a house with one of his brothers. He didn’t have many possessions, at one point he lived off of apples he took from an orchard, which he ate whilst staring at the floorboards, probably listening the voices, left with only his imagination, listening to his own paranoid fantasies, which started to feel like reality to him.
The person who Chris felt closest to, in his life, was his grandmother. Chris really loved his grandmother, and would often visit her. She was probably his world, at least, his real world, rather than his internal one, based on fantasy. Sadly, the two worlds of reality and fantasy began to merge for Chris, to the point that he believed they were one and the same.
The paranoid fantasy that had become consuming Chris the most, was one in which Chris believed in the existence of extra terrestrials. These aliens, were abducting people, and experimenting on them. Where things took a turn for the worse, was that Chris started to believe that the aliens, were targeting his grandmother. Chris truly believed, that the aliens would abduct his grandmother, and place her in some form of machine, and as a result, she, the person he loved most in the world, would be in pain, forever.
This fantasy, which became reality for Chris, was too much to take, and so, one day, in 1982, Chris went to visit his grandmother, with the intention of ‘saving’ her from an eternity of pain. To this end, he committed the act that he would come to know as being the worst thing anyone could ever do, and would torture him for the rest of his life.
That day, Chris killed the dearest person to him, his grandmother.
I have decided not to say how he did this, it’s too traumatic and I don’t think its necessary. I think Chris realised quickly what he’d done, I can’t remember exactly what happened next, but he was arrested and put in a cell, probably sectioned under the mental health act, fairly quickly.
Chris was distraught. I don’t think there are words to convey just how bad he felt about what he’d done, instead his next actions speak for themselves. At one point, his was in a cell, with little, or no clothes, or anything. Chris managed to get hold of a biro pen, he then used the jagged bit on the pen lid, to try to kill himself, by digging out the veins in his wrists. He was unsuccessful of course, and the scars remained visible up until the day I last saw him.
Chris was assessed, convicted of the ‘altruistic’ murder of his grandmother, then sent to Broadmoor hospital, where he spent about 12 years, along with Peter Sutcliffe (The Yorkshire Ripper, who also was committed to Broadmoor that same year), one of the Kray Twins, and various others, mostly other very tragic, seriously mentally ill, but dangerous people.
Chris was given ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), which I think at the time, may have been done without anesthesia, and which involved passing electrical currents through the brain, in order to trigger convulsions, which can treat some mental health conditions. Although Chris maintained that this didn’t really work, what it did was make you ‘smile’ so that you wouldn’t have to go through it again.
After 12 years of being in one of the most notorious secure hospitals in the UK, Chris was released. I think initially he went to Fair Mile Hospital, a lunatic asylum in the village of Cholsey, near Wallingford. Then from there, I think he was at Rutland House in Oxford, which at the time was a Therapeutic Community.
At one point, Chris was getting on the train, going to Oxford, and wandering the streets. Then somehow he got a place in emergency housing, which takes us up to that that day, in 1993, when I first met him.
Chris lived at 20 Crown Street for a couple of years, it was a very crazy time for all. Chris did not want to be alone, he would take in homeless people, and let them live on his floor. At one point I counted about 9 people living in Chris’s small flat in the attic of the house. Chris didn’t go out much, and kept an open door. He had a chair he’d sit in, in front of the door, and was always hospitable.
In order to control Chris’s schizophrenic behaviour, he was given drugs, sometimes forcibly, if he refused. The main drug he was given, by way of injection, was a drug called Depixol, an anti psychotic, which had some terrible side effects. After injections, Chris said it felt like his body was crawling inside, it was very uncomfortable, and he took pills called Procyladine (or Chemadrine) for the side effects, which I think had their own side effects too. One of the main side effects for Chris, was Tardive Dyskinesia, essentially, very bad, involuntary shakes. Chris like to write, he wrote Tolkienesque fantasy stories, but the shakes made it difficult, or even impossible to write.
At some point, relatively early on in our friendship, I was registered as Chris’s next of kin. I think possibly, initially, Chris wanted a friend with him, for visits to psychiatrists. I sat in with some of Chris’s sessions with professionals, I don’t think I was welcome though. As well as that, I went on daytrips with Chris, his CPN, and social worker, including a trip to the standing stones at Avebury, which was an interesting journey, as Chris had made some cookies with hashish in them, and attempted to offer them to his CPN and Social Worker, in the car on the way there. I think they looked at each other and politely declined!
There were times when things got very difficult living around Chris, aside from the sheer number of troubled people living with him, people tended to be up all night, and the sound of loud rock music, and Chris’s mad cackling, would annoy neighbours, One of my housemates, climbed the outside of the house one night, as for some reason, Chris had locked the door, and wasn’t answering.
Some of the people around Chris, were rough, and even dangerous. Such as Jimmy, who lived downstairs in Chris’s house. A Scottish heroin addict, with HIV, who was known for biting people in fights. In one incident, I can’t remember why, but it didn’t take much, Jimmy was in Chris’s room, with a wallet full of thousands of pounds, and I caught a glimpse of the knife he’d started to pull out on me, then I got out of there as quickly as possible.
In another incident, Jimmy and ‘Crackhead George’, had come into my house next door, then George left after a while. It was Christmas, and Jane, a young woman I lived with, had been sent some presents by her parents in New Zealand. The presents went missing, and we realised the likely culprits were the two drug addicts. I went out looking for George, found him in a phone box, scoring some drugs, and then demanded he come back to the house. When we got back to the house, he and Jimmy, laughed in our faces. One of my housemates, and I, cornered them both in my room, some money had gone missing too, Jimmy smugly pulled out his bugling wallet and proceeded to mock us by asking us which one of the many notes he had was ours. Then to my surprise, they both started stripping off, mocking us with a strip search, whilst George said to me “You’re enjoying this aren’t you”, implying that I was enjoying him getting naked in my room, which I wasn’t.
Chris was really having a tough time with both his mental health and the medication. At some, I think during 1994, everything got too much for him. For some reason, Chris got the idea in his head, that what had happened to him, with his grandmother’s murder, was triggered by a group of bikers he’d known, slipping him some LSD, although I’d not heard about these bikers before that point, and doubt the story was true. At that time, Chris had a man called Ady living with him, I think he had a girlfriend living there too. Ady had a motorbike, and they decided to take Chris back to Bracknell, for what reason I don’t know, maybe to find these bikers (although this was about 13 or 14 years later).
A couple of days later, Ady returned, without Chris. I think the story was that Chris just walked away and disappeared. I was very worried for Chris’s safety but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I think Chris only had the clothes he was wearing, including the World War One Great Coat, and probably some rolling tobacco.
Chris had been missing for days, maybe even a week or more. It seemed like a long time anyway. One night, I was at home in my room, when I heard some noise outside in the street. I recognised Chris’s voice, and looked out to see Chris sitting on the ground, against the front wall of his house, telling a taxi driver he had no money, and to take him to the police station if he wanted but he had no money to give him. I think the taxi driver just left, and I went outside, called Chris in. He was clearly in state, and had been avoiding taking his medication.
In another incident, Chris had a small walk through airing cupboard type space, just before his tiny bathroom. Chris had decided to grow 14 cannabis plants in this area. They were doing pretty well. I had been in Chris’s flat one day, and popped next door to mine for a few minutes, when I went to go back into Chris’s house, I found a police officer (whom I recognised from about 5 years earlier), outside the house. I asked him what was going on, and he told me they’d be called to reports of screaming, and asked me if I’d heard anything. I said I hadn’t, but perhaps someone had mistaken my friend’s crazy laugh for screaming (entirely possible). I went upstairs to Chris’s flat, and mentioned about the police being outside. The others in the flat, realised this was probably going to be a bust, and started trying to hide things. Of course, the police came upstairs, and walked straight in, all the doors were open. I watched them open the door to the bathroom, and then, well, oh look, 14 cannabis plants. Chris took all responsibility for everything, including telling others to take out what they’d stashed (as they’d have got searched anyway). The police took Chris away, whilst they were waiting for a big enough van to put all the plants into, they asked Chris tips on how to keep the plants. I watched from the upstairs window, as smiling police officers. loaded the cannabis plants into a van, and drive off.
Something odd happened then. Chris had to go to court, and was expecting to be sent back to the ‘looney bin’, especially since he was only out on certain conditions, and could be recalled for growing dope. Chris went to court one day, all ready to be locked up. Instead, someone from the court came out, and told him that his case had been dropped, and to go home. That was the last he heard of it.
Eventually, Chris moved out of next door (and I had to move out of my house, in very difficult circumstances, but that’s another story). Chris got a bigger flat in Salesian House in Cowley. A former monastery for Salesian monks, which had been turned into flats with people with various problems. This is where Chris spent his final years. He seemed a lot happier, but still wouldn’t allow himself to be alone, until around the time he killed himself.
After Chris’s death, the funeral was planned for around the same time as my birthday, March 8th. I had my final gig with the band I was in at the time, Nachala, on my birthday, and one (or maybe two) of Chris’s brothers, came along, it all seemed quite friendly really. A couple of days later, Katie and I went to his funeral at the Crematorium in Oxford. It was very strange, the coffin went out to sound of Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin (actually a favourite of Chris’s anyway). I got to meet some of Chris’s family, including his mum, who seemed nice. One of the strangest moments, was meeting another of Chris’s brothers, unlike the other one I’d met, this one, I forget his name now, looked a lot like Chris. For a moment, it was like seeing the person whose funeral I was at, alive and well. We also met Chris’s sister, Sue, and after the funeral, we went to visit her at her house. Sue had Chris’s ashes, and a short time after Chris’s funeral, Sue, Katie, and I, travelled to Bracknell, where we went to a church, and met a priest.
The ceremony at the church, for scattering Chris’s ashes, was attended by just the 4 of us, and kept a secret. The reason for this, was because we’d decided to scatter Chris’s ashes on his grandmother’s grave. It all seems both odd, but at the same time, a fitting end, to a deeply tragic story. All was calm, this was peace, and closure.
The date of birth, on the grandmother’s headstone, read “19th February”. The day after Chris had visited us, probably had his last supper, and watched his favourite TV programme.
I had a couple of dreams in which I met Chris again, after his death, I cried, I’m still sad. It was a long time ago now, and it feels like mostly what’s left, has lived only in my head for all these years. What happened, with Chris, his life, his grandmother’s death, his death, was so unbelievably terrible and tragic, but at the same time, I’m very glad to have known him, and I know I’ll never meet anyone like him again. Reading this back, I am saddened about how awful most of what I’ve written it, but it’s incredibly difficult to not do justice to the story, in a way that seems positive. Chris is someone, who taught me about the complexity, and struggles of being human, that there are many sides to people. I’ll leave it there, just to say, goodbye Chris, it was a pleasure knowing you, it’s been a long time, but you’re not forgotten.