Archive for July 13

13 July 1955 – Ruth Ellis

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , on July 13 by Old Sparky

Ruth Ellis

Ruth Ellis

It seems apt that the last woman to be hanged in Britain was guilty of a crime of pure, Pernod-fuelled passion. After all, it happened at a time when impassioned people were speaking out against the death penalty.

Ruth Ellis was done for shooting David Blakely outside a Hampstead pub, after he’s spent that Easter weekend avoiding her like the plague.

The incensed girlfriend shot the racing driver once, then planted four more bullets in him before a policeman got the gun off her and she was taken into custody.

A two-day trial took place and Ellis was found guilty of murder, after which the divorced nightclub hostess spent her final days in Holloway Prison in London, amid a will-she-won’t-she-be-executed battle.

Responsibility

‘Ruth Ellis does not matter. But what we do to her – you and I – matters very much. And if we do it, and we continue to do it to her successors, then we all bear the guilt of savagery, untinged with mercy’, wrote ‘Daily Mirror’ columnist William Connor (aka Cassandra).

Yet, it was this very support to try to get her sentence overturned that prompted the Home Secretary not to waiver – after all he did not want to be seen as weak, according to TruTV Crime Library.

Reasonable doubt?

However, the ‘Guardian’s’ Claire Dyer and the ‘Independent’s’ John Cooper put a whole new spin on things. That Ellis was guilty had been unequivocal up to that point. However, in the days leading to her death, it emerged that Ellis may well have had an accomplice, says Dyer.

Her divorce lawyer Victor Mischon1 had agreed to settle her last will and testament – after all, she had to see that her two children would be in safe hands after her certain demise. So she had met the lawyer just before she was due to be executed.

Grounds for reprieve?

According to Cooper’s tribute commemorating the lawyer’s work, Mischon had said they met ‘this time to deal with her private affairs, and especially her young son, [and] having heard her story in full, which to my knowledge had never been completely revealed before, I persuaded her . . . to allow me to apply [to the Home Secretary] for a reprieve’.

For this meeting was to expose details, which had never been made public before – an ex-boyfriend may have had a hand in the murder. Accountant Desmond Cussen had spent the day with her drowning their sorrows over Pernod. He’d then handed her a gun and driven her over to the Hampstead pub where she took aim.

Espionage

So why had she kept such damning evidence to herself? According to Dyer, that was because Cussen had agreed to look after the kids after she’d been disposed of.

But researcher and author Monica Weller2 takes things to a whole new sinister level, asserting that this was part of a huge cover-up and that Cussen was actually the murderer. Weller reckons Ellis was executed to preserve the anonymity of a spy ring, and the writer bases her argument on public records housed at Kew, which showed signs of being altered.

Ellis had previously admitted that Blakely had duffed her up so hard, she’d miscarried his baby just 10 days before the fateful shooting. Yet, according to Weller, this was pure fiction. Ellis had had an abortion, which was illegal at that time and this is apparently corroborated by the hospital records at Kew.

Whatever the story, at the time, Mischon obviously saw enough upon which to pin an appeal.

Ruth-less

Mischon didn’t hesitate – he attempted to file for a reprieve. Sadly it failed because it all hinged on Cussen, who’d couldn’t be located in time. So the attempt hit the skids and the rest, to quote the cliché, is history.

Not just Ellis, but the whole family was touched by this tragedy – her sister apparently died soon after, while a few years later, her alcoholic ex-husband George and her son André both committed suicide. Similarly, her daughter died, this time of cancer, aged 50.

But 28-year-old Ellis’s legacy lives on – she remains the last female to be executed in Britain. Just 10 years after her death, the penalty was abolished completely.

Indeed, the last two people to be executed were Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans in 1964. Both executions took place simultaneously at Walton Prison, in Liverpool and Strangeways Prison, in Manchester respectively, on 13 August, but more of them next month.

1 If the lawyer’s name rings bells, it is because the law firm (later named Mischon de Reya) helped Princess Diana and Paul McCartney secure their divorce settlements.

2 With thanks to Monica Weller for her comments and feedback. To read her findings, see Monica Weller’s story.

Also on this day

13 July 1894 – Patrick Eugene Prendergast

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