13 July 1955 – Ruth Ellis

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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6 Responses to “13 July 1955 – Ruth Ellis”

  1. DOLLY Says:

    I was a child when Ruth Ellis was executed , it is a name i have grown up hearing .I have read everything published on Ruth Ellis , and i believe she was used as a scape goat . Yes she may have pulled the trigger , but i do believe it all goes a lot deeper , deeper than we will ever know . Only ruth knew the whole truth , she was not sharing all she knew with her lawyers , who was she trying to protect ? she took what she knew to the grave with her , so we will never truly know . I disagree with Capiatal Punishment .
    But i enjoyed reading what you had to say

  2. This was never about justice, it was purely the vindictive act of a vicious home secretary flexing his muscles. In any other European country the actions of Ruth Ellis would have been considered a crime of passion.

  3. PAMELE R HOPKINS Says:

    I BELIEVE THAT RUTH WAS USED IN A MAN`S FIGHT, AND THAT WAS BLAKELY AND CUSSEN`S. I THINK THAT CUSSEN`S HAD A SPEACAL FREINDSHIP WITH RUTH UNLIT BLAKELY CAME ALONG, WHICH MAKE CUSSEN`S JEALOUS AND HE USED RUTH TO EVEN UP THE SCORE.

  4. sophie w.m Says:

    i am a 14 year old girl,and i believe that Ruth should not have been executed.i believe this because she was mad at her boyfriend as he was beating her so badly that he killed her unborn child! yes she pulled the trigger but her mind must of been so messed up with the brutal beating she received from her love. she should have been sent to jail for some time yes,but killed, no. her children were left with no father nor mother. Capital Punishment was hypercrytical for the cases it was brought to as you are killing someone for murder by having someone murder them!

  5. john patterson Says:

    ruth Elliss did not want to be alive anymore,she was so obsessed with blakey she wanted to be with him on the other side,if there is 1.She had nothing left to live for ,such was the void.

  6. MIchael Marsland Says:

    Executing Ruth did far more harm than good. Her death exposed the failings of a brutal judicial system, which had little to do with ‘justice’. Let her legacy be that whenever anyone argues to bring back the death penalty, right thinking people quote her name, along with Derek Bentley and others, who should never have died in the name of ‘justice’. R.I.P. Ruth…….

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