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July 13, 2020

The Story of Ruth Ellis, the Last Woman to Be Hanged in the United Kingdom on July 13, 1955

Ruth Ellis (October 9, 1926 – July 13, 1955) was a British escort and nightclub hostess. She was the last woman to be hanged in the United Kingdom, after being convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely.



Ruth Ellis was born Ruth Neilson in the coastal town of Rhyl, Wales, the fifth of six children. The original family name was Hornby but her father, a cellist from Manchester, used the stage name Arthur Neilson. Her mother, Elisaberta, was half French, half Belgian and had fled to the UK during the World War I German invasion of Belgium. As a young girl, Ellis loved clothes and aspired to make something out of her life.

Ellis attended Fairfields Senior Girls’ School in Basingstoke, leaving when she was 14 to work as a waitress. Shortly afterwards, in 1941, the Neilsons moved to London. In 1944, 17-year-old Ruth became pregnant by a married Canadian soldier named Clare and gave birth to a son, whom she named Clare Andria Neilson, known as “Andy”. The father sent money for about a year, then stopped. The child eventually went to live with her mother.

Ellis became a nightclub hostess through nude modeling work, which paid significantly more than the various factory and clerical jobs she had held since leaving school. Morris Conley, the manager of the Court Club in Duke Street, where she worked, blackmailed his hostess employees into sleeping with him. By early 1950 she was making money as a prostitute and became pregnant by one of her regular clients. She had this pregnancy terminated (illegally) in the third month and returned to work as soon as she could.







On November 8, 1950, she married 41-year-old George Johnston Ellis, a divorced dentist with two sons, at the register office in Tonbridge, Kent. He had been a customer at the Court Club. He was a violent alcoholic, jealous and possessive, and the marriage deteriorated rapidly because he was convinced she was having an affair. Ruth left him several times but always returned.

In 1951, while four months pregnant, Ruth appeared, uncredited, as a beauty queen in the Rank film Lady Godiva Rides Again. She subsequently gave birth to a daughter Georgina, but George refused to acknowledge paternity and they separated shortly afterwards and were later divorced. Ruth and her son moved in with her parents and she went back to prostitution to make ends meet.

In 1953, Ruth Ellis became the manager of the Little Club, a nightclub in Knightsbridge. At this time, she was lavished with expensive gifts by admirers, and had a number of celebrity friends. She met David Blakely, three years her junior, through racing driver Mike Hawthorn.




Blakely was a well-mannered former public school boy who was educated at Shrewsbury and Sandhurst, but also a hard-drinking racer. Within weeks he moved into her flat above the club, despite being engaged to another woman, Mary Dawson. Ellis became pregnant for the fourth time but had an abortion, feeling she could not reciprocate the level of commitment shown by Blakely towards their relationship.

She then began seeing Desmond Cussen. Born in 1922 in Surrey, he had been an RAF pilot, flying Lancaster bombers during the Second World War, leaving the RAF in 1946, when he took up accountancy. He was appointed a director of the family business Cussen & Co., a wholesale and retail tobacconists with outlets in London and South Wales. When Ruth was sacked as manager of the Little Club, she moved in with Cussen at 20 Goodward Court, Devonshire Street, north of Oxford Street.

The relationship with Blakely continued, however, and became increasingly violent and bitter as Ellis and Blakely continued to see other people. Blakely offered to marry Ellis, to which she consented, but in January 1955 she had another miscarriage after Blakely punched her in the stomach during an argument.

Ruth Ellis with boyfriend David Blakely at the Little Club in London in 1955, the year she killed him. (Photo: Mirrorpix)

On Easter Sunday, April 10, 1955, Ellis took a taxi from Cussen’s home to a second floor flat at 29 Tanza Road, Hampstead, the home of Anthony and Carole Findlater, where she suspected Blakely might be. As she arrived, Blakely’s car drove off, so she paid off the taxi and walked the 1⁄4 mile (0.40 km) to the Magdala, a relatively large public house in South Hill Park where she found Blakely’s car parked outside.

At around 9:30 pm David Blakely and his friend Clive Gunnell emerged. Blakely passed Ellis waiting on the pavement when she stepped out of Henshaws Doorway, a newsagent next to the Magdala. He ignored her when she said “Hello, David,” then shouted “David!”

The Magdala pub in Hampstead where David Blakely was killed by his lover Ruth Ellis, 1955. (Photo: Mirror)

As Blakely searched for the keys to his car, Ellis took a .38 calibre Smith & Wesson Victory model revolver from her handbag and fired five shots at Blakely. The first shot missed and he started to run, pursued by Ellis round the car, where she fired a second, which caused him to collapse onto the pavement. She then stood over him and fired three more bullets into him. One bullet was fired less than half an inch from Blakely’s back and left powder burns on his skin. Ellis was seen to stand over Blakely as she repeatedly tried to fire the revolver’s sixth shot, finally firing it into the ground. This bullet ricocheted off the road and slightly injured a bystander.

Ellis, in apparent shock, asked Gunnell, “Will you call the police, Clive?” She was arrested immediately by an off-duty policeman, who heard her say, “I am guilty, I’m a little confused.” Blakely’s body was taken to hospital with multiple bullet wounds to the intestines, liver, lung, aorta and trachea.

At Hampstead police station Ellis appeared to be calm and not obviously under the influence of drink or drugs. She made a detailed confession and was charged with murder. She made her first appearance at the magistrates’ court on April 11, 1955 and was ordered to be held on remand.

She was twice examined by principal Medical Officer, M. R. Penry Williams, who failed to find evidence of mental illness; an electroencephalograph examination on May 3 found no abnormality. While on remand she was examined by psychiatrist Dr D. Whittaker for the defense, and by Dr A. Dalzell on behalf of the Home Office. Neither found evidence of insanity.

On June 20, 1955, Ellis appeared in the Number One Court at the Old Bailey, London, before Mr Justice Havers. She was dressed in a black suit and white silk blouse with freshly bleached and coiffured blonde hair. Her defending counsel, Aubrey Melford Stevenson, supported by Sebag Shaw and Peter Rawlinson, expressed concern about her appearance (and dyed blonde hair), but she did not alter it to appear less striking.

The only question put to Ellis by prosecutor Christmas Humphreys was, “When you fired the revolver at close range into the body of David Blakely, what did you intend to do?”; her answer was, “It’s obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him.” This reply guaranteed a guilty verdict and the mandatory death sentence. The jury took 20 minutes to convict her.

Ellis remained at Holloway Prison while awaiting execution. She told her mother that she did not want a petition to reprieve her from the death sentence, and took no part in the campaign. But at her relatives’ urging her solicitor, John Bickford, wrote a seven-page letter to the Home Secretary, Gwilym Lloyd George, setting out the grounds for reprieve.[12] George denied the request. In a 2010 television interview Mr Justice Havers’s grandson, actor Nigel Havers, said his grandfather had written to the Home Secretary recommending a reprieve as he regarded it as a crime passionnel, but received a curt refusal.

Ellis dismissed Bickford (who had been chosen by Desmond Cussen) and asked to see Leon Simmons, the clerk to solicitor Victor Mishcon (whose law firm had previously represented her in her divorce proceedings). Before going to see Ellis, Simmons and Mishcon visited Bickford, who urged them to ask Ellis where she had obtained the gun. On July 12, 1955, the day before her execution, Mishcon and Simmons saw Ellis, who wanted to make her will. When they pressed Ellis for the full story, she asked them to promise not to use what she said to try to secure a reprieve; Mishcon refused.

Ellis then said that she had been drinking with Cussen for most of the weekend and that Cussen had given her the gun and some shooting practice. Cussen had also driven her to the murder scene. Following the two-hour interview, Mishcon and Simmons went to the Home Office; the Permanent Secretary, Sir Frank Newsam, was summoned back to London and ordered the head of CID to check the story.

Lloyd George later said that the police were able to make considerable enquiries but that it made no difference to his decision, and in fact made Ellis’s guilt greater by showing the murder was premeditated. Lloyd George also said that the injury to the bystander was decisive in his decision: “We cannot have people shooting off firearms in the street!”

Crowds gather outside Wandsworth prison on the day of Ellis’ execution.

In a final letter to Blakely’s parents from her prison cell, Ellis wrote “I have always loved your son, and I shall die still loving him.”

The Bishop of Stepney, Joost de Blank, visited Ellis just before the execution. Just before 9 am on July 13 the hangman, Albert Pierrepoint, and his assistant entered Ellis’s cell and took her to the adjacent execution room where she was hanged. As was customary in executions, she was buried in an unmarked grave within the walls of the prison. In the early 1970s the remains of executed women were exhumed for reburial elsewhere, Ellis’s in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. Her headstone was inscribed “Ruth Hornby 1926–1955”. Her son, Andy, destroyed the headstone shortly before he committed suicide in 1982.

Ruth Ellis’, Hornby is her maiden name, final resting place in Buckinghamshire.

(Photos: Getty Images)

3 comments:

  1. What a sad life. Did you really need to include so many scantily clad photos?

    ReplyDelete
  2. My she wasn't even thirty yet! I had her pegged for 40/50 years old by the photos!

    ReplyDelete

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