On Easter weekend 1955, as Ruth Ellis stood over the body of her former lover, David Blakely, witnesses recalled hearing several distinct clicks as she attempted to fire the remaining sixth and final round into his back. As an off-duty policeman took the still-smoking gun from her hands, Ellis reportedly said, “I am guilty. I am a little confused.”
Whether it was the years of physical abuse she suffered at the hands of Blakely, or the final straw when he beat her so badly she miscarried their child, Ellis snapped. The jury only deliberated for 23 minutes, and Ellis was condemned to hang for her crime—unsurprising since she admitted to the crime and stated during the trial, “It was obvious that when I shot him, I intended to kill him.”
Her name goes down in infamy as the last woman to be executed in England. In a final letter to Blakely’s parents from her prison cell, she wrote: “I have always loved your son, and I shall die loving him.”
At the club, Ruth met 25-year-old David Moffat Drummond Blakely, a wealthy, handsome, spoiled racing-car driver, who parked his fiancée while making time with Ruth. That was in 1953. He was the chief, but not the exclusive, romantic interest in Ruth’s life after George Ellis’s departure. For a time they lived together in an apartment in Egerton Gardens, Kensington. Their roller-coaster affair had no middle ground of calm; they were either in one another’s arms or punching and pounding one another. Blakely sponged off Ruth shamelessly and beat her up when he was drunk and angry.
The third figure in this ill-fated relationship was Desmond Cussen, a company director smitten by Ruth’s good looks and her flattery at the Little Club, who usually took in Ruth and Andria after she had had a spat with Blakely. Blakely and Ellis’s overheated love-hate relationship went on many months, during which time the loutish Blakely exploited Ellis’s trust and friendship. He made her pregnant, then beat her so badly that she suffered a miscarriage just before Easter, 1955. To follow the twists and turns in their relationship is to write a gloss to the heady, gin-soaked post-war years in London when the city tried, after six years of war, to remember how to enjoy itself.
Drink, once more freely available, although ration books were still required for many food items, helped this stormy romance to degenerate into arguments, brutal beatings and untethered jealousy. Neither victim nor murderer can escape criticism here, although Ruth, with a child dependent on her, was usually in the more vulnerable position.
Their turbulent affair came to an abrupt end on the Easter weekend, 1955. Still not completely recovered from the miscarriage, Ruth had agreed to meet David Blakely on Good Friday. For the moment at least, Blakely had decided to make a complete break from Ruth, and had found temporary shelter with racing-car enthusiasts Anthony (“Ant”) and Carole Findlater, who lived in Tanza Road not far from the Magdala pub on the edge of Hampstead Heath.
Intoxicated by alcohol and, one might add, with frustration and jealousy, Ruth pursued him to the Findlaters’ house where, hearing sounds of a party upstairs, she banged on the door and finally smashed the window of Blakely’s car parked outside. She caught sight of Blakely and others in a party mood. Perhaps she mistook the Findlaters’ au pair for Blakely’s newest conquest.
Twice the Findlaters called the police to remove Ruth from their doorstep. On the evening of Easter Sunday, Ruth was again on David’s trail. This time she brought a gun with her. She followed Blakely and a friend from Tanza Road to the Magdala, a Charrington’s public house at the bottom of South Hill Park, in North London. Alan Thompson, an off-duty policeman, was inside enjoying his pint when he saw a woman who might have been Ruth Ellis staring at Blakely through the pub’s window, as Blakely was buying a few bottles at the off-license counter.
Shortly afterwards, Thompson heard shots, and running outside to investigate, found Ruth standing over the prostrate body of her lover with a smoking gun still clutched in her hand. She had emptied the gun at Blakely, calmly telling his friend to stand clear. In the fusillade, a bystander, a Mrs. Gladys Kensington Yule, was hit in the thumb by one of the six bullets fired. At least one observer saw Ruth put the .38 Smith and Wesson to her head and pull the trigger.
When Ruth handed PC Thompson her empty gun and asked him to call the police, he identified himself as a constable and took her into custody. As is typical of many people who kill while in the grip of heightened emotions, she made no attempt to escape. Indeed, she seemed to welcome the opportunity to pay for her deed and expiate her sin; she even thanked the judge who sentenced her to death. (The trial was a perfunctory one, in which only a modest defense was offered, concentrating on the events of that Easter weekend and not going into the background of abuse and alcoholism. The jury took 23 minutes to find her guilty.) Ellis would not allow her lawyers to appeal her case. Nor would she have anything to do with the many petitions that circulated after her trial asking for clemency. Her letters from Holloway indicated that she wanted to pay for her crime.
On the appointed day, 13 July 1955, Ruth Ellis was hanged by the neck until dead according to the letter of the law, under the supervision of the unfortunately named Dr. Charity Taylor, governor of Holloway Prison. Since that date, the case has been tried and retried in many different forums. New evidence has come to light, and the majestic figure of impartial “Justice,” with her blindfold and her balances, has been besmirched by complicity in this sorry tale of a near call-girl murderess who tricked the justice system into completing her attempted suicide.