(Visiting the scenes of the crime)
This year is the 60th anniversary of the execution by the rope of Ruth Ellis in 1955. Incidentally, she was also the last woman to be hanged in England by the last hangman to hold the job, Albert Pierrepoint.
I have to admit to a personal interest in this slice of history. On July 13, 1955, I was just a 14-year-old schoolboy at a school in Surrey. At 8:55 a.m., our middle-aged headmistress (Miss Bold) lined us up in the school playground and informed us in an emotional voice that a woman was to be hanged in London that morning, and that we should bow our heads in prayer on the stroke of 9 a.m. That was the appointed time of the execution of Ruth Ellis. Our head teacher seemed to be very emotional about what was about to happen, and it was a trait I had not previously seen in her when she taught us.
Years later I have occasionally speculated that she might have known Ruth Ellis, perhaps personally, perhaps professionally. Or perhaps our headmistress was just an abolitionist of capital punishment? Nevertheless, her manner and deportation that morning made a lasting impression on me and I still remember it as if it were yesterday.
In researching this article, I noticed that I have lived in, been to, or visited many of the towns and locations known to Ruth Ellis. Indeed, some years ago when I was 18, I had myself worked at one exclusive golf club that Ruth visited with her dentist husband and, in fact, my late father was also a member of that club.
Of course, I had followed this so-called “crime of passion” through the newspaper as a teenager (there was scant television coverage then), so I knew much more about the trial and its implications than many of the classmates who stood with me in that silent playground sixty years ago. I have always been an avid newspaper reader then and still am today.
Much of the location then seemed to fall within the triangle of leafy Surrey and Kent, the so-called, “Garden of England,” a nice title. Right in the middle of this golden triangle of suburbia was the British atomic energy commission known as Fort Halstead, and just down the road in Tatsfield lived one of the two traitors to the British Government at the time, namely, Donald Maclean, who later with fellow traitor Guy Burgess, aided by the duplicitous Kim Philby, escaped rather conveniently in 1955 to communist Russia, taking atomic secrets and other classified information with them. In fact, other names would later be connected with these men.
In examining this case 60 years on, it rather reeks today of passion and politics, with the pretty and possessive 28-year-old Ruth Ellis at its turbulent centre. It should be remembered that there was no diminished responsibility on the statute law books that could have saved her life.
The 1950s were a strange era in England. Of course, all the terrors and tragedies of the war were finally over, but many of the problems, such as rationing and sub-human housing conditions, persisted despite a Labour victory in 1945. The “swinging sixties” were waiting to explode just around the corner, and the world would never be the same again. Morals would go out the window of respectability and satanic drug-fuelled so-called “music” would arrive, perverting millions of innocent minds.
It should also be remembered that the druid Prime Minister of the day, Winston Churchill, had revoked the Witchcraft Act in 1955 for some reason, with so much of the occult/astrology lifestyle today rising out of that wicked decision of Churchill!
Ruth herself had been a victim of an abusive father; a lover who attacked her and caused her to miscarry, and a compliant mother, according to written accounts in two informative books on her sad life.
These are Ruth Ellis, my sister’s secret life, by Muriel Jakubait, and Monica Weller, A fine day for a hanging, by Carol Ann Lee. (Unfortunately, this book offers no easy index for the reader to cross-reference).
The world that Ruth understood, inhabited and delighted in was the seedy corrupt London nightclub ambience that developed and flourished after the war, and into the 1950s and 1960s.
At the time, notorious gangs from east and south London controlled much of the entertainment industry. So many of these deceased villains (I will purposely refrain from naming them) are now popular household names. On the other side of the coin, the vice/sex industry was then marketed and controlled by a dangerous Maltese family. Ruth would perhaps have known these men socially, and I suggest she would rarely have defied their orders.
After her arrest, the police examining her seized diaries and came across a well-known gangster’s name and number. They also tentatively suggested to Ruth that he had perhaps supplied the murder weapon that she used the night of the shooting, but she denied this plausible police allegation.
Both books focus on the clientele who drifted in and out of Ruth Ellis’s brief life and on how these people played on her psyche. She most certainly had personal problems of her own that stemmed back to her upbringing in Wales and would come to a dramatic conclusion in Holloway Prison that April morning. Because of the government’s compulsory laws and restrictions on drinking in public houses, many private drinking clubs quickly flourished in and around London, attracting politicians, celebrities, film stars, members of the intelligence services, plus the military and foreign embassy agents. It should also be remembered that the threat of communism was rampant, rather like the fear that fascist Islam attracts today.
In her paid capacity as a hostess/manageress for 8 or 9 years, Ruth would have known many of the above customers and would have heard and learnt many interesting snippets of information along the way. Of course, this knowledge would have been very useful to foreign spymasters and others who could and would pay handsomely (in cash or in kind) for any gossip offered to them.
As regards any possible espionage connection in Ruth’s life, her sister suggested that Ruth had connections in Kent. Also nearby is Fort Halstead, a then-secret nuclear installation served by nearby Biggin Hill airport. If Ruth did move and socialise in this shadowy world of corrupt diplomatic spies, then she was in a unique position to report back to her “handler,” if and when the opportunity arose. But I can’t help suggesting that she was perhaps way over her head by the mid-1955s. I do not believe she was a spy for political beliefs, but simply a paid informer, and just one of many who were coerced or blackmailed into providing political information. Ruth always needed money of course; after all, she had two young children to clothe and feed, and of course to provide the expected treats children always demand and expect at an early age.
In the years leading up to her arrest in London, Ruth’s life was dominated by the influence of three dubious men who caused her pain and grief. I must suggest that Ruth would not have been hanged in 1955 for murder if Ruth had not met David Blakely or their paths had not crossed. This complex arrangement also included the continued presence of Desmond Cussen who was sometimes a spurned boyfriend, sometimes a chauffeur, and her loyal confidant, it seems. This man also had money and maybe this is why she tolerated him. Plus, on the periphery of her life was her divorced dentist husband George Ellis. All of these men would have been subject to Ruth’s frequent mercurial mood swings, and all would have used her emotional turmoils to further their own needs.
The love of her life, it seems, was the exciting racing car driver David Blakely, “who was a homosexual and vulnerable to blackmail.” Later, after shooting him, she would pen a poignant letter of regret during her prison incarceration, writing to his mother of the pain she had brought to her and the family by her actions.
In an interesting sidebar, Jakubait/Weller’s book states that Donald Maclean was buried at a midnight service in 1975. If Maclean was a traitor (which he was), then why was his body brought back from Russia 20 years after his defection and why was government permission given for burial in the same churchyard as David Blakely? This is an important question because Maclean would certainly have been arrested for espionage if he had returned in the years before his death and ended up serving out his sentence in solitary confinement. Instead, he lived out his final years in a luxurious villa in the Moscow hills, all paid for by his grateful communist bosses, of course, and because of these men’s treachery and lies, however, many British agents were hunted down, brutally tortured and then murdered by the KGB in the years following Burgess and Maclean’s planned escape to the Soviet Union in 1951.
It is also suggested but unconfirmed that Blakely may have been a spy of sorts recruited by British Intelligence, perhaps during the war. His frequent trips to the continent after the war for car racing would have been an ideal cover for him to recruit or acquire information that he could pass on to his bosses in London, always at a fee of course.
On April 13 1955 (Easter Sunday as a matter of fact) Ruth was driven to the Magdala public house in Hampstead by Desmond Cussens. She had previously been looking for her lover David Blakely; he was not in his usual haunts but now (it seems) befuddled by depression, doubt, and drink. She had located him at this popular watering hole… the clock was now ticking away for both of them. After peering through the stained glass windows, Ruth sighted him and waited for him to leave, then called his name, raised her gun and fired. Now, the scenario gets rather confusing. In later police transcripts, Ruth refers to herself several times as, “being in a sort of daze” before the shooting. Again she confirms that after firing the gun that, “I neither moved or spoke. I seemed to be looking at things in a sort of daze…I am rather confused.”
After the final shot, she showed no emotion whatever and remained almost trance-like. Conveniently, an off-duty police officer was on hand to take control of the crime scene and stay until requested assistance arrived. Later, she remarked rather strangely to the bishop of Stepney, when he personally visited her in prison: “It is quite clear to me that I was not the person who shot him [Blakely]. When I saw myself with the revolver I knew I was another person.”
To me, much of this case does not add up, at least not on paper. Why would she make these ambiguous allegations (and perhaps others) to the bishop when she knew that all along the gallows awaited her. It seems she would not compromise with the truth as she understood it. Or was this just a figment of her imagination leaving her still in a fog of induced mind control?
I find this rather like the so-called infamous “Manchurian candidate syndrome,” a person brainwashed or prepared to fulfil a given task. It’s rather like a jerking puppet with an elite or government agency pulling the working strings behind the scenes. This method of selective mind control can be of dubious preparation. But if it succeeds – and I say “if” – then it is always dangerous. With Ruth, we know little of how she was programmed. Was it drug-induced? Or were other, more sophisticated uses of autosuggestion applied? Methods that seem to vary within different countries and intelligence networks?
Jakubait/Weller’s book suggests to the reader that Desmond Cussons (who had prepared and given her the primed pistol on that fateful evening) was also an accomplice in the shooting, also suggesting that he gave the final shot that killed David Blakely as he lay dying in the pub forecourt. Who was the alleged bearded physiatrist who apparently later visited Ruth in prison while she was in custody? It seems that no one knew who he was or where he had come from. Had he been ordered to de-programme her somehow after the shooting? Did he accomplish his given task, or was this just a convenient smokescreen indicated by who knows?
During the long night, she was questioned by three police officers from “S” division (it should be remembered that she had no legal representation on hand to advise her of what to admit to or deny in those confused hours). Later the next morning she would confide to a WPC rather wistfully, saying, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I will hang.” Perhaps it was now dawning on her that her days were numbered and there would be no reprieve. The Home Secretary, Major Oliver Lloyd George, would be sent petitions with over 50,000 names, asking him to request mercy for Ruth Ellis. He would be aided in this task by a chosen committee, with most members recommending no reprieve. Then later, the Home Office file showed the precise words: “THE LAW MUST TAKE ITS COURSE.” No doubt about that from the government and its appointed representatives!
According to the Bible, we must all pay the price for the consequences of our own misdemeanours and deeds; taking another’s life should be no exception. Of course, we now live in a liberal and secular society where it seems, there are certain exceptions decided by the justice systems, but the commandments decreed by the Lord God of the Bible are precise. Nowadays, criminals seem to be protected by the courts, but they will not escape God’s coming judgment, whatever their status or privilege. Blasphemy and the corruption of God’s word are vile and evil. God’s justice must be administered freely and forcefully; remember God will not be mocked or ridiculed!
Both then and now, murder mixed with passion and pain plus rumours is hot news, but it’s always been that way, hasn’t it? At the time, England could only boast of one television network, that being the BBC. Commercial television or ITV would not arrive at television screens until later that year; I do wonder how they would have handled it all in their controversial go-getting manner. Most news reporting for the eager public was gleaned from the newspaper accounts. Certainly, Ruth Ellis (prisoner number 9656) was news back in 1955.
The trial opened on June 20, 1955, in the prestigious Number 1 Court at the Old Bailey and the courtroom was packed. (Dr. Crippen would also stand trial there in 1910). Outside, the usual touts were demanding £30 for a seat in the public gallery; this was news, and so was she. When Ruth Ellis was asked to plead, she quietly and surprisingly answered, “not guilty.”
Today, sixty years later, we are used to the so-called “trial by television” generation, with fabricated exposés by the media and facts omitted by the courts and reporting media, according to what is deemed “not politically correct.”
In some way, this was a sham trial with a poor defence that offered very little to relieve the expiring hours in the life of Ruth Ellis.
As Monica Weller movingly writes: “Her trial two months after the shooting lasted a day and a half. The jury at the Old Bailey, on 21st June, was out for twenty-three minutes, before returning a guilty verdict. A month later she was hanged in Holloway prison, and buried in unconsecrated grounds inside the prison walls.”
This is amazing to me! Today, we often read of death row prisoners abroad waiting and languishing for years, wondering if the death penalty will or will not be applied by the State.
For a comparable fast-track trial, perhaps I can mention the Crippen trial and hurried execution later in Pentonville (not by Pierrepoint). One can only speculate that the covert hand of the then establishment was being prepared for some reason to bring Crippen’s sentence and death by hanging to a conclusion. In fact, it was just over one month from the first day of Crippen’s trial until his execution, can you believe it? Both Crippen and Ellis must hold the record for the most speedy death sentences.
At the pre-hanging, Ruth Ellis was described as “a doll-like creature” by one witness. And Pierrepoint later wrote about his preparations for the final drop, “she never spoke to me…she was the bravest woman I ever hanged.” A strange compliment from him, I suggest, for such a controversial occasion.
In 1965, capital punishment was initially suspended by Parliamentary consent, then finally abolished in 1969. Around the same time, abortion was “legalised.”
In examining the shooting of David Blakely and the events surrounding the final minutes of the dreadful deed, there is a lot that fails to add up. Ruth Ellis certainly shot the victim, but the bullet that decisively ended Blakely’s life did not erupt from her shaking gun, but rather from another concealed “shooter,” maybe Desmond Cussens, as is claimed by Jakubait/Weller in their book. At the time of the gunfire Ruth Ellis was 5’2 in height, weighing 7 stone, and with fading eyesight; she had recently had an ectopic pregnancy and was also wearing her glasses. She was driven to the scene by Cussens, who had also “helpfully” provided her with a prepared pistol, and at 9:15 in the evening, she emerged from her hiding place. Blakeley’s death was almost imminent. I suggest she must have now been listless and confused, drained of all surface emotions as she clutched at the given firearm.
Perhaps the effects of the small amounts of alcohol she had consumed earlier were now receding, and the total rejection by Blakely was now becoming something real to her (she must have always suspected this would happen one day). And I suspect that, in her confused mind, she had decided that she would shoot him dead, or maybe just wound him… teach him a lesson, that sort of thing! Who knows what went through her confused mind then? Even she didn’t know what would happen when she confronted him on that fateful day. And with the gun nestling in her coat pocket, she had arrived at her decision, or had this scenario been arranged for her by someone else?
Interestingly, she would later confirm in her written signed statement, “I intended to kill him.” But was this whispered in the cold light of the early morning after the shooting as she sat before three tired detectives, maybe with other police officers wandering in to see this new celebrity “A-star”? Hours earlier, her mind and her plans for her lover of two years were confused: would it be death or just a punishment for a man she still desired? Now despised (a dangerous and deadly cocktail of suppressed emotions in anyone in her state), was she seeking revenge? Well, maybe. But perhaps reconciliation and repentance dawned on her, maybe hours before the hangman came to escort her to the designated place of execution.
The weapon in question was a .38 Smith and Wesson, a rather bulky gun to handle at the best of times. I doubt that Ruth had ever fired a gun in her life before; well maybe at a fun fair, and maybe to win a goldfish. In fact, an expert remarked that “It would need a deliberate muscle effort” to fire it and steady it, so Ruth must have struggled to hold and take aim at her moving target. She did somehow manage to fire the gun at her lover, with one bullet hitting him in the shoulder. Three went wild and hit the pub wall (although this was disputed, with the suggestion that the holes in the brickwork were there previously, once a pub plaque was removed), another ricocheted hitting a passerby in the thumb, and the smell of cordite was in the air as well. So did Desmond Cussens fire that fatal shot that ended Blakely’s life? It can only be speculation, of course, as described in Jakubait/Weller’s book. They do present an interesting and plausible scenario. If the true facts of the case had been revealed at the Old Bailey during the trial, then Ruth Ellis would not have hanged, but more likely would have received a lengthy prison sentence.
Ruth did die as prescribed and demanded by the law, but did she despair at the death she knew would soon claim her? Few expect death’s sudden arrival, even though over 150,000 die each day, many of them suddenly and quickly.
As I compose this article, a German Airbus A320 has just crashed dramatically into the French Alps, with over 150 confirmed fatalities. Of course, none of the passengers would have expected this catastrophe, but it was the final hour for all of them. Certainly, most were planning happy reunions with family and friends, but sadly this was not to be.
Ruth had once childishly confided to a prison official that she hoped to be reunited after death with her dead lover. Yet death will claim each of us one day, perhaps sooner rather than later. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Unless you have repented and trusted in Christ alone for your salvation, you are not saved; you are sadly forever lost!
Finally, the tragedy of Ruth Ellis seems to have affected many in her own family: her son André would commit suicide in 1982, at age 38.
Interestingly, one of her trial defence team would post him money for his upkeep, and later the prosecution counsel would pay for Andre’s funeral costs. Ruth’s daughter Georgina would die of cancer in 2001, at age 50. The other men in Ruth’s turbulent life do not seem to have coped much better: George Ellis hung himself in a Jersey hotel in 1958, and Desmond Cussens later relocated to Australia, suffering money troubles, and eventually succumbing to alcohol problems. He died in 1991, “taking the secret of whether or not he truly gave Ruth the revolver to his grave,” speculates Carol Ann Lee, in her book.
Sin and its severe consequences not only affect the main sinner in question but third parties too, as has been tragically demonstrated above!
The controversy still lingers on today; in 2003 the case came up before the Court of Appeal but seems to have gone nowhere in reaching a positive decision. In 2007 a petition was published on the Downing Street website asking the Prime Minister at the time to consider a posthumous pardon for Ruth Ellis. That apparently seems to have gone nowhere at all. Ruth Ellis and her dwindling family still waiting for a final closure to the case that has brought them so much grief.
One day, maybe soon, all the unsaved from this lost world will be cowering at the Great White Throne Judgment (see Revelation 20:12-15), and there the books will be opened for the final judgment against all unrepentant sinners. Of course, there will be no court of appeal, no future pardon, and no amnesty for those that will suffer in Hell for one million years or ten billion years!
The Ruth Ellis drama that satisfied the morbid curiosity of the 1950s seems now dated and distant, with perhaps an unsatisfactory conclusion being offered to the reader. That she shot the victim is never in doubt, in my mind, but the motives that swirled around this case still seem unclear and would remain so in any court of law convened even today, a possibility now unlikely.
That Ruth moved and worked and lived in the shady and seedy world of entertainment is not in doubt, but I do suggest that she was prepared and primed and manipulated to do what she did. In my opinion, it was a planned political decision taken by a government agency, still clouded in secrecy. Her masters must have been very pleased with the final outcome and maybe this was an overture of what would happen over the next years in some of the most controversial political/media cases of the 1960s still remembered today. In the end, Ruth was thrown away rather like the rag doll she had once owned and loved in her childhood so long ago.
It also seems to me that the pools of passion and politics were both involved in the Ruth Ellis case and its aftermath. Maybe one day, when more sensitive government files are declassified under the Official Secrets Act of that period, we will have a clearer picture of what led up to that shooting by Ruth Ellis, the last woman to hang in England.
In conclusion, we probably will never know or comprehend the fatal events that occurred during that Easter weekend shooting in London sixty years ago. Maybe, just maybe, my old headmistress knew and understood a lot more about this case and Ruth’s sorry role in it from her own wartime past and occupation as a young woman, and I do have my own ideas about that as well.
Georgina her daughter would die of cancer in 2001 at the age of just 50.
Andre her son would later be diagnosed with schizophrenia. He arranged for his mother to re-buried in Amersham in 1971. Her headstone would later be vandalized. Andre being the main suspect. He died in 1982 aged only 37. He would be cremated and his ashes apparently buried with his mother. There is no headstone or marker is seen at the grave today of Ruth Ellis.
“It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Ruth Ellis, My sister’s secret life, Jakubait/Weller
A fine day for a hanging, Carol Ann Lee
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