On this day in history : 13th July 1955 – Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, is executed at Holloway Prison for the murder of her lover, David Blakely….

Born on the 9th of October 1926 in Rhyl, North Wales, Ruth at a young age was then to move with her family to Basingstoke, Hampshire – where she went on to attend Fairfields Senior Girls’ School…. Leaving at 14 she found work as a waitress…. The family moved to London in 1941 – and when Ruth was 17 she became pregnant by a married Canadian soldier…. She gave birth to a son, who was initially brought up by Ruth’s mother….

Ruth took up nude modelling – and through this got a job as a nightclub hostess…. She also took up prostitution and in 1950 fell pregnant once again…. This time she had a backstreet abortion….

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Ruth Ellis – Fair use

In November 1950 she married George Johnston Ellis, a dentist with two sons from a previous marriage…. He was a jealous, possessive and violent alcoholic and became convinced Ruth was having an affair….needless to say, it was a stormy marriage…. When Ruth gave birth to their daughter he refused to believe the baby was his…. Ruth took her son and daughter and moved back in with her parents…. She also returned to prostitution….

1953 saw Ruth become the manageress of a nightclub in Knightsbridge…. She had by now made a number of celebrity friends, among them racing driver Mike Hawthorn….and it was through him that she met his fellow racing driver friend, David Blakely…. Although he was already engaged to another, Blakely had soon moved into Ruth’s flat above the nightclub…. and it wasn’t long before she was pregnant again…. Once more she had a termination….

Ruth also started seeing former RAF pilot Desmond Cussen, who was now a director of the family business, a wholesale and retail tobacconists across London and also South Wales…. When Ruth was sacked from her nightclub job it was his Oxford Street home that she moved into…. All the while she continued to carry-on with Blakely…. This relationship was becoming increasingly violent as Ruth insisted on seeing other men…. In January 1955 she suffered a miscarriage after Blakely punched her in the stomach following an argument….

Blakely wanted to end the relationship and went to stay with friends – wanting to lie-low…. On Easter Sunday, the 10th of April 1955, Ruth, having an inkling of where he was hiding, went to the address in Hampstead, London…. She arrived just in time to see his car drive off…. With an idea of where he may be going she walked the quarter mile or so to the Magdala public house – and sure enough his car was outside…. Ruth waited and around 9.30pm he and friend Clive Gunnell left the pub…. Ruth stepped from the doorway of the newsagents where she had been waiting and said “Hello, David”…. Blakely ignored her and continued to fumble for his car keys…. Ruth shouted his name – she then took a .38 calibre Smith & Weston Victory Model revolver from her handbag – and fired 5 shots at Blakely….

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Site of the Magdala pub (2008) which closed in 2016 – Steve Bowen – Public domain

The first shot missed…. Blakely ran…. Ruth fired again, this time the bullet struck Blakely and he collapsed on to the pavement…. Ruth stood over him and fired 3 more bullets into his body…. She fired one last bullet into the ground….which ricocheted off the road, hitting and injuring Gladys Kensington-Yule, a by-stander, in the thumb….

Ruth, in shock, asked “Will you call the police, Clive?” An off-duty police officer, Alan Thompson, who was at the scene, took the gun from Ruth – and arrested her….

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Ruth’s trial took place in Court No.1 at the Old Bailey on the 20th of June 1955 – the jury took just 20 minutes to convict her…. Her execution was performed by Albert Pierrepoint….

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Image credit : Bradford Timeline via Flickr

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