On this day in history….13th July 1955

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

On this day in history….14th November 1864

On this day in history : 14th November 1864 – German tailor Franz Muller is publicly hanged at Newgate Prison, for the murder of Thomas Briggs – the first killing on a British train….

Franz Muller – Public domain

On the 9th of July 1864 city banker Thomas Briggs had been travelling on the 9.50pm London Railway train between Fenchurch Street and Hackney Wick…. Train travel at the time was not without its risks – robberies were commonplace but as of yet nobody had been killed…. However, this was about to change…. Briggs was beaten, robbed of his gold spectacles, watch and chain…. He was then thrown from the train, to be later found by the driver of another train travelling in the opposite direction…. He was taken to a nearby public house but died of his injuries….

A pool of blood was found in the compartment of the train where Briggs had been sitting – along with a black beaver hat assumed belonging to the murderer…. Then John Death, a jeweller from Cheapside, gave a description of a German man who had exchanged a gold chain two days after the attack – this chain was identified as having belonged to Briggs….

Nine days after, by which time a substantial £300 reward had been offered, a cab driver by the name of Matthews came forward with information…. He claimed he had not heard about the murder (even though it had been widely publicised) – but said he had become suspicious about a jeweller’s box with Death’s name on it, in the possession of his future son-in-law…. The cab driver’s daughter was engaged to 24-year-old Franz Muller – and Matthews was able to provide a photograph of the German…. This was then identified by the jeweller as being the man who had exchanged the chain; a warrant was issued for Muller’s arrest….

However, Muller was now onboard a passenger liner heading for New York…. Fortunately two detectives from Scotland Yard managed to get passage on a much faster ship and were in New York three weeks before Muller – who was arrested upon his arrival….

Extradition was to prove a little tricky as diplomatic relations were not good between America and Britain at the time, due to the American Civil War…. But eventually Muller was brought back to face trial….

The trial caught the attention of the British public, who were becoming increasingly wary about the safety of travelling by train…. Many believed Matthews had only shopped his future son-in-law to get the reward money and speculated that he might even have been involved in the crime himself…. Much of the evidence against Muller was circumstantial and he pleaded not guilty, protesting his innocence throughout…. Nevertheless he was found guilty and sentenced to hang…. His was one of the last public executions and a large, unruly, drunken crowd of some 50,000 gathered to watch…. Muller’s last words were “Ich habe es getan” ~ “I did it”….

Engraving of Newgate Prison, early 1800s – Public domain

The case was to lead to the establishment of the communication cord onboard trains, giving passengers a way of contacting train staff…. Briggs had been murdered in a closed compartment with no way of exiting between stops…. As a result railway carriages were created with corridors….

On this day in history….13th August 1964

On this day in history : 13th August 1964 – The last two criminals to face the death penalty in Britain are simultaneously hanged for the murder of a laundry van driver In Cumberland….

Evans (left) : Allen (right) – Fair use

24 year old Gwynne Evans dropped to his death at the hands of hangman Harry Allen in Strangeways Prison, Manchester – whilst at exactly the precise same time 21 year old Peter Allen was hanged in Walton Jail, Liverpool by Robert Leslie Stewart….

The pair had been convicted of killing 53 year old John Alan West at his home in Seaton, Cumberland…. John West, known as ‘Jack’, was a bachelor and had worked for the Lakeland Laundry at Workington for 34 years…. He had returned home after an ordinary days work and gone about his usual evening routine…. But then, at 3am, a neighbour was woken by noises coming from West’s house…. On looking out of the window he saw a car disappearing – and he called the police…. West was found dead, with severe head injuries and a stab wound to the chest….

A search of the property revealed a raincoat which had been left behind by Evans…. In one of the pockets was a medal, along with the name and address of a Norma O’Brian in Liverpool…. The police contacted her and she confirmed that she knew Evans and that the medal belonged to him….

Evans was traced through his criminal and army records to the home of his parents – and from there they were able to find Allen…. Within 36 hours both men had been arrested – on being questioned Allen initially claimed that he had been at home with his wife on the night of the murder – however, it soon came to be that both men were blaming each other for striking the fatal blows…. Both were found guilty of murder at trial….

By now public opinion had turned against capital punishment – despite this calls for a reprieve failed…. Theirs were, however, to be the last executions in Britain….