A Tragic Anniversary
60 years ago today on the morning of 13th July 1955, Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain met her tragic end in Holloway Prison.
This event was to prove instrumental in changing attitudes on the punishment of women offenders and how the law dealt with them.
The murder of playboy racing driver David Blakely outside the Magdala public house in London’s fashionable district of Hampstead, shook a respectable neighbourhood to its core. It followed a very recent murder incident in the leafy suburb, which must have left residents thinking is it safe to live here? The repercussions of this case resulted eventually in the abolition of the death penalty.
On the evening of 10th April 1955, David Blakely had been staying with his friends Anthony and Carol Findlater in their home a short walk from the Magdala when David and his pal Clive Gunnel went down the hill to the pub to get some more drink.
Ruth Ellis it seems, suspected that Blakely had spent the weekend with a rival lover out in Berkshire, before returning to the Findlaters’ apartment. She had been waiting nearby for Blakely to appear. Only a couple of weeks earlier Ruth who had been pregnant with Blakely’s child had been badly beaten up by him whilst in a terrible rage, causing her to miscarry. Goaded by her rival suitor, a man called Desmond Cussen, Ruth had probably been driven to Hampstead by him, possibly in his privately owned taxi. Cussen is thought to have bought the taxi as a novel mode of transport.
Ruth Ellis had spent the previous Friday with Cussen and her son Andre on a practice mission in Epping Forest being shown how to handle Cussen’s ex-service revolver. A fruitless mission it seems, according to the young Andre, who would say that she failed not only to hit the target pinned to a tree, but couldn’t even hit the tree.
Realising that Blakely had gone down to the Magdala she followed in the taxi to confront him. Armed with Cussen’s Smith and Wesson .38, she stopped him as he emerged from the pub. Ellis pointed the gun at him and fired. She missed, but as Blakely tried to take cover behind a parked car, another shot rang out, then another and another. All in all, five shots were fired and Blakely collapsed in a pool of blood. Unfortunately one of the bullets ricocheted and hit a passing woman on the finger, ironically this was to prove fatal for Ruth Ellis, as the fact that an innocent bystander was hit was enough for the judge to order the jury to convict and sentence her to death.
Ruth Ellis’s executioner was Albert Pierrepoint. He had been responsible for despatching over 460 condemned prisoners, but this event was one of the last he was to carry out. Siting a lack of payment over a later execution, he then retired. Some nearly seventeen years later, when visiting Ruth’s relocated grave during a press publicity stunt he broke down in tears over her grave.
Questions over the whole affair remain unanswered. Maybe they will never be answered. Was the whole affair an attempt by the “Establishment” to cover up a more important issue concerning the British Secret Services? There are strong suggestions that this may have been the case. Did Ruth actually fire all the shots herself, or were they fired by someone else? From a parked vehicle perhaps? These questions were never examined at her trial. One woman who is tirelessly investigating the affair trying to seek the answers to those questions to this very day is author Monica Weller.
Monica co-wrote the autobiography of Ruth’s older sister Muriel Jakubait and has spent the last 12 years continuing to unearth clues as to the real happenings of that April day sixty years ago. The results have been staggering, truly mind boggling. Government secrets, MI5, spies and a famous espionage scandal that continued into the 1960’s. Monica has and continues to piece together the jigsaw which when the last piece is inserted, will present a completely different picture of the whole affair.
If you would like to learn more about Monica’s findings we recommend her book and blog and if you would like to be notified of a very special event that London and UK Taxi Tours are organising with Monica Weller later this year then sign up to our newsletter here
In the meantime why not get a few friends together and tour the sites connected with this and other 20th Century crimes on one of our Murder Mystery Tours.
Ray Coggin is both a qualified Taxi Guide and a qualified City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights tours and themed tours) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.