Sentenced to death for murder, Ruth Ellis instantly entered the history books as the last woman hanged in Britain, in 1955. The sensational story of a blonde nightclub hostess who gunned down her lover, David Blakely, 26, outside a north London pub captured the nation’s attention. But who was Ruth Ellis? No femme fatale, she was a woman driven to commit the ultimate crime of passion...
Hailing from Rhyl, North Wales, Ruth moved to London in 1941, where she worked as a model and a nightclub hostess. She met her future husband, a dentist, George Ellis, at the Court Club. In 1951, she gave birth to a daughter, Georgina.
The couple split up soon afterwards, and Ruth went back to nightclub work, becoming the manager of the Little Club in 1953.
There, she was lavished with expensive gifts by admirers, and had a number of celebrity friends.
She met ex public school boy David Blakely, three years her junior, through racing driver Mike Hawthorn.
Soon living with Ruth in her flat above the club, they had a passionate relationship, but violent rows escalated.
According to Ruth, during one of these altercations, in January 1955, Blakely punched her in the stomach, which allegedly caused her to miscarry his baby.
Both heavy drinkers, he had other women, yet was jealous of Ruth’s flirting with club members.
Ruth began seeing Desmond Cussens, 32, and the love triangle came to a head on the Easter weekend that April.
Blakely hid with friends and refused to see her or answer her desperate telephone calls.
On Easter Sunday evening Ruth Ellis took a loaded revolver to a pub called the Magdala, near Hampstead Heath station.
The moment he stepped outside, Ruth fired two bullets at Blakely, then more shots into him as he lay bleeding on the pavement.
Ruth Ellis calmly told the bystanders to call the police and surrendered to an off-duty policeman, who’d been in the pub.
Blakely died by the time he reached hospital.
At her trial in June 1955, Ellis declined to plead insanity and maintained she had acted under provocation.
At The Old Bailey, after a two-day hearing, the jury took just 14 minutes to find Ruth guilty of murder, and she was sentenced to death.
Ellis did not appeal against her conviction, but the public rallied to show their support.
Home Secretary Major Lloyd George rejected appeals to reprieve her.
The night before her execution, the Prison Governor at Holloway was forced to call for police reinforcements as a crowd of 500 massed outside the prison’s gates singing and chanting for Ruth.
Ruth Ellis believed she deserved death for killing Blakely, saying, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I am quite happy to die.’
Up at 6.30am on her final morning, 13 July 1955, she’d a tot of brandy, and was perfectly composed.
A silent crowd, including women with prams, collected around Holloway waiting for the execution at 9am.
At 9.18am, notice of Ellis’ death was posted and the crowd surged forwards, blocking the road and stopping traffic.
Ellis’s daughter Georgie, campaigned her entire life for her mother’s name to be cleared.
Georgie had told Press, ‘She was not in her right mind the night Blakely died. She’d suffered a miscarriage, was taking sedatives and she’d had a lifetime of men being cruel to her.’
She died from cancer, age 50, in 2001, never seeing her mother’s name cleared.
In 2003, judges rejected an appeal made on Ruth’s behalf, and upheld the original murder conviction.