Ruth Ellis: Love, Lust and Death on the Gallows

Feb 29, 2012 - by Marilyn Z. Tomlins

Feb. 29, 2012

Ruth Ellis

Ruth Ellis

It was a time of “no sex please, we’re British.”  Women, if they had to mention the three-letter word, preferred to spell it out in a whisper. As for men, they hypocritically joined private men’s clubs where sex was on the menu along with beer and French fries covered in salt and soaked in vinegar.  The girls who provided the sex – models they called themselves and club owners called them hostesses – dreamed of meeting a sugar daddy. One such girl – Ruth Ellis – saw her dream end on the gallows, a rope around her neck.

 By Marilyn Z. Tomlins

There is no sweet story to write about the childhood of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to hang in Britain.

Even the reminiscences of her sister, Muriel Jakubait, in her 2005 book, Ruth Ellis: My Sister’s Secret Life, could not pretend that the first years of the life of her little sister, six years her junior, were idyllic. 

Describing Ruth as dark-haired, skinny and quiet and wearing second-hand clothes, Mrs. Jakubait wrote of how the 11-year-old pre-menstrual Ruth screamed when their father abused her sexually. Muriel, also abused by their father and having borne his child, wrote: “I heard her scream … I knew what he was doing… I encouraged her not to come home straight from school … Most of the time I’d stand in front of her, screaming for him to leave her alone … Nothing stopped him …”

Ruth was born in Rhyl on the northeast coast of Wales on October 9, 1926, her parents, Bertha and Arthur, having moved to the resort not long before. Arthur – Nelson Arthur Hornby – was a cellist, working when and where he could which meant that he either provided the accompanying music to a silent movie, or he played the cello in the band of an ocean liner sailing between England and America. Bertha was half-Belgian half-French: Catholic nuns had evacuated her with other orphans from Belgium to England during the First World War. As for Arthur, he used the surname Neilson for professional reasons. This meant that Bertha also some days said that her surname was Neilson. Thus, some of the couple’s children were given the surname Neilson instead of Hornby. So was Ruth.

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