Feb. 29, 2012
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.
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.
The family moved as often as they juggled surnames. Biographers speculated that this might have been to escape neighbors, friends or the teachers at the children’s schools becoming aware of the father’s abuse of his two daughters. Another possibility was that it was because Arthur was often without a job and what money coming into the household during such times being what Bertha earned cleaning people’s houses. When Ruth was 11 and Arthur began abusing her, the family, then using the surname Neilson, lived in a cottage in the London region. Bertha was pregnant for the ninth time – apart from Mrs. Jakubait and Ruth only another two children, sons Julian and Granville, had survived beyond infancy – and she turned a blind eye to what her husband was up to with their two daughters. The new baby was a girl, Betty: a puny child, Arthur would beat her and Bertha neglected her, even allowing Arthur to put the girl in a home for abandoned children. (Betty would die of an asthma attack at the age of 18 three months after Ruth was hanged.)
In 1939, World War II found the family living in Reading in the Thames Valley, some 40 miles west of London. With so many young men having been called up or having enlisted voluntarily, Arthur, who was not called up because of poor eyesight caused by glaucoma, got a job in London as a caretaker-cum-chauffeur at a factory. With the job came a small apartment on the premises. He moved in on his own. Bertha was working back in Reading in a pub.
Ruth was 14, wearing glasses and still skinny – “half-starved” Mrs. Jakubait described her in her book – but pretty with high cheekbones. Still wearing only lipstick for make-up and her brown hair curling naturally, she befriended the former girlfriend of her brother Julian who had joined the Royal Navy, and with this woman, whose name was Edna, and who was already in her 30s, she walked out of the family home and headed for London to find a job despite that she had no certificates and no qualifications. According to Mrs. Jakubait’s book it was Edna who turned Ruth’s head and got her “into the fast life.”
In London, Ruth and Edna moved in with Arthur, and he, not only began to abuse Ruth sexually again but also took Edna into his bed. He had previously described her to his daughters as a woman who “walked like a Queen,” adding that they would never be able to walk like that. This was a sleeping arrangement which abruptly ended. Bertha paid an unannounced visit to the apartment and caught her husband in bed with Edna. It also persuaded Bertha to move into London herself, and Edna having been chased, Arthur moved from the free apartment into the apartment Bertha had found. Ruth too moved in.
The men away at war, it was not hard for Ruth to find a job in London. First, she worked in the OXO meat factory on the Southbank of the River Thames close to the Tower of London. Next, she worked as a waitress in a tea-room off Trafalgar Square. When the Blitz (strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany) began in September 1940, Arthur, while on fire-watch duty outside the factory where he worked and Ruth daringly at his side also watching the sky for Luftwaffe bombers, took a hit over the head by timber falling from a bombed building. He would have died had Ruth not dug him out and dragged him free.
A dark time followed for the family, who, like many Londoners moved from one bombed out apartment or house to another. At the same time the family tried to cope with the news that Julian had been wounded and that Granville was a prisoner-of-war in German-occupied France. To make matters worse Arthur, still only in his 40s, suffered a stroke as a result of his bombing injuries and he was admitted to a hospital outside London. Ruth too fell ill and her physicians diagnosed the excruciating pain she felt in her left hand and wrist as acute rheumatic fever. She spent two months in hospital. The fingers of her left hand would remain crooked and painful for the rest of her life.
In 1943, Ruth, 17 years old, and loving to dance, started to go to what Londoners had begun to call a “dive” – an underground dancing area, not really a club, but also not a dance hall, but a place, safe from falling German bombs, where GIs and Canadian soldiers went for a drink and to meet London’s girls. Ruth, having been told by her physicians that she should take up some kind of physical activity, had chosen dancing, something which she liked to do anyway. One evening, at one such “dive,” her sister Muriel with her, she began a conversation with a French-Canadian soldier. His name was Clare Andrea McCallum. He was 27 years old and rather short at 5’6”, but all the same taller than the 5’2” Ruth. As both Mrs. Jakubait and Ruth’s daughter Georgina Ellis in her 1995 book Ruth Ellis, My Mother wrote, what attracted Ruth to the Canadian was his sophistication and that he seemed to have a lot of money. He bought Ruth flowers, jewelry and clothes, took her to shows in the West End and to movies in Soho and gave her money so that she need not take the Tube (underground transport) or a bus to meet up with him, but could hail a black taxi cab. (During the war London males, unable to compete with GIs and the Canadians, used to say that they were “over paid, over sexed and over here.”)
Ruth soon fell pregnant by McCallum, and despite that he promised to marry her, Bertha sent her as far away from London as possible to avoid gossip and scandal. Ruth went to a hospital 250 miles north and close to Scotland to give birth to the baby there on September 15, 1944.
On Ruth’s return to London, the tiny bundle, a boy named Andre Clare McCallum, wrapped in a blanket, Bertha, considering “illegitimacy” as unacceptable, refused to let her and the baby in, and Ruth went knocking on her sister’s door. Her sister was by then married to Joe Jakubait and the mother of two sons, one also an “illegitimate” child – the son fathered by her own father – and the other fathered by Jakubait.
McCallum was in France with his regiment at the time of his son’s birth, but on his return to London he resumed his relationship with Ruth, then 18. He told her he was going to marry her as soon as the war was over and he was back in civilian life. In May 1945, the war over, his regiment was to return to Canada. Before he boarded the ship he had a florist deliver a bouquet of a dozen red carnations to Ruth. What he had not told her was that he was married and the father of two children. She learned this from his commanding officer in a letter in reply to her query as to his whereabouts because he had fallen silent after the red carnations. She was never to hear from him again.
Ruth, deeply in love with McCallum, was heartbroken at his abandonment of her, but aware of her responsible for their child, began looking for another job. She returned to waitressing. Bertha having mellowed on getting to know Andre looked after him. The Jakubaits also took him in from time to time. As for Arthur, he was sitting at home, an invalid after his stroke.
Not earning much as a waitress, Ruth answered an advertisement for a job as a photographer’s model. She would have to work at night at a private club on Manchester Square in London’s respectable Marylebone district close to the shoppers’ “Mecca” of Oxford Street. The job entailed having to pose in the nude for the club’s members to snap her with their Brownie Box cameras. In order to look good she stopped wearing glasses, preferring to observe the world through a misty cloud. The club was appropriately called the Camera Club. When she got home in the early hours of the morning, Arthur, despite a speech impediment because of his stroke, shouted at her that she was a slut. He was not referring to her job, but to her life in general – the fact that she had had an affair with a married man who had walked out on her and left her with a child. It was Ruth’s earnings - £1 an evening plus commission on what the men in her company drank – which kept him and Bertha from the poorhouse, but which he did not acknowledge. (At that time £1 was the equivalent of $2.80: a loaf of bread cost 0.14 cents and a dress approximately $3.)
Through her work at the Camera Club, Ruth met a man named Morris Conley, known as Maurie Conley. In the future, that is after Ruth’s hanging, a reporter of the London Sunday paper The People wrote of him: “Right in the centre of corruption in the West End of London stands the figure of Morris Conley… I hereby name him as Britain’s biggest vice boss and the chief source of the tainted money that nourishes the evils of London’s night life.” In 1961 Conley would be convicted of keeping a brothel.
Conley was the owner of several private men’s clubs. Those were the kind where men went after work in search of drink and sex. While their wives were home seeing that their children had something to eat and did their school homework, they bought bottles of champagne for the hostesses and afterwards retreated to a bed-sit (a one-room apartment) above the club for sex. Then, after an evening spent pleasantly and gratifyingly, the man would get back into his grey raincoat and, carrying his briefcase and brolly (umbrella) walked briskly to the Tube or most likely to a sleek Rolls Royce or Bentley parked around the corner and his chauffeur would drive him back home where his unsuspecting wife welcomed him back after his “very hard day at the office.”
One of Conley’s clubs, the Court Club, was on Duke Street, a street in the classy Mayfair district, the United States embassy nearby.
Ruth began working at the club as hostess. Conley, a married man, his wife running the bedsits he was letting out to his hostesses and also to other women of low repute, was short and fat and in no way physically attractive. As far as was known he did not indulge in after-hour activities with the hostesses of his clubs, therefore also not with Ruth. They were for club members, and to escape prosecution for prostitution, he never failed to make sure that everyone knew that what the hostesses did once they left his clubs was their business.
This was a time when Ruth returned to live with Bertha and Arthur where Andy was also staying. At home she never talked about her job, but it was obvious to the family that she must have had an increase in earnings because she was dressing expensively. She was always in grey pinstriped suits and white blouses, flesh-colored seamed silk stockings and very high heels. Often the collars of the jackets of her suits were trimmed with fur: it was real fur. Conley paid her £15 ($42) a week, but the club’s members were from a much more prosperous class than those of the Camera Club which meant that the commission she earned on drink and eats was much higher too despite that Britain’s strict liquor laws allowed the clients to drink only from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Post-war rationing also in no way affected what the clients could eat and drink because Conley could afford the black market’s high prices.
Enter George Johnston Ellis, a Dentist
One evening a 41-year-old dentist walked into the club. His name was George Johnston Ellis. Ruth was 24. Ellis came from a good family and spoke “Queen’s English,” in other words he did not have a regional accent and this meant that he had class. He was divorced and had two sons and was living alone in a London apartment. He fell, and fell hard, for Ruth. She was not attracted to him and made it clear by not accepting to see him outside of club hours. Finally, she capitulated and accepted a dinner invitation from him, but she stood him up. At his next invitation for dinner she did say yes. She told the other hostesses at the club that she was doing so only because she felt sorry for him – on the night she had stood him up he was beaten up and she blamed herself for the beating. What she might not have known was that he drank and when he was drunk he picked fights with people. What she was also to learn was that he was a woman beater. His wife had left him because of that.
Ruth started to see Ellis and she fell as hard for him as he had fallen for her. He was not a handsome man, but that he spoke “posh” as the English working classes said when someone spoke “Queen’s English” his lack of looks and the fact that he was 17 years her senior, did not matter to Ruth. That he was a dentist and therefore a man with an education also helped. So did his generosity towards her: He took her for romantic stays in expensive hotels at the seaside.
At first Ruth kept 6-year-old Andy’s existence a secret from Ellis, but she eventually told him about the child. The revelation did not wane his ardor and he asked her to move in with him and she did. She was herself drinking and was also taking prescription medication to “calm her nerves” as she told Ellis, yet she persuaded him to book into a clinic for treatment to cure his dependence on alcohol. Without having told her family, she married him, and the couple settled in the coastal city of Southampton. His alcohol dependence cure had failed and back on the booze he was not in a medically fit state to hold down a job at a dental practice, and he took a part-time job of going around schools to check the children’s teeth.
Hardly had the couple settled down than Ruth fell pregnant, and unable to cope with Ellis’s drinking and the accompanying violence, she returned to London and home to Bertha and Arthur where she had left Andy.
Ruth in a Movie
Back in London, Ruth, despite being three months pregnant, obtained a walk-on part in a movie. She did not tell her family about it. The movie, Lady Godiva Rides Again, starred Diana Dors, Britain’s version of Marilyn Monroe, as well as the actress Kay Kendall and the actor Denis Price. It was about a beauty pageant. Ruth was one of 20 pretty girls in swimsuits who strutted up a staircase in high heels.
How had Ruth managed to break into the movie world? That was also something she kept to herself. There were two possibilities. One was that club hostesses were regularly hired for an entire weekend of partying and sex at the country home of a wealthy lord, earl or duke and on one such weekend she had met a man who was in movies. The other possibility was that her new friend – a movie star – had put in a word for her. The new friend was the actress Deborah Kerr (1921-2007). This friendship was also something Ruth kept from her family: Mrs. Jakubait was to learn of it only when she was doing research for her book. Deborah Kerr was at that time married to the Battle of Britain fighter pilot Tony Bartley (1919-2001) who would later become a movie and television executive. Mrs. Jakubait had not succeeded in discovering how Ruth and Deborah Kerr got to know one another, but it is probable that Bartley and McCallum, both servicemen, had met in one of those London “dives” and the two had introduced the two women to one another.
On November 8, 1951, the movie already showing in London’s theatres, Ruth gave birth to a daughter whom she named Georgina. Ellis, drinking more than ever and having lost the school job, was back in a clinic for another unsuccessful cure. He told Ruth that he did not want the baby and that they should give her out for adoption. Ruth refused and handed the baby over to her mother to look after. She was going to go back to work.
Ruth: the Platinum Blonde
Ruth was 25 and her job at the Court Club, the name of which had been changed to Carroll’s, was waiting, but first she had some adjustment to make to her appearance. She went to a top hair salon in London’s West End theatre world and had her naturally dark brown hair made platinum. Thanks to Marilyn Monroe and her British clone, Diana Dors, platinum hair was all the rage.
Once back working, Ruth moved out of her parents’ apartment and into a bed-sit in Oxford Street. She left her two children behind. She could afford a place of her own because despite that Georgina’s birth had left her with gynecological problems, she did not hesitate to augment her earnings by going upstairs to one of Conley’s bed-sits with the club’s clients. She also did not hesitate to continue to accept invitations for all-weekend parties in the countryside. She made friends with another of the club’s hostesses, a woman named Vicki Martin, and the two rented a larger apartment in south London. Vicki Martin, who would die in an automobile accident a few months before Ruth’s execution, would enjoy some posthumous notoriety in the early 1960s when she was mentioned in the Profumo Sex Scandal which rocked the then ruling Conservative Government. Vicki Martin was, along with Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies, one of the girls in a vice-ring run by the London osteopath Dr. Stephen Ward. Among Ward’s patients were the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), American politician, diplomat and businessman Averell Harriman (1861-1986), the British spy and Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, Sir Anthony Blunt (1907-1983) and Lord Snowdon (b. 1930) husband of the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret (1930-2002). (In 1963 Ward would be charged with living off the profits of prostitution. He then committed suicide.)
Ruth was Conley’s favorite hostess and at Christmas 1952 he made her the manageress of another of his clubs – the Little Club. There was also another reason why she got the managerial position. She’d suffered an ectopic pregnancy (the embryo becomes attached to the lining of the fallopian tube) and she had to cut down on her sexual activity which meant that she could no longer take clients upstairs as regularly as before.
Mrs. Jakubait came across a list of the Little Club’s members at that time. Amongst them were the obese ex-King Farouk of Egypt (he was overthrown in 1952 and lived in exile in Rome where he would die in 1965 aged 45); King Faisal II of Iraq (last monarch of Iraq, assassinated in 1958); Crown Prince Hussein of Jordan (1935-1999) who would become king; the Maharajah of Cooch Behar (West Bengal) lover at that time of Ruth’s friend Vickie Martin; Stephen Ward and Lord Snowdon who was then still Anthony Armstrong-Jones, a London society photographer.
The club was at Number 37 Brompton Road in Kensington. At Number 87-135 was (and still is) the department store Harrods which was owned from 1985-2010 by Mohamed Al Fayed, the father of Dodi Al Fayed, Princess Diana’s last lover who died with her in Paris in 1997. Kensington was, and indeed still is, an up-market district, Harrods no doubt the reason.
Then, as now, Number 37, a narrow five-story red-brick building, had two shops on the ground floor. The club was on the first floor and above it were bed-sits which belonged to Conley and which served the usual purpose. Directly above the club was a one-bedroom apartment and he allowed Ruth to live there rent-free. A bed-settee stood in the sitting room and various members of her family which included Andy (8) and Georgina (1) would sleep there when they visited her. The two children were being shunted between their grandmother’s home and that of their aunt. Ellis too, who would visit Ruth occasionally, slept on the bed-settee. Still married to Ruth, he was still arguing with her to have Georgina adopted. Both were contemplating divorce but setting the long legal procedure into motion seemed a deterrent. Andy, when an adult, would remember the apartment as small and grimy, but Ruth, her financial situation having improved because she was earning £20 ($56) a week with a £10 ($28) entertainment allowance, shopped at Harrods where she bought Dior’s Miss Dior perfume which would in future always cling to her, and would still do so as she walked her last walk to the gallows.
DesmondCussenFalls for Ruth
During her comeback at Carroll’s, Ruth had made friends with a man named Desmond Edward Cussen. The latter, 31, was a bachelor. He rather resembled Ellis in looks. The two men were of the same height, were of a stocky build and had a round face framed with greased-back dark hair. Unlike Ellis though Cussen did not drink excessively, and, as the managing director of his family’s wholesale and retail tobacconist business which had shops all over London, he was not penniless.
Cussen fell for Ruth, but he made no move to become her lover. He was not homosexual because he did date women. As Georgina Ellis described him in her book, he was a “drip” – a bore. He, once Ruth managed the Little Club, transferred his patronage to it, and at night he sat at the bar, listening to the jazz music the agile fingers of a pianist created on an upright piano that stood in a corner.
Ruth Falls for the Cowardly David Blakely
One such evening at the end of 1953, Cussen introduced Ruth to an acquaintance of his, David Moffat Drummond Blakely. At the end of the evening Ruth was heard to say to the other hostesses of Blakely, “I hope never to see that little s*** again.” All evening he squirted soda with a soda siphon over the club’s clients. When they threatened to give him a smack, he ran to hide behind the bar.
Blakely, 25, was the spoiled son of a doting mother and a wealthy stepfather. He could not be described as a success. Indeed, he was a failure. He attended a public school but left without graduating. Having been called up to do his military service (then compulsory), he was quickly discharged with an “R” disability which meant that he suffered from something minor like flat feet or shortsightedness. And he failed as a trainee manager at the luxury Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge, today the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel. (In Britain a private school is called a public school and once they admitted only boys. School fees in such schools are high which means that only the children of parents with money can enroll. Examples of such boys-only public schools are Eton and Harrow.)
Blakely did have two things in his favor. He was handsome. He looked very much like Rupert Everett who played him in the 1985 movie Dance with a Stranger about Ruth and in which she was played by Miranda Richardson. And he was an aspiring racing driver. The sport then, as now, one of glamour, the drivers always surrounded by beautiful women. Therefore, within two weeks of meeting Ruth, he went upstairs with her for a night of sex for which he did not have to hand over money.
It was the start of a tragic love affair.
A Woman Beater
|Ruth Ellis and David Blakely|
Ruth and Blakely looked good together. He was always smartly dressed in suit and tie and being ex-public school, he wore his school tie, something that men who’d attended expensive public schools still do today. She was also always smartly dressed. When she was not wearing a suit, she wore a dark dress with long sleeves and a billowing skirt. Her casual wear consisted of tartan skirts and high-necked twin sets, and she was always perfectly coiffed, visiting her hairdresser every week. It was at that time that Marilyn Monroe said that there was just one sort of natural blonde on earth – an albino – and Ruth no doubt wanting to make people believe that the color of her hair was natural, made sure never to show a dark root under her peroxide platinum hair.
Ruth and Blakely did not however behave well when they were together. Both drank too much and both accused the other of infidelity. Ruth was within her rights to accuse Blakely of infidelity: He was engaged to a socialite and he did not break off the engagement.
When the two were upstairs in Ruth’s apartment and they started to argue neither hesitated to lash out at the other as a black eye, cut lip or bruised arm bore witness. Cussen, as smitten with Ruth as ever, offered his sympathy and a shoulder to lean on whenever Ruth had to hide a black eye under make-up. He even helped her apply the camouflage make-up.
Blakely, although he had an apartment of his own, the rent of which his mother was paying, began to spend entire nights with Ruth. Soon he moved in clothes and other personal belongings and spent more time there than in his own apartment. Conley objected and explained to Ruth that when he made an apartment available to a hostess, it was for her exclusive use. He wanted Blakely out or he was going to ask her to pay rent. It also upset Ellis that Ruth had a live-in paramour: He frequently turned up at the apartment unexpectedly always to urge her to give their daughter Georgina out for adoption. On one such visit he snooped around and realized that when Ruth had Andy, then 9, and Georgina, just over 2, to stay over with her, the two children slept in the bedroom with her and Blakely. He was furious.
At that time, the jobless Blakely was surviving on a weekly £5 ($14) allowance his mother gave him and augmenting that meager income by borrowing from Ruth, came into some money. His biological father died and left him £7,000 ($20,000), then a large sum. He immediately invested the money in designing and building a car in which to participate in races. He hired a friend, Anthony Findlater, 34, like him ex-public school and also like him a non-achiever who told everyone that he was a car dealer when he was in fact an out-of-work car mechanic, to work with him on the car. He paid Findlater a salary - £10 ($28) a week. He hired a second man, Chris Gunnell, a 31-year-old car salesman and friend of Findlater to join the team. He paid him £10 a week as well.
|Blakely and car|
Findlater and his wife Carole, a journalist, and their baby girl lived in the quiet and respectable residential borough of Hampstead some six miles north of the Little Club. Blakely, who had not introduced Ruth to his mother and stepfather, and did everything possible for them not to learn of her, introduced her to the Findlaters. The introduction took place at another private club but one which did not belong to Conley – the Steering Wheel Club, the social gathering place of those in car racing. That night, Ruth and Carole instantly disliked one another. The educated Carole did not take to the uneducated “bar girl.” As for Ruth, she aped Blakely’s favorite bar prank and squirted soda over Carole. Maybe Ruth knew that Carole and Blakely had had an affair and that Carole had left Findlater for Blakely but had returned home apologetically after two weeks. Or maybe it was Findlater she did not trust near to her beau. The rumor around the clubs was that he and Blakely were lovers. Blakely had told Ruth of the homosexual activity at his public school and in which he had participated.
That December (1953) Ruth told Blakely that she was pregnant. (The contraception pill would not become available in Britain until the end of 1961.) The two had been lovers for four months. Blakely manifested no enthusiasm for fatherhood. His mind was on the racing car he, Findlater and Gunnell were putting together and which they named Emperor. They were in a hurry to finish the car because they wanted to enter it for the Le Mans 24-hour race to be held in France the next summer. (The race is one of endurance for the car as several drivers would take turn to be behind the wheel.)
Ruth, her lover not supporting her, went to a backstreet abortionist to help her get rid of the fetus. (Abortion was illegal in Britain until 1967; before that, an abortionist risked life incarceration.) Just at that time Conley made good on his threat and told her that she was to pay him a monthly £10 ($28) rent. Unable to do so financially, and Blakely, having spent the money he had inherited on the Emperor, she had to find another place to live. In stepped Cussen. He, the faithful platonic friend, told her that she could stay with him in his large apartment. She accepted and moved in. His invitation did not include Blakely. He moved back into his own apartment.
Ruth and Blakely no longer living under the same roof and not able to supervise one another as thoroughly as before, their arguments increased and became more physically violent. Each even tried to break with the other, yet their love making did not cease. Cussen refusing to have Blakely in his apartment, the two lovers had to go to a hotel to make love. The hotel’s register recorded 15 such visits in a period of six weeks.
The next summer (1954) Blakely set off for France and unsuccessfully competed in the Le Mans race. He sent Ruth a postcard telling her that he wished she was with him. He did not return on the scheduled date and she, out of her mind with jealousy at what he could be up to, sought solace on Cussen’s shoulder. The inevitable happened. Ruth and Cussen made love. Blakely remained in France for two weeks and on his return he instantly suspected that Ruth’s friendship with Cussen was no longer platonic.
For the rest of that year Ruth slept with Blakely and Cussen. Blakely, madly jealous, spoke of marrying her; he had earlier broken off his engagement to the society girl. Cussen too asked her to marry him. Ruth was free to get married because she had finally divorced Ellis. She did not want to become Cussen’s wife. She wanted to marry Blakely, but no sooner had he proposed than he fell silent about marriage.
A .38 Smith & Wesson
Blakely continued to hit Ruth during arguments.
Cussen, having become her lover, felt that he had the right to intervene. One night at the club he saw Ruth’s bruised face and told Blakely to step outside so that they could see how well he would do picking a fight with a man. Blakely, true to himself, went to hide behind the bar. Another night Cussen drove Ruth to a hospital because Blakely had kicked her so hard that she mistakenly thought that he had broken one of her ankles. In the morning, Blakely, who had heard from Ruth of McCallum’s dozen red carnations, sent her a bouquet of a dozen red carnations. It was not to break off with her though. He wrote on the accompanying card: “Sorry darling, I love you. David.”
That Christmas (1954) Conley made good his threat and dismissed Ruth. Yet again Cussen stepped forward to help. Ruth had decided that she wanted to become a fashion model and he gave her the money to enroll at a modeling school. He also paid for her to have French lessons. Blakely had started to speak of moving to France to join a French racing team and she was determined to go along and wanted to be able to speak French. The French lessons lasted a month. Marie Thérèse Harris, the teacher, would later tell the police that Ruth was unable to concentrate. “… I thought she looked like a person on the verge of a breakdown …,” she said. Ruth’s problem at that time was that she knew Blakely had started a romance with a married woman. The modeling lessons would also rapidly end.
First thing in 1955, Ruth, still without a job, moved from Cussen’s apartment to a small apartment on a leafy square. Cussen paid the rent. He was also paying the fees of a state boarding school where Ruth had enrolled Andy. Blakely, not caring that another man paid the rent, moved in with Ruth. The supervisor at the new apartment, Mrs. Joan Winstanley, thought that Ruth and Blakely were married; she called them Mr. and Mrs. Ellis. Cussen offered no objection to Blakely living with Ruth because he was still enjoying regular sex with her.
That March Ruth was yet again pregnant. She told Blakely it was his child, but Carole Findlater told him that there was no way that a woman who was sleeping around could tell which sexual encounter had left her with child. Another violent argument followed between Ruth and Blakely and on Monday, March 28, he kicked her so hard in the stomach that she miscarried the fetus. At that time, the couple’s relationship had deteriorated to such an extent that Blakely sought refuge with the Findlaters. He feared, he told them, that Ruth was going to knife him to death.
The month of April arrived. On Saturday, April 2, Blakely back living with Ruth, he entered the Emperor in a race in the north of England. He drove up north in a second-hand sports car – a grey-green Vanguard – his stepfather had bought him. Ruth went along .The Emperor broke down during the trial runs and Blakely, disappointed, turned on Ruth and accused her of having jinxed him. She was still unwell because of her miscarriage and had also caught a cold and returned alone to London. She had a temperature of 104 degrees and went straight to bed.
On Wednesday, April 6, Blakely returned from the north and in a very apologetic and loving mood he again asked Ruth to marry him. He gave her a framed photograph of himself. He’d written “To Ruth, with all my love, David” across the bottom of the photo.
On Thursday, April 7, in the evening, the two went to the cinema and all through the movie Blakely whispered to Ruth that he loved her. It was school vacation – Easter was the start the following day – and Andy was off and staying with Ruth, but the couple did not take him with them to the movie theatre. Andy (11) was yet again sleeping in the same room as the two.
The next morning, April 8, Good Friday, Blakely told Ruth he had to go and see Findlater. He promised her to be back at 8 p.m. and drove off in the Vanguard.
At 9.30 p.m. Blakely was still not back and Ruth, angry, called the Findlaters to speak to him. Their au pair answered and said that the couple was not at home and that Blakely had not been to visit that day. An hour later Ruth called the Findlaters again and Findlater answered. He said that they had not seen Blakely that day. Ruth’s anger intensified and, leaving Andy in the apartment, she went to Cussen’s place and asked him to drive her to the Findlaters’ apartment. He did. Blakely’s car was parked outside the building and Ruth, furious, smashed its windows.
At 2 a.m., Ruth outside on the street and shouting and swearing and Blakely hiding in the apartment, Findlater summoned the police. They arrived and Ruth told them that the car was as much hers as Blakely’s as she was financially supporting him. The police left without charging her and Cussen persuaded her to allow him to drive her back to her apartment.
All of Saturday, April 9, Ruth either called the Findlaters’ apartment or Cussen drove her around London to look for Blakely. Late that night after a frustrating and tiring day, Cussen drove her back to her apartment. That night, as she had done on the previous night, Ruth sat up drinking.
Easter Sunday, April 10, at the end of the day, Ruth and Andy arrived at Cussen’s apartment for an early meal. All that day she had phoned the Findlaters’ apartment and was told that Blakely was not there. He was.
At 7:30 p.m. Cussen drove Ruth and Andy back home. “That was the last I saw of her that day,” he said to the police later.
The Findlaters were in fact giving a party that night. At 9 p.m. the Findlaters ran out of cigarettes and beer and Blakely offered to go and buy them some. He got into his Vanguard and drove to a Hampstead pub – the Magdala – some three-quarters of a mile from the apartment. Gunnell went with him. Blakely parked the Vanguard outside the pub and while waiting for the cigarettes and beer to be parceled up, he and Gunnell stood at the bar and had a drink.
In the pub an off-duty cop, Alan Thompson, was also having a drink. He looked through one of the pub’s stained-glass windows and in the half-darkness outside (the London nights are not very dark) he saw a platinum blonde wearing black-rimmed glasses pace the sidewalk. Four passersby – 18-year-old David James Lusty, 16-year-old George Stephen and a Mr. and Mrs. Yule both in their 40s – also saw the platinum blonde with the black-rimmed glasses. She was elegantly dressed in a grey suit and wore very high heels.
Blakely and Gunnell finished their drink and stepped from the pub. Gunnell carried the pack of cigarettes and Blakely carried the pack of beer. He walked over to his car and began to open the door.
“David!” the platinum blonde with the black-rimmed glasses called out.
Blakely swung round. Ruth was pulling something from her purse. It was a gun. Blakely did not move. With her right hand Ruth fired two shots at him. He called out “Clive!” and began to run to get behind his car. “Get out of the way, Clive!” Ruth shouted at a stunned Gunnell. She again pulled the trigger and Blakely sank to the ground. Ruth walked over to him and kept on pulling the trigger. “She emptied the gun into him because I heard two or three clicks after the last shot,” Lusty would say to the police.
All in the Magdala heard the gunshots. Police Constable Thomson was first to react. He ran outside. At the door he nearly collided with Gunnell running back into the pub. “She’s got him,” said Gunnell. He was talking to no one in particular.
PC Thomson saw there was a man on the ground and he saw the platinum blonde with the dark-rimmed glasses whose identity he would still learn. She stood beside the body, looking down at it. She held a gun he recognized as a .38 Smith & Wesson. He reached for the gun and the woman offered him no resistance. “Can you phone the police?” she asked him, her little girl voice hardly above a whisper. “I am a police officer, Madame,” he replied as quietly.
Blakely was 25 years old and dead. Ruth, his murderer, was 28.
|The Smith & Wesson|
The Smith & Wesson bore the serial number 719573. Smith & Wesson in the U.S. informed the London investigators that it had issued that series on December 1, 1940 to the then Union of South Africa (now the Republic of South Africa) as a service revolver for its police. It was a six-shot handgun with a fluted cylinder. It had an effective range of 27 yards and a maximum range of 55 yards. It weighed 34 ounces. (It was at that time also the service revolver of the British Army; British police were not armed.)
The autopsy on Blakely’s body carried out in the morning by Dr. Albert Hunt, pathologist in the Department of Forensic Medicine at the London Hospital Medical College, revealed that Blakely had been shot four times. One – the first Ruth fired – grazed the skin of his inner left arm. The second hit him on the left of his chest, travelled through his left lung, aorta, and windpipe, entered his mouth and lodged in his tongue. The third, fired when he was on his stomach on the ground, hit him in the back, went through his stomach, liver and came to a halt in one of his ribs. The fourth entered through his left hip bone, travelled through his body and exited through his pelvis.
Ruth fired all of the gun’s six bullets. The two which missed Blakely hit the pub’s façade. One of the two was the bullet which grazed Blakely’s left inner arm. The other grazed the thumb of one of the passersby – Mrs. Yule – who stood sobbing hysterically for her husband to hail a taxi cab to get her to a hospital because she was dying and they could not wait for the paramedics to turn up. (The Magdala still exists and the bullet holes are in the façade; a plaque identifies the pub as the one where Ruth Ellis shot David Blakely dead.)
Police and paramedics arrived.
The paramedics rushed Blakely to hospital. He was declared dead on arrival. In the ambulance one of the medics saw a bullet sticking out below Blakely’s lowest rib on the left side. He removed it and would hand it to the police. He would also find amyl nitrate tablets in Blakely’s jacket pocket – men took the tablet to enhance their sexual performance.
The hospital transferred Blakely’s body to a mortuary. Findlater would officially indentify it as that of David Moffat Drummond Blakely.
Once Blakely’s body was off the murder scene, Gunnell ran to the Findlaters’ apartment to tell them what had happened. Cussen, at home, was still to learn what the love of his life had done.
“I am guilty”
The police arrested Ruth. They drove her to their station house in Hampstead. She was taken to a small windowless interrogation room and a uniformed male cop pulled an upright wooden chair away from a table and offered it to her. She sat down as if she’d been ordered to. He went to stand legs apart and hands behind his back at the wall beside the door. Ruth sat in silence.
Half an hour passed and three Criminal Investigation Department (CID) cops walked in – Detective-Superintendent Leonard Crawford, Detective Chief Inspector Leslie Davies, and Detective Inspector Peter Gill. DCI Davies would be in charge of the investigation. He cautioned Ruth that she had the right to remain silent and that what she said could be used as evidence against her. DS Crawford told her that they’d been to the mortuary and viewed Blakely’s body. “I believe you had something to do with it,” he said.
“I am guilty,” she replied.
He asked her to tell them what had happened. “I am rather confused,” she said. A stenographer began to write down her words.
She told of how she met Blakely. How she’d known him for two weeks when he began living with her. She spoke of how on Good Friday morning he had gone out but promised her to be back at 8 p.m. When he failed to return, she, worried about his safety, called the people – the Findlaters – whom he told her he was going to visit. She said that the Findlaters laughed at her when she asked to speak to Blakely. She went to the apartment but the Findlaters would not open for her. Angry and hurt at how Blakely was treating her, she smashed the windows of his Vanguard and Findlater summoned the police. All of the next day she tried to speak to Blakely but the Findlaters would not call him to the phone. It was the same the following day. At 8 that night she put her son to bed and then she hailed a black taxi cab to the Findlaters’ apartment. She took a gun with her. The gun was given to her three years previously by a man whose name she had forgotten: It was surety for money she loaned him. She arrived at the Findlaters’ apartment just as Blakely and Gunnell drove off. She followed them on foot. They went to the Magdala pub. She waited outside. He and Gunnell stepped from the pub.
“… I was a little away from him. He turned and saw me and then turned away from me, and I took the gun from my bag and I shot him. He turned around and ran a few steps around the car. I thought I had missed him, so I fired again. He was still running, and I fired the third shot. I don’t remember firing any more but I must have. I remember he was lying on the footway and I was standing beside him. He was bleeding badly and it seemed ages before an ambulance came …”
Of the gun she said that when she was given it she thought that it was not loaded, but on studying it that night she realized that it was and decided to shoot Blakely.
“When I put the gun in my bag I intended to find David and shoot him,” she stated.
DS Crawford informed her that he was charging her with the murder of Blakely.
“Thanks,” she said.
In her statement she gave her profession as “model.”
Ruth was taken to a cell for what was left of the night. She was given tea and cigarettes to keep her company. In the morning, as British law required, she was driven to Hampstead’s Magistrate Court for an initial hearing. The court, closed because it was Easter Monday and a bank holiday, it convened specially for her. Asked whether she had anything to say, she replied, “I am guilty.” She was informed that she was to be remanded in custody for nine days. She did not react. She also showed no emotion as she was led to a police vehicle for the drive to the North London borough of Islington and its Holloway prison opened in 1852 but since 1903 a prison for women and young offenders only.
Mrs. Jakubait in her book wrote of how she learned of the shooting and Ruth’s arrest. She wrote that on the morning of Easter Monday, April 11, Cussen telephoned her parents who were at that time living in temporary lodgings not far from the Magdala pub and told them that Ruth had been taken into custody and why. He told her parents, who he had not at that time yet met, that he was bringing Andy over to them. He then drove her parents and Andy to her apartment and she and her husband learned from them of the shooting and Ruth’s arrest. He left the boy with her and set off again with her parents. He drove them to a railroad station, gave them money to take a train to their son Granville’s house outside London. Mrs. Jakubait wrote that her parents told her that (1) she was not to tell anyone that she saw them that morning; (2) that Cussen drove them and Andy to her house, and (3) she must not allow Andy to speak to anyone.
Also, as Mrs. Jakubait wrote in her book, after Cussen and her parents drove off, Andy went to sit on her knee. She did not say what she asked the boy, but she wrote that he then told her that “Uncle Desmond” (Cussen) had two guns in his apartment and that on the previous day he had seen him clean those two guns. Then, after Cussen had cleaned the guns, he drove him and his mother to a forest to teach her to shoot. In the forest, Cussen had fired one gun and his mother had fired the other. He laughed when he told her that his mother was shaking so much that she failed to hit the tree she was aiming at. “I don’t think he understood there’d been a murder,” wrote Mrs. Jakubait.
(Normally, Mrs. Jakubait would have learned of the shooting by reading of it in that morning’s newspapers which would have been delivered to her doorstep by a newspaper lad, but because of a strike of the nationals’ electricians and engineers no newspaper had appeared in London since March 25. The strike would continue until April 21.)
Later that Easter Monday, Cussen voluntarily called in at Hampstead Police station house and gave a statement. He said, “… she and the boy Andrea (sic) came to my flat… I drove them back to her room at 7:30 and that was the last I saw of her. I next heard from Hampstead Police that she was in custody. I later drove Ruth’s parents and the boy to London Bridge station today.” He did not mention that he drove Ruth’s parents and Andy to Mrs. Jakubait’s apartment and neither did he identify the policeman or the circumstances under which he learned that Ruth was in police custody. Later, the police would request another statement from him and he would repeat what he told them in the first. He would add that he also saw Andy for the last time at 7:30 p.m. on that Sunday.
Not in her statement to the police or during her brief court appearance did Ruth mention having gone to a forest to be taught by Cussen how to shoot. In fact, she did not mention Cussen.
That evening at 6 p.m. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio briefly mentioned the slaying of a racing driver outside a London pub. A woman, the report said, was helping police with their enquiries.
Ruth became prisoner No. 9656. She was taken to Holloway’s hospital wing: Police reported to the prison authorities that she was despondent and they thought that she might try to commit suicide. A police physician examined her. In his report he described her as a “heavily made up woman with platinum hair, rather hard-faced and abrupt in manner.” He continued to say that she was co-operative during the examination but tense. He asked her whether she had previous convictions and, as he wrote, “she appears shocked by the suggestion.”
The next morning Ruth asked a wardress whether she could have a Bible. Afterwards she asked for writing paper and a pen. Given Holloway Prison letterhead paper, she began to write a letter to Blakely’s grieving mother, a woman he never wanted her to meet. She wrote, “Dear Mrs. Cook, No dought (sic) these last few days have been a shock to you. Please try to believe me, when I say, how deeply sorry I am to have caused you this unpleasantness.” She continued to write about the wonderful times she and Blakely had together. She ended the letter, “I shall die loving your son.”
That evening a man turned up at Holloway to see Ruth. He was told that she was under sedation. The next day he returned and was allowed to see her. The man was John Bickford, a solicitor with the London law firm, Cardew-Smith & Ross. He offered Ruth representation. As he told her there would be no fee or rather the national newspaper Daily Mirror would pay the law firm if she would give the paper the exclusive rights to her story. Ruth agreed and immediately asked Bickford to do something for her. She asked him to call on Cussen and to tell him that she had told the police that the Smith & Wesson had been given to her by a man as surety for a loan. Puzzled, because he’d read the statement she had given to the police and not understanding why she wanted Cussen to know what was in the statement, he nonetheless called on Cussen and gave him the message.
Ruth had another visitor. This was one of the Little Club’s hostesses, a woman named Jacqueline Dyer. As she would say at the club later, she found Ruth unconcerned about the future, but worried that the police had not been gentle when they did the autopsy on Blakely’s body. She had therefore gone to see the body and returned to the prison and told Ruth that Blakely looked good; his coffin was lined with white silk.
On Wednesday, April 20, Ruth appeared in court for the second time and she was remanded in custody for a further eight days in order to give the police time to continue their investigation.
Eight days later – Thursday, April 28 – the strike of the newspapers’ electricians and technicians over, reporters gathered outside the court when a police vehicle with blackened windows drove up with Ruth. That day, for the first time, the police called witnesses. One of the witnesses was Cussen. He confirmed that he had last seen Ruth and Andy at 7:30 of the night of the shooting. Another witness was Blakely’s physician; he said that he had not prescribed amyl nitrate to him. The drug, said the physician, was used by heart and asthma sufferers and Blakely suffered from neither. DCI Davies said that the police were still trying to trace from whom or from where Ruth had obtained the gun. They were also trying to find the driver of the black taxi cab Ruth said she had hailed to drive her to Hampstead.
The judge decided that Ruth was to stand trial for the willful killing of Blakely. The trial would be at the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey on the street of the same name. The date was set for Wednesday, May 11.
In the morning, the papers headlined the story. They called Ruth either the “hostess with two lovers” or the “platinum club girl.” To the most considerate of the editors she was the “model who shot the car ace in the back.” They missed the fact that Ellis turned up at the court house and took a seat in the visitors’ gallery. He was drunk and rowdy and the hearing was suspended for a few minutes while cops evicted him.
The next day, Ruth wrote a letter to Gunnell. Ignoring the rules of grammar, she wrote, “…Holloway is a jolly nice place better than Butlins holiday camp you are always talking about peace and quiet. Everyone is jolly nice here it has surprised me. I have no faulse (sic) idears (sic) about my position, so do not worry I shall be able to take it…” (Butlins, of which there are several in England, is a holiday camp for inexpensive family vacations. The first was opened in 1936.)
May 11 came and no sooner had the case begun than both the prosecution and the defense asked for the case to be postponed as they needed more time to prepare for it. It was postponed to Monday, June 20. The defense especially was faced with a dilemma: Ruth had told Bickford that she wanted to die, that her defense team must make sure that she be hanged. “That is the only way I can join David,” she told him. She had Cussen, who visited her every few days, bring her the photograph Blakely had given her on the day before she shot him dead. It hung in her cell and she talked to it; psychiatrists said she was of sound mind.
The day before June 20 and the start of her trial, Ruth asked the governor of Holloway Prison, Dr. Charity Taylor, for permission to peroxide her hair. The Governor, in turn, asked the Home Office for permission to give Ruth peroxide. Ruth, given peroxide, then fretted that, as she was not used to coloring her hair herself and went twice a week to a hair salon, she might apply the peroxide patchily. (The U.S. equivalent of Britain’s Home Office is the Department of the Interior.)
The Trial at Old Bailey
|Court no 1|
On Tuesday, June 21, the Old Bailey’s Number One Court was packed for the hearing of the Crown’s case against Mrs. Ruth Ellis. Lord Chief Justice Cecil Havers was the presiding judge; he would be addressed as Your Lordship and referred to as His Lordship. (In 2007 his daughter Chief Justice Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss would preside over the inquest into the death of Princess Diana, Princess of Wales.) Prosecution was led by Christmas Humphreys; a Buddhist, he was Senior Prosecuting Counsel at the Old Bailey. He was assisted by Mervyn Griffith-Jones and Jean Southworth. Ruth’s three-man defense was led by Melford Stevenson QC (Queen’s Counsel) and he would be assisted by the barristers, Sebag Shaw and Peter Rawlinson, like Bickford, from the law firm Cardew-Smith & Ross. The five made a somber picture; all but Lord Chief Justice Havers, who wore a red robe and an elaborate white wig, were in black suits (a black skirt in the case of Ms. Southworth) under a black robe with a stiff collar from which hung two white strips of cotton. Bickford who was a solicitor and not a barrister was in court but would not be taking part in the proceedings.
Ruth need not have worried about showing dark roots. She looked stunning in the box of the accused; she wore her favorite attire – a pin-striped black suit with an astrakhan collar and a white silk blouse. And she was in very high heels. “Blonde tart!” a female voice in the gallery loudly whispered. Bertha, Arthur and Ruth’s brother Granville were in the gallery. The Jakubaits chose not to attend the trial; Mrs. Jakubait would claim in her book that her parents had told her and her husband to stay away. Cussen was in the gallery too, but not Ellis.
The trial began with the clerk-of-the-court reading the indictment, “Ruth Ellis, you are charged that on 10 April last you murdered David Moffatt Drummond Blakely. How say you, are you guilty or not guilty?” Ruth pleaded not guilty. Next, Christmas Humphreys presented the Crown’s case addressing the jury of 10 men and two women. He described Ruth as a divorced woman with two lovers. One – her victim – wanted to break off their relationship so she shot him dead “by emptying a revolver into him.” Melford Stevenson, replying for the defense, said that there was no doubt that “the accused” shot Blakely dead. “... No one is going to raise any sort of doubt in your mind about that.” Ruth’s family wondered what he thought he was doing.
The prosecution would call 16 witnesses. Among them were Mrs. Winstanley, the supervisor at Ruth’s building; Anthony Findlater, and those who witnessed the shooting like Mrs. Yule, Police Constable Thomson and Gunnell. Carole Findlater would not give evidence despite that she was subpoenaed by the prosecution as a witness. In the week before the trial, she set off for a vacation in Spain and the prosecution did not call her back because Ruth’s defense team did not consider testimony from her important.
Cussen would be another witness. He was the first to step up to the witness stand. He admitted in reply to Christmas Humphrey’s questioning that he had been Ruth’s lover and that two nights before the shooting he drove her to the Findlaters’ apartment and watched her kick in the windows of Blakely’s car. He also repeated what he had told the police: Ruth and her son spent the day of the shooting with him at his apartment and he drove the two home at 7:30 p.m. and that he’d not seen her again that night. In Melford Stevenson’s cross-examination of him, he admitted that he was “terribly fond” of Ruth “at the time” of the shooting and he told of how he had helped her cover bruises with heavy make-up. “I do not want to press you for details,” said Stevenson, “but how often have you seen that sort of mark on her?” Cussen replied that he had seen such bruising on Ruth about half a dozen times.
Again Ruth’s family wondered what Stevenson thought he was doing because he had not asked Cussen why Ruth had bruises on her, so Cussen could not say that Blakely had beaten Ruth.
Findlater, in the witness stand, spoke of how Blakely wanted to leave Ruth. “He asked me if I could help him leave her. This was said in her presence. I can not remember her exact words, but she was rather sarcastic about him needing some help to leave her,” he told Humphreys. Melford Stevenson in his cross-examination wanted to know in what state Ruth was when he spoke to her on the telephone on the day of the shooting. “Was it quite plain when you spoke to her on the telephone that she was in a desperate state of emotion?” he asked. “No,” replied Findlater. “What?” queried Stevenson. “I said no,” replied Findlater and said that it was just another of those calls from Ruth when she was yet again looking for Blakely.
Mrs. Yule told Humphreys how Ruth chased Blakely around his car, continuously firing at him.
Gunnell told Humphreys of hearing gun shots and seeing Blakely on the ground and Ruth with a gun in her hand.
Mrs. Winstanley told Humphreys that Ruth and Blakely slept in the same bed as if such information was primordial to the outcome of the trial.
Police Constable Thompson told Humphreys of how he had asked Ruth to hand him the gun and she offered him no resistance.
The three CID cops who questioned Ruth after her arrest told Humphreys that Ruth seemed “very composed” yet she told them that she was “very confused.”
Stevenson did not cross-examine any of the above witnesses: he therefore cross-examined only Cussen and Findlater.
The witnesses heard and the lunch break over, Stevenson opened the case for the defense. He addressed the jury, asking them to think of Ruth whom he called “this young woman” as so emotionally disturbed at the time of the shooting that her judgment was impaired. He asked them “to say that the offence of which she is guilty is not the offence of murder, but the offence of manslaughter.” He continued, “You may take the view that there really is no doubt that this young woman was driven by the suffering she endured at the hands of this man to do what she did ...”
He called Ruth to the witness stand. All morning she’d sat motionless and emotionless on a plain upright wooden chair, a table in front of her, in the box of the accused. Beside her sat a wardress who had driven with her from Holloway. Ruth rose and walked the few feet to the stand to her left, her high heels clicking loudly on the marble floor. If she felt weak while giving evidence she could sit down on a bunk or she could grip a bar in front of her.
She spoke of Blakely almost lovingly which also flabbergasted her already puzzled family.
“He was a very likeable person and I got very attached to him,” she said. “He only used to hit me with his fists and hands, but I bruise very easily, and I was full of bruises on many occasions.”
“In March did you find that you were pregnant?” Stevenson asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
Asked about the miscarriage she suffered, she said, “Well, we had a fight a few days previously – I forgot the exact time – and David got very, very violent. I do not know whether that caused the miscarriage or not, but he did thump me in the tummy.”
“And that was followed by a miscarriage?” asked Stevenson.
“Yes,” she replied.
Stevenson asked her about the time she had to go to hospital for an X-ray of her ankle. She said that Blakely was remorseful after that attack on her. He sent her a message to say how sorry he was; he wrote he loved her. She said that what had happened was the fault of the Findlater couple because they did not want her relationship with Blakely to continue. She described the couple as “cocky.”
Of the shooting, she said, “I had the peculiar idea I wanted to kill him.”
“You had what?” asked Stevenson, startled.
“I had an idea I wanted to kill him,” she repeated coolly. Asked yet again by Stevenson why she shot Blakely, she said, “I do not really know, quite seriously. I was just very upset.”
The reply startled Stevenson even more and it also startled Chief Justice Havers. “Can you repeat what you just said?” he asked Ruth. And she said it again.
On that note, Stevenson ended his questioning of Ruth and Christmas Humphreys rose to cross-examine her. “Mrs. Ellis, when you fired that revolver at close range into the body of David Blakely, what did you intend to do?” he asked.
“It is obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him,” she replied.
Humphreys said that he had nothing more to ask her and Ruth walked back to her seat. In the stand she had shown emotion just once. Stevenson had shown the jury a copy of the photograph of Blakely which hung in Ruth’s cell and she, on being handed the photograph to look at it too, had started to cry.
Neither Humphreys nor Stevenson had mentioned the sexual abuse Ruth was victim of as a child. Neither had they mentioned that the father of her son had abandoned her soon after the child’s birth, that at the time of the shooting she was under medication for anxiety and that she was drinking heavily. Neither had they mentioned that less than a month before the shooting she had suffered a miscarriage after a beating from Blakely. They also had not mentioned the possibility that Blakely was bi-sexual and had possibly been in a homosexual relationship with Findlater at the time of the shooting. (The homosexual act was illegal in Britain at that time and would remain so until1967 in England and Wales, 1980 in Scotland and 1982 in Northern Ireland.)
As the police had failed to find the black taxi cab which Ruth had hired to drive her to the Findlaters’ apartment, Humphreys and Stevenson had not questioned her about her transport on that night. Similarly, as she had stuck to her story of having been given the Smith & Wesson by a man whose name she had forgotten, and the police had been unable to find such a man, the two also had not questioned her about that. Andy’s story to Mrs. Jakubait about Cussen having taken him and his mother to a wood where he had taught her to shoot with a gun he’d given her, did not reach the police: Andy, a minor, could by law, not be questioned by the police and Mrs. Jakubait was never questioned by the police. Marie Thérèse Harris, the French teacher, did, in her statement to the police in the days following the shooting, say that she’d seen two guns in Cussen’s apartment but the police had called on Cussen and he had shown them two inoffensive firearms – a starting pistol and an air gun – which they had taken away and examined and neither had been fired for a very long time.
The day’s hearing ended and first thing the following morning – Wednesday, June 22 – Chief Justice Havers asked Stevenson whether there was anything he wished to add to the previous day’s hearing. Stevenson said there was not. Havers then sent the jury out to consider their verdict. It was 11:52 a.m. At 12:15 p.m. – 23 minutes later – the jury returned. The foreman gave the jury’s verdict. Ruth was guilty of the willful killing of Blakely.
As tradition required, Chief Justice Havers donned a black cap to pronounce judgment.
“Ruth Ellis, the jury has convicted you of murder. In my view, it was the only verdict possible. The sentence of the court upon you is that you be taken hence to a lawful prison, and thence to a place of execution, and that you there be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be buried within the precincts of the prison within which you shall last have been confined before your execution, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul,” he said.
“Thanks,” said Ruth. It was the same reply as she had given the three CID cops when they told her that they were charging her with murder.
“Amen,” chanted the court chaplain.
Even if Stevenson had spoken of Ruth’s childhood, of how a past lover had abandoned her, of Blakely’s violence and of her physical condition at the time of the shooting, Ruth would not have escaped the death sentence. At that time Britain’s Homicide Act which allows clemency due to diminished responsibility due to temporary insanity, provocation or self-defense had not yet been introduced: it would be introduced only in 1957 and largely due to Ruth’s case. Britain’s McNaughton Rule ,also known as the M’Naghten Rule, which allowed clemency in the case of insanity (temporary or chronic) also did not apply to Ruth’s case because a team of psychiatrists had found her sane. Provocation could also not be claimed because the law defined provocation as an act which caused “a sudden and temporary loss of self-control, rendering the accused so subject to passion as to make him or her not master of his mind.” (The McNaughton Rule was named after Daniel McNaughton who in 1843 attempted to assassinate the then British Prime Minister Robert Peel. Today it is applicable not only in Britain but in most of Britain’s former colonies and in most U.S. states.)
Four women had been hanged in Holloway. The first female hanging was a double one. Amelia Sachs (30) and Annie Walters (44) were hanged, one after the other, on February 3, 1903. The two, living in London, took in babies born out of wedlock, telling the mothers that homes would be found for the infants. They charged the mothers an adoption fee but poisoned the babies. They were convicted for the murder of 20 babies. The next hanging was that of Edith Jessie Thompson (28) on January 9, 1923. She and her lover murdered her husband. Next, the 53-year-old Greek Cypriot woman, Styllou Pantopiou Christofi, was hanged on December 13, 1954, for the murder of her daughter-in-law. The four lay buried in the grounds of Holloway.
Ruth was going to become the fifth.
Death row on Holloway’s top floor consisted of a 5-cell unit.
The cell of the condemned one – Ruth’s cell – measured 14 feet by 15 feet. It had a large window which had a one-way glass: Ruth could see out but no one could see into the cell. It was furnished with a bed, table and a wardrobe. The wardrobe served more than the purpose of hanging clothes in it; it stood on wheels and concealed the door behind which was a small unfurnished ante-chamber that led to the room in which stood the gallows. To the left of Ruth’s cell was a bathroom where there stood a bath, a wash basin and a toilet and to the left of the bathroom was another cell where the condemned one met with visitors, the clergy, and with legal counsels.
Ruth settled down well. She read the Bible, did jigsaw puzzles and made little animals from pieces of cloth she asked her visitors – her brother Granville and Jacqueline Dyer from the Little Club – to bring her. Both visited her daily and both begged her to fight for her life. The two were encouraged by the support Ruth was receiving from some of the British dailies and from the newspapers of the colonies and former colonies and even from newspapers across the globe.
The Home Office began to receive hundreds of letters, the senders either asking that Ruth’s life should be saved or asking Home Secretary Major Gwilyn Lloyd-George to make sure that she hanged.
One letter that the Home Office received and passed on to Scotland Yard was from Jacqueline Dyer. On Saturday, June 25, she wrote that Ruth had told her that it was Cussen who had given her the Smith & Wesson with which she had shot Blakely. Cussen, Ruth had told her, had made her drunk, put the gun in her hand and drove her to the Findlaters for her to shoot Blakely. Scotland Yard informed the Home Office that they had already checked whether Cussen owned guns and found that he was the owner of a starter pistol and an air gun, both inoffensive and both never having been fired.
Another letter the Home Office also passed on to Scotland Yard was from the Little Club’s receptionist, a man named Alexander Engleman. On Wednesday, July 6, he wrote that Cussen was the owner of two cars and one was an old black taxi cab. He wrote that Cussen had one night driven him home from the club in an old black taxi cab which he told him belonged to him. Scotland Yard immediately acted on the letter and sent police back to question Cussen. He told them that, yes, it was correct, he did own a black taxi cab but it was back in 1954 and he had given the cab to his brother who had sold it in August or September of that year and neither he nor his brother had seen the cab since. The police verified Cussen’s story with his brother and found that it was correct.
Some British politicians also wrote to the Home Office to request a reprieve for Ruth. One such politician was George Rogers, the Labor Party Member of Parliament for London’s Kensington borough where the Little Club was situated. He wrote that he had visited Ruth and that she asked him to request a reprieve on her behalf. As his letter was followed by one from Governor Taylor in which she wrote that Ruth had told her that Rogers had tired her out with his talk of a reprieve and that she did not want a reprieve, nothing came of Rogers’s letter.
Rogers did not however surrender and kept on visiting Ruth and persuaded her that she should fight to remain alive. Also, hearing from her that she and her family were displeased about how her defense had represented her in court, and hearing from her how much she liked Victor Mischon and Leon Simmons, the two solicitors from the law firm Mischon & Co. who had represented her in her divorce from Ellis, he went to Mischon to ask him to represent Ruth again and Mischon agreed and Ruth dismissed Bickford and his three-man team. That happened on Monday, July 11. Ruth was due to hang at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, July 13 – 21 days after sentencing as the law stipulated. (Victor Mishcon - 1915-2006 - would represent Princess Diana, Princess of Wales in her 1996 divorce from Prince Charles.)
First thing the following morning – Tuesday, July 12 – Mischon and Simmons visited Ruth. As British law required and as it has been each time Ruth received a visitor, Holloway’s Principal Prison Officer, Mrs. A. Griffin, was present.
Immediately, Simmons assisted Ruth in drawing up a will. Next, Mischon asked her if she had anything to tell them about the gun: Rogers who had been in touch with Jacqueline Dyer had told Mischon of Ruth’s new story of how Cussen had given her the gun. Yes, said Ruth to Mischon and Simmons, Cussen had given her the gun and then drove her to Hampstead to shoot Blakely. She had lied to the police, she said, because Cussen had promised her that if she did not involve him, he would look after Andy when she is in jail – or no longer in the land of the living.
Ruth wrote out a statement and she dated and signed it: 12:30 p.m. July 12 1955.
As soon as he was back at his office, Mischon telephoned the Home Office for an urgent meeting. The Assistant Under Secretary of State received him; the Permanent Under Secretary was spending the day at Ascot horse races and did not want to be disturbed. The Assistant Under Secretary, having read Ruth’s statement, tried to get in touch with DCI Davies but he was in bed with influenza. Another CID cop, DC Claiden, arrived at the Home Office. He told Mischon and the Assistant Under Secretary that the police failed to find the origins of the Smith & Wesson and they also had not found the person – man or woman – who had driven Ruth in a black taxi cab to Hampstead. But, said he, cops would be sent instantly to Cussen’s apartment to take him in for another interrogation. CID cops were sent, but Cussen’s door remained firmly closed. The cops then went around the clubs where Cussen used to hang out but no one had seen him for a while. He had disappeared. He had not visited Ruth since she was sentenced to death.
In the afternoon, the Home Secretary issued a statement that after much anxious thought he had come to the conclusion that Ruth’s case was one in which the law “should be allowed to take its course.”
Later in the day, several people went to see Ruth: Jacqueline Dyer, other hostesses who had worked with her in the various clubs, Bertha, Arthur and Ruth’s brother Julian. Ruth’s brother Granville visited twice, and so did Bertha because on the second visit she accompanied Mrs. Jakubait who was paying her first visit on Ruth. In fact, it would be the first time that Mrs. Jakubait would see Ruth since the shooting. Mrs. Jakubait would write in her book that Ruth looked lovely. “I’d never seen her looking so well. She’d put on weight because she’d been eating well. She didn’t have make-up on but she didn’t need it – she had good skin,” she wrote. Georgina in her book would contradict her aunt. She wrote of her mother’s last day: “… Gone was all the glamour of her court appearance. Her hair had yellowed and was tied in a pony-tail. She wore no make-up and was attired in the blue regulation-issue prison overalls...”
That night, Ruth, on death row for 20 days, and only hours to live, lay on her bed, screaming “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” She calmed down and wrote a letter to Jacqueline Dyer, “I am quite happy with the verdict, but not the way the story was told,” she wrote. Then she wrote to Rogers. She wrote, “I am quite well – my family have been wonderful. Once again I thank you and your wife. Goodbye.” Her third and last letter of the night was to Leon Simmons. “…I did not defend myself. I say a life for a life,” she wrote. She blamed Ruth Findlater for having influenced Blakely. “She should feel content, now her plan ended so tragically,” she wrote. She asked him to ask her mother to put pink and white carnations on Blakeley’s grave.
Deep into the night anti-capital punishment protesters gathered outside the prison, men and women, some of them in hair curlers and slippers. At the same time Ruth’s brother Granville tried to get into Buckingham Palace to hand his request for a reprieve for his sister to Queen Elizabeth. Palace guards told him that Her Majesty was sleeping and could not be disturbed.
Albert Pierrepoint (1905-1991) was to be Ruth’s hangman. He was the third hangman in his family, his father and an uncle having been hangmen. It is thought that he hanged 433 men and 17 women which included 202 Nazi war criminals post-World War II.
Hanging needed preparation. Pierrepoint had to work out the length that Ruth would have to drop to ensure her death. To do so he needed her weight and height. The day before, having obtained the details, he did a test drop while Ruth was walking around death row’s small courtyard for exercise. He needed to do it when Ruth was not in her cell or she would have heard the thud of the trapdoors opening under the gallows. A sandbag of the same weight as Ruth stood in for her.
Ruth was awakened just before 7 a.m. on the day of execution. She quickly wrote another letter. It was to Leon Simmons. “Just to let you know that I am all right.” She continued, “Well, Mr. Simmons, I have told you the truth and that’s all I can do. Thanks once again. Goodbye. Ruth Ellis.”
She had to get into special canvas knickers for the execution. She went into the bathroom and prison wardress, Evelyn Galilee, went with her. Galilee had to help her get into the knickers because they had to be taped into place. No sooner was Ruth in the knickers than she urgently needed to relieve herself and Galilee had to help her to take the knickers off again. Back in the knickers and in the blue prison overalls, she refused breakfast but accepted the traditional brandy. Then, she knelt down to pray and the prison chaplain served her communion.
Outside the prison a violinist standing in a crowd of angry yet crying people, played Bach’s Be Thou With Me When I Die.
Along with his assistant, Pierrepoint entered Ruth’s cell. He was accompanied by Dr. Charity Taylor as well as the prison’s medical officer and the Borough’s Under Sheriff representing the law. Quickly, Ruth took her glasses off. “I won’t need these anymore,” she said. Pierrepoint tied Ruth’s wrists behind her back. The wardrobe was rolled away from its position and for the first time Ruth saw the small bare cell behind it and through an open door facing her, she saw the gallows.
What followed was quick.
Pierrepoint lead Ruth to a marked spot on the floor directly underneath the overhanging noose. While his assistant manacled Ruth’s feet, Pierrepoint pulled a white hood over her head and slipped the noose which was covered in chamois leather around her throat. The purpose of the chamois leather was to prevent the skin of the condemned one being burned when the noose tightened around the neck. Next, he pulled a lever and the trapdoor underneath Ruth’s manacled feet opened. Ruth, nothing below her feet, jerked and then she became motionless.
Immediately, the medical officer walked down some steps to a pit below the gallows room. A quick check of pulls and heart established that Ruth Ellis was dead.
As was required, Ruth hanged for an hour and then Pierrepoint and his assistant removed the noose around her neck and the hood over her head, cut loose her hands and freed her feet and her body was pushed on a gurney to the adjoining autopsy room. The autopsy surgeon, Dr Keith Simpson, was waiting. Ruth’s brother Granville was waiting too but in an adjoining room. As the Crown required, he, as Ruth’s next-of-kin, was to identify the body as hers. Having done so, he was taken to Governor Taylor’s office to assist at an inquest into Ruth’s death as required by British law. “Isn’t there something else you can call her?” he shouted when the Coroner kept on referring to Ruth as “the murderess.” He was escorted from the office, given a glass of water to drink, and a chair to sit down on.
Outside, a warder stuck a notice of execution on Holloway’s gate and shrieks rose from the crowd who’d been waiting all through the warm summer night hoping that the Home Secretary would issue a last-minute reprieve. Passing cars stopped and their drivers, realizing what had happened, hooted. Mounted police under orders to use their batons in case of rioting remained at the back of the crowd. The people were too stunned and too sad to riot.
In the autopsy room Ruth’s body was prepared for burial. Granville told Mrs. Jakubait that Ruth looked beautiful in death. There was lipstick on her lips and powder on her cheeks and on a table beside her stood a crucifix and candles which were lit. Years later he said to her, “I want to tell you this, it’s been on my mind. I want to be truthful. I told you Ruth looked so beautiful. She didn’t. It was a terrible mess. Her face looked lovely but it had been put together. Her head was lopsided. Her neck was twisted. They’d tried to push it together.” She wrote in her book, “He told me how hanging doesn’t just break your neck if affects the rest of your body, it goes to pieces. It’s only the skin that holds it together. When she went everything went into those canvas knickers they put on her. The bones moved, the heart moved. All the guts, the liver, everything gets mashed up. Even her private parts come out.”
Without ceremony Ruth’s body was added to the grave where the remains of Sachs, Walters, Thompson and Christofi already lay.
Ellis is dead. On Saturday, August 2, 1958, aged 49, he hanged himself with his pajama cord in a hotel bedroom on the British Crown Dependency island of Jersey off the coast of Normandy, France, where he was spending a vacation. He still occasionally worked as a dentist despite that his drinking was out of control and he was several times arrested for drunken behavior in public. He had no friends.
Cussen is dead. He moved from his apartment and lived in London hotels until he set off for Australia in 1964 with money he made from selling his shares in the family’s tobacconist business. He opened a florist’s shop in Perth. In 1977 reporter Peter Williams from Thames Television contacted him to participate in a documentary about Ruth’s case when he said that her claim that he had given her the Smith & Wesson and drove her to the Findlaters’ apartment was not true. He told Williams that Ruth was “a terrible liar.” He died in Perth in 1991, aged 68, of pneumonia and multiple organ failure due to a dislocation of his neck in a fall. He was living in a home for the aged where he brewed his own alcohol in his bathroom. He lay unconscious on the floor in his room for some time when another resident discovered him and summoned paramedics.
Arthur is dead. He died in 1967 of lung cancer.
Bertha is dead. She died in 1979 aged 83. According to Mrs. Jakubait her mother tried to commit suicide in 1969 by gassing herself, an act which had left her both physically and mentally unstable so that she had to be in care.
Bickford is dead. He died of alcoholism in 1977.
Simmons was so upset at Ruth’s execution that he walked away from the legal profession.
The Findlaters divorced a year after Ruth’s execution. He remarried and moved to France.
Stevenson is dead. He was appointed a High Court judge in 1957 and was knighted a few days later. He died in 1987 at the age of 85.
Andy is dead. Two days after Ruth’s execution, Rogers, who had collected the boy a week earlier from his aunt, took him back. The boy was inconsolable as he had learned from Rogers and his wife that his “mummy,” who he thought was abroad on a modeling assignment and was going to return soon to fetch him, was dead. If Cussen had indeed promised Ruth that he would look after Andy, then he did not keep the promise because Ruth’s family, unable to pay the fees of the boy’s boarding school, put him in a local day school near to his grandparents’ apartment as they had taken him in. He was a loner, sitting staring into space for hours and he told his aunt that his mother regularly visited him at night. In 1971, despite his fragility, he organized his mother’s reburial. Holloway was to be enlarged and the bodies of the five women buried in its grounds were to be exhumed and reburied elsewhere. He negotiated with the Home Office to bury her beside Blakely but as the latter was buried in a private cemetery (it belonged to the Holy Trinity Church) its reverend would not allow Ruth, a convicted murderess, to be buried there. The Home Office then buried her in the St. Mary’s Church cemetery in Amersham northwest of London. The reburial took place in secret at midnight on April 1 to keep the media away. Andy too was not given the date and the time of the reburial, but six months later he put a headstone on the grave. It said “Ruth Hornby 1926-1955.” Hornby was a surname Ruth never used in life. Andy, living alone in a squalid bed-sit, committed suicide by hanging in 1982. He was 37. Christmas Humphreys, aged 81, paid for Andy’s funeral. Chief Justice Havers had each Christmas sent Andy a gift of money. As for Clare Andrea McCallum, Andy’s father, he never had any contact with his son.
Georgina is dead. Two days after Ruth’s execution, Ellis turned up at the Jakubaits. He had gone to fetch Georgina as “friends” of his was going to look after her: He told Mrs. Jakubait that Ruth had agreed to it. He took the little girl to the home of foster parents who would eventually adopt her legally and love her deeply. She grew up thinking her adoptive parents were her real parents. She discovered that she was Ruth Ellis’s daughter one day when she found press clipping of the case in a drawer. A beautiful blonde, she was a Bunny Girl for a while, then a dancer and club hostess. She married three times and had six children, and had much publicized romances with the Irish actor Richard Harris (1930-2002) and the Ulster-born footballer George Best (1946-2005.) She died of cancer in 2001. She was 50.
Hangman Albert Pierrepoint is dead. For five years he corresponded with Mrs. Jakubait. He wrote to her that Ruth died “as brave as any man.” He added that she did not say a word. He resigned as public executioner over a pay dispute seven months after he hanged Ruth. He died in 1992. He was 87.
Blakely’s racing car, Emperor is in a museum on the Isle of Wight.
The .38 Smith & Wesson is in Scotland Yard’s Black Museum in London. The museum is not open to the general public.
Mrs. Muriel Jakubait is still alive. She is 91. In 2002 she tried to have the verdict of Ruth’s case overruled on the grounds that Ruth suffered from post-miscarriage depression at the time of the shooting and that her defense team was negligent. The appeal was heard in London’s Appeal Court in 2003, but the verdict was upheld.
Capital punishment was abolished in Britain in 1969. Holloway’s death row was demolished.