Ruth Ellis (9 October 1926 – 13 July 1955),
née Neilson, was the last woman to be executed in the United Kingdom.
She was convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely, and
hanged at Holloway Prison, London, by Albert Pierrepoint.
Ellis was born in the Welsh seaside town of Rhyl,
the third of six children. During her childhood her family moved to
Basingstoke. Her mother, Elisaberta (Bertha) Cothals, was a Belgian
refugee; her father, Arthur Hornby, was a cellist from Manchester who
spent much of his time playing on Atlantic cruise liners. Arthur
changed his surname to Neilson after the birth of Ruth's elder sister
Ellis attended Fairfields Senior Girls' School in
Basingstoke, leaving when she was 14 to work as a waitress. Shortly
afterwards, in 1941 at the height of the Blitz, the Neilsons moved to
London. In 1944, 17-year-old Ruth became pregnant by a married
Canadian soldier and gave birth to a son, Clare Andrea Neilson, known
as "Andy". The father sent money for about a year, then stopped. The
child eventually went to live with Ellis's mother.
Ellis became a nightclub hostess through nude
modelling work, which paid significantly more than the various factory
and clerical jobs she had held since leaving school. Morris Conley,
the manager of the Court Club in Duke Street, where she worked,
blackmailed his hostess employees into sleeping with him. Early in
1950, she became pregnant by one of her regular customers, having
taken up prostitution. She had this pregnancy terminated (illegally)
in the third month and returned to work as soon as she could.
On 8 November 1950, she married 41-year-old George
Ellis, a divorced dentist with two sons, at the register office in
Tonbridge, Kent. He had been a customer at the Court Club. He was a
violent alcoholic, jealous and possessive, and the marriage
deteriorated rapidly because he was convinced she was having an
affair. Ruth left him several times but always returned.
In 1951, while four months pregnant, Ruth had
appeared, uncredited, as a beauty queen in the Rank film Lady
Godiva Rides Again. The film starred Dennis Price, Dana Wynter,
and Ruth became close friends with the production's star Diana Dors.
She subsequently gave birth to daughter Georgina, but George refused
to acknowledge paternity and they separated shortly afterwards. Ruth
and her daughter moved in with her parents and she went back to
hostessing to make ends meet.
Murder of David Blakely
In 1953, Ruth Ellis became the manager of a
nightclub. At this time, she was lavished with expensive gifts by
admirers, and had a number of celebrity friends. She met David
Blakely, three years her junior, through racing driver Mike Hawthorn.
Blakely was a well-mannered former public school boy, but also a
hard-drinking racer. Within weeks he moved into her flat above the
club, despite being engaged to another woman, Mary Dawson. Ellis
became pregnant for the fourth time but aborted the child, feeling she
could not reciprocate the level of commitment shown by Blakely towards
She then began seeing Desmond Cussens. Born in 1921
in Surrey he had been an RAF pilot, flying Lancaster bombers during
World War Two, leaving the RAF in 1946, when he took up accountancy.
He was appointed a director of the family business Cussens & Co., a
wholesale and retail tobacconists with outlets in London and South
Wales. When Ruth was sacked as manager of the Carroll Club, she moved
in with Cussens at 20 Goodward Court, Devonshire Street, north of
Oxford Street, and became his mistress.
The relationship with Blakely continued, however,
and became increasingly violent and embittered as Ellis and Blakely
continued to see other people. Blakely offered to marry Ellis, to
which she consented, but she lost another child in January 1955, after
a miscarriage induced by a punch to the stomach in an argument with
On Easter Sunday, 10 April 1955, Ellis took a taxi
from Cussens's home to a second floor flat at 29 Tanza Road,
Hampstead, the home of Anthony and Carole Findlater and where she
suspected Blakely might be. As she arrived, Blakely’s car drove off,
so she paid off the taxi and walked the quarter mile to The Magdala, a
four-storey public house in South Hill Park, Hampstead, where she
found David’s car parked outside.
At around 9:30 pm David Blakely and his friend
Clive Gunnell emerged. Blakely passed Ellis waiting on the pavement
when she stepped out of Henshaws Doorway, a newsagent next to The
Magdala. He ignored her when she said "Hello, David," then shouted
As Blakely searched for the keys to his car, Ellis
took a .38 calibre Smith & Wesson Victory model revolver from her
handbag and fired five shots at Blakely. The first shot missed and he
started to run, pursued by Ellis round the car, where she fired a
second, which caused him to collapse onto the pavement. She then stood
over him and fired three more bullets into him. One bullet was fired
less than half an inch from Blakely's back and left powder burns on
Ellis was seen to stand mesmerized over the body
and witnesses reported hearing several distinct clicks as she tried to
fire the revolver's sixth and final shot, before finally firing into
the ground. This bullet ricocheted off the road and injured Gladys
Kensington Yule, 53, in the base of her thumb, as she walked to the
Ellis, in a state of shock, asked Gunnell, "Will
you call the police, Clive?" She was arrested immediately by an
off-duty policeman, Alan Thompson (PC 389), who took the still-smoking
gun from her, put it in his coat pocket, and heard her say, "I am
guilty, I'm a little confused". She was taken to Hampstead police
station where she appeared to be calm and not obviously under the
influence of drink or drugs. She made a detailed confession to the
police and was charged with murder. Blakely's body was taken to
hospital with multiple bullet wounds to the intestines, liver, lung,
aorta and windpipe.
No solicitor was present during Ellis's
interrogation or during the taking of her statement at Hampstead
police station, although three police officers were present that night
at 11.30 pm: Detective Inspector Gill, Detective Inspector Crawford
and Detective Chief Inspector Davies. Ellis was still without legal
representation when she made her first appearance at the magistrates'
court on 11 April 1955 and held on remand.
She was twice examined by principal Medical
Officer, M. R. Penry Williams, who failed to find evidence of mental
illness and she undertook an electroencephalography examination on 3
May that failed to find any abnormality. While on remand in Holloway,
she was examined by psychiatrist Dr. D. Whittaker for the defence, and
by Dr. A. Dalzell on behalf of the Home Office. Neither found evidence
Trial and execution
On Monday, 20 June 1955, Ellis appeared in the
Number One Court at the Old Bailey, London, before Mr. Justice Havers.
She was dressed in a black suit and white silk blouse with freshly
bleached and coiffured blonde hair. Her lawyers had wanted her to play
down her appearance, but she was determined to have her moment. To
many in the courthouse, her fixation with being the brassy blonde was
at least partially responsible for the poor impression she made when
It's obvious when I shot him I intended to kill
—Ruth Ellis, in the witness box at the Old
Bailey, 20 June 1955.
This was her answer to the only question put to her
by Christmas Humphreys, counsel for the Prosecution, who asked, "When
you fired the revolver at close range into the body of David Blakely,
what did you intend to do?" The defending counsel, Aubrey Melford
Stevenson supported by Sebag Shaw and Peter Rawlinson, would have
advised Ellis of this possible question before the trial began,
because it is standard legal practice to do so. Her reply to
Humphreys' question in open court guaranteed a guilty verdict and
therefore the mandatory death sentence which followed. The jury took
14 minutes to convict her. She received the sentence, and was taken to
the condemned cell at Holloway.
In a 2010 television interview Mr Justice Havers’s
grandson, actor Nigel Havers, said his grandfather had written to the
Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George recommending a reprieve as he
regarded it as a crime passionnel, but received a curt refusal,
which was still held by the family. It has been suggested that the
final nail in her coffin was that an innocent passer-by had been
Reluctantly, at midday on 12 July 1955, the day
before her execution, Ellis, having dismissed Bickford, the solicitor
chosen for her by her friend Desmond Cussens, made a statement to the
solicitor Victor Mishcon (whose law firm had previously represented
her in her divorce proceedings but not in the murder trial) and his
clerk, Leon Simmons. She revealed more evidence about the shooting and
said that the gun had been provided by Cussens, and that he had driven
her to the murder scene. Following their 90-minute interview in the
condemned cell, Mishcon and Simmons went to the Home Office, where
they spoke to a senior civil servant about Ellis's revelations. The
authorities made no effort to follow this up and there was no
In a final letter to David Blakely's parents from
her prison cell, she wrote "I have always loved your son, and I shall
die still loving him".
Ever since Edith Thompson's execution in 1923,
condemned female prisoners had been required to wear thick padded
calico knickers, so just prior to the allotted time, Warder Evelyn
Galilee, who had guarded Ellis for the previous three weeks, took her
to the lavatory. Warder Galilee said, “I’m sorry Ruth but I’ve got to
do this.” They had tapes back and front to pull. Ruth said “Is that
all right?” and “Would you pull these tapes, Evelyn? I’ll pull the
others.” On re-entering the condemned cell, she took off her glasses,
placed them on the table and said "I won't be needing these anymore."
Thirty seconds before 9 am on Wednesday 13 July,
the official hangman, Albert Pierrepoint, and his assistant, Royston
Rickard, entered the condemned cell and escorted Ruth the 15 feet to
the execution room next door. She had been weighed at 103 lb the
previous day and a drop of 8 ft 4 in was set. Pierrepoint effected the
execution in just 12 seconds and her body was left hanging for an
hour. Her autopsy report, by the pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson, was
The Bishop of Stepney, Joost de Blank, visited
Ellis just before her death, and she told him: "It is quite clear to
me that I was not the person who shot him. When I saw myself with the
revolver I knew I was another person." These comments were made in a
London evening paper of the time, The Star.
The case caused widespread controversy at the time,
evoking exceptionally intense press and public interest to the point
that it was discussed by the Cabinet.
On the day of her execution the Daily Mirror
columnist Cassandra wrote a column attacking the sentence, writing
"The one thing that brings stature and dignity to mankind and raises
us above the beasts will have been denied her—pity and the hope of
ultimate redemption." A petition to the Home Office asking for
clemency was signed by 50,000 people, but the Conservative Home
Secretary Major Gwilym Lloyd George rejected it.
The novelist Raymond Chandler, then living in
Britain, wrote a scathing letter to the London Evening Standard,
referring to what he described as "the medieval savagery of the law".
The hanging helped strengthen public support for
the abolition of the death penalty, which was halted in practice for
murder in Britain 10 years later (the last execution in the UK
occurred in 1964). Reprieve was by then commonplace. According to one
statistical account, between 1926 and 1954, 677 men and 60 women had
been sentenced to death in England and Wales, but only 375 men and
seven women had been executed.
In the early 1970s, John Bickford, Ellis's
solicitor, made a statement to Scotland Yard from his home in Malta.
He was recalling what Desmond Cussens had told him in 1955: how Ellis
lied at the trial and how he (Bickford) had hidden that information.
After Bickford's confession a police investigation followed but no
further action regarding Cussens was taken.
Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister at the time, made
no reference to the Ruth Ellis case in his memoirs, nor is there
anything in his papers. He accepted that the decision was the
responsibility of the Home Secretary, but there are indications that
he was troubled about it.
Foreign newspapers observed that the concept of the
crime passionnel seemed foreign to the British.
In 1969 Ellis’s mother, Berta Neilson, was found
unconscious in a gas-filled room in her flat in Hemel Hempstead. She
never fully recovered and didn't speak coherently again. Ellis's
husband, George Ellis, descended into alcoholism and hanged himself in
1958. Her son, Andy, who was 10 at the time of his mother's hanging,
suffered irreparable psychological damage and committed suicide in a
bedsit in 1982. The trial judge, Sir Cecil Havers, had sent money
every year for Andy's upkeep, and Christmas Humphreys, the prosecution
counsel at Ellis's trial, paid for his funeral. Ellis's daughter,
Georgina, who was three when her mother was executed, was adopted when
her father hanged himself three years later. She died of cancer aged
The case continues to have a strong grip on the
British imagination and in 2003 was referred back to the Court of
Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The Court firmly
rejected the appeal, although it made clear that it could rule only on
the conviction based on the law as it stood in 1955, and not on
whether she should have been executed.
However the court was critical of the fact that it
had been obliged to consider the appeal -
"We would wish to make one further observation.
We have to question whether this exercise of considering an appeal
so long after the event when Mrs Ellis herself had consciously and
deliberately chosen not to appeal at the time is a sensible use of
the limited resources of the Court of Appeal. On any view, Mrs Ellis
had committed a serious criminal offence. This case is, therefore,
quite different from a case like Hanratty  2 Cr App R 30 where
the issue was whether a wholly innocent person had been convicted of
murder. A wrong on that scale, if it had occurred, might even today
be a matter for general public concern, but in this case there was
no question that Mrs Ellis was other than the killer and the only
issue was the precise crime of which she was guilty. If we had not
been obliged to consider her case we would perhaps in the time
available have dealt with 8 to 12 other cases, the majority of which
would have involved people who were said to be wrongly in custody."
In July 2007 a petition was published on the 10
Downing Street website asking Prime Minister Gordon Brown to
reconsider the Ruth Ellis case and grant her a pardon in the light of
new evidence that the Old Bailey jury in 1955 was not asked to
consider. It expired on 4 July 2008.
Ellis was buried in an unmarked grave within the
walls of Holloway Prison, as was customary for executed prisoners. In
the early 1970s the prison underwent an extensive programme of
rebuilding, during which the bodies of all the executed women were
exhumed for reburial elsewhere. Ellis's body was reburied at St Mary's
Church in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. The headstone in the churchyard
was inscribed "Ruth Hornby 1926–1955". Her son, Andy, destroyed the
headstone shortly before he committed suicide in 1982. Ellis's grave
is now overgrown with yew trees.
The remains of the four other women executed at
Holloway, Styllou Christofi, Edith Thompson, Amelia Sach and Annie
Walters, were reburied in a single grave at Brookwood Cemetery.
Coincidentally, Styllou Christofi, who was executed
in December 1954, lived at 11 South Hill Park in Hampstead, with her
son and daughter-in-law, a few metres from The Magdala public house at
number 2a, where David Blakely was shot four months later.
Film, TV and theatrical adaptations
In 1980, the third episode of the first series of
the ITV drama series "Lady Killers" recreated the court case, with
Ellis played by Georgina Hale.
The first cinema portrayal of Ellis came with the
release of the 1985 movie Dance with a Stranger (directed by
Mike Newell), featuring Miranda Richardson as Ellis.
Both Ellis's story and the story of Albert
Pierrepoint are retold in the stage play Follow Me, written by
Ross Gurney-Randall and Dave Mounfield and directed by Guy Masterson.
It premièred at the Assembly Rooms as part of the 2007 Edinburgh
In the film Pierrepoint (2006), Ellis was
portrayed by Mary Stockley.
Diana Dors, who had starred in Lady Godiva Rides
Again, in which Ellis had had a minor, uncredited role, played a
character resembling (though not based on) Ellis in the 1956 British
film Yield to the Night, directed by J. Lee Thompson.
Blackhall, Sue (2009). "Ruth Ellis", True
Crime: Crimes of Passion. Igloo. ISBN 9781848177192
Dunn, Jane (2010). "Ruth Ellis," Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography.
Hancock, Robert (1963). Ruth Ellis: The Last
Woman to Be Hanged. Orion; 3rd edition 2000. ISBN 0752834495
Jakubait, Muriel and Weller, Monica (2005).
Ruth Ellis: My Sister's Secret life. Robinson Publishing. ISBN
Mark, Laurence and Van Den Bergh, Tony (1990).
Ruth Ellis: a Case of Diminished Responsibility?. Penguin. ISBN
Ruth Ellis - an alternative view
has always been portrayed as the victim of a cruel boyfriend who
abused her and a cruel legal system that hanged her. But is this
really an accurate picture? Based upon the known facts, which are very
well documented, I propose to take an "alternative" look at this
On Wednesday the
13th of July 1955 at London's Holloway Prison, she secured her place
in history as the last woman to be executed in Britain. Her case is
memorable because she was hanged, had she had been given a life
sentence she would have been forgotten in a few weeks by most people.
"crime passionel" was recaptured 30 years later in the film "Dance
with a Stranger" in which Miranda Richardson gave an excellent
portrayal of this volatile and emotional woman. Sadly the film only
told half the story and gave no coverage of the trial and her
behaviour at it or her evidence in answer to the questions put to her.
She had a
passionate and tempestuous relationship with a young man called David
Blakely with whom she often quarrelled and had recently suffered a
miscarriage at the hands of after he punched in the stomach during a
Blakely was a
waster and a heavy drinker who used to frequent the Little Club, a
drinking club which Ruth managed. He was building a racing car with
his friends the Findlaters and over Easter of 1955 consistently
refused to see her despite repeated visits and phone calls to the
Findlater's house where he was staying. They had, unfortunately, taken
on a nanny whom Ruth suspected David was having an affair with,
although in truth he wasn't.
So in a pique of
jealousy and rejection on Easter Sunday afternoon (the 10th of April)
Ruth persuaded her other boyfriend, Desmond Cussen to drive her to
Hampstead where she lay in wait for Blakely outside the Magdala public
house in South Hill Park, where he and Findlater were drinking.
When they came
out to the car to drive home she called to Blakely who ignored her, so
she fired a first shot and then pursued him round the car, firing a
second shot which caused him to collapse onto the pavement. She then
stood over him and emptied the remaining four bullets into him, as he
lay wounded on the ground. One bullet injured a Mrs. Gladys Yule in
the hand as she was walking up to the pub.
came out of the pub to see what had happened and Ruth was arrested by
an off-duty policeman, Alan Thompson, still holding the smoking gun.
She was taken to Hampstead police station where she appeared to be
calm and not obviously under the influence of drink or drugs which she
is alleged to have been taking by some on the afternoon prior to the
shooting. She made a confession to the police and was charged with
murder. She appeared at a special hearing of Hampstead Magistrates
Court the following day where she was remanded in custody to Holloway
Prison to await trial.
It has been
alleged that she had previously been up to Epping Forest or Hampstead
Heath and done some target practice although we cannot be sure that
this was true.
Her trial opened
on Monday the 20th June 1955 in the Old Bailey's No. 1 Court before
Mr. Justice Havers.
Ruth appeared in
the dock in a smart black two piece suit and white blouse, her hair
re-dyed to her preferred platinum blonde in Holloway with the special
permission of Dr. Charity Taylor, the Governor. Hardly the image of
the poor downtrodden woman!
She pleaded not
guilty, apparently so that her side of the story could be told, rather
than in any hope of acquittal. She particularly wanted disclosed the
involvement of the Findlaters in what she saw as a conspiracy to keep
David away from her.
prosecuting counsel, Mr. Christmas Humphreys asked her "Mrs. Ellis,
when you fired that revolver at close range into the body of David
Blakely what did you intend to do" she replied "It was obvious that
when I shot him I intended to kill him."
There were legal
submissions made by Mr. Melford Stevenson, QC, counsel for the
defence, regarding provocation. Mr. Justice Havers said he had given
careful consideration to these but ruled that there was "insufficient
material, even upon a view of the evidence most favourable to the
accused, to support a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of
Stevenson said that in view of that ruling it would not be appropriate
for him to say anything more to the jury.
The jury were
then brought back into Court and in their presence Mr. Melford
Stevenson said: "In view of the ruling which your Lordship has just
pronounced I cannot now with propriety address the jury at all,
because it would be impossible for me to do so without inviting them
to disregard your Lordship's ruling."
Humphreys, indicated that in the circumstances he would not make a
final speech to the jury either.
The Judge then
summed up. After reviewing the evidence for the prosecution his
Lordship said: "You will remember that when Mr. Stevenson made his
opening address to you he told you that he was going to invite you to
reduce this charge of killing from murder to manslaughter on the
grounds of provocation.
"The House of
Lords has decided that where the question arises whether what would
otherwise be murder may be reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of
provocation, if there is not sufficient material, even upon a view of
the evidence most favourable to the accused, that a reasonable person
could be driven by transport of passion and loss of control to use
violence and a continuance of violence, it is the duty of a judge, as
a matter of law, to direct the jury that the evidence does not support
a verdict of manslaughter. I have been constrained to rule in this
case that there is not sufficient material to reduce this killing from
murder to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation." “It is
therefore not open to you to bring in a verdict of manslaughter on the
grounds of provocation.”
Referring to the
evidence for the defence the Judge said: "This Court is not a court of
morals, this is a criminal court and you should not allow your
judgement to be swayed or your minds to be prejudiced in the least
degree against the accused because according to her own admission she
had committed adultery, or because she was having two persons at
different times as lovers. Dismiss those matters wholly from your
went on: "But I am bound to tell you this, that even if you accept
every word of Mrs Ellis' evidence there does not seem to be anything
in it which establishes any sort of defence to the charge of murder."
The jury then retired and not surprisingly found Ruth guilty after
deliberating for only twenty three minutes. It was hard to see how any
other verdict was possible.
To convict a
person of murder two things have to be proved, one that the person
actually killed the victim and two that they intended to kill the
victim (known as the "mens rea" or the "guilty mind") - clearly there
was no question as to whether Ruth had actually killed David Blakely
and by her famous answer to the question as to her intention when she
fired the shots there could be no question as to her intent. If it had
been possible to show that she had not intended to kill him the
correct verdict would have been guilty of manslaughter.
Havers had no alternative but to sentence her to death. The black cap
was placed on his head and he sentenced her to be taken to the place
where she had last been confined and from there to a place of
execution where she would suffer death by hanging. To which she
replied "Thank you".
people who have just heard their death sentence Ruth did not faint or
become hysterical but rather turned on her heel, smiled to her friends
in the public gallery and walked calmly down the stairs at the back of
the dock. She was taken back to Holloway in a prison van and placed in
the Condemned unit, where she was guarded round the clock by shifts of
two female warders.
against an appeal (there were absolutely no legal grounds for one) and
therefore the final decision on her fate rested with the Home
Secretary, Major Gwilym Lloyd George. Despite considerable public and
press pressure he decided against her. His decision was announced on
Monday the 11th and communicated to Ruth by the Governor of Holloway.
She was visited by her mother, her solicitor J G Bickford and her
friend, Jacqueline Dyer, within an hour of hearing there would be no
reprieve. Petitions containing several thousand signatures were sent
to the Home Office requesting a reprieve.
quickly in those days, Prisoner 9656 Ellis spent just 3 weeks and two
days in the condemned cell at Holloway.
There was much
public sentiment at the time for a reprieve and thousands of people
had signed petitions asking for clemency, including 35 members of
London County Council who delivered their plea to the House of Commons
the day before Ruth was to die. On the Tuesday evening, the eve of the
hanging, the Governor at Holloway was forced to call for police
reinforcements because of a crowd of more than 500 who had gathered
outside the prison's gates singing and chanting for Ruth for several
hours. Some of them broke through the police cordon to bang on the
prison gates, calling for Ruth to pray with them.
Inside the usual preparations had been made.
Ruth had been
weighed and the correct length of drop calculated. The gallows had
been tested on the Tuesday afternoon using a sand bag of the same
weight as Ruth, which was left overnight on the rope to remove any
stretch. Around 7.00 a.m. on the morning of execution the trap was
reset and the rope coiled up so as to leave the leather covered noose
dangling at chest height above the trap. A cross had been placed on
the far wall of the execution room at Ruth's request.
In her cell Ruth
wrote a letter to David's mother apologising for killing him and to
her solicitor telling her that she had not changed her mind at the end
(about being hanged).
She was given
canvas pants to wear which had been compulsory for female prisoners
since the Edith Thompson debacle. She had also been given a large
brandy by the prison doctor to steady her nerves and was attended by a
At nine o'clock
Albert Pierrepoint entered her cell, pinioned her hands behind her
back with his special calf leather strap and led her the 15 feet to
the gallows. Pierrepoint recalled that Ruth said nothing at all during
her execution. When she reached the trap a white cotton hood was drawn
over her head and the noose adjusted round her neck. His assistant,
Royston Ricard, pinioned her legs with a leather strap and when all
was ready stepped back allowing Pierrepoint to remove the safety pin
from the base of the lever and push it away from him to open the trap
through which she now plummeted.
process would have occupied no more than ten or twelve seconds and her
now still body was examined by the prison doctor before the execution
room was locked up and she was left hanging for the regulation hour.
thousand people, including women with prams, stood silently outside
the prison that morning, some praying for her. At eighteen minutes
past nine the execution notice were posted outside the gates and after
that the crowd dispersed.
Ruth's body was
taken down at 10.00 a.m. and an autopsy performed by the famous
pathologist, Dr. Keith Simpson which showed that she had died
virtually instantaneously. Unusually, the autopsy report was later
published and Simpson noted the presence of brandy in her stomach. The
official report of her execution read as follows "Thirteenth July 1955
at H. M. Prison, Holloway N7": Ruth Ellis, Female, 28 years, a Club
Manageress of Egerton Gardens, Kensington, London - Cause of Death -
"Injuries to the central nervous system consequent upon judicial
hanging." Her death was registered on 14th July 1955 (the day after
the execution) on the basis of a Certificate issued by J. Milner
Helme, the then Coroner for the City of London, following an Inquest
held by him on 13th July 1955. Her death was registered in the
Registration District of Islington, Sub-district of Tufnell as Entry
Number 25 for the September Quarter 1955.
Ruth was buried
within Holloway prison in accordance with her sentence but later
disinterred and reburied in a churchyard in Buckinghamshire when
Holloway was rebuilt in the 1970's. She was the sixteenth and last
woman to be executed in Britain in the 20th century.
deserve to hang?
This is a very
subjective question and it is always dangerous to judge a case from a
previous and very different age, but having talked to people who
actually remember the case I have not found anybody who felt she
deserved to die for what she did.
However, in view
of the evidence presented to them and the law as it stood in 1955, the
jury had absolutely no option but to find Ruth guilty of murder. It
was, after all, a murder that was premeditated and did not fit
the legal definition of provocation as it was not carried out in heat
of the moment. At that time a murder conviction carried a mandatory
death sentence, leaving the judge absolutely no discretion. We do not
know what the his private recommendation, included in his report to
the Home Office was, but the Home Secretary was obviously advised
against a reprieve in her case. Like all condemned prisoners she was
examined by a panel of Home Office psychiatrists who found her to be
"sane" i.e. not suffering from any mental illness that would have been
severe enough to diminish her responsibility for the crime.
The problem in
Ruth's case, as in so many others before and since, is the imposition
of a mandatory sentence for murder. The jury were not permitted to
reach a manslaughter verdict, and, in fairness, the evidence they
heard simply did not justify it and thus were left only with a verdict
of guilty of murder. Had they been asked merely to reach a verdict of
guilty to homicide, leaving the actual sentence to be decided by
others, perhaps she would have gone to prison for a few years and
never been heard of again. But our system at that time was very much
"all or nothing" and for that matter still is, although the mandatory
death sentence has been replaced by the mandatory "life sentence". The
question of whether Ruth deserved death or not was not one the jury
were able to consider - if they had been it is very unlikely that she
would have been hanged.
Ruth had many
qualities that engendered great public interest, she was an
attractive, sexy young woman, a mother of two small children and a
murderer whose victim was probably seen by most people as not entirely
blameless. Her crime could hardly be described as "evil", a subjective
concept admittedly, but a very one important in the minds of the
general public in determining the justice of a case. She also behaved
with great courage at all times which no doubt, earned her
Not surprisingly the press gave tremendous coverage to the story and
in doing so aroused considerable sympathy for her. Much was made of
her recent miscarriage and of the violence she suffered at Blakely's
factor that induced public sympathy was the knowledge that those
prisoners who were reprieved seldom served more than twelve years in
prison which made execution seem a very harsh punishment by
comparison. If "lifers" were known to serve thirty or forty years it
would, perhaps, have seemed much more proportional.
This was a time
when there was a substantial majority in favour of capital punishment
but that support had been known to waver when it came to executing an
actual person, particularly when that person was female, attractive
and had not committed a particularly awful crime.
in Ruth's favour
little to suggest that she would have been a danger to the general
public had she been released on parole after serving 10 –14 years of a
life sentence. She had shown no propensity to violence to anyone other
She had clearly
suffered much provocation, of the sort that many people who have
experienced a passionate relationship, would be able to appreciate
even if it fell outside the strict legal definition of provocation.
She had certainly been the victim of a considerable amount of violent
abuse from David Blakely, much of it witnessed by their friends and
It was known
that she had suffered a miscarriage 10 days before the crime, after
Blakely had punched her in the stomach and it is at least probable
that this would have affected her mental state.
Her crime was at
least somewhat understandable unlike those who rape and murder small
children and are outside the understanding of most of us.
remorse and willingness to accept responsibility for her crime having
made no attempt to run away or hide the truth of what she did or of
what she had intended.
It would be easy
to add here that she was, at 28, relatively young and that she had two
small children, although these factors are, in my view, "red herrings"
that should have no place in deciding whether or not to reprieve her.
is it to uphold the law even in "hard cases"?
In 1955 we had a
mandatory death sentence for the crime of murder and in upholding the
law it is very important that a sentence, once passed, be carried out
even when the instinct of many would have been to reprieve. The
problem in Ruth Ellis' case is that so many others were reprieved for
no apparently more obvious or deserving reasons. 90% of all the 145
women sentenced to death in the 20th century were reprieved. Here are
three cases from the Spring of 1955 to compare the justice or
otherwise of Ruth's sentence against.
A woman was
reprieved a week before Ruth died for murdering her next door
neighbour with a shovel in what seemed quite as bad a crime as Ruth's.
40 year old Mrs. Sarah Lloyd was sentenced to death at Leeds Assizes
on the 6th of May 1955 for killing her 86 year old neighbour, Mrs
Emsley, after a long running feud between the two women. She was due
to be executed on July 7th but was reprieved on the 5th. Her case had
attracted virtually no publicity and it was really only her husband
who made any effort on her behalf to obtain a reprieve. She served
just 7 years of her life sentence for this crime.
Dunne was reprieved at the same time for murdering a colleague, whose
wife he was having an affair with, simply because the offence took
place at a British Army base in Germany and Germany did not permit
capital punishment, even for soldiers from a foreign country. Emmett
Dunne remained in prison for 11 years, before being released on
On April the 1st
1955, 28 year old Alfred "Jake" Wayman was reprieved four days before
he was due to hang for the murder of his girlfriend, Josie Larvin, who
he had stabbed to death, before he cut his own throat and stabbed
himself. He survived this but was reprieved on the grounds that the
throat wound might open up if he was hanged and lead to an unpleasant
mess. He served 12 years of his life sentence.
One can only
conjecture as to how the same Home Secretary could make such different
decisions and they could ever be justified to the "ordinary person in
the street." There was no question of actual guilt in any of these
cases, so that wasn't a problem. Therefore either all four should have
been hanged as the law decreed or the law should have been changed and
none of them hanged. In reality, half of all convicted murderers
during the 20th century were reprieved. This however made the whole
system a lottery with typically an average of 11 "losers" a year -
Two things may
have counted against Ruth with the Home Office. She shot Blakely to
death and in doing so injured an innocent passer-by and she had, by
the standards of the day, very dubious sexual morals. This was seen as
much more serious fifty years ago than it would be now.
I have always
wondered if one of the less publicised reasons the Home Office had for
executing her was because of the public interest and sympathy
that her case generated. I think the Home Office officials were, in
the main, against capital punishment by this time and in the cynical
way of the Civil Service used Ruth Ellis as a pawn in persuading
parliament to abolish hanging. When there is public interest in a
particular case letters are written to MP's and to the press by
ordinary people who would never normally publicly express a view. In
Ruth's case these were predominately in favour of a reprieve. So by
executing her, the Civil Service possibly felt they were furthering
the abolitionist cause. Did the same happen in Derek Bentley's case
four years earlier?
In any event
Ruth's case led to the Homicide Act 1957 which limited the types of
murder that were capital and introduced the defence of diminished
responsibility. (Ironically neither of these changes would have saved
her). Capital punishment was effectively abolished nine years after
her death and there were no hangings in Britain during 1956.
interesting to compare the public sympathy and interest in Ruth's case
to the total lack of either in the case of Mrs. Styllou Christofi,
hanged a year earlier. Mrs. Christofi was an unattractive middle aged
Greek Cypriot woman who had brutally murdered her daughter in law (and
possibly another person previously) and in whom there was very little
media interest. Albert Pierrepoint made this point to the army of
reporters waiting to interview him after Ruth Ellis' execution. He had
hanged them both.
Equally the other women hanged since the end of the war, Bill Allen
and Louisa Merrifield, had very little attraction (sex appeal?) for
the media and for various reasons elicited little public sympathy.
One has to
decide whether one is in favour of the death penalty for all
those convicted of capital crimes or not. If you are, you will,
inevitably, have to accept that some prisoners will have more
endearing qualities than others but that these cannot or should not be
any excuse for a reprieve.
We are told that
Ruth's principal motive was jealousy and it seems reasonable to accept
that this was the prime mover in her subsequent actions. It has been
said that Blakely wanted to end their relationship although we cannot
be sure of that, or of whether Ruth new of his intention. But in any
event there are some very interesting questions raised by the case:
Why did she not
try finding another boyfriend - she had plenty of potential boyfriends
Why did she give
no thought to what would happen to her children?
Why did she
choose to murder Blakely when she knew that she could well be hanged
for doing so?
Why did she
choose to murder him in a public place where there would be witnesses
and then calmly allow herself to be arrested rather than trying to
Why did she
choose to kill him in the way she did thus removing any possibility of
a manslaughter verdict?
Why did she play
out her ice cold act in court and give the answers she did to the
Why did she not
appeal or do anything whatsoever to save herself?
It is always
assumed, particularly by the media, that nobody could actually want to
be executed. (Although there are plenty of cases of what the Americans
call consensual execution in that country over the last twenty years.)
Although she was
found to be legally sane she was also clearly not entirely "normal" in
any accepted sense of the word. Normal people do not have such
complete disregard for their own lives and more particularly for the
lives of their children. (Her son Andria later committed suicide.)
But what if her
motive was to kill Blakely and then to die herself so ending their
earthly relationship and ensuring that he could not be unfaithful to
It has been said
that she intended the last bullet for herself although this has never
been proved. Perhaps in the heat of the moment she did not count the
shots or perhaps she could not bring herself to commit suicide. So was
being hanged merely a form of state assisted suicide without the risk
of "bottling out " at the last moment or of not actually succeeding in
had no intention of serving a "life sentence" and being finally
released an "old" and broken woman. This idea certainly did not appeal
wanted to be punished and being hanged fitted her own
romantic/masochistic image of what should happen to her for the murder
of her errant lover.
earlier, she was known to be in favour of the death penalty
(reiterated by her in a letter she wrote to her solicitor in her last
hours in Holloway.) She also seemed to have a clear idea of what
execution by hanging in the twentieth century was like. On the day
before the execution she told her friend Jacqueline Dyer "Don't worry,
its like having a tooth out and they'll give me a glass of brandy
Obviously we can
never the innermost workings of her mind over this period but one
could almost say that she did everything she could to manipulate the
system to obtain her death from it.
Had she pleaded
guilty she would have been sentenced to death but her testimony would
not have come out and the Home Office would have simply decided for
her what her intentions and state of mind were at the time of the
shooting and would quite probably have reprieved her.
She was, as said
earlier, found sane when examined in Holloway by prison psychiatrists,
but was she sane at the time of the murder? Or was she driven mad by
jealousy? We cannot know - but she effectively blocked any defence of
temporary insanity by her answers to the prosecution's questions.
One can only
wonder why she behaved as she did and continued to pursue her death
with total courage right up until the end.
Ruth's case is
principally memorable because she was hanged. Had David Blakely shot
her instead of the other way round he would got little sympathy and
have been forgotten within a few days after his execution.
But Ruth had sex
appeal and as the last woman to hang, is still of interest now.
Much has been
made of where Ruth got the revolver and of what Desmond Cussen's role
in the killing was. Ruth claimed all along that she had been given the
gun by a customer as security for some money. Others claim that
Desmond had obtained it for her. I cannot really see what difference
it makes where it came from - she wanted a gun and either had one in
her possession or obtained one. In those days she would have had no
problem in obtaining a gun through her wide circle of contacts. It has
also been claimed that Desmond was a party to the killing. This I feel
is unlikely. He drove Ruth to Hampstead - that is not in doubt.
Whether he knew she had the gun is not clear and neither is whether he
was aware of her intentions. He was a reasonably successful
businessman and he was infatuated with Ruth. Like many weak willed men
he would have done anything for her, no doubt, in the hope that she
would finally love him instead of Blakely, or at least just to get her
company for a while, but I cannot believe that he would have let Ruth
murder Blakely in the way she did had he known of her intentions or
really thought that she would have carried them out. People in 1955
knew the likely punishment for murder - Desmond would certainly have
done so and also known that even if Ruth was reprieved she would have
to serve a life sentence. I tend to think that he would have done his
best to dissuade her from shooting Blakely rather than have been her
co-conspirator - he had everything to lose by knowingly allowing what
actually happened. He could well have gone to prison himself for a
lengthy period for aiding and abetting her in the offence. Had Desmond
wanted Blakely dead (and there is no evidence that he did) I am sure
he would have found a way that was not likely to result in tragedy for
Ruth and the loss of the woman he loved.
Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has referred Ruth's conviction to the
Court of Appeal which could set aside her murder conviction and
substitute it for one of manslaughter.
Muriel Jakubait, and daughter Georgie, who died recently, have
campaigned for this ever since she was hanged.
presented to the CCRC that Ruth was suffering from post-miscarriage
depression at the time of the shooting. (She had miscarried 10 days
before the killing after Blakely, who was the baby's father, punched
her in the stomach.) It was also suggested that she was suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder although this condition had not been
medically defined in 1955.
It is also
claimed that her original defence team were negligent and that she was
provoked by Desmond Cussen, who was jealous of Blakely. He gave her
the gun and drove her to the pub where the shooting took place. It is
further claimed that she was physically and sexually abused by her
father and was beaten by her husband.
Searching for the truth about
By Monica Weller
“True Detective was just five years old
when Ruth Ellis was hanged for shooting her lover in front of the
Magdala pub in north London, and Britain’s fascination with the case
hasn’t abated since. That’s why, when writer Monica Weller, who
co-wrote the bestseller RUTH ELLIS, MY SISTER’S SECRET LIFE
with Muriel Jakubait, phoned our editorial office to ask if we would
be interested in her writing about the case for us, we jumped at the
chance. Monica’s passionate conviction of the truth of Muriel’s story
proved to be infectious and so we thought, why not share this
startling new evidence with our readers….” From True Detective,
A SERIES OF 6 ARTICLES ABOUT RUTH ELLIS
By Monica Weller
published in True Detective Magazine
The name Ruth Ellis, to most of us,
conjures up the image of the peroxide blonde, nightclub hostess and
part time prostitute who shot dead her playboy, racing car driver
lover David Blakely in a jealous rage. She became the last woman to be
hanged in Britain.
The shooting outside the Magdala pub in Hampstead,
London on the evening of 10th April 1955 was described as
an open-and-shut case of cold-blooded murder. Ruth Ellis admitted
pulling the trigger of the heavy .38 Smith and Wesson British service
The two-day trial at the Old Bailey was notable for
its lack of forensic and ballistics evidence. Christmas Humphreys,
counsel for the prosecution set out to prove that Ruth Ellis killed
Blakely. Her defence team led by Melford Stevenson did nothing to help
her. Jurors took just twenty-three minutes to find Ruth guilty of
Yet the Public Record Office in Kew and the City of
London Record Office still keep certain files closed on the matter
until 2031. What else was there to hide?(Click on Blogroll:
Near to nine o’clock on 13th July 1955
the two warders who guarded Ruth in the condemned cell at Holloway
prison said goodbye to her. She removed her purple diamante
spectacles, put them on the table and told a warder, “I won’t need
those any more.”
Meanwhile at her flat in St Paul’s Cray, Ruth’s
elder sister Muriel Jakubait walked into the sitting room, switched on
the wireless and heard the nine o’clock pips of Big Ben with the
announcement that Ruth Ellis, aged 28 had been hanged.
Some years later Albert Pierrepoint, Ruth’s
hangman, told Muriel in a secret letter, “She died as brave as any man
and she never spoke a single word.” Over a five-year period, Muriel
received a total of nine letters from him, occasionally writing under
the assumed name of A. Fletcher. Each time Ruth was mentioned in the
press, Pierrepoint would be on to Muriel in a flash.
In 2003, the Court of Appeal upheld Ruth’s
1955-murder conviction and sentence. Muriel Jakubait was shattered.
Key evidence was still not made public. The same persuasive Ruth Ellis
story spun to the press and public in 1955 was being repeated.
Whilst writing our book ‘Ruth Ellis My Sister’s
Secret Life,’ I went back over minute details of the case,
scrutinising every lead. With access to records previously unavailable
at the Public Record office in Kew, and new witness statements, I have
presented a range of evidence that the court in 1955 never got to
hear; evidence pointing to the fact that Ruth Ellis was innocent of
the crime she was hanged for. She died for another person’s crime,
having lied to protect him.
With what I have uncovered, I have sufficient
evidence to believe the peroxide blonde killer tag was a carefully
constructed cover story involving the British secret services at a
time when the cold war was waging between Russia and the West. Ruth
was a vulnerable young woman, used by the secret service, murdered by
the establishment and whose true identity has been disguised beneath a
web of deceit, lies and misinformation.
The trumped up murder charge and Ruth’s death by
hanging deflected suspicion away from the real Ruth Ellis story.
In 2002 I set out to find and tell only the truth
about the last woman to be hanged. I doubt that the public will ever
learn the full story about Ruth, but ‘Ruth Ellis My Sister’s
Secret Life’ has come very near to it. It is fortunate that
Muriel has lived long enough to learn the truth.
Over the next five issues of True Detective you can
discover the facts that have been buried for fifty years.
HOW I CAME TO WRITE THE BOOK
My involvement in the project came about by chance.
In 2000, I wrote an article about Ron Fowler, a fishmonger in the
village of Great Bookham in Surrey. Soon after it was published in the
Surrey County magazine Ron asked if I wanted a good story. He told me
about a woman that he used to serve fish to in West Byfleet. Her name
Muriel Jakubait would probably be unknown to me but I might recognise
that of her sister Ruth Ellis. Ron recalled how Muriel walked into the
fish shop one day. “I asked if I could help her. She replied, More to
the point can I help you? Apparently I’d been speaking to a butcher
who knew Muriel. He’d told her about the fishmonger next door with a
bee in his bonnet about her sister’s case.”
“I still remember that day,” Ron continued. “It was
so uncanny. She was the dead spit of Ruth Ellis. She wore a pink
scarf, knotted and hanging down one side of her. I stared and thought
this is exactly what Ruth would look like now if she were alive. Her
hair was done up like Ruth’s. It really shook me up.”
Like many people Ron had an obsession with the Ruth
Ellis story. He wanted to know who was called at the trial, so tried
to get a copy of the transcript. In 1989 he received a letter from the
Lord Chancellor’s Department, saying that the file did not contain a
transcript of the trial. They could not help him. “Another senior
person phoned and wasn’t so nice: ‘As far as you’re concerned, Mr
Fowler, that file lies at the bottom of the Thames.’
Ron lost touch with Muriel but I traced her to her
council bungalow in Woking. At that time she was hoping that the
Criminal Cases Review Commission would refer her sister’s conviction
for murder in 1955 to the Court of Appeal in London. I listened with
absolute fascination to her story. The Express published my subsequent
In 2002 Muriel and I discussed the possibility of
writing her memoirs. Every week for two years we met at her home. We
drank tea and talked. Surrounded by family photographs, including one
of her sister Ruth, she told me about years of family secrecy;
revealing intimate details about herself and Ruth and recalling
harrowing memories of the day her sister was hanged. Each meeting was
memorable, planned and focused. Not a stone was left unturned.
As a new author, writing this book has been the
most fabulous opportunity I have ever had. It has also been the most
humbling, constantly reminded that the person sitting close to me has
endured terrible memories of an executed sister for half a century.
SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH
Simple fact finding turned out to be more
complicated than I thought at first. It became an extraordinary
detailed piece of detective work for first hand evidence in my search
for the truth. I followed my instincts. I stopped looking for answers
and took one step at a time in looking for facts.
Muriel told me about landmarks in her life and
recollections of events. I followed up with my own solid research and
investigation, comparing new findings with previously published
Just twenty-three days after beginning my research
and detective work I was amazed when I stumbled across Dr Stephen
Ward’s name linked to Ruth as far back as the late 1940’s, many years
before the 1963 Profumo scandal. Ward was the society
osteopath-cum-pimp who introduced Christine Keeler to John Profumo the
Minister for War in the early 1960’s.
The public is now aware that Ward was involved in
spying in 1963. But the Denning Report at the time merely described
him as a pimp. Not a word about Ruth’s association with Ward at the
beginning of the Cold War has ever leaked out.
From small beginnings a picture developed of Ruth’s
life, stripped of fifty years of fictitious opinion. An unseen side of
the last woman to be hanged emerged, as I dug deeper in my
investigations; something not uncovered at the time of Ruth’s trial,
For three years I trawled through record office
files, birth and death certificates and company records dating back to
the beginning of the twentieth century. I tracked suspicious
addresses, so-called businesses that did not actually exist and
incorrect initials on official documents that enabled characters to
change their identities and mislead anyone who dared to look for them.
New witnesses from all over Britain have helped
with individual aspects of the story. They cast new light on Ruth’s
short life, without enquiring about the true object of the story that
had to be kept confidential until the whole had been written.
It has taken considerable effort to strip fact from
fiction. Caught up in a tangle of new connections were clues. I kept
an open mind and did not accept things at face value. The real story
about Ruth Ellis began slotting into place.
Ruth had a secret double life. In 1955 it had to be
covered at all costs.
This is a story of murder, intrigue, justice and
most importantly, truth.
Ruth’s gruesome death by hanging protected
people at the heart of the establishment. There was more to Ruth Ellis
than has been admitted.
‘Lady Godiva Rides Again’
“As a barrister for fifty years I was just
putting the facts of the actual murder. I knew nothing of the
background and I didn’t care.”
This was the opinion that Christmas Humphreys, the
prosecuting counsel at Ruth Ellis’s murder trial, was still vehemently
defending twenty-seven years later when he spoke to Ruth’s son Andre
McCallum. Andre secretly taped their three-hour conversation at the
Buddhist Society in London.
Just weeks later Andre, aged 38 committed suicide.
Humphreys was blinkered; for it was exactly
what was going on in the background, amongst the shady characters in
Ruth’s circle, that led to the shooting of her ex public schoolboy
lover David Blakely outside the Magdala pub in Hampstead in 1955 and
to Ruth’s execution three months later.
Ruth’s friends, some were prosecution witnesses at
her trial, were more complicated than you would imagine from simple
statements they made at the Old Bailey.
As I read the transcript of the trial and police
statements it was clear that nobody was interested in witnesses’
backgrounds. In what appeared to be an open-and-shut case of
cold-blooded murder, where a prostitute murdered one of her lovers, it
didn’t matter about anyone else.
But those characters should have been investigated.
David Blakely had a darker side. During one of many
visits to the Public Record Office (PRO) I was surprised to find
buried in a Home Office document, that Ruth’s lover was actually
homosexual. It was well known apparently in Blakely’s social circle.
What is more, Ruth knew. It didn’t come out in the trial. Mr Bickford,
Ruth’s solicitor, had evidence but “felt it unwise to call it.”
And that is where the truth of what really happened
remained – hidden in the background for nearly fifty years.
It will shock most people to learn that Ruth Ellis
fell under the spell of Dr Stephen Ward in the 1940’s. He groomed her;
a fact previously unknown to the public. This sensational finding was
pivotal in uncovering the real Ruth Ellis story.
Most people associate Ward’s name with the 1960’s
Profumo scandal. He was the pimp and smooth, society osteopath whose
patients included Winston Churchill, Prince Philip and Princess
He introduced Christine Keeler to John Profumo, the
Conservative Secretary of State for War. The scandal that Keeler was
having a simultaneous affair with a Soviet spy led to Profumo’s
Years later it was revealed Ward had been a double
agent, working for MI5 and for the KGB.
Those who think his spying activities began and
ended in 1963 should think again.
Stephen Ward’s involvement with pretty, young girls
who became the eyes and ears for his spying activities did not just
start suddenly in 1963. He was recruiting girls from the late 1940’s.
Ward and his post-war close friend, society and
stars’ photographer Antony Beauchamp who was married to Winston
Churchill’s daughter Sarah, were working together in their sordid
profession, making something of young girls from the right background.
[Beauchamp coincidentally photographed Marilyn Monroe at about the
same time in the US before she became famous]
Ward’s skill was “finding uneducated girls from a
poor background.” He groomed and transformed them into ‘somebodies’.
In return they did the dirty work, becoming a listening service for
intelligence organisations, gathering information from high-powered
men, generally in their beds, during the Cold War.
Both Ward and Antony Beauchamp, about whom little
was known, were members of the Little Club in Knightsbridge, also
shrouded in mystery, the club where Ruth Ellis would become manageress
in 1953. The Press tried to portray it as some sort of low-class dive
Its membership actually included King Hussein of
Jordan, film stars Douglas Fairbanks Jnr and Burt Lancaster, society
photographer ‘Baron’ a close friend of Prince Philip, racing driver
Stirling Moss and Anthony Armstrong-Jones who became Princess
Ruth fitted the bill for Ward and Beauchamp’s game.
She was a gift; she was trying to escape from poverty and abuse; she
was uneducated; she had a child to support; she had parents who took
every penny she earned; and she had a family secret. Her sister Muriel
gave birth to a child through incest with her father, a bully who
started sexually abusing Muriel when she was six. He turned his
attentions to Ruth when she was 11. Ruth made Muriel promise never to
tell anyone about his obscene behaviour.
Ward, the “vice peddler” created Ruth Ellis. She
was undoubtedly indebted to him. After all, he transformed her, gave
her nice clothes, made her feel special.
Vickie Martin, Ruth’s best friend, was another of
Ward’s proteges. She became the lover of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar
before being killed in a mysterious car crash in January 1955.
By chance I discovered Ward won Ruth a walk-on part
in the 1951 film ‘Lady Godiva Rides Again’ a comedy about
beauty contests. A publicity still showed a beauty queen line-up.
There alongside her friend Diana Dors and young Joan Collins, was Ruth
with short dark hair.
Four years later on 9th February 1955,
when her services were no longer required, Ruth was thrown to the
wolves by Desmond Cussen, her so-called alternative lover, to fend for
herself during her last sixty days of freedom.
At 11.30 p.m. on 10th April, the night
Blakely was murdered, on her arrest Ruth immediately admitted to
murdering him. She said, after being cautioned, “I am guilty. I am
In effect she signed her own death warrant.
Muriel never could understand why her sister didn’t
put up a fight, if only for the sake of her children.
But it’s the circumstances of Ruth’s police
statement, in a previously unpublished Home Office file, which were
It sounded as if she had previously rehearsed her
statement. It was word perfect. At the beginning of her performance,
which she began without being asked saying, “It all started about two
years ago when I met David Blakely at the Little Club, Knightsbridge,”
Superintendent Crawford had to stop her and ask “Would you like this
to be written down?”
Ruth had clearly been brainwashed.
To the police it was an open and shut case of
cold-blooded murder. But Ruth lied. The events of 10th
April did not happen as she had described them in her police
statement. She was protecting someone.
The two-day murder trial was a travesty. As I
leafed through the trial transcript during a visit to the PRO at Kew,
the inadequate questioning of witnesses is obvious now for all to see.
Ruth’s defence counsel Melford Stevenson did nothing for her. Later
when I found this statement that Stevenson made on the first morning
of the trial, I asked myself what was going on. He’d already decided
to “Subject the witnesses of the prosecution to a minimum of
Someone was being protected. And
someone was determined to send Ruth to the gallows.
Official files relating to the trial, including the
transcript, have been locked away for much longer than the statutory
30 years. The authorities still keep some files to do with Ruth’s
trial closed until 2031. What else was there to hide?
In our book we set out evidence that the court in
1955 never got to hear. Evidence showing that Ruth was innocent of the
crime she was hanged for.
We also identify the group of people in Ruth’s
circle who conspired against her, planned the murder of Blakely with
military precision and left Ruth holding a smoking gun.
The day before Ruth was hanged, having dismissed
her solicitor Mr Bickford who represented her at her trial, she was
visited in the condemned cell at Holloway prison by Mr Mishcon, now
Lord Mishcon, and Mr Simmons, solicitors whom she consulted on
domestic matters prior to the murder.
Simmons asked her what really happened on the day
of the shooting. Ruth said she hadn’t told the truth because to do so
“seemed traitorous – absolutely traitorous.” A loaded phrase, bearing
in mind the details that have come to light about Ruth’s double life.
Like Christine Keeler in 1963, Ruth was in a
position to bring down the government with what she knew. She was the
innocent pawn in a game of espionage planned by intelligence officers
whose job was to lie and who wanted to get rid of her. Ruth stood no
chance against them.
The story about spying and the shadowy characters
in Ruth’s circle continued to unravel by an extraordinary twist of
fate. It followed my discovery of Desmond Cussen’s signature on a
business document in 1964 while he was lying low at a London hotel.
This was Cussen’s one and only trail left anywhere since 1955.
After Ruth’s death, Cussen and Ward moved from
their Devonshire Street flats where they were close neighbours, to
Bayswater addresses in London; Cussen to Lanterns Hotel in Craven
Road, Ward to Orme Square. Cussen seemed to be following Ward around.
When the names Ward, Keeler and Profumo cropped up later in the
Atlantic hotel, I realised that Cussen who’d been staying there for
two years was not there by accident. He was perfectly placed when the
Profumo fiasco broke in 1963.
This discovery opened up a new line of
investigation, which in turn led to the infamous spying activities of
Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess.
The convincing story, spun and repeated for fifty
years, disguised the real Ruth Ellis. The message reaching the public
in 1955 was of the common, peroxide blonde, nightclub manageress who
was a part-time prostitute.
The message not reaching the public was about the
poorly educated, gullible young woman, desperate for money and who
probably unwittingly became involved with spying and died in a
dramatic way for her country, in the process.
Five years before her death, Ruth, looking very
different with natural auburn hair, frequented the White Hart Hotel in
Brasted, Kent, which was more like a private club. She blended in with
the special people who congregated there, including nuclear weapons
bigwigs from nearby Fort Halstead, top ranking RAF and spies Guy
Burgess and Donald Maclean.
I have tracked down witnesses in London,
Northumberland, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Australia
who have memories of the characters involved in the story. All have
spoken out for the first time.
One gentleman from Penn in Buckinghamshire casually
mentioned to me that the family of Donald Maclean had lived in the
village for thirty years. This led to a discovery of a secret service
stronghold there in the early 1950’s.
Commentators of the Ruth Ellis story focused on
Blakely’s mother Anne and stepfather Humphrey Cook when they lived at
the Old Park in Penn in 1955. It would seem coincidental that in 1949
the Blakely family moved into a rented house in the village,
immediately changing its name. The only documented evidence being two
entries on the voters’ list for 1950 and 1951.
The defection of Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess was
being planned at that time.
By 1949 Maclean was under suspicion for passing
secrets to the Russians. In May 1950 he returned to England and was
kept under surveillance by MI5. In 1949 David Blakely began his
National Service but within weeks was released and on his way to Penn.
There was no official explanation.
The Donald Maclean connection with Penn illustrates
just one of the complicated trails typical of my findings.
Coincidentally, Maclean’s body was brought back from Russia and buried
in a secret midnight service in Penn graveyard
Of real significance is the link between Westerham,
Brasted, Tatsfield, Tonbridge, Warlingham and Sanderstead on the
Surrey-Kent border, more than 20 miles from London; and just three
miles from Fort Halstead, with its secret complex of bunkers where
Britain’s Nuclear Weapons programme began.
Ruth had connections with all these supposedly
unconnected areas. Nobody has ever put two-and-two together before.
The trumped up murder charge that Ruth
admitted to and for which she was hanged obscured the truth about
Britain “in the grips of a spying scandal.”
‘Who Really Fired The Fatal Shot?’
At the Old Bailey on 20th June 1955,
Christmas Humphreys assisted by Mervyn Griffith-Jones and Miss Jean
Southworth, instructed by the Department of Public Prosecutions,
appeared on behalf of the prosecution. Melford Stevenson QC, assisted
by Mr Sebag Shaw and Mr Peter Rawlinson instructed by Messrs
Cardew-Smith and Ross appeared on behalf of the prisoner Ruth Ellis.
Christmas Humphreys opened the case for the
prosecution. He said Ruth took a gun which she knew was loaded, and
shot David Blakely dead by “emptying that revolver at him, four
bullets going into his body, one hitting a bystander in the hand, and
the sixth going we know not where.”
Ruth’s defence counsel, Melford Stevenson, stated
categorically that Ruth was guilty. “Let me make this abundantly
plain: there is no question here but this woman shot this man….You
will not hear one word from me – or from the lady herself –
Looking at the transcript of the trial released
over forty years after Ruth’s death it’s clear how Ruth Ellis, who
pleaded not guilty, was given scant help by our judicial system. Her
trial for murder was pushed through in just over a day. The jury
taking 23 minutes to find her guilty.
It appeared to be an open-and-shut case of cold-
blooded murder. There was no need for forensics on Ruth or her
possessions or for investigating the case properly. Apparently nobody
else was involved.
Ruth had a gun hanging from her hand. She was
pointing it towards Blakely’s dead body. In the press she had already
been portrayed as a peroxide blonde tart. Therefore she was guilty.
There was no need to consider if 28 year-old Ruth,
the 5’2,” 7-stone woman with tiny bird-like hands, one gnarled as a
result of rheumatic fever, with poor eyesight and suffering the after
effects of a recent miscarriage, was physically capable of shooting
anyone. Let alone repeatedly pull the trigger on a heavy man-size .38
Smith and Wesson gun that required a 10lb pull for each shot fired; it
would have been impossibly large in her hand, its recoil would have
knocked her backwards. All these aspects were left unsaid at the
In a Prison Service file, recently opened for
public scrutiny, I read that Ruth told the medical officer at Holloway
prison hospital that her left hand and ankle had been affected by
rheumatic fever. Nothing was made of this at her trial.
Ruth lied in court. She calmly admitted murdering
Blakely. She had been brainwashed and “shielded those people who’d
picked her…..The ones who promised her she wouldn’t die.”
According to their police statements, Cussen
dropped Ruth and her son Andre at her flat in Kensington at 7.30 pm on
the evening of the shooting and didn’t see her again until she was in
prison. We now know it was a pack of lies.
As soon as I read these two sentences in Ruth’s
police statement I knew she was lying and protecting someone: “I took
a taxi and as I arrived, David’s car drove away from Findlater’s
[Blakely’s car mechanic friend] address. I dismissed the taxi and
walked back down the road to the nearest pub where I saw David’s car
She could have followed Blakely in her taxi if
murder, “was on her mind.” She hadn’t spoken to him for over two days,
she would not have known where he was going and she couldn’t have seen
where he was going. It’s a long walk from Tanza Road to the Magdala
which is the nearest pub.
Stevenson had a golden opportunity to get to the
truth. Yet he did not ask Ruth what made her take a twelve-minute walk
in the dark when she could have taken the taxi that she was in.
Instead he summarised, “We have heard the evidence
about your taking a revolver up to Hampstead and shooting him. Is that
right?” Ruth replied, “Quite right.”
At about 9 pm on the night of the shooting Moreen
Gleeson, a Hampstead resident saw Ruth and Cussen outside 29 Tanza
Road in Hampstead, where Ruth believed Blakely was conducting an
affair with another woman. In her letter to Muriel Jakubait she wrote,
“When Cussen, as I believe he is named, appeared behind her I was
frightened. He was definitely intending to take charge….”
Miss Gleeson went to the police twice, and a
solicitor, but they disregarded her evidence. It would have been
crucial in confirming that Cussen was near to the scene of the crime.
The authorities appear to have ignored any
explanation of events other than the one that would lead to Ruth’s
Moreen Gleeson’s encounter with Ruth and Cussen and
Ruth’s subsequent hanging, troubled her. She suffered a nervous
breakdown and moved to Australia where she later became a midwife. She
read something about Cussen and the murder in a national paper but
dismissed it as “ill-informed.” She said, “I had been there and knew
this was all wrong.”Ruth didn’t murder anybody. Cussen, her
“alternative” lover, wound her up like a spring, got her drunk, drove
her to the scene of the crime and put a gun in her hand.
Although appearing to fire shots at Blakely she did
not fire the gun which killed him.
Desmond Cussen was an expert liar, disguised as a
boring businessman and usually portrayed as Blakely’s rival for Ruth’s
attention. At the magistrate’s court, when asked how long he’d known
Blakely, Cussen lied saying just over two years. Then he lied at the
trial saying “approximately three years.”
I have evidence of their long-term friendship. They
knew each other for nearly six years, regularly visiting a ‘risky’
club together in Surrey from the late 1940’s.
In the early 1970’s, Mr Bickford, Ruth’s solicitor,
made a statement to Scotland Yard from his home in Malta. He was
recalling what Cussen told him in 1955: how Ruth lied at the trial and
how he (Bickford) had hidden that information. After Bickford’s
confession a police investigation followed but no further action
regarding Cussen was taken.
I dug deeper into Public Record Office (PRO)
documents. As part of my research, I wanted to compare magistrate’s
court statements with the trial transcript. However the magistrates
court papers were listed as FRUSTRATED (not available) at the
PRO in Kew; they could not say where they were.Eventually I was
permitted to view the file that contained Christmas Humphreys’ set of
magistrate’s court documents at the Royal Court of Justice in the
Strand. They’d been housed there since 1996.I was so alarmed at my
findings on 9th May 2002, I wrote in my diary, “Papers
at the Royal Court of Justice have been adjusted; gun, police,
timings.” It was an understatement.Sometime
between the committal proceedings at the magistrate’s court in April
and Ruth’s trial in June 50 years ago, words had been mysteriously
crossed through in key witness statements; other words had been
inserted, giving totally different meanings.I only have photocopies of
six witness statements. Altogether there are 33 subtle changes.Where
did the instructions come from, for Christmas Humphreys to make those
changes?It’s obvious now; Ruth was being set up. Before she reached
the Old Bailey her fate was determined. The case
would be guaranteed open-and-shut.
A statement made by Police Constable Thompson
caught my eye. He was an off-duty policeman who happened to be in the
Magdala that fateful evening. He arrested Ruth after the shooting
which happened outside the pub. His words “She was holding the
revolver loosely” (crossed out) “pointing it downwards at a
slant” (crossed out) became “she was holding the revolver in
her right hand pointing it downwards.”PC Thompson was inside the
Magdala when he heard “a succession of bangs” outside. Importantly,
his statement at the magistrate’s court “No shot was fired after I
came out of the public house” was omitted at the trial. This key
witness did not see who shot Blakely, “but listening to him being
questioned by Humphreys” you’d think he did.All Melford Stevenson had
to say was “No questions.”
I noticed this statement made by Clive Gunnell who
called himself a Mayfair car salesman. He was Blakely’s drinking
companion at the Magdala on the night of the shooting. Originally he
described Ruth pursuing Blakely and pointing the gun at his back. The
statement was changed to read “The accused was firing the gun into his
back,” not the same.Again Stevenson had “No questions.”Stevenson stuck
to his word.
He gave the prosecution an easy time, subjecting
prosecution witnesses to a minimum of cross-examination.I can only
guess there was an unwritten law that exempted them from being
Mrs Gladys Yule was a prime witness for the
prosecution. She and her husband Donald Maclean Yule (who was not
called to give evidence) were walking to the Magdala for a Sunday
evening drink. Statements Mrs Yule made between 11th April and 20th
June were inconsistent. At her first court appearance she saw a
youngish man run out of the saloon bar of the Magdala, “followed,
almost on his heels, by a blonde woman.”At her second court appearance
on 28th April she said that she saw a lady in front of the
two men. “I could see her hair was very blonde and she wore a light
coat.” Then she admitted she would not recognise “the blonde woman
again who shot Blakely.”At the Old Bailey on 20th June Mrs
Yule was not asked if she recognised the prisoner. But she was certain
about what happened. She saw “A lady on the pavement in front of the
public house…..and saw her chase a man.”Again Ruth’s barrister had no
questions. He failed to raise any of these discrepancies.
The more I read the transcript, comparing it to
witness statements prior to the trial, the more I saw the skulduggery
that took place. Ruth stood no chance.At the end of the first day of
the trial, Melford Stevenson, with no jury present, gained a new lease
of life. He discussed at length “unlike his near silent performance in
court” the question of provocation; a peculiar contrast to his court
appearance.After picking his way through legal language with Stevenson
and Humphreys, Justice Havers found an excuse not to allow a verdict
of manslaughter and decided not to leave the issue to the jury.Justice
Havers directed the jury; he was “judge, jury, defence and
prosecution.The trumped up murder charge protected people at the heart
of the establishment. Ruth wasn’t sentenced to death. The
establishment murdered her.The Ruth Ellis story wasn’t about a crime
of passion – it looked that way though.The shooting of Blakely
obscured the truth about the country in the grips of a spying scandal.
Ruth was hanged to protect the shadowy characters she mixed with and
took her secrets to an unconsecrated grave at Holloway prison.I
found a letter at the Public Record Office from a Mrs Robinson of
Ealing to the Home Secretary. It summed up the case to a tee. She
wrote, “The charge was murder and the case had yet to be heard. I
should have demanded to hear the defence if I was the jury. The judge
took away power of the jury.”
‘Desmond Cussen: The Alarming
Over the years, Desmond Cussen, Ruth’s
so-called alternative lover, has been described as a bit of a drip,
an unassuming, docile, father figure. He looked like a spiv with
dark, greased back hair; with a round boyish face and an unnatural
looking thin moustache. He was usually portrayed as Blakely’s
scathing rival for Ruth’s affections.
There are many unanswered questions about who
Cussen really was; very little is known about him. The only
information comes from scant details in books over the years about
Ruth Ellis. Firstly he joined the RAF aged seventeen, trained mainly
in South Africa, was a bomber pilot, throughout the war, flying
Lancasters and was demobbed in 1946. Secondly he was wealthy, became
a director of a family-owned retail and wholesale tobacconist
business called Cussen and Co. And thirdly from the early 1950’s he
lived in a prestigious apartment in Goodwood Court near Harley
It seems odd therefore that twenty-three days
after the start of my research I began uncovering alarming
inconsistencies to the accepted story about him.
Was it just poor research by commentators over
the last fifty years or had those writers been fed misinformation,
part of the big lie being spread, to hoodwink the public about the
real Ruth Ellis story? I wondered. Either way, the truth has been
In March 2002 I contacted Companies House in an
attempt to find information about Cussen and Co.
Whilst examining hand-written documents on
microfiche (luckily still available from Companies House archives)
I discovered that Desmond Cussen lived in Garlands Road,
Leatherhead with his parents, in a detached house called Dapdune.
This was quite a find; the first in a series of lucky breaks,
opening the door to some significant findings. It was my first
lesson in detective work: examine every local connection. Garlands
Road is less than two miles from my home.
Dapdune was coincidentally just 300 yards from
Leatherhead hospital where Arthur Neilson, Muriel Jakubait’s father,
was an in-patient for a year. He’d been sent there during the war
from south-east London suffering from a cerebral thrombosis
following an injury sustained in the London Blitz.
It seemed stranger than fiction that I should
come across Ruth’s alternative lover, at exactly the same time as I
was investigating the area around Leatherhead hospital.With further
research I realised that in the late 1940’s Garlands Road was no
ordinary road. Top people lived there in houses of substance. Some
of the properties have been demolished but two of the original
houses are still standing.
General Ironside, who was one of Churchill’s
generals in the Second World War, lived secretly in one. In 1941 he
was Commander-in-Chief Home Forces, in charge of the Home Guard.
One of the pleasures in my new detective role is
scrutinising every new lead!So on 2nd May 2002 I wrote to
the Leatherhead local paper asking for anyone to contact me if they
had memories of wartime in Garlands Road. It was a long shot. 1940
is a long time ago.
I struck lucky. I received three replies. One led
me to a new witness, John Steel, an elderly Leatherhead gent, with a
phenomenally accurate memory for everything wartime. He was an ARP
warden based in General Ironside’s house that had been commandeered
by the government for the Home Guard when it was first formed.
Although he didn’t know it, Mr Steel’s
recollections about the young chap who he paired up with in the Home
Guard were to prove invaluable in my search for the truth.
Mr Steel told me how he teamed up with a young
man, an only child, about eighteen years old, with straight fair
hair, about 5’9″, of muscular build and handsome. He was from an
exceptionally well to do family. He added, “He was a cut above the
rest of us, well spoken and well educated, a gentleman” and lived
next door at Dapdune. “His father looked like a city gent.”
The two young men worked together at night-time
two to three times a week from summer 1940 until April 1941,
guarding bombed places against looters and keeping watch for
parachutists. He couldn’t remember his partner’s name, it was a long
time ago, but said he was very good with a gun, a “crack shot.” They
regularly practised shooting 303 rifles on a local rifle range. At
other times they were taken in a lorry to Bisley to practise with
The day after our first interview I had a call
from Mr Steel. He said, “I’ve remembered the young man’s name, it
He had no idea, until our book was published
three years later, that his Home Guard partner was the same man who
would play an important role in Ruth Ellis’s life and death in 1955.
By 4th June 2002, three months after
beginning my research, new light had been thrown on Cussen’s wartime
activities. When he was seventeen he was not in the RAF, he was in
the Home Guard working alongside John Steel. What is more, Cussen
was not the docile character we’d been led to believe – even as a
young man he was a crack shot.
After those discoveries I was determined to find
everything I could about this very private man. In the Air Force
List at the Public Record Office the entry for Desmond Cussen,
197248, was odd. It stated he achieved pilot officer status in the
General Duties Branch on 10th April 1945 and left on 10th
Nothing about Cussen was quite what it seemed.
During an interview in August 2005 on BBC Radio
London, Vanessa Feltz was curious to know what Cussen was doing
between 1941 and 1945. I could not give her an answer. It would
appear that he was doing nothing.The only way to find out about RAF
personnel is to call up their service record. As I’m not next of
kin, I’d reached a dead end. Service records for RAF personnel after
1921 are MOD property.Since the winter of 2005 I have made
discoveries about Cussen’s service record; that’s another story.
However I strongly suspect he grew up in a family that was used to
deception.The Cussen and Co microfiches led to another breakthrough
in my investigation. It came as something of a surprise to find a
hand written document signed by Cussen in London in May 1964. This
was Cussen’s one and only trail left anywhere since 1955.He
gave his address as the Atlantic Hotel, Queens Gardens in London
where I discovered he’d lived for two years. It can be no accident
that Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, John Profumo and osteopath
Dr Stephen Ward were frequent visitors there at the same time as
Cussen.The whole point is that, according to Public Record Office
documents, the police in 1955 claimed they were searching for Cussen
the evening before Ruth was hanged, to interrogate him about the gun
used to kill Blakely; but couldn’t find him.The hanging could easily
have been postponed until they’d found him. But it was not. It was
all too quick.When Cussen signed the business document in London in
1964, he was still a free man.
Ruth had protected Cussen in her police
statement, claiming a man gave her the gun in a club three years
previously. She did not give anything away about Cussen until 12.30
p.m. on July 12th, the day before she was hanged. She
broke her silence, confessing to her solicitors that Cussen supplied
the gun. She had not admitted it before because of getting “someone
into possible trouble.”
The day after the hanging, the front-page article
of the Daily Sketch demanded, “What are the police doing about this
man? Are they going to charge him? If not, why not?”
Cussen was not arrested. It all went according to
plan. It’s clear to me he had some sort of immunity.He was no ordinary
tobacconist businessman.Cussen and Co microfiches led to another vital
discovery, more proof of Ruth’s connection with Dr Stephen Ward, who
was a key player in the Profumo affair in the 1960’s, and
circumstantial evidence of Cussen’s connection to the secret service.
One month and thirty phone calls after beginning my detective work I
traced Cussen’s accountant. He told me on the telephone that Cussen
had told him in the early 1960’s [at the time of the Profumo scandal]
of Ruth Ellis’s friendship with Dr Stephen Ward.By early June 2002 I
had pieced together quite a dossier of first hand evidence about
Cussen; a bigger picture was developing.The impression of the
“ineffective drip” was quite misleading.
Quite by chance, in December 2003 I made another
major discovery. I met Mr Wallis, a retired Leatherhead dentist with
an interesting story to tell about the very private Paddock Club at
the end of a long gravel drive in the Surrey village of Ashtead. He
was a member from the late 1940’s until 1955. So too were Desmond
Cussen and David Blakely.At the magistrate’s court in 1955 Cussen
stated he’d known Blakely, “Just over two years, maybe three.” He lied
again at Ruth’s trial when he said on oath that he’d known Blakely
“Approximately three years.”I now have evidence of Cussen’s long term
friendship with David Blakely. They’d actually enjoyed each other’s
company for approximately six years; something that has never been
made public. The pair frequently visited the Paddock Club, which was a
mile or so from Cussen’s Leatherhead family home, since the late
1940’s. It was a place where the best people from London secretly
congregated when there were parties on.It’s obvious now; Cussen lied
about their friendship to cover the secret world they’d actually been
part of for several years; a world that Ruth could have blown wide
open if she had lived.From small beginnings about Cussen’s family home
in Leatherhead, combined with solid research another side to Ruth’s
alternative lover was emerging. Everything pointed to undercover
operations and the British Secret Service.Somewhere hidden in
books written about the Cold War, Cussen’s other identity is waiting
to be uncovered.
‘Ruth Ellis Did Not Murder David
Ruth Ellis did not kill David Blakely.
The so-called crime of passion, for which Ruth hanged, was cleverly
crafted to appear that way though. It was organised like a military
exercise by experts.
Take the murder weapon, a heavy .38 Smith and
When I was compiling evidence for our book, I
spoke to John Ross, curator of the Crime Museum at New Scotland
Yard. I told him that Muriel Jakubait wished to handle the gun
(displayed in the Museum) that was retrieved at the scene of the
shooting.At the end of January 2003 Muriel and I met Ross at the
Museum to view the weapon used to kill Blakely.
Even I could see that the gun would have been far
too large in Ruth’s tiny hands one of which was gnarled as a result
of contracting rheumatic fever at age 15. This painful condition
stayed with Ruth for the rest of her life.She was 5’ 2″, weighed
only 7 stone and would have been physically incapable of firing one
shot from a heavy, man-size gun, let alone repeatedly pull the
trigger, firing six bullets in quick succession. With her tiny hand
she couldn’t have even thumbed the trigger guard back.Furthermore
the recoil after each shot would have knocked her backwards.
A professional would know that and hold it with
two hands at arm’s length. A firearms expert advised me that
accuracy with a .38 Smith and Wesson would have been hopeless except
in trained hands.All these aspects were left unsaid at the trial.
It’s worth mentioning here that Peter Rawlinson
(now Lord Rawlinson) Ruth’s junior defence counsel, met Ruth at the
Old Bailey on 11th May one month after her arrest. That
day Melford Stevenson applied for the case to be postponed until
after 14thJune, “Owing to the large number of enquiries still to be
made by the defence.” Ruth and Rawlinson shook hands in her cell
after the three-minute hearing. In his autobiography he described
her hands as “small and limp.”
On 27th May 1955, Mr W Mackenzie,
medical registrar at St Giles hospital prepared a report for Ruth’s
solicitor Mr Bickford. Referring to the rheumatic fever for which
Ruth had been admitted to the hospital as a teenager, he said bones
in her left-hand ring finger had been destroyed and were badly
affected by septic arthritis. In a postscript he added, “I should be
interested to know from a medical point of view, the present state
of her joints.”Mackenzie wrote the report six weeks after Ruth
allegedly shot her lover, aiming and firing six times with a heavy
Smith and Wesson revolver.
It’s clear from a Holloway hospital case paper
(opened since the publication of our book) that Ruth’s condition was
known about. On 11th April the prison medical officer
noted that as a teenager she had “rheumatic fever, which was
followed with arthritis in the fingers of the left hand and of the
ankles.” Her wedding ring was worn on an adjacent finger.Ruth’s
defence counsel made nothing of this at her trial.
Forensic expert Lewis Charles Nickolls, Director
of the Metropolitan Police Laboratory examined the revolver and
bullets. In his police statement he explained, “In order to fire 6
cartridges, it is necessary to cock the trigger six times, as in the
case of a revolver pulling the trigger only fires one shot. To pull
a trigger of 10lbs requires definite and deliberate muscular
But two months later at the Old Bailey when
questioned by the prosecuting counsel Christmas Humphreys, Nickolls
was economical with his words. He merely said, “To fire each shot
the trigger has to be pulled as a separate operation.”
It would appear he deliberately omitted the
reference to the effort needed to fire the Smith and Wesson
gun.Nickolls also testified at the trial that one bullet had been
fired at close range, less than 3″ from the body, the other bullets,
he said, were “fired from a distance.”
He explained to the judge Mr Justice Havers that
the close range shot had left the usual circle of powder fouling
around the bullet hole. He then repeated that the other shots had
been fired at a distance.Nickolls did not say what distance. Ruth’s
learned defence counsel Melford Stevenson did not ask.
Nickolls’ evidence went unchallenged.I was
baffled. Why didn’t he ask Nickolls about the distance from which
the other bullets were fired? It was important. One bullet was fired
at close range, therefore the other three bullet wounds in Blakely’s
body, had been fired accurately from a distance, out of arm’s reach.
This could have been a turning point in the trial yet Ruth’s defence
gave the prosecution an easy ride.
Extraordinarily Stevenson had, “No Questions.”The
procedure for estimating the range of fire of a weapon had been used
for some years. The gun is test fired in the lab at different
distances using the same type of ammunition.
What is even more interesting is an important
discovery I made in a Metropolitan Police document recently released
at the Public Record Office and has never been made public: the gun
broke during testing.Shut away in a previously closed file is a
police statement made by Nickolls on 25th April 1955
along with a further one-page report written on the identical date
but on Metropolitan Police Laboratory headed notepaper. Nickolls
stated in both, “On receipt the Smith and Wesson revolver was in
working order and during the course of firing in the laboratory, the
cylinder catch broke as the result of a long standing crack in the
The cylinder catch revolves the barrel so that
the next bullet is in place for the next shot.I find it questionable
that Ruth managed to shoot six rounds of live ammunition, firing
four bullets into David Blakley, then the gun breaks during testing
thereby destroying evidence. If the gun had a long-standing defect,
why did it not break on the first firing at the scene of the
murder?Since our book was published in 2005 I found the statement
Nickolls made at the magistrate’s court on 28th April.
For the third time he emphasised that the gun broke during
testing.However, later when I examined the transcript of the trial,
which took place on 20th June, two months after the
magistrate’s court hearing, I found that Nickolls failed to mention
this crucial piece of evidence.When questioned at the Old Bailey he
merely repeated that on receipt the gun was in working order, and
“The barrel was foul and consistent with having been recently
Suspiciously he didn’t mention the gun breaking
during testing. Was Nickolls deliberately silenced?Melford Stevenson
QC, also overlooked this important detail. He must have known about
the gun breaking.Any decent lawyer would play on the fact that no
ballistics were done. One doesn’t assume anything when there is a
death sentence looming.Did Stevenson choose not to explain this
evidence to the Old Bailey jury? Might the results of the test
firing of the gun have planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the
jury about Ruth’s shooting capability?
I wonder.Stevenson could have established what
really happened. But he made no attempt to show all the evidence to
the jury and let them draw their own conclusions.It all looks
extremely suspicious. I would say it was a set up from start to
finish. I suspect that the gun conveniently broke during test firing
as the results would have cleared Ruth of the murder.
At this point I should mention the afternoon of
10th April, the day Blakely was shot.Muriel told me about
events at her flat in St Paul’s Cray on 11th April 1955.
Her parents Berta and Arthur Neilson, Ruth’s son Andre and Desmond
Cussen arrived on her doorstep unexpectedly. Berta told Muriel that
Ruth had shot and killed Blakely. She threatened Muriel not to talk
to a soul, to look after Andre, instructed her not to allow the boy
to talk anyone and left.Andre didn’t say much to Muriel that day
except that he’d seen Uncle Desmond cleaning and oiling two guns in
his Goodwood Court flat the day before.Andre, who was nearly 11
years old, added quite innocently that Uncle Desmond that same day,
“drove him and his mother (who was in a state) to a forest to teach
his mummy how to shoot. Cussen had one gun and gave another to Ruth.
Andre thought she was funny because she couldn’t
even shoot a tree and her hands kept shaking.”Andre held explosive
information but was not interviewed by the police during the
investigation into the crime.Was the gun produced at the trial and
now housed at the Crime Museum, the crime weapon or was it the
second gun that Andre saw Cussen cleaning on the day of the
Another mystery: the Metropolitan Police did
forensics on the gun and on Blakely but not on Ruth. There’s no
record in any file of fingerprints even being taken or evidence on
her fingers or clothing of having fired a gun.It was accepted at the
time that the residue from an exploding cartridge is driven
backwards on to the hand that pulls the trigger.Why weren’t samples
taken from the accused as well as the deceased?
What happened to Ruth’s blood spattered clothes?
She allegedly shot Blakely at close range; which is a messy
business. Did her light-coloured suit that she was apparently
wearing show evidence of oil residue from the bullets? Forensic
expert LC Nickolls said in his police statement, but did not repeat
at the trial, that the Smith and Wesson he examined was oily.
There are no answers to any of these questions in
any police file about the case.
Eleanor Hogg was the policewoman who guarded Ruth all night in her
cell at Hampstead police station, following her arrest. In January
2006 I managed to make contact with Mrs Hogg. She said Ruth was
wearing spotlessly clean, pale coloured clothing that night. “She was
clean, smart, and certainly did not have stains down her clothes. I
would have remembered.”
It is standard procedure in all police stations for
the arresting officer to make a list of possessions belonging to the
prisoner on a charge sheet. David Blakely’s list of property in
possession of the Hampstead police in 1955 was recently released for
public scrutiny. But Ruth’s list of property and clothing is
noticeable by its absence. The list certainly existed. According to
another, recently opened, Metropolitan Police document dated 24th
June 1955 (two days after Ruth was found guilty at the Old Bailey)
Hampstead police handed her property to her solicitor Mr Bickford
against “Receipt number 99.”
I suspect that forensics were not carried out on
Ruth, and the gun conveniently broke during testing because the
results would have saved her and proved she could not have killed
Blakely.Too many crucial questions were left unasked. Ruth had to be
found guilty. The establishment wanted her dead. Using new evidence
that I’ve uncovered, I say we now need to go back to the scene of the
murder, choose a dark evening at about 9.30 pm and reconstruct the
crime. There are more than enough invisible clues to show
Ruth was set up. She was holding a gun, pointing it at a dying man. To
all intents and purposes she appeared to shoot Blakely. The so-called
witnesses would have seen nothing else, only the eye-catching blonde
causing a diversion. The real killer was probably standing there in
full view, but totally invisible to them.
The real murderer was Desmond Cussen. He
was the marksman that killed Blakely; and got away with it.
* I have used
this name to protect Mrs Hogg’s identity.
On 7th July 2005, the day
RUTH ELLIS MY SISTER’S SECRET LIFE was published, bombings in
London shattered the heart of the capital.
From my point of view publication of the book was
just the beginning. The next few months were busy.
I contacted anyone who might spread the word
about new findings in our book, from editors of parish magazines and
village newsletters to local newspapers in areas connected with the
Three years of detective work has taught me there
will always be more to discover. The Sevenoaks Chronicle,
Warrington-Worldwide, Cornish Guardian and Northumberland Gazette
are just a few of the local papers that published reports about the
book. Some appealed to readers with first hand evidence of Ruth
Ellis in the early 1950’s, to come forward.
I have become even more fascinated by information
that I’d not found before. More witnesses from 50 years ago had
revealing things to say. New leads and new evidence has emerged,
with precise details of Ruth’s movements in the late 1940s and early
1950s, all contradicting the ‘accepted’ Ruth Ellis story that’s been
repeated for fifty years.
During the Christmas of 2005 I sorted through
information that kept coming in.
Statements from new witnesses had one thing in
common. All said Ruth had certain characteristics that had made a
deep impression on them: she was a lovely, kind person with grace
and style. She was not looked upon as the common peroxide blonde
prostitute as she’s been portrayed over the years. That impression
Evelyn Galilee was the warder who guarded Ruth in
the condemned cell for three weeks before her execution. She
remembers Ruth as a “first class woman” whom she liked and says she
was not the “troublesome blonde” that warders at Holloway had
strangely been told to expect.She told me about Ruth’s last few
minutes before her execution.
“Prior to the drop Ruth wanted to go to the
toilet. I took her in. These thick padded calico knickers were
brought and I was told they had to be put on her. It was against a
woman’s dignity. I said, “I’m sorry Ruth but I’ve got to do this.”
They had tapes back and front to pull. I blinded my eyes from them
as she put them on. “Is that all right?” she said to me. She was
very calm. “Would you pull these tapes Evelyn, I’ll pull the
others,” They had to be tight. It was in case anything came out.
Ruth asked what they were for. I couldn’t tell her.”
Evelyn spoke to me following the publication of
our book.A fact challenged by her eyewitness account is the
authenticity of letters that Ruth apparently wrote and sent from the
Firstly, all her letters (photocopied from the
originals at the Public Record Office) were written in pen. Evelyn
told me categorically that “No prisoner in the condemned cell was
allowed to use a pen, everything had to be written in pencil and was
Also, the “Letter officer” at Holloway
prison would have blanked out names on letters that Ruth sent from
prison, yet names are clearly mentioned in Ruth’s correspondence.
Finally, in Ruth’s letter dated 12th
July 1955, to Mr Simmons, her original solicitor, she refers to
remarks made by David Blakely’s brother in a newspaper article
following her trial. Evelyn informed me that, “No prisoner in the
condemned cell was allowed access to a newspaper or its contents.”
Just before I began this chapter, and thanks to a
Westerham historian, I received interesting information from a woman
who worked at the ‘House at Home’ public house in Westerham, in the
In a conversation with Sylvia Smith, she told me
that Ruth Ellis and David Blakely, who she described as a “good
looking young man” frequented the pub between approximately 1951 and
1953. She recalled that on occasions “Ruth would come in on her own,
invariably crying saying David had vanished.”
Seemingly this was Blakely’s habit. Sylvia
remembers how the landlord, Ernie Dumbleton, would say, “Ruth’s here
and boyfriend has hooked off again and she’s quite tearful. Go and
have a chat with her.”
Sylvia thought the couple rented a cottage in Ide
Hill or Brasted Chart, adjacent hamlets east of Westerham and a
short distance from Fort Halstead. This was the high security
research establishment where Britain’s nuclear weapons programme
began and is mentioned in our book.
When arrested in 1955, Ruth Ellis maintained that
she first met David Blakely two years before, “When I was manageress
of the Little Club, Knightsbridge.” It seems they may have actually
known each other a lot longer.
BBC Radio Kent broadcast a feature and News item
after reading my appeal in the Sevenoaks Chronicle for readers’
recollections of the House at Home between 1951 and 1953.No one else
came forward with further evidence of Ruth’s connection with the pub
at this time.
So the question of their stay near Westerham
remains a mystery.However as we know now that Ruth lied at her trial
from start to finish, it would be fair to assume she lied when she
claimed she’d only known Blakely for two years.
Recently released prison hospital records point
to the fact that Ruth fabricated the main thread of her defence.
Ruth is quoted as saying she shot David Blakely in a jealous rage,
believing he was having an affair, the incident happening 10 days
after he punched her in the stomach and caused her to miscarry their
baby. But on arrival at Holloway prison, following her arrest, and
before she had time to get her story straight, she told the prison
doctor she had actually had an abortion.
Interestingly on 19th March 1952 a
passport, number N9584, was issued to Ruth Ellis. At the time she
was employed as a hostess at Carroll’s Club in Duke Street in
Mayfair. She was hard up, with two children to support. Bear in mind
foreign travel then was fairly limited apart from business matters.
I have no information to indicate what Ruth was up to. Where she was
travelling to is another mystery. I wrote to the Home Office for
further details about the passport but after “thorough searches”
nothing could be found. They said, “The Home Office does not hold
the information that you have requested.”
A further new discovery is that Ruth occasionally
visited Tatsfield, a village north-west of Westerham and home to
Soviet Super Spy Donald Maclean.In Tales of Tatsfield, author
Doris Geary wrote, “I had known Ruth Ellis as a kind, good looking
woman; we had laughed and talked together and we had liked each
other.” Like Mrs Smith, Doris Geary brought details to light about
Ruth’s movements that previous commentators missed.Doris Geary’s
brother, Frank Watson was the Tatsfield “cabbie” for 60 years, and
chauffeur to Donald Maclean when he lived in the village from December
1950 to May 1951. On the evening of Friday 25th May 1951,
Watson drove Maclean to Woldingham station. It was the night he and
his colleague Guy Burgess defected to Russia.
In the spring of 1969 Ruth’s widowed mother, Berta
Neilson, was found unconscious in a gas-filled room in her flat in
Hemel Hempstead; she never fully recovered and did not speak
coherently again. Ruth’s sister Muriel found her mother’s handbag,
tucked away in a chest of drawers. In it was a small, tatty
notebook-cum-address book (now kept safe in a bank vault). Muriel had
wondered for years about the names in it. The notebook tells a
revealing story of its own.Phone numbers and addresses of Berta and
Arthur Neilson’s friends, also notable journalists of the time Peter
Grisewood, Jimmy Reid and Duncan Webb and other contacts that she’d
scribbled in fifty years ago, became important clues. One London
address, in Kensington stood out. After months of research and
trawling through electoral registers and directories I realised I
hadn’t just found a safe house, I’d found a safe street! I’d uncovered
a treasure-trove of spies’ addresses, all in the same Kensington
street – some dating back to 1932. As far as I am aware, they have not
previously been made public. All the big names in spying were there:
Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Menzies, Cowgill, Sinclair, Footman, Burke
Trend ……It strikes me as strange, that Ruth Ellis’s mother had this
address in her notebook 50 years ago. Had she discovered the shady
world in which Ruth was involved? Or was this interesting evidence
just another coincidence? An early draft of RUTH ELLIS MY SISTER’S
SECRET LIFE contained this information, but our publishers felt it was
complicated and the whole section was dropped.
When I began ghost writing Muriel Jakubait’s
autobiography I intended to find the truth about her sister Ruth. I
hope in these articles and in our book I have at least begun to set
the record straight.
There is a final post script to the Ruth Ellis
story. On 21 May 2005 The Mirror newspaper published an exclusive
story, NO PARDON FOR ELLIS. “Fifty years on, government turn
down reprieve for hanged Ruth Ellis. Hanged killer Ruth Ellis has been
secretly denied a pardon by the Government, documents reveal. The
decision has been kept under wraps for fear of unleashing protests
which could embarrass ministers.” I wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair
for a reaction about the Home Secretary’s decision; and to HM the
Queen. Sir Paul Beresford MP wrote to Home Secretary Charles Clarke on
my behalf.My enquiries were met with assurances that nobody knew
Fiona Mactaggart MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
replied to Sir Paul’s letter: “The case of Ruth Ellis has
always attracted interest over the years and more particularly in this
the fiftieth anniversary of her execution. However, I am unaware of
the slowly building campaign to which you have referred. I can confirm
that an application for a posthumous free pardon, limited to sentence,
was considered and rejected earlier this year.