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How the abused Ruth Ellis remained stoic when she was put to death in 1955 after shooting her violent racing driver lover with ex-RAF officer accomplice – as ITV releases first-look image of new drama


It was, perhaps, a bitter saving grace that the woman who had been failed and abused by men all her life would be praised by Britain’s most famous hangman. 

‘I have seen some brave men die, but nobody braver than her,’ Albert Pierrepoint said of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. 

The glamorous nightclub hostess and former model met her fate at 9am on July 13, 1955, at HMP Holloway, as a huge crowd outside was held back by a police cordon.

Ruth had been condemned to death for shooting her violent racing driver boyfriend David Blakely following a trial that lasted less than two days. 

Yesterday, a first-look picture of new ITV drama A Cruel Love: The Ruth Ellis Story showed Lucy Boynton as the tragic mother-of-two, who was hanged at the age of just 28. 

The fact that former RAF officer Desmond Cussen – who had competed with Blakely for Ruth’s affections – had given her the murder weapon and shown her how to use it should have at least bought her time.

But Ruth’s execution went ahead as planned, prompting a worldwide uproar that ultimately played a significant role in Britain’s abolition of capital punishment in 1969, four years after it had been suspended. 

It was, perhaps, a bitter saving grace that the woman who had been failed and abused by men all her life would be praised by Britain's most famous hangman. 'I have seen some brave men die, but nobody braver than her,' Albert Pierrepoint said of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain

It was, perhaps, a bitter saving grace that the woman who had been failed and abused by men all her life would be praised by Britain’s most famous hangman. ‘I have seen some brave men die, but nobody braver than her,’ Albert Pierrepoint said of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain

Ellis had been condemned to death for shooting her violent racing driver boyfriend David Blakely following a trial that lasted less than two days

Ellis had been condemned to death for shooting her violent racing driver boyfriend David Blakely following a trial that lasted less than two days

Born the fourth of five children to mother Bertha in Rhyl, North Wales, in 1926, Ruth’s first misfortune was to have to fend off the sordid sexual advances of her own father.

He had already abused her sister Muriel but Ruth defiantly insisted that he would not be allowed to do the same to her.  

By the time of the Second World War, the family had moved to London.

Author Carol Ann Lee’s 2012 biography of Ellis told how, in 1943, Ruth met French Canadian serviceman Clare Andrew McCallum. 

The couple enjoyed a brief but passionate romance that resulted in Ruth getting pregnant in early 1944. 

McCallum had asked his young girlfriend to marry him, and, after he had been posted to France, she gave birth to a baby boy.

Ruth then discovered that her beau – who never returned – was already married with a wife and children back in Canada. 

She recalled a the heartbreak a decade later, saying: ‘I no longer felt any emotion about men. Outwardly I was cheerful and gay. Inwardly I was cold and spent.’

Yesterday, a first-look picture of new ITV drama A Cruel Love: The Ruth Ellis Story showed Lucy Boynton as the tragic mother-of-two, who was hanged at the age of just 28

Yesterday, a first-look picture of new ITV drama A Cruel Love: The Ruth Ellis Story showed Lucy Boynton as the tragic mother-of-two, who was hanged at the age of just 28

Ruth Ellis with Desmond Cussen at the Little Club in Knightsbridge. Cussen gave her the gun she used to kill David Blakely and showed her how to use it

Ruth Ellis with Desmond Cussen at the Little Club in Knightsbridge. Cussen gave her the gun she used to kill David Blakely and showed her how to use it

Ruth Ellis standing next to David Blakeley, who she shot dead in 1955

Ruth Ellis standing next to David Blakeley, who she shot dead in 1955 

Ruth Ellis with her son Andre, who took his own life in 1982 - 27 years after his mother's death

Ruth Ellis with her son Andre, who took his own life in 1982 – 27 years after his mother’s death

Ruth then set about trying to support herself and her son, Andre, financially.

Ms Lee revealed in her book how Ruth ‘took great pride in her appearance and would not set foot outside unless fully made up with heavy foundation, rouge and lipstick.’

The Daily Mail's report of Ruth Ellis's execution

The Daily Mail’s report of Ruth Ellis’s execution

One evening, after being taken for a drink at one of London’s new nightclubs, she met pimp and convicted fraudster Morris Conley, who offered her a job as a hostess.

It was after taking on the role that Ruth, who was expected to offer both drinks and sex to customers, met her future husband, dentist George Ellis.

The depressive drinker promised that he would seek help for his troubles and that vow was enough for Ellis to agree to marry him.

When they tied the knot in November 1950, she shed her maiden name – Neilson – and became Ruth Ellis. 

However, Ellis soon began beating his new wife. One one occasion, her mother recalled, he repeatedly banged her head against a wall.

By the winter of 1951 – by which time their marriage was over – Ruth had given birth to a daughter, Georgina. 

Needing to support herself and her children, Ruth went to Conley to ask for her job back.

He made her the manager of his new club in Knightsbridge and even provided her with a flat and generous salary. 

On the Little Club’s opening night, Ruth – who had by then dyed her hair peroxide blonde to match Hollywood superstar Marilyn Monroe – met David Blakely for the first time. 

Blakely repeatedly returned and the pair became romantically involved. Within a fortnight they were living together in her flat. 

At the time, Blakeley’s efforts were focused on his MG racing car and his passion for motor racing.

Ruth was besotted with him. She said later: ‘I thought the world of him; I put him on the highest of pedestals. He could do nothing wrong and I trusted him implicitly.’

Her love extended to the point where she even agreed to a request by her ex-husband to give up her daughter to a wealthy childless couple he knew.  

However, the hostess now had another admirer in the form of Cussen, who was a regular at the Little Club. 

His presence on the scene likely contributed to the furious rows that broke out between Ruth and Blakely.

The arguments would end with Blakely viscously beating his girlfriend.

With knowledge about the love triangle now swirling around the club, Ruth was warned by Conley that she had to treat all customers equally.

However, when the club’s takings fell, Conley fired her. 

She moved in with Cussen but was then met with a marriage proposal from Blakely.

Ruth became pregnant with his child, only to lose the baby after another beating. 

The final straw came on Good Friday in 1955, when Blakely failed to turn up to meet Ruth as he had promised.

Suspecting that he was at the home of his friends Ant Findlater and his wife Carole – who hated Ruth – she asked Cussen to drive her there, where she saw his car outside. 

Having tried and failed to get through to him on the phone that day and the following night, she returned home humiliated.

The next day, Easter Sunday, Andre again put the phone down on her when she tried to call.

Ruth Ellis poses in a leopard print dress in 1954, the year before she was hanged for murder

Ruth Ellis poses in a leopard print dress in 1954, the year before she was hanged for murder

Ruth Ellis posing glamorously in 1954. She died aged just 28 and became the last woman to be hanged in Britain

Ruth Ellis posing glamorously in 1954. She died aged just 28 and became the last woman to be hanged in Britain

Ruth Ellis poses in stockings and suspenders in 1954. She refused to plead for mercy at her trial

Ruth Ellis poses in stockings and suspenders in 1954. She refused to plead for mercy at her trial

When she kissed her son goodnight that evening, it would be the last time she saw him.

She later told jurors about her feelings towards Blakley that night. ‘I was very upset. I had a peculiar feeling I wanted to kill him,’ she said.

Meanwhile, Blakley was with Findlaters, having yet another party. When Carole ran out of cigarettes, Blakely drove to the Magdala pub near their home to get some.

Taking friend Clive Gunnell, he went for a quick drink inside the pub. The pair emerged at 9.20pm. 

Ruth was waiting for them. When Blakley saw her he started to run. She fired an initial two shots, chased her lover around his car and then fired again.

He ‘fell forward flat on his face’, she recalled later. Witnesses Donald and Gladys Yule – as well as Gunnell – were watching on in horror.

Mrs Yule then saw Blakely lying on the pavement as Ruth fired two more shots into him.

She said years later: ‘I shall never forget the look of appeal in his eyes,’ she recalled years later. She put two more bullets into him, deliberately. I was petrified.’

Ruth then tried to take her own life with the gun, but it initially failed to fire. When it finally did – after she had brought it away from her temple – the bullet went through Mrs Yule’s hand. 

After being arrested, Ruth insisted that she was guilty but initially protected Cussen. Instead, she said she had been given the gun by a man in a club three years earlier.

When Cussen was questioned, he insisted that he had dropped her off at her rented room at 7.30pm on the night of the murder and had not seen her since.

He failed to tell detectives that he had given Ruth the gun, shown her how to use it and then driven her to the murder scene. 

Although Cussen confessed this fact to Ruth’s solicitor, it was not brought up at trial over fears that it would affect her chances of being convicted of manslaughter rather than murder.

Ruth rejected her lawyer’s request to plead insanity. She said: ‘I took David’s life and I don’t ask you to save mine. I don’t want to live.’

The mother-of-two also wrote to Blakley’s mother to apologise for killing him.

She said: ‘The two people I blame for David’s death, and my own, are the Findlayters (sic). 

‘No dought (sic) you will not understand this, but perhaps before I hang you will know what I mean. Please excuse my writing, but the pen is shocking.

‘I implore you to try to forgive David for living with me, but we were very much in love with one and other (sic). 

‘Unfortunately, David was not satisfied with one woman in his life. I have forgiven David, I only wish I could have found it in my heart to have forgiven when he was alive.

‘Once again, I say I am very sorry to have caused you this misery and heartache. I shall die loving your son. And you should feel content that his death has been repaid.

‘Goodbye. Ruth Ellis.’

With her blonde hair having faded in prison, Ruth insisted on dying it so it ahead of her court appearance.

Despite her legal team’s fears that her bleached hair would not fair well with the jury, Ruth got her wish. 

Judge Mr Justice Havers later described the murderess’s defence as being ‘so weak… it was non-existent.’

He was also not convinced by Ruth’s story about how she got the gun. But because her legal team had not mentioned it, the matter was not brought up in court.

Much of the physical and emotional abuse she had suffered throughout her life was not even mentioned to jurors.

And Judge Havers told them to ignore Blakely’s own violent outbursts. He said: ‘A young woman, you may think, badly treated by the deceased man. 

‘Nothing of that sort must enter into your consideration . . . according to our law it is no defence . . . to prove that she was a jealous woman and had been badly treated by her lover and was in ill-health.’

Jurors took just half an hour to find Ruth guilty of murder. 

On July 12, Ruth finally confessed to her former solicitor about Cussen’s involvement. 

However, after a failed attempt to track down the former RAF man, the Home Secretary refused to delay the execution.

At 9am on the morning of her execution, a huge crowd was massed outside HMP Holloway, held back by a police cordon.

Ellis, who the night before had read from her Bible one last time, refused breakfast and instead accepted a glass of brandy.

She was hanged by the man who had put to death some of Britain’s most notorious criminals, including serial killer John Christie and Nazi collaborator William Joyce.

Ellis death prompted a nationwide uproar and contributed to the decision to abolish capital punishment in 1969

Ellis death prompted a nationwide uproar and contributed to the decision to abolish capital punishment in 1969

Ruth Ellis died after initially refusing to reveal Desmond Cussen's involvement in Blakley's murder

Ruth Ellis died after initially refusing to reveal Desmond Cussen’s involvement in Blakley’s murder

George Ellis, the first husband of Ruth Ellis is seen above in later life

George Ellis, the first husband of Ruth Ellis is seen above in later life

Hangman Albert Pierrepoint, who carried out Ruth Ellis's execution, said she was the bravest person he had put to death

Hangman Albert Pierrepoint, who carried out Ruth Ellis’s execution, said she was the bravest person he had put to death

The Daily Mail’s report said: ‘In Holloway Prison last night the staff were saying that Ruth Ellis was the bravest woman ever to go to the gallows in Britain.

‘For the 28-year-old mother who, eight hours before her execution, had broken down and pleaded for life, died calmly.’ 

Some of her final words were revealed a few months after her death. She told The Right Reverend Joost de Blank, the Bishop of Stepney: ‘It is quite clear to me that I was not the person who shot him.

‘If he had cut his finger I would have come from the other end of the earth to bind it up.

‘When I saw myself with that revolver in my hand shooting him five times, I knew that I was another person from the person I am.’

Ruth’s daughter Georgina grew up and became famous in her own right. She dyed her hair blonde and had high-profile affairs before dying of cancer at the age of just 50.

Andre meanwhile became a schizophrenic and drug addict and took his own life in 1982.

Fittingly, his funeral was paid for by Christopher Humphreys, the prosecuting lawyer at Ruth’s trial.  

 As for Cussen, he died a lonely alcoholic. 



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