Monday, November 19, 2007

Ruth Ellis (October 9, 1926July 13, 1955) was a British murderess who was the last woman to be executed in the UK. She was convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely, and hanged at London's Holloway Prison.

David Blakely
The hanging of Ruth Ellis strengthened public support for the abolition of the death penalty, which was halted in practice for murder in Britain ten years later. Reprieve was by then commonplace. It was becoming clear to many that capital punishment was arbitrary: political, rather than judicial considerations determined which of the condemned would pay the supreme penalty.
Of the 145 women in Britain convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the 20th century, only 14 were hanged, a reprieve rate of over 90 per cent. Factors that counted against Ruth Ellis included her appearance, her lifestyle, her supposed lack of remorse, the fact that a passer-by was slightly wounded and the sensational aspects of the case. Unfortunately, the murder and Ruth's arraignment also occurred during the 1955 General Election campaign, which was won by the Conservatives on a strongly pro-death-penalty platform. It may be that the publicity and furore surrounding the case was counter-productive to Ruth Ellis's cause, and the newly elected Home Secretary could not be seen to bow to a section of public opinion in exercising the Royal Prerogative of mercy.
In his book Anthony Eden, published in 1986, Robert Rhodes James states that Eden, who was the British prime minister at the time, makes no reference whatever to this matter in his memoirs and there is nothing in his papers about the case. Eden accepted that the decision was the responsibility of the Home Secretary, but there are indications that he was troubled about it.
The execution brought worldwide condemnation. Foreign newspapers observed that the concept of the crime passionnel seemed foreign to the British. One French reporter wrote: "Passion in England, except for cricket and betting, is always regarded as a shameful disease."
The tragedy of David Blakely and Ruth Ellis was not confined to them. Within weeks of her execution, Ruth's 18-year-old sister died suddenly, allegedly of a broken heart. Ruth's husband, George Ellis, descended into alcoholism and hanged himself in 1958.
Her son, Andy, who was 11 at the time of his mother's hanging, suffered irreparable psychological damage and committed suicide in a squalid bedsit in 1982. It is said that the trial judge, Sir Cecil Havers, had sent money every year for Andy's upkeep. Christmas Humphreys, the prosecution counsel at Ruth's trial, paid for his funeral.
The case continues to have a strong grip on the British imagination and 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 ruled only on the conviction based on the law as it stood in 1955, not on whether she should have been executed.
On May 21st 2005, The Mirror newspaper published an exclusive story, No Pardon for Ellis: "Fifty years on, government turns 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.".
In July 2007 a petition was published on the 10 Downing Street website. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is being asked to reconsider the Ruth Ellis case and grant a free pardon in light of new evidence that the Old Bailey jury in 1955 was not asked to consider.[1]

Legacy of The Ellis Case
The body of Ruth Ellis was buried in an unmarked grave within the walls of Holloway Prison, as was customary. In the early 1970s the prison underwent an extensive programme of rebuilding, during which the bodies of all the executed women were exhumed. All were reburied in Brookwood Cemetery with the exception of Ruth Ellis, who was reburied in Saint Mary Churchyard in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. The headstone in the churchyard was inscribed Ruth Hornby 1926–1955. In 1982 Ruth's son Andy (Andrea) destroyed the headstone shortly before he committed suicide. The grave is now overgrown with yew trees.

Burial and Reburial
Ruth Ellis was 5' 2" tall, and at the time of the murder of David Blakely weighed 7 stone. She had small hands, and her left hand was gnarled as a result of contracting rheumatic fever as a teenager.
It is clear from a Holloway hospital case paper, opened since 2005 at The National Archive, fifty years after Ruth's death by hanging, that her condition was known.
On May 27th 1955, Mr W. Mackenzie, medical registrar at St Giles hospital in London, 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 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 shot her lover, aiming and firing six times with a heavy Smith and Wesson revolver.
On 11th April 1955 the prison medical officer at Holloway prison noted that, as a teenager, she had "contracted rheumatic fever, which was followed with arthritis in the fingers of the left hand and of the ankles."
In a recently opened file at The National Archive, the statement that Lewis Charles Nickolls, Director of the Metropolitan Police Laboratory in 1955, can be studied. He stated in a police statement and again at the magistrates court hearing prior to the Old Bailey trial: "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 shank...The trigger pull is 9.5 to 10lbs uncocked...These are normal figures for this type of weapon...In order to fire these 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 a definite and deliberate muscular effort."
Two months later, none of this evidence about the gun was presented to the jurors at the Old Bailey. When questioned, Nickolls merely stated, "To fire each shot, the trigger has to be pulled as a separate operation."

Ruth Ellis In Film

It is obvious that when I shot him, I intended to kill him. — Ruth Ellis, on the stand at the Old Bailey, 20 June 1955 (this was in answer to the only question put to her by Christmas Humphreys for the Prosecution 'When you fired the gun, did you mean to kill?')

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