Sunday 30 January 2011: The Magdala, with bullet holes
A quiet pub in a residential district in Hampstead. Most people walking by would not cast a second glance at the small punctures in the tiled surface of the wall beneath the window . There is no plaque to mark the the spot, nothing to draw attention to the fact that it was here that on April 10th 1955 that Ruth Ellis fired 5 shots at her lover David Blakely as he emerged from the pub. He expired on the pavement and just three months later on July 13th Ruth Ellis became the last woman in Britain to be hanged for murder.
It is highly unlikely that Ruth Ellis would have been so convicted today. There were many extenuating circumstances and she would have probably have been seen as the victim she was, rather than as a criminal. Her own family was dysfunctional (her father abused her sister and possibly Ruth herself); at 17 she had an illegitimate child that the father failed to support; she moved to London and progressed from a nightclub hostessing and nude modelling to full-time sex work. She had another pregnancy terminated then married a customer who was a violent, jealous, alcoholic. The marriage collapsed leaving her with a second child to support. She returned to hostessing and started a volatile affair with the glamorous but hard-drinking racing driver David Blakely. At the same time she entered into a relationship with a well-heeled business man, Desmond Cussen. The scene was set for disaster.
In court on June 20th Ruth Ellis freely admitted that she was guilty and had intended to kill Blakely. Her appearance as a smartly-dressed bottle-blonde with a cool demeanour did not gain her any sympathy. The jury took all of 15 minutes to reach their verdict and it took executioner Albert Pierrepoint just 12 seconds to effect her hanging 3 weeks later.
It has subsequently emerged that evidence which could have altered the verdict was deliberately suppressed and her execution was allowed to go forward without appeal. This includes the fact it was Cussen who supplied Ellis with the gun and drove her to Hampstead to intercept Blakely. (Cussen fled to Australia and was never brought to justice.) Likewise the fact that Ellis had suffered a miscarriage as the result of a blow to the stomach by Blakely only a few months earlier. She had been used and abused all her life and the machinery of the law proved to be equally merciless at the end.