“It is obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him”.
These were the famous but damning words uttered by the last woman to be hanged in Britain while on trial for murdering her lover.
With locks of bleached peroxide blonde hair and dressed in the latest fashion, Rhyl-born Ruth Ellis was the epitome of glamour and was a dead-ringer for Marilyn Monroe.
Her work as a nightclub and glamour model in 1950s London led her to become acquainted with motor-racer and former public-schoolboy David Blakely, and the two became involved in a passionate affair.
But on Easter Sunday in 1955, Ellis took a loaded gun to The Magdala pub in Hampstead and brutally shot Blakely five times at close range as he stepped outside in a cold-blooded murder that shocked the nation.
After readily admitting at her trial that she intended to end Blakely’s life, Ellis was sentenced to death and was executed by the infamous hangman Albert Pierrepoint at Holloway Prison, three months after the murder.
Her death was just as controversial as her life and paved way for the abolition of capital punishment in the UK in 1965.
Even decades later, her legacy still lives on with plays, television dramas, documentaries and books being written about her.
And now the scene of Ellis’s notorious act, The Magdala pub, is set to reopen after closing in 2016, under the stewardship of landlord Dick Morgan, who was at his grandfather’s house across the road at the time of the killing.
Speaking to London’s Evening Standard he said: “I was there, four-years-old. There was a big commotion when it happened and my dad always used to say he heard the bullets.
“It was a big thing … people still talk about.”
Ellis grew up in picturesque surroundings on the Welsh coast – but eventually ended up in the murky underworld of London.
Ruth Ellis was born Ruth Hornby in Rhyl in 1926, the fifth of six children to parents Arthur and Berta.
Their home in West Parade was a yellow-brick villa, with a white porch, facing directly onto the promenade and beach front.
Her father was a cellist from Manchester, who worked as principal cellist at Rhyl’s Cinema Royal and later the orchestra at Colwyn Bay Theatre, while her mother was a refugee from Belgium.
Early in her childhood, she moved to Basingstoke, Hampshire, with her family and attended school there before moving to London in 1941.
In 1944 when she was aged just 17, Ellis became pregnant by a Canadian soldier and gave birth to a son, known as Andy, who went to live with her mother.
She decided to take up nude modelling having done a number of menial jobs and took up a role as a nightclub hostess at the Court Club in Duke Street, leading her to live a chaotic life in the seedy underbelly of the city.
She became pregnant for a second time in 1950 by one of her regular customers while working as a prostitute, but had the pregnancy illegally terminated and returned to work.
Later that year, she married divorced dentist George Ellis, who was a regular customer at the Court Club where she worked and quickly became pregnant with her daughter Georgina.
But the marriage didn’t last with George Ellis’ alcohol fuelled violence and jealousy leading him to refuse acknowledging paternity of his daughter, claiming that Ellis had conducted a number of affairs during their marriage.
She moved back in her with her parents with her children and took up prostitution again to make ends meet.
Having reached her lowest ebb, Ellis’ fortunes changed for the better when she became the manager of the Little Club in Kinightsbridge in 1953, where she came into contact with the stars of the day.
It was through one of her celebrity friends, Formula One driver Mike Hawthorn, that she met David Blakely – the man she would ultimately murder and pave the way for her own death.
Blakely had a very different background to Ellis having been a public-schoolboy, but as an up-and-coming racing driver he was hitting the bars and clubs of London and was hitting the bottle hard.
The two became besotted with each other and within weeks of their meeting, Blakely moved into Ellis’ flat above the Little Club and he left his fiancee.
But the relationship became rocky when Ellis became pregnant for a fourth time and terminated the pregnancy.
She fell into the arms of former RAF pilot Desmond Cussen and moved with in with him when she lost her job at the Little Club, but her relationship with Blakely continued and jealously ignited into a streak of violence as both parties saw other people.
The violence came to a head just 10 days before the murder, when Ellis suffered a miscarriage as a result of Blakely punching her in the stomach during an argument.
During her subsequent trial, Ellis told the court: “A few weeks or days previously, I do not know which, David got very violent. I do not know whether that caused the miscarriage or not. He thumped [me] in the tummy.
She added: “He only hit me with his fists or hands. I bruise easily.”
On Easter Sunday, Ellis took a taxi from her home with Cussen to a second floor flat in Hampstead where she suspected Blakely might be.
As she arrived, she saw Blakely’s car drive off so she followed on foot and walked a quarter of a mile to the Magadala pub where she saw Blakely’s car parked outside.
After waiting patiently outside the pub, Blakely and his friend Clive Gunnell left the Magdala and passed Ellis who was standing on the pavement in a newsagent doorway.
Stepping out of the shadows, she said “Hello David” and then shouted “David”. As Blakely turned round she revealed a .38 Smith and Wesson Victory revolver from her handbag and opened fire.
Ellis did not strike her target with her first shot but as Blakely started to run, she fired a second shot which hit him and caused him to collapse to the pavement.
In a final act to finish the job, Ellis fired three shots into Blakely’s back at close range, so close they left powder burns on his skin.
Having entered a sort of trance and was observed staring mesmerised of Blakely’s body, Ellis tried to fire a final shot at her former lover before firing it into the ground, ricocheted on the road and hit the thumb of bystander Gladys Yule.
Having realised the severity of what she had just done, Ellis asked Blakely’s friend Mr Gunnell: “Will you call the police, Clive?”
An off-duty police officer Alan Thompson placed Ellis under arrest and took the gun from her. As he waited with her for the rest of the police to arrive at the scene, she feebly turned to him and said: “I am guilty, I’m a little confused”.
Blakely was pronounced dead at the scene and was found to have multiple injuries to the intestines, liver, lung, aorta and trachea.
During her police interview at Hampstead police station, she appeared calm and collected and readily made a detailed confession about her part in Blakely’s death
She was subsequently charged with murder.
She underwent a number of examinations to determine if she was suffering from mental illness but there no evidence of this nature was revealed.
Ellis’ trial took place at the Number One Court at the Old Bailey in London on June 20, 1955, and was presided over by Mr Justice Cecil Havers.
She declined to plead insanity with her defence being she had acted under provocation due to Blakely’s beatings.
Despite the objections of her barrister, she turned up to the trial with freshly bleached and made up hair which made her stand out from the every-day defendant.
When called to the witness box, Ellis was asked by prosecutor Christopher Humphreys: “When you fired the revolver at lost range into the body of David Blakely, what did you intend to do?”
Ellis replied: “It’s obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him.”
The jury retired to consider their verdicts after the two-day trial had finished, but after just 214 minutes they found Ellis guilty of murdering Blakely and she was sentenced to death.
There were attempts by Ellis’ family and members of the public to persuade Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George to reprieve her death sentence, with 50,000 people signing petitions asking for the sentenced to be reprieved but it was to no avail.
But Ellis took no part in the campaign and Lloyd George decided there was insufficient grounds to reverse the decision.
The day before her death, Ellis told her solicitors that Desmond Cussen had given her the gun and shooting practice and had even driven her to the scene. But this new information did not change her fate.
In a final letter to the Blakely’s parents, Ellis wrote: “I have always loved your son, and I shall die loving him.”
The evening before her execution, 500 people gathered outside the gates of Holloway Prison with the crowd singing and chanting for several hours in support of Ellis.
At 9am on July 13, 1955, Ellis was executed by hangman Albert Pierrepoint and his assistant Royston Pickard, and her body was left hanging for more than an hour. She was just 28-years-old.
Outside the prison a silent crowd gathered waiting for news and at 9.18am, a notice of Ellis’ death was posted outside.
The ramifications of Ellis’ death were far reaching paving the way for the abolishment of capital punishment in the UK, which was suspended in 1965 and permanently removed in 1970.
In 2003, Ellis’ sister Muriel Jakubait, then 82, spearheaded a pardon campaign which saw the case referred back to the Court of Appeal.
Speaking to the Telegraph at the time of the appeal, Mrs Jakubait said: “Ruth had a dreadful time with men, she took so many beatings.
“Every man that Ruth ever had belted her, God knows why and what for. I asked her once, ‘Ruthie, whatever do you do to cause it?’ and she told she never did anything, she didn’t understand it.
“She didn’t ask for all that beating up. It started with our father, he was a terribly cruel man. And I think it had a terrible effect on her. At the time all this happened, she was insane.
“It’s one of the worst things this country has ever done – to punish, to hang a woman who wasn’t well at the time.”
The appeal was unsuccessful and the Court of Appeal criticised the fact it had been asked to consider it.
In 2007, a petition was published on the 10 Downing Street website calling for Ellis to be pardoned on the grounds of new evidence, but this expired in July 2008.
Ellis was initially buried in an unmarked grave within the walls of Holloway Prison, but in the 1970s she was reburied at St Mary’s Church in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.
Speaking about her sister, Mrs Jakubait added: “I think about her morning, noon and night. I want Ruth to have justice – I don’t think she has ever been at rest.”
- The sordid story of Aaron Hernandez: A Patriots star turned cold-blooded killer
- Teen is ‘cold-blooded killer,’ prosecutor says in final argument
- Cold-blooded killer shopped for clothes
- Expert says German WW1 pilot Red Baron was a 'cold-blooded' killer
- Abuse Victim—or Cold-Blooded Killer? New York Mom on Trial for Boyfriend’s Murder
- George Rogers, once a hero of the doomed ship Morro Castle, becomes a cold-blooded killer
- Derek Medina, who posted sick photo of dead wife on Facebook, hoped for fame as actor — but made it as cold-blooded killer
- Cold-blooded killers as Hamas’ murder in Gaza is exposed
- Sheridan Smith is in talks to play former glamour model Sam Fox