July 13

This Day in History

Crime

Jul 13, 1955:

Last woman hanged for murder in Great Britain

Nightclub owner Ruth Ellis is convicted of murdering boyfriend David Blakely on this day in 1955. Ellis was later executed by hanging and became the last woman in Great Britain to be put to death.

Ellis was born in Rhyl, Wales, in 1926. She left school as a young teenager, had a child and worked a variety of jobs, eventually becoming a nightclub hostess. In 1950, she married dentist George Ellis, with whom she had a second child. The marriage was short-lived and Ruth Ellis returned to working in nightclubs. She then became involved in a tempestuous relationship with David Blakely, a playboy race-car driver. Ellis became pregnant but miscarried several days after a fight during which Blakely hit her in the stomach. She later became obsessed with Blakely when he failed to come see her as promised. On April 10, 1955, she shot him to death outside the Magdala pub in Hampstead, North London.

During her trial, which began in June 1955, Ellis stated “It was obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him.” This was a critical statement, as British law required demonstration of clear intent in order to convict someone of murder. It reportedly took the jury less than half an hour to find Ellis guilty and she automatically received the death penalty. Thousands of people signed petitions protesting her punishment; however, on July 13, 1955, the 28-year-old Ellis was hanged at Holloway Prison, a women’s institution in Islington, London. She was the last woman executed for murder in Great Britain. On August 13, 1964, Peter Anthony Allen and John Alan West became the last people to be executed for murder in England. In 1965, the death penalty for murder was banned in England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland outlawed capital punishment in 1973. However, several crimes, including treason, remained punishable by death in Great Britain until 1998.

In 1985, a movie titled Dance With a Stranger chronicled Ellis’ life. In December 2003, a British court dismissed an appeal filed by Ellis’s sister asking for Ruth’s conviction to be reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of “provocation and/or diminished responsibility.” 

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