RUTH ELLIS: THE LAST TO HANG
To the living we owe our respect, to the dead we owe nothing but the truth. Voltaire.
Like all statistics, they serve a purpose of sorts. Like most statistics, they only hint at a deeper, unseen truth, hidden from view behind the dry, formal and dialectic structure of numbers.
She was 28 years old. Her height was five feet two inches and she weighed 103 pounds. She was well nourished and her body showed evidence of proper care and attention.
She was also very dead with a fracture-dislocation of the spine and a two-inch gap and transverse separation of the spinal cord. Just to make sure, there was also a fracture of both wings of the hyoid and the right wing of the thyroid cartilage. The larynx was also fractured.
She had died of injuries to the central nervous system, consequent to judicial hanging. She was a healthy subject at the time of her death. So said Doctor Keith Simpson, pathologist of 146 Harley Street and Guys Hospital. He was a reader in forensic medicine at London University, so he would know all about the statistics of death, especially as he had carried out the post-mortem examination on her, just one hour after she had been executed.
He knew nothing of the menage a trios that had brought her to the pathologist table. He could not know that her death would result in two people killing themselves and one dying of a broken heart. Or of the lawyer, so despairing of his faith in the law and the way it treated her that he would give up his career. Or the man who travelled half way around the world to escape from the certainty that he was partly to blame for her being here on this cold, metal table.
The small, slight cadaver stretched out before him was all that remained of a true tragedy of British justice. She was a statistic, one that would haunt the conscience of the British judiciary system for the next forty-five years.
Ruth Ellis was the fifteenth, and the last woman hanged in England in the twentieth century. She was also the unluckiest. She did not kill for gain and, had the judge allowed her defense to be put to her jury, they may well have found her guilty only of manslaughter. She, however, never thought so. She never doubted in her own mind that she deserved to die for killing the man she loved.
Her death would be the final exclamation mark in a sad and tortured tale.