Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

RUTH ELLIS: THE LAST TO HANG

Epilogue

Love is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell.

Emily Dickinson.

The tragic end to Ruth Ellis life would impact on other people in the years following her execution. The baby of the Hornby family, Elizabeth, died in October 1955. Officially she died of cardiac arrest following an asthma attack. Her niece, Georgina, Ruths daughter, believed she died of a broken heart.  Bertha Hornbys mental state deteriorated rapidly after her daughter was gone and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, mentally deranged. She died there, several years after her husband.

Leo Simmons, who had acted for Ruth and worked with her team on the defence, was so distressed by the way she was treated by the law that he gave up on it and walked away from his career.

George Ellis, who had promised so much and delivered so little to Ruth, killed himself in the summer of 1958. He had gone to Jersey in the Channel Islands and booked into Le Chalet Hotel at Corbiere. He had recently lost his job in Warrington and had also been convicted of drunkenness and a breach of the peace. He must have also reached the end of his own personal highway to hell. On Saturday, August 2nd, with no money left to pay his hotel bill of 37 pounds, he committed suicide. Somehow he looped a rope around the sides of his bed head and then around his neck, and using his feet as a fulcrum, leveraged himself into eternity by strangling himself. It was a feat that would have done an athlete proud.

Clare Andrea (Andy) Ellis was probably the most tragic figure of all in this story. Bounced around from his birth between Ruth, her parents and her sister Muriel, his upbringing with his mother was anything but conventional and settled. Sharing his bedroom with her and the many men who populated her life, his childhood was unstable to say the least. He grew up to be an eccentric and disturbed person.

Desmond Cussen kept part of his bargain with Ruth, in that he financed Andy into a boarding school called St. Michaels in Surrey. However, he never attempted to contact him and eventually Andy left school and went to live with his grandmother, who was then in service in Hemel Hempstead, earning the paltry sum of thirty shillings a week for her labours. Bertha, herself on the verge of a nervous breakdown, was in no state to look after him, and he grew from a disrupted childhood through a confused adolescence into a mentally unbalanced adulthood. He would spend hours travelling on trains, going nowhere in particular, living in his own confused and schizophrenic world.

One hot August day, all his journeys ended, and he committed suicide by taking a mixture of drugs and alcohol at his small, dingy flat in the Euston area of Camden, North London. His death occurred in either 1977, 1980 or 1981. Different sources give different dates. 

The Findlaters divorced towards the end of 1956. Ant re-married and moved to the South of France.

Muriel Jakubait (Georgie Ellis)
Muriel Jakubait
(Georgie Ellis)

Ruths sister Muriel Jakubait, now aged 77 and living in Woking, Surrey, has fought a lifelong campaign to clear her sisters name. She is trying to get the case considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the hope of getting the conviction reduced to manslaughter. A legal team headed by solicitor Bernard de Maid says new evidence, kept from the trial, shows Ruth was mentally ill with battered wives syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder, not recognised in Britain until the 1980s. There has been a lot more interest in Ruth Ellis, especially since 1985, when a film was released called Dance with a Stranger, starring Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett in the lead roles.

Albert Pierrepoint, who from the age of twelve had lusted after the job of public hangman, resigned from the position in 1956 in a dispute over fees. His father, Henry had hung 107 murderers and his Uncle Tom, 300. Alberts grand total came to 433 men and 17 women. He retired to run his pub called "Help the Poor Struggler" located at Hollinwood, south of Oldham in Lancashire. He died on 13th July 1992, aged 87, on the thirty-seventh anniversary of the day on which he hanged Ruth.

In 1974 he wrote, "I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothingIt is said to be a deterrentIf death were a deterrent, I might be expected to know. It is I who have faced them last, young lads and girls, working men and grandmothersIt did not deter them. All the men and women who I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder."

And what of Desmond Cussen, the man at the epicentre of Ruth Ellis own personal firestorm? He eventually sold out his interest in the family business and emigrated in 1964.

Cussen had started his new life in Sydney, but after a number of abortive business ventures, he had bought a car and driven across Australia to settle in Perth. His luck continued to desert him, however, and after working for a real estate company, speculating on the stock market, and being involved with an import-export company, he finally settled on the florist business. This was also destined to fail.

He had met a woman when he lived in Sydney, and formed a relationship, but she died of cancer. This may well have been the catalyst that sent him on his journey to the farthest city on the continent, away from Australias eastern seaboard.

In June 1977, Peter Williams, a British television producer, tracked him down and interviewed him. Cussen denied that he had taken Ruth to the Magdala or supplied her with the murder weapon. He spoke fondly of his memories and of the strange relationship that had developed between himself, Ruth and Blakely.  He told Williams that he remembered vividly how Ruth would complain when he visited her in Holloway Prison that the authorities had censored out all the reports on her case from the newspapers she was supplied with. She longed to read about herself in the media.

"She loved the headlines she was making," he said. "She always wanted to be a star. She achieved that, didnt she?" 

He died in Perth on May 8th, 1991, aged 68. His death was as a result of pneumonia and multiple organ failure following fracture-dislocation of the neck suffered accidentally on April 24th. He was, it seems, an alcoholic and brewed his own booze in the bathroom of his unit in Perry House, a block of independent living quarters on the Australian Air Force Memorial Estate at Bull Creek, about 12 kilometres south of Perth. On the day of the accident, a neighbour saw him lying on the floor of his unit and called a doctor.  Desmond was admitted to hospital and died there on May 8.

Had Ruth still been alive at this time, she would have been eligible to draw her retirement pension at the age of 65 in this same year. I often have wondered how it would have worked out, had they all lived into old age. David would have been 62, and I picture them, Ruth, Desmond and David, hair greying, spectacles and perhaps the odd hearing aid, carrying on their strange, convoluted ménage a trois into their twilight years.

The "Emperor," the car on which David devoted so much time, energy and perhaps even love, can be seen at the Westridge Museum on The Isle of Wight.

On a dazzling, crisp and balmy autumn Sunday, my wife and I, along with our daughter Sarah, wandered around Hampstead. We window shopped, had coffee in one of the many brasseries that dot the main street, running down from one of Londons most famous pubs -- Jack Straws Castle -- and then found our way late in the afternoon to the place where the story of Ruth Ellis came to its climacteric ending forty-two years earlier.

The plaque and bullet hole
The plaque and bullet hole

From time to time, people call into the Magdala and ask about the shooting. A seedy, old pub with knockabout furniture and worn carpets, it has a tired, elderly feeling about it. In the "snug" the walls are lined with photographs of famous stage and film stars who have been past drinkers here, all long dead. Most of the visitors know of Ruth Ellis; hardly anyone, I was told, remembers the name of the man she shot dead. No one in the bar could tell me why the plaque on the outside wall near the spot where David was killed is showing the wrong year, 1954 instead of 1955. 

It is just another mystery in a story that seems such a simple one, and yet is full of more twists than Lombard Street, in San Francisco.

Plotting a course through a street map of their tortured relationship, a cartographer of the soul, would find more dead-ends and cul-de-sacs than freeways and endless boulevards. From the first day they met, Ruth and David were destined to travel down a series of highways on an odyssey that would lead them inexorably, like lemmings, to the brink of an unforgiving precipice.

In the Bible, there is a passage in Corinthians that tells us:
"Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Unfortunately, for Ruth Ellis and David Blakely, it failed on every count.

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