It’s been over 60 years since Great Britain last executed a woman. It was on this day, July 13th, in 1955 that Ruth Ellis, a nightclub owner, was put to death by hanging. She became the last woman to do so in Great Britain after being convicted of murdering her boyfriend, David Blakely.
Born in Rhyl, Wales in 1926, Ellis didn’t have a smooth childhood growing up. As a young teenager, she decided to drop out of school and ended up giving birth to a child while working multiple jobs. She would eventually become a nightclub hostess and would leave the scene to marry George Ellis, a dentist, in 1950. The two would later have a child together, Ruth’s second child.
After their marriage didn’t last long at all, the two went through with a divorce and Ruth went back to working in nightclubs. Not long after, she engaged in another relationship, this time with a man named David Blakely. Blakely was a playboy race-car driver that she had fallen for. After a fight that ended in David punching Ruth in her pregnant belly, she would miscarry and lose her third child.
David would later promise to come see her, but would fail to hold up his end of that promise. Not taking the distance very well, Ruth became obsessed over David. It got so bad that she hunted him down and shot him to death while at the Magdala pub. The bar was located in Hampstead, North London.
Ruth’s trial began in June 1955, which saw her describe the situation:
“It was obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him.”
Since British law requires a clear sign of intent in order for the conviction of murder to happen, this statement was very vital in Ruth’s conviction. It also helped bring about a short trial, which only lasted a half of an hour before the jury found Ruth guilty of killing David. She automatically received the death penalty and would later be hanged at Holloway Prison on July 13th, 1955. There were several petitions that were signed by thousands of people protesting the choice of death penalty. However, it wasn’t enough to overrule the decision.
Ruth’s story would later be retold in a movie titled “Dance with a Stranger.” It chronicled her life and what happened on this day over 60 years ago.
In the winter of 2003, Ruth’s sister asked for the conviction of Ruth to be reduced to manslaughter. Her reasoning was on the grounds of “provocation and/or diminished responsibility.” The British court would later dismiss her appeal.
Since then, there have been no executions of a woman in Great Britain. In 1965, England, Scotland and Wales all banned the death penalty for murder. In 1973, capital punishment was outlawed in Northern Ireland. On August 13, 1964, the last people were executed for murder in Great Britain, Peter Anthony Allen and John Alan West. It wasn’t until 1998 that there were no more crimes punishable by death. Up until then, there were a few crimes that could be made punishable to that degree. One of those was treason.