Ellis, Ruth (1927–1955)

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Ellis, Ruth (1927–1955)

British murderer and last woman to be hanged in England. Born in the Welsh town of Rhyl in 1927; executed by hanging in North London's Holloway Women's Prison on July 13, 1955; raised in Manchester, England; married a dentist, in 1950 (divorced); children: a stepson by marriage; a daughter, born out of wedlock.

Ruth Ellis had survived a love affair with an American soldier, who was killed in 1944, and a failed marriage to a dentist before she began a tempestuous affair with racetrack driver David Blakely in 1953. Uneducated, with two children to support, she was employed in a London nightclub when she met Blakely. A year into their relationship, Ellis also became intimately involved with Blakely's friend Desmond Cussen. After Blakely became aware of her affair with Cussen, his anger often erupted into violent and abusive outbursts. The romantic triangle endured for over a year, during which time Ellis tried unsuccessfully to terminate her seemingly obsessive relationship with Blakely. After Blakely began seeing another woman, she reportedly said: "I had a peculiar idea that I wanted to kill him." On April 10, 1955, she took a cab to a local pub, waited for him to emerge, and shot him dead.

Ellis immediately confessed to the police and at her trial admitted that she had fully intended to kill Blakely. After a short deliberation, the jury found her guilty of murder, and she was sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence, however, brought a storm of protest in England from those opposed to capital punishment. A petition, with more than 2,000 signatures, was filed on her behalf but turned down. On July 13, 1955, Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in Great Britain. A year later, in 1956, the House of Commons voted to abolish the practice of capital punishment. The acclaimed 1985 movie Dance with a Stranger (starring Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett, with screenplay by Shelagh Delaney ) was based on the Ellis story.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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