RUTH ELLIS: THE LAST TO HANG
We Always Hurt the One We Love
When you gaze into the Abyss, the Abyss gazes into you. Nietzsche
They drove north through the evening dusk, the city changing -- grimy terraced streets of Camden Town and Holloway giving way to leafy suburbia. He swung left across Hampstead Lane and looped down through Spaniards Road, past Jack Straws Castle, cruising the narrow winding street into the village. He wheeled the big, black Ford Zodiac left into Pond Street and gunned it across the twists and turns into Massington Road and up to the house in Tanza Road. But when they got there, the Vauxhall Vanguard saloon was not parked in front of number 29.
The driver stopped his car, turned and looked at her. He was short and chunky with dark hair growing into a widows peak; hair sleeked back with cream. His eyebrows were prominent and he had a pencil-thin moustache, which stretched from corner to corner of a full, sensual mouth.
What now? he asked her.
She looked across the dimly lit road at the grim, Victorian building -- bay windows, dusty red bricks and mock Corinthian pillars over the front door. She was so tired and drained of energy; her body and soul sucked dry by a force that had relentlessly dragged her to this ford that would take her across a river of no return.
Go down to the Magdala, she said, her voice soft, but strong.
He put the car into gear and drove up to Parliament Hill and turned left along the road towards the railway station, passing a couple walking down the hill, their bodies turned into the wind. One of them would soon become a participant in the tragedy that was about to unfold. The car went down the road into South Hill Park, a looped cul-de-sac on the edge of Hampstead Heath. The driver parked and switched off the engine.
They sat, staring across towards the four-story building. The Magdala Tavern was a favourite meeting spot for the people who lived in this part of Hampstead in North London. Although the marble and brick building was large and imposing, there were in fact, only two drinking areas. Through the main door fronting the street, you turned right into a snug, a smallish room with a feature fireplace, bench seats, tables and chairs, and to the left a door led into the main bar, a long narrow room, stretching about fifty feet, with the serving area immediately on the right.
He would be there, drinking with his friend Clive Gunnell. Although she did not know this yet for sure, she could see his dark green Vanguard, registration number OPH 615, parked outside the pub. It was nine oclock in the evening of Sunday, April 10th, and the Easter daylight had long vanished, making way for a murky, cold evening.
What are you going to do? he asked her.
She kept looking through the windscreen, across the dark street, into an even darker future that would carry nothing but pain and sadness. She knew that she was going to find her own private Calvary on this hill in Hampstead.
You know what Im going to do, she replied. Ive run out of options. This is all I have left. What else can I do?
She brushed a strand of bleached hair away from her brow and her fingers were trembling slightly. She was small and frail, her body concentrated like a tightly coiled spring. The sharp angles of her face, etched with a terrible sadness, were highlighted by the glow of the street lamps. He looked across at her, tiny in a green sweater, beneath a grey jacket and matching skirt.
Leaning across the seat, she kissed him on his left cheek. Thank you for It seemed as though she was lost for words, ...being there when I needed you, and looking after me and Andy, and being patient and kind and everything The words tumbled out like dominoes spilling onto a card table. She opened her handbag and removed her black-rimmed spectacles from their case, slipping them on. Her eyesight was bad, but her narcissism was worse. She was too vain to wear them unless it was absolutely necessary, but she knew she needed to see clearly tonight of all nights.
He sat there, squat and solid, face blank and impassive, his thick fingers clutching the steering wheel. She touched his hand, and then opened the car door and started across the road, her black handbag bouncing on her hip, heavy with the gun.
He started the car and drove off into the night, a shadowy figure exiting stage left before the final act played out in all its tragic lines and shadows.
When she reached the building, she peered through the ripple glass window to the left of the main door. She watched him and Clive, with drinks, standing at the bar. He would be telling jokes, chatting up Mr Colson the landlord, maintaining an image; he was good at that. She saw them order three quart bottles of beer and some cigarettes before they would leave the bar, and exit onto the street. She moved back up the road a few feet and stepped into the dark cavity of the doorway of Hanshaws, the news agency next to the Magdala. Two young men were standing there, smoking, and talking to each other in low voices.
The two men in the bar said their goodbyes to their friends and left. As they came out onto the street, Clive walked around to the passenger door and, a bottle of beer under one arm, fumbled with his car keys. The car was parked inversely next to the curb, its hood facing down the hill instead of up
She stepped out of the shadows, starting down the hill, and shouted out his name -- David!
The driver either did not hear her at first, or chose to ignore her, and carried on trying to unlock the car.
David! She shouted again, taking the revolver, a .38 Smith and Wesson, out of her bag and pointing it at him.
When he saw the gun, he did what he always did when faced with violence. He ran away -- around the back of the car towards the protection of his friend Clive. As he drifted past her, she fired two shots. The noise was alien and shocking in this quiet London suburb. The man screamed out, Clive! His body jerking as the bullets tore into his body. His blood spurted onto the car panels, as she followed him around the automobile. Get out of my way Clive, she spat at the other horrified man caught in a landscape of terror. Her victim staggered and turned to run away, this time in front of the car and then up the hill, away from this terrifying source of danger. There was another shot and the man fell face down, left cheek pressing into the ground, his blood pumping over the pavement. She fired again, and then as she stepped up to the twitching body, she fired the fifth shot at point blank range. She held the gun three inches from his dark grey jacket and blasted into his left shoulder.
There was now a lot of blood everywhere: smeared across the car, flowing across the pavement, and especially on his clothing; it mixed with the beer spilling down the street in a small torrent from the quart bottle he had dropped. At least four of the five shots had found their target. Bullets had churned their way through flesh and tissue destroying intestines, liver, lung, aorta and windpipe. Massive shock and haemorrhaging had occurred.
She stood over his sprawled figure, and then lifted the gun to her head and pulled the trigger. The revolver seemed to have jammed. Slowly, as though in a trance, she lowered the gun, and stood for a second as if she was debating whether or not to fire the last round into the body at her feet. Instead she fired it into the paving stone. This time, the bullet ricocheted off the ground and struck the hand of a passer-by, a woman called Gladys Kensington Yule, aged 53, who was on her way with her husband to the Magdala for a quiet Sunday evening drink.
The Easter break had started badly for Mrs. Yule, a bankers wife. A son by her first marriage had committed suicide on the Good Friday, and she had decided that she needed a few stiff drinks to get her through the rest of the holiday weekend.
If she had tried, Ruth couldnt have picked a worse person to injure, even accidentally, in the whole of London. The bullet passed through the base of the womans thumb, fragmented, and smashed into the wall of the building, leaving scars that exist to this day.
The two young men, standing in the doorway of the news agency had witnessed the shooting. They later testified that they saw Ruth standing over David Blakely and heard two or three distinct clicks as she continued to pull the trigger on an empty gun.
As the echoing blasts of the gunfire died away, with the smell of cordite drifting around her, she turned, her body trembling and shaking, and said to Clive Gunnell, Go and call the police, Clive.
Inside the main bar, an off-duty Metropolitan police officer, PC 389 Alan Thompson, operating out of L Division, was having a drink while waiting for his girl friend to arrive. Someone rushed into the bar shouting, a blokes been shot outside!
PC Thompson put down his drink and walked outside. As calm as the Dead Sea, he walked up to the woman, now standing with her back to the wall of the tavern, who was clutching a revolver in both hands. Will you call the police? she whispered as he gently removed the gun from her shaking hands.
I am the police, he said as he stuffed the gun away in his pocket. She looked up, and her voice, soft and tremulous, said to him, Will you please arrest me? Thompson did, and gave her the first of three cautions she would receive that night.
She stood, leaning against the cold marble and brick of the building. Someone had given her a cigarette and she smoked away, looking down at the sad, and crumpled figure at her feet. On his outstretched hand she could make out his watch and signet ring, gleaming under the washed out lighting from inside the Magdala; his mouth was open and blood was leaching out. A man knelt beside him, lifting a limp arm, and felt his pulse. He looked up at the people gathering around, and said, Hes gone.
Clive Gunnell was screaming hysterically in the background, Why did you kill him? What good is he to you dead?
A man in the crowd said to Clive, Pull yourself together. Youre a man, arent you?
Ruth was mesmerised by the sight of the blood, so much of it; she had never seen so much blood in her life. Flowing out of David and mixing with the beer from the burst flagon, gurgling away down into the gutter. His life and all her dreams, gone together.
Within minutes, police cars, lights flashing and sirens blaring, arrived from Hampstead Police Station, which is less than a quarter of a mile to the west of the Magdala. An ambulance arrived and picked up the victim, who was accompanied by his friend Clive Gunnell. They were rushed to New End Hospital, where the injured man was pronounced dead on arrival.
Mrs. Yule, her hand spouting blood did not wait for help. In a state of panic, her husband hailed a passing taxi, whose driver only agreed to transport her to the hospital, provided she hung her blood-dripping right hand outside the window, so as not to blemish the interior of his vehicle. In a scene reminiscent of a Marx Brothers comedy, the cab disappeared into the night, the mutilated member leaving a trail of blood drifting and dripping onto the road behind it.
The small, blonde woman, surrounded by big and burly police officers, was taken to the police station on the corner of Rosslyn and Downshire Hill Roads, and by eleven oclock that evening had been identified as Ruth Ellis of 44 Egerton Gardens, Knightsbridge. She made a statement admitting shooting David Blakely. Three senior CID officers -- Detective Superintendent Leonard Crawford, Detective Chief Inspector Leslie Davies and Detective Inspector Peter Gill, all of S division witnessed this at the Hampstead manor. As she gave her statement, she drank some coffee and smoked. At 12.30 pm on Easter Monday, April 11th, 1955, she was charged with murder. The next day, after a brief appearance at Hampstead magistrates court, she was removed to Holloway Prison in London, where she became Prisoner 9656 awaiting trial for murder.
She had 93 days left to live.
The misfortune of Ruth Ellis was not just that she killed a man. Neither was it the fact that his death resulted in her being hanged -- the last woman ever by the British judicial system. The real tragedy of Ruth Ellis was that she died for love of a man who did not deserve it.