RUTH ELLIS: THE LAST TO HANG
True friends stab you in the front.
Anthony and Carole Findlater lived at number 29 Tanza Road, Hampstead. They had a second floor flat in this tree-lined street that backed onto the southern edge of Parliament Hill, next to the famous Hampstead Heath. Today, Hampstead is one of the most prestigious and expensive suburbs in London. Forty-five years ago it was a modest outpost of suburbia, where strangely enough, the second last woman to hang in England, Mrs. Styllous Christofi, had committed murder -- killing Hella, her daughter-in-law in 1954.
Anthony, always known as Ant, was from a wealthy Dublin family. His father, a prosperous businessman, was one of the better pre-war racing car drivers and a successful motorcar engine designer. Ant went to Hurstpierpoint Public School and then studied automobile engineering until the outbreak of the war in 1939. He met his wife Carole Sonin, the daughter of a relatively comfortable Jewish manufacturers agent, when they were both serving in the Royal Air Force.
After the war ended, they married. Carole worked as a journalist and Ant found a number of poorly paid jobs with engineering companies. They were living in a flat at Number 52, Colet Gardens in Hammersmith, west London, when Ant and Blakely first crossed paths. Ant was trying to sell off an old Alfa-Romeo sports car. David and a friend had come along to look it over. This was early in 1951.
Soon, David, Carole and Ant were an item. Davids pride and joy at this time was an HRG sports car, named after the designer H.R. Godfrey, the one his stepfather had bought him for his twenty-first birthday. The two men agreed to share the cost of racing the car. David also had an ulterior motive for keeping the relationship on the boil. He already had the hots for Carole.
David and Carole would meet some evenings at the Trevor Arms, a pub in Knightsbridge; Carole explaining her late nights to Ant, as part of her duties attending the National Union of Journalists. By the autumn, David was pleading with Carole to elope with him. Just what the attraction was is hard to fathom. Perhaps it was the age difference; she was twenty-seven, he was twenty-one. He seemed to have always favoured women older than himself, particularly in serious relationship situations. She was certainly out of his league, being described by a fellow journalist as a powerhouse of ambition and energy.
One day, after work, Carole went home to pack her bags and leave. But when Ant pleaded with her to stay, her fine sense of Jewish home won her over, and she agreed to stay on. The marriage, however, was doomed to failure, and eighteen months after Ruth gunned down David Blakely, the couple divorced.
When Carole told David she was not leaving her husband, he asked if she had told Ant who her lover was. Carole said, Yes, but that doesnt make any difference, does it? To which the romantic Blakely responded in muted rage, You stupid bitch, now look what youve done. Who the bloody hell will tune my car now?
Blakely may have been a drunk; he may have been a woman beater; he may have been an arrogant up-himself mellifluous womanising narcissist, but he was quite clearly a realist in the things that he considered important. Somehow, his association with the Findlaters survived and three years later they appeared to be the best of friends.
Ruth always suspected the Findlaters and, in particular Carole, of exerting a domineering influence over David and of turning him against her towards the last few days of their relationship. She became certain that Carole and Ant conspired to persuade David to desert her in that fateful and final week leading up to Easter, 1955.
By the April of 1954, Ruth had already met Ant Findlater when David brought him into the Little Club for a drink. When Carole organised a birthday party for her husband, she personally telephoned Ruth and invited her along. Carole was no doubt curious about Davids latest mistress and wanted to check her out for herself. She wasnt that impressed and recalled later, She was wearing a black dress with a plunging neckline; she had a small bust, small wrists and ankles, the effect was shrimp like. Ruth said Hello to Carole and then ignored her for the rest of the evening.
Ruth was as equally unimpressed with Carole, remembering, Carole behaved like the Mother Superior herself, but I took no notice.
In June, David went to France to drive in the famous Le Mans 24-hour race, not returning until the middle of July. Although he sent Ruth two postcards, expressing his love, Ruth became jealous and, in a fit of temper or perhaps just a mood of alcoholic abandonment, entered into a sexual affair with Cussen. She claimed at her trial that she had hoped Cussen would tell Blakely and that this would finish Davids longing for her. If that was the truth, it didnt work.
After David returned from Europe, Ruth had yet again changed directions, tacking from a wind of rejection back into one of acceptance. She decided to throw him a belated birthday party -- he had been abroad on 17th June, his twenty-fifth birthday. David arrived late for his own birthday bash, explaining to Ruth that he had been across the road at the Hyde Park Hotel, breaking off his engagement with Linda Dawson. He asked Ruth to marry him and as a result, Ruth decided to no longer fight the divorce proceedings with her husband George.
In August, David raced in Holland at Zandvoort an MG car owned by one of his friends, and invited Ruth along. In one of her rare moments of disciplined responsibility, Ruth turned down the invitation. She had, among other things, to make a decision about Andy and his education. In due course, her son, now ten years of age, went off to boarding school in September, his fees and school uniform paid for by Desmond Cussen.
David had been occupying his spare time for many months trying to build a racing car, which he had called The Emperor, using Ant Findlater as his chief mechanic. It was a time consuming and costly exercise and was eating away at Davids rapidly dwindling legacy. He was drinking heavily and Ruth was supporting him financially; his income from his job at the piston factory and the money his mother allowed him each week was hardly covering his expenses.
Pleading poverty, he persuaded Ruth to allow him to move in with her; also, she started allowing him to run up a slate at the Little Club. They were both drinking heavily by this time. Ruth, who was basically a gin and tonic and champagne type, started using Pernod, a potent French aperitif made from the wormwood plant, which was being stocked so that customers could buy it for the French barmaid, Jackie Dyer. Often known as lunatic soup for its strength and power of intoxication, Pernod may well have contributed to her unstable condition the night she went after David with a .38 Smith and Wesson.
In October, Ruth hosted herself a birthday party at the club. She was twenty-eight. David sent her a greetings telegraph from Penn, and a cheap, flowery birthday card on which he had scrawled in his childish handwriting: Happy birthday Darling, BE GOOD. He promised her a trip to Paris, but lied his way out of this. They were both becoming jealous of each other. Ruth had found out about his earlier affair with Carole Findlater and warned him off visiting her at Tanza Road, and David was becoming increasingly suspicious and resentful of Ruths socialising in the club. More frequently their arguments were climaxing in violence and he was beating Ruth on a regular basis.
Ruth later said in evidence, He was violent on occasions...always because of jealousy in the barhe only used to hit me with his fists and hands, but I bruise easily, and I was full of bruises on many occasions.
As the year drew to a close, Ruth was faced with some serious decision-making. The takings at the club were dropping and Conley was pressuring her to do something about it. She had allowed David to run up an enormous bar tab, which he could never meet, and she had also been spending a lot of time away from the business, catering to Davids whims. He loved trawling through the clubs and pubs of the West End. One of his favourite drinking places being Esmeraldas Barn, which would become notorious a few years later, when it was taken over by the infamous Kray twins. By the end of the year, takings at the club had fallen from over two hundred pounds a week to under eighty. In December, Ruth quit the Little Club. She either resigned or Conley sacked her; either way, she was out of work.
She needed somewhere to live and also to care for Andy when he returned from his boarding school for the Christmas break. The faithful Desmond was her solution and she moved into his spacious flat at Goodwood Court.
Christmas was approaching and events would start to unfold with increased velocity.