A Hampstead Murder
Updated: Jan 14
A story from our Women and Crime British history podcast.
It’s nearly seven decades since Ruth Ellis shot her lover outside the Magdala pub in London’s leafy Hampstead (it’s always described as leafy). She was the last woman to be executed in Britain.
The murder inspired books, plays, TV dramas and the film Dance with a Stranger.
Ellis worked as a fashion model and nightclub hostess and had a walk-on part in the bikini comedy film Lady Godiva Rides Again.
Her trial in 1955 was perfect tabloid fodder, the papers turbocharged a story of a murderous bottle blonde, the Daily Mail wrote: “Six revolver shots shattered the Easter Sunday calm of Hampstead and a beautiful platinum blonde stood with her back to the wall. In her hand was a revolver.”
The mother of a three-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, Ellis had been in a relationship with David Blakely, a 25-year-old toff come racing driver, which he wanted to end. She sought him out in Hampstead, where he had been lying low with friends, at the Magdala pub - outside which the murder took place.
The Magdala pub sports two “bullet holes” in the side wall, as part of the crime scene. These it turns out, were put there on the orders of the former landlady, Mary Watson, who drilled them into the wall to encourage murder-mystery walking tours across London.
But was Ellis a cold-blooded killer, or was she the victim of a shadowy figure called Desmond Cussen? And what was his role in the killing?
Hear her story in our Women in Crime history podcast: