THE LAST WOMAN TO BE HANGED IN ENGLAND – RUTH ELLIS 13 JULY 1955

Ruth Ellis (9 October 1926 – 13 July 1955) was the last woman to be executed in the United Kingdom, after being convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely.
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article-0-1488497D000005DC-680_306x585BELOW IS A BRIEF ORIGINAL NEWSREEL FOOTAGE SURROUNDING THE CONTROVERSIAL EXECUTION OF RUTH ELLIS ON THE 13TH JULY 1955

BELOW IS AN ORIGINAL HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED  LETTER FROM RUTH ELLIS TO A PREVIOUS VISITING LADY FROM CHELTENHAM AND SENT FROM HER CONDEMNED CELL AT HMP HOLLOWAY 2 MONTHS PROIR TO HER EXECUTION

NOW HERE ON DISPLAY AT THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL , FOREST OF DEAN , GLOUCESTERSHIRE, UK253806_207776029257823_7557849_n - Copy 247806_207776015924491_831497_n - Copy

THIS IMAGE (BELOW ) IS TAKEN FROM THE FILM – PIERREPOINT DEPICTING THE SCENE OF THE EXECUTION OF RUTH ELLIS. 248671_207776039257822_2865356_n - Copy

A FILM TRAILER FOR THE FILM- PIERREPOINT THAT TOUCHES UPON THE EXECUTIONER WHO HANGED RUTH ELLIS …… ALBERT PIERREPOINT

Ruth Ellis (9 October 1926 – 13 July 1955) was the last woman to be executed in the United Kingdom, after being convicted of the murder of her lover, David Blakely.

From a humble background, Ellis was soon drawn into the world of London nightclub hostessing, which led to a chaotic life of brief relationships, some of them with upper-class nightclubbers and celebrities. Two of these were David Blakely, a racing-driver already engaged to another woman, and Desmond Cussen, a retail company director, who gave her a gun, apparently to attack the violent Blakely.

On Easter Sunday 1955, Ellis shot Blakely dead outside a public house in Hampstead, and immediately gave herself up to the police. At her trial, she took full responsibility for the murder, shielding Cussen from blame, and her courtesy and composure, both in court and in the cells, was much noted in the press. She was hanged at Holloway Prison, London, by Albert Pierrepoint.[2]

The case attracted great controversy, since the anti-hanging debate was already in full cry, and she might have won a reprieve had she taken her solicitors’ advice. The picture of the attractive blonde murderess remains one of the iconic images of 1950’s London.

Early life

Ellis was born in the Welsh seaside town of Rhyl, the third of six children. During her childhood her family moved to Basingstoke. Her mother, Elisaberta (Bertha) Cothals, was a Belgian refugee; her father, Arthur Hornby, was a cellist from Manchester who spent much of his time playing on Atlantic cruise liners. Arthur changed his surname to Neilson after the birth of Ruth’s elder sister Muriel.

Ellis attended Fairfields Senior Girls’ School in Basingstoke,[1] leaving when she was 14 to work as a waitress. Shortly afterwards, in 1941 at the height of the Blitz, the Neilsons moved to London. In 1944, 17-year-old Ruth became pregnant by a married Canadian soldier and gave birth to a son,Clare Andrea Neilson,[1] known as “Andy”.[3] The father sent money for about a year, then stopped. The child eventually went to live with Ellis’s mother.[4]

Career

Ellis became a nightclub hostess through nude modelling work, which paid significantly more than the various factory and clerical jobs she had held since leaving school. Morris Conley, the manager of the Court Club in Duke Street, where she worked, blackmailed his hostess employees into sleeping with him. Early in 1950 she became pregnant by one of her regular customers, having taken up prostitution.[4] She had this pregnancy terminated (illegally) in the third month and returned to work as soon as she could.

On 8 November 1950, she married 41-year-old George Ellis, a divorced dentist with two sons, at the register office in TonbridgeKent.[5] He had been a customer at the Court Club. He was a violent alcoholic, jealous and possessive, and the marriage deteriorated rapidly because he was convinced she was having an affair. Ruth left him several times but always returned.

In 1951, while four months pregnant, Ruth appeared, uncredited, as a beauty queen in the Rank film Lady Godiva Rides Again. She subsequently gave birth to a daughter Georgina, but George refused to acknowledge paternity and they separated shortly afterwards. Ruth and her daughter moved in with her parents and she went back to hostessing to make ends meet.[4]

Murder of David Blakely

In 1953, Ruth Ellis became the manager of a nightclub. At this time, she was lavished with expensive gifts by admirers, and had a number of celebrity friends.[4] She met David Blakely, three years her junior, through racing driver Mike Hawthorn. Blakely was a well-mannered former public school boy, but also a hard-drinking racer. Within weeks he moved into her flat above the club, despite being engaged to another woman, Mary Dawson. Ellis became pregnant for the fourth time but aborted the child, feeling she could not reciprocate the level of commitment shown by Blakely towards their relationship.[6]

She then began seeing Desmond Cussen. Born in 1921 in Surrey he had been an RAF pilot, flying Lancaster bombers during the Second World War, leaving the RAF in 1946, when he took up accountancy. He was appointed a director of the family business Cussen & Co., a wholesale and retail tobacconists with outlets in London and South Wales. When Ruth was sacked as manager of the Carroll Club, she moved in with Cussen at 20 Goodward Court, Devonshire Street, north of Oxford Street, becoming his mistress.

The relationship with Blakely continued, however, and became increasingly violent and embittered as Ellis and Blakely continued to see other people.[6] Blakely offered to marry Ellis, to which she consented, but she lost another child in January 1955, after a miscarriage induced by a punch to the stomach in an argument with Blakely.[6]

The Magdala today

On Easter Sunday, 10 April 1955,[7] Ellis took a taxi from Cussen’s home to a second floor flat at 29 Tanza Road, Hampstead, the home of Anthony and Carole Findlater and where she suspected Blakely might be. As she arrived, Blakely’s car drove off, so she paid off the taxi and walked the quarter mile to The Magdala,[8] a four-storey public house in South Hill ParkHampstead, where she found Blakely’s car parked outside.

At around 9:30 pm David Blakely and his friend Clive Gunnell emerged. Blakely passed Ellis waiting on the pavement when she stepped out of Henshaws Doorway, a newsagent next to The Magdala. He ignored her when she said “Hello, David,” then shouted “David!”

As Blakely searched for the keys to his car,[9] Ellis took a .38 calibre Smith & Wesson Victory model revolver from her handbag and fired five shots at Blakely. The first shot missed and he started to run, pursued by Ellis round the car, where she fired a second, which caused him to collapse onto the pavement. She then stood over him and fired three more bullets into him. One bullet was fired less than half an inch from Blakely’s back and left powder burns on his skin.

Ellis was seen to stand mesmerised over the body and witnesses reported hearing several distinct clicks as she tried to fire the revolver’s sixth and final shot, before finally firing into the ground. This bullet ricocheted off the road and injured Gladys Kensington Yule, 53, in the base of her thumb, as she walked to The Magdala.

Ellis, in a state of shock, asked Gunnell, “Will you call the police, Clive?” She was arrested immediately by an off-duty policeman, Alan Thompson (PC 389), who took the still-smoking gun from her, put it in his coat pocket, and heard her say, “I am guilty, I’m a little confused.” She was taken to Hampstead police station where she appeared to be calm and not obviously under the influence of drink or drugs. She made a detailed confession to the police and was charged with murder. Blakely’s body was taken to hospital with multiple bullet wounds to the intestines, liver, lung, aorta and windpipe.

Investigation

No solicitor was present during Ellis’s interrogation or during the taking of her statement at Hampstead police station, although three police officers were present that night at 11:30 pm: Detective Inspector Gill, Detective Inspector Crawford and Detective Chief Inspector Davies. Ellis was still without legal representation when she made her first appearance at the magistrates’ court on 11 April 1955 and held on remand.

She was twice examined by principal Medical Officer, M. R. Penry Williams, who failed to find evidence of mental illness and she undertook an electroencephalography examination on 3 May that failed to find any abnormality. While on remand in Holloway, she was examined by psychiatrist Dr D. Whittaker for the defence, and by Dr A. Dalzell on behalf of the Home Office. Neither found evidence of insanity.

Trial and execution

On 20 June 1955, Ellis appeared in the Number One Court at the Old Bailey, London, before Mr Justice Havers. She was dressed in a black suit and white silk blouse with freshly bleached and coiffured blonde hair. Her lawyers had wanted her to play down her appearance, but she was determined to have her moment. To many in the courthouse, her fixation with being the brassy blonde was at least partially responsible for the poor impression she made when giving evidence.

It’s obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him.[10]
—Ruth Ellis, in the witness box at the Old Bailey, 20 June 1955.

This was her answer to the only question put to her by Christmas Humphreys, counsel for the Prosecution, who asked, “When you fired the revolver at close range into the body of David Blakely, what did you intend to do?”[10] The defending counsel, Aubrey Melford Stevenson supported by Sebag Shaw and Peter Rawlinson, would have advised Ellis of this possible question before the trial began, because it is standard legal practice to do so. Her reply to Humphreys’s question in open court guaranteed a guilty verdict and therefore the mandatory death sentence which followed. The jury took 14 minutes to convict her.[10] She received the sentence, and was taken to the condemned cell at Holloway.

In a 2010 television interview Mr Justice Havers’s grandson, actor Nigel Havers, said his grandfather had written to the Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George recommending a reprieve as he regarded it as a crime passionnel, but received a curt refusal, which was still held by the family. It has been suggested that the final nail in her coffin was that an innocent passer-by had been injured.

Reluctantly, at midday on 12 July 1955, the day before her execution, Ellis, having dismissed Bickford, the solicitor chosen for her by her friend Desmond Cussen, made a statement to the solicitor Victor Mishcon (whose law firm had previously represented her in her divorce proceedings but not in the murder trial) and his clerk, Leon Simmons. She revealed more evidence about the shooting and said that the gun had been provided by Cussen, and that he had driven her to the murder scene. Following their 90-minute interview in the condemned cell, Mishcon and Simmons went to the Home Office, where they spoke to a senior civil servant about Ellis’s revelations. The authorities made no effort to follow this up and there was no reprieve.

In a final letter to David Blakely’s parents from her prison cell, she wrote “I have always loved your son, and I shall die still loving him.”[11]

Ever since Edith Thompson‘s execution in 1923, condemned female prisoners had been required to wear thick padded calico knickers, so just prior to the allotted time, Warder Evelyn Galilee, who had guarded Ellis for the previous three weeks, took her to the lavatory. Warder Galilee said, “I’m sorry Ruth but I’ve got to do this.” They had tapes back and front to pull. Ellis said “Is that all right?” and “Would you pull these tapes, Evelyn? I’ll pull the others.” On re-entering the condemned cell, she took off her glasses, placed them on the table and said “I won’t be needing these anymore.”[12]

Thirty seconds before 9 am on Wednesday 13 July, the official hangman, Albert Pierrepoint, and his assistant, Royston Rickard, entered the condemned cell and escorted Ruth the 15 feet (4.6 m) to the execution room next door.[13] She had been weighed at 103 pounds (47 kg) the previous day and a drop of 8 ft 4in was set. Pierrepoint carried out the execution in just 12 seconds and her body was left hanging for an hour. Her autopsy report, by the pathologist Dr Keith Simpson, was made public.[14]

The Bishop of Stepney, Joost de Blank, visited Ellis just before her death, and she told him, “It is quite clear to me that I was not the person who shot him. When I saw myself with the revolver I knew I was another person.” These comments were made in a London evening paper of the time, The Star.

[edit]Public reaction

The case caused widespread controversy at the time, evoking exceptionally intense press and public interest to the point that it was discussed by the Cabinet.[15]

On the day of her execution the Daily Mirror columnist Cassandra wrote a column attacking the sentence, writing “The one thing that brings stature and dignity to mankind and raises us above the beasts will have been denied her—pity and the hope of ultimate redemption.”[16] A petition to the Home Office asking for clemency was signed by 50,000 people, but the Conservative Home Secretary Major Gwilym Lloyd George rejected it.[16]

The novelist Raymond Chandler, then living in Britain, wrote a scathing letter to the Evening Standard, referring to what he described as “the medieval savagery of the law”.[17]

Legacy

The hanging helped strengthen public support for the abolition of the death penalty, which was halted in practice for murder in Britain 10 years later (the last execution in the UK occurred in 1964). Reprieve was by then commonplace. According to one statistical account, between 1926 and 1954, 677 men and 60 women had been sentenced to death in England and Wales, but only 375 men and seven women had been executed.[18]

In the early 1970s, John Bickford, Ellis’s solicitor, made a statement to Scotland Yard from his home in Malta. He was recalling what Desmond Cussen had told him in 1955: how Ellis lied at the trial and how he (Bickford) had hidden that information. After Bickford’s confession a police investigation followed but no further action regarding Cussen was taken.

Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister at the time, made no reference to the Ruth Ellis case in his memoirs, nor is there anything in his papers. He accepted that the decision was the responsibility of the Home Secretary, but there are indications that he was troubled by it.[19]

Foreign newspapers observed that the concept of the crime passionnel seemed alien to the British.

[edit]Family aftermath

In 1969 Ellis’s mother, Berta Neilson, was found unconscious in a gas-filled room in her flat in Hemel Hempstead. She never fully recovered and did not speak coherently again. Ellis’s husband, George Ellis, descended into alcoholism and hanged himself in 1958. Her son, Andy, who was 10 at the time of his mother’s hanging, suffered irreparable psychological damage and committed suicide in a bedsit in 1982. The trial judge, Sir Cecil Havers, had sent money every year for Andy’s upkeep, and Christmas Humphreys, the prosecution counsel at Ellis’s trial, paid for his funeral.[3] Ellis’s daughter, Georgina, who was three when her mother was executed, was adopted when her father hanged himself three years later. She died of cancer aged 50.[20]

[edit]Pardon campaign

The case continues to have a strong grip on the British imagination and in 2003 was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The Court firmly rejected the appeal, although it made clear that it could rule only on the conviction based on the law as it stood in 1955, and not on whether she should have been executed.[21]

The court was critical of the fact that it had been obliged to consider the appeal:

We would wish to make one further observation. We have to question whether this exercise of considering an appeal so long after the event when Mrs Ellis herself had consciously and deliberately chosen not to appeal at the time is a sensible use of the limited resources of the Court of Appeal. On any view, Mrs Ellis had committed a serious criminal offence. This case is, therefore, quite different from a case like Hanratty [2002] 2 Cr App R 30 where the issue was whether a wholly innocent person had been convicted of murder. A wrong on that scale, if it had occurred, might even today be a matter for general public concern, but in this case there was no question that Mrs Ellis was other than the killer and the only issue was the precise crime of which she was guilty. If we had not been obliged to consider her case we would perhaps in the time available have dealt with 8 to 12 other cases, the majority of which would have involved people who were said to be wrongly in custody.[22]

In July 2007 a petition was published on the 10 Downing Street website asking Prime Minister Gordon Brown to reconsider the Ruth Ellis case and grant her a pardon in the light of new evidence that the Old Bailey jury in 1955 was not asked to consider. It expired on 4 July 2008.[23]

[edit]Burials

Ellis was buried in an unmarked grave within the walls of Holloway Prison, as was customary for executed prisoners. In the early 1970s the prison underwent an extensive programme of rebuilding, during which the bodies of all the executed women were exhumed for reburial elsewhere. Ellis’s body was reburied in the churchyard extension of St Mary’s Church in Amersham,Buckinghamshire. The headstone in the churchyard was inscribed “Ruth Hornby 1926–1955”. Her son, Andy, destroyed the headstone shortly before he committed suicide in 1982. The family later reportedly removed her remains and reburied them at a secret location because of the attention that the plot at St Mary’s was receiving.

The remains of the four other women executed at Holloway, Styllou ChristofiEdith ThompsonAmelia Sach and Annie Walters, were reburied in a single grave at Brookwood Cemetery.

Coincidentally, Styllou Christofi, who was executed in December 1954, lived at 11 South Hill Park in Hampstead,[24] with her son and daughter-in-law, a few yards from The Magdala public house at number 2a, where David Blakely was shot four months later.

Film, TV and theatrical adaptations

In 1980, the third episode of the first series of the ITV drama series Lady Killers recreated the court case, with Ellis played by Georgina Hale.

The first cinema portrayal of Ellis came with the release of the 1985 movie Dance with a Stranger (directed by Mike Newell), featuring Miranda Richardson as Ellis.

Both Ellis’s story and the story of Albert Pierrepoint are retold in the stage play Follow Me, written by Ross Gurney-Randall and Dave Mounfield and directed by Guy Masterson. It premièred at theAssembly Rooms as part of the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In the film Pierrepoint (2006), Ellis was portrayed by Mary Stockley.

JOHN “BABBACOMBE” LEE – THE MAN THEY COULDN’T HANG….JULY 23 1885 AT EXETER JAIL, UK

FIRSTLY A FORMAL STATEMENT FROM THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL

IT HAS RECENTLY BEEN BROUGHT TO OUR ATTENTION THAT THE CHANNEL 4 PROGRAM- FOUR ROOMS AT THE END OF MAY 2011 FEATURED AND TRIED TO SELL A JAMES BERRY HANGMAN’S NOOSE PURPORTING TO HAVE BEEN USED ON THE FAILED EXECUTION OF JOHN ” BABBACOMBE ” LEE ON JULY 23RD 1885 AT EXETER JAIL
WE WISH TO MAKE IT ABUNDANTLY CLEAR THAT THIS WAS NOT THE NOOSE USED AND THAT THE ORIGINAL HANGMAN’S NOOSE AND PERSONALLY HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED LETTER TO THIS EFFECT ARE HERE AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL ON PUBLIC DISPLAY .
(SEE ORIGINAL NOOSE AND LETTER PICTURES HERE BELOW FOR REFERENCE )
THESE EXHIBIT ITEMS WERE PURCHASED AT AUCTION BY THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION BACK IN THE YEAR 2000 .
THE PROPOSED SALE OF THE OTHER NOOSE FAILED TO MATERIALISE …..PROBABLY DUE TO KNOWLEDGE OF THE ORIGINAL NOOSE AND LETTER OF PROVENANCE FROM THE EXECUTIONER -JAMES BERRY BEING HERE AT THE JAIL

A PHOTO OF JOHN " BABBACOMBE " LEE

A PHOTO OF JOHN ” BABBACOMBE ” LEE

THE ORIGINAL NOOSE USED BY JAMES BERRY ON THE FAILED EXECUTION ON THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG ....JOHN " BABBACOMBE " LEE.  ACQUIRED FROM AUCTION IN THE YEAR 2000 ALONG WITH FIRM LETTER OF PROVENANCE FROM JAMES BERRY STATING THAT NOT ONLY HAD IT BEEN USED ON LEE , THAT IT HAD ALSO BEEN USED FOR HIS FIRST EXECUTION IN 1884 . TO ALL OTHERS THAT CLAIM THEY HAVE THE ORIGINAL NOOSE USED ON LEE ....... SORRY BUT ITS HERE ON DISPLAY AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL ALONG WITH THE HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED LETTER OF 03RD JULY 1897 FROM JAMES BERRY ' ON HIS HOME ADDRESSED LETTER HEADED PAPER

THE ORIGINAL NOOSE USED BY JAMES BERRY ON THE FAILED EXECUTION ON THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG ….JOHN ” BABBACOMBE ” LEE.
ACQUIRED FROM AUCTION IN THE YEAR 2000 ALONG WITH FIRM LETTER OF PROVENANCE FROM JAMES BERRY STATING THAT NOT ONLY HAD IT BEEN USED ON LEE , THAT IT HAD ALSO BEEN USED FOR HIS FIRST EXECUTION IN 1884 .
TO ALL OTHERS THAT CLAIM THEY HAVE THE ORIGINAL NOOSE USED ON LEE ……. SORRY BUT ITS HERE ON DISPLAY AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL ALONG WITH THE HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED LETTER OF 03RD JULY 1897 FROM JAMES BERRY ‘ ON HIS HOME ADDRESSED LETTER HEADED PAPER

THE ORIGINAL HANGMANS NOOSE HERE ON DISPLAY ALONG WITH OTHER RELATED DISPLAY ITEMS

THE ORIGINAL HANGMANS NOOSE HERE ON DISPLAY ALONG WITH OTHER RELATED DISPLAY ITEMS

A PHOTO OF JAMES BERRY EXECUTIONER AND HANGMAN

A PHOTO OF JAMES BERRY EXECUTIONER AND HANGMAN

HERE IS THE ORIGINAL HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED CONFIRMATION LETTER ON HIS PERSONAL HOME ADDRESSED HEADED PAPER FROM JAMES BERRY -HANGMAN AND EXECUTIONER, IN RELATION TO THE HANGMANS NOOSE USED ON THE FAILED ATTEMPT ON THER MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG , JOHN " BABBERCOMBE LEE ".  HERE ON DISPLAY AT THE JAIL ALONG WITH THE NOOSE

HERE IS THE ORIGINAL HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED CONFIRMATION LETTER ON HIS PERSONAL HOME ADDRESSED HEADED PAPER FROM JAMES BERRY -HANGMAN AND EXECUTIONER, IN RELATION TO THE HANGMANS NOOSE USED ON THE FAILED ATTEMPT ON THER MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG , JOHN ” BABBERCOMBE LEE “.
HERE ON DISPLAY AT THE JAIL ALONG WITH THE NOOSE

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE BACK ON 05TH OCTOBER 2000 RELATING TO THE UPCOMING AUCTION SALE OF THE NOOSE AND HANGMAN'S LETTER .......SUBSEQUENTLY BOUGHT BY THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION, NOW ON DISPLAY AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE BACK ON 05TH OCTOBER 2000 RELATING TO THE UPCOMING AUCTION SALE OF THE NOOSE AND HANGMAN’S LETTER …….SUBSEQUENTLY BOUGHT BY THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION, NOW ON DISPLAY AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL

THE ORIGINAL NOOSE USED BY JAMES BERRY ON THE FAILED EXECUTION ON THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG ....JOHN " BABBACOMBE " LEE.  ACQUIRED FROM AUCTION IN THE YEAR 2000 ALONG WITH FIRM LETTER OF PROVENANCE FROM JAMES BERRY STATING THAT NOT ONLY HAD IT BEEN USED ON LEE , THAT IT HAD ALSO BEEN USED FOR HIS FIRST EXECUTION IN 1884 . TO ALL OTHERS THAT CLAIM THEY HAVE THE ORIGINAL NOOSE USED ON LEE ....... SORRY BUT ITS HERE ON DISPLAY AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL ALONG WITH THE HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED LETTER OF 03RD JULY 1897 FROM JAMES BERRY ' ON HIS HOME ADDRESSED LETTER HEADED PAPER

THE ORIGINAL NOOSE USED BY JAMES BERRY ON THE FAILED EXECUTION ON THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG ….JOHN ” BABBACOMBE ” LEE.
ACQUIRED FROM AUCTION IN THE YEAR 2000 ALONG WITH FIRM LETTER OF PROVENANCE FROM JAMES BERRY STATING THAT NOT ONLY HAD IT BEEN USED ON LEE , THAT IT HAD ALSO BEEN USED FOR HIS FIRST EXECUTION IN 1884 .
TO ALL OTHERS THAT CLAIM THEY HAVE THE ORIGINAL NOOSE USED ON LEE ……. SORRY BUT ITS HERE ON DISPLAY AT LITTLEDEAN JAIL ALONG WITH THE HANDWRITTEN AND SIGNED LETTER OF 03RD JULY 1897 FROM JAMES BERRY ‘ ON HIS HOME ADDRESSED LETTER HEADED PAPER

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE FEATURING THE HANGMAN'S NOOSE USED BY JAMES BERRY ON THE FAILED ATTEMPT TO EXECUTE JOHN " BABBACOMBE" LEE FEATURED IN THE WESTERN DAILY PRESS ON NOVEMBER 21ST 2002

NEWSPAPER ARTICLE FEATURING THE HANGMAN’S NOOSE USED BY JAMES BERRY ON THE FAILED ATTEMPT TO EXECUTE JOHN ” BABBACOMBE” LEE FEATURED IN THE WESTERN DAILY PRESS ON NOVEMBER 21ST 2002

John Henry George Lee (1864 – c. 19 March 1945), better known as John “Babbacombe” Lee or “The Man They Couldn’t Hang”, was an Englishman famous for surviving three attempts to hang him for murder. Born in Abbotskerswell, Devon, Lee served in the Royal Navy, and was a known thief. In 1885, he was convicted of the brutal murder of his employer, Emma Keyse, at her home at Babbacombe Bay near Torquay on 15 November 1884. The evidence was weak and circumstantial, amounting to little more than Lee having been the only male in the house at the time of the murder, his previous criminal record, and being found with an unexplained cut on his arm. Despite this and his claim of innocence, he was sentenced to hang.

Execution attempts and aftermath[edit]

On 23 February 1885, three attempts were made to carry out his execution at Exeter Prison. All ended in failure, as the trapdoor of the scaffold failed to open despite being carefully tested by the executioner, James Berry, beforehand. As a result, Home Secretary Sir William Harcourt commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Lee continued to petition successive Home Secretaries and was finally released in 1907. The only other man in history known to have survived three hanging attempts was Joseph Samuel.

Many theories have been advanced as to the cause of the failure, but Home Office papers show that the official report stated that incorrect assembly of the gallows mechanism allowed the trapdoor hinges to rest upon an eighth of an inch of drawbar, preventing them from opening when the doors were weighted. This incident helped lead to a standard gallows design to prevent a recurrence.

Later years and identifications

After his release, Lee seems to have exploited his notoriety, supporting himself through lecturing on his life, even becoming the subject of a silent film. Accounts of his whereabouts after 1916 are somewhat confused, and one researcher even speculated that in later years, there was more than one man claiming to be Lee. It was suspected that he died in the Tavistock workhouse metime during the Second World War. However, one recent piece of research concludes that he died in the United States under the name of “James Lee” in 1945. According to the book The Man They Could Not Hang by Mike Holgate and Ian David Waugh, Lee’s gravestone was found at Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee.

ALBERT PIERREPOINT – HANGMAN AND EXECUTIONER – (30 March 1905 – 10 July 1992)

Albert Pierrepoint (30 March 1905 – 10 July 1992) was a long-serving hangman in England. He executed at least 400 people, about half of them war criminals, including William Joyce (one of the men dubbed “Lord Haw-Haw“), and John Amery, whom he considered the bravest man he had ever hanged. Pierrepoint was often dubbed the Official Executioner, despite there being no such job or title. The office of executioner had traditionally been performed by the local sheriff, who increasingly delegated the task to a person of suitable character, employed and paid only when required. Pierrepoint continued to work for years in a grocery near Bradford after qualifying as an Assistant Executioner in 1932 and a Chief Executioner in 1941, in the steps of his father and uncle. Following his retirement in 1956, the Home Office acknowledged Pierrepoint as the most efficient executioner in British history. He subsequently became a publican in Lancashire and wrote his memoirs, in which he sensationally concluded that capital punishment was not a deterrent. There is no official tally of his hangings, which some have estimated at more than 600; the most commonly accepted figure is 435. 252898_207771315924961_6330027_n320224_248534328515326_1317634448_n302154_248534348515324_345069212_n 246928_207771355924957_6722864_n 247805_207771279258298_3591871_n 248842_207771295924963_7832841_n 252942_207771332591626_5386253_n 304874_248534288515330_1807918729_n Among the notable people he hanged:

  • Lord Haw-Haw“, William Joyce, convicted as a traitor and executed at Wandsworth, 3 January 1946.
  • Bruno Tesch, co-inventor of the insecticide Zyklon B used in the Holocaust. Convicted of the crime of complicity in the murder of interned allied civilians by means of poison gas by a British military tribunal at the Curiohaus in Rotherbaum, Hamburg. Executed on May 16, 1946 in Hamelin Prison.
  • John George Haigh, the “Acid-bath murderer” executed at Wandsworth on 10 August 1949.
  • Gordon Cummins, the “Blackout Ripper” executed at Wandsworth on 25 June 1942
  • Timothy John Evans, hanged at Pentonville Prison on 9 March 1950 for the murder of his daughter (he was also suspected of having murdered his wife). Timothy Evans received a posthumous pardon in 1966 for the murder of his daughter. It was subsequently discovered that Evans’ neighbour, John Reginald Christie, was a serial killer. He was executed by Pierrepoint on 15 July 1953 at Pentonville.
  • James Inglis, on 8 May 1951, the fastest hanging on record – a total of seven seconds elapsed from the time that Inglis left the Condemned Cell.
  • Derek Bentley, executed at Wandsworth on 28 January 1953 for his part in the death of Police Constable Miles. The execution was carried out despite pleas for clemency by large numbers of people, including 200 Members of Parliament, the widow of Miles, and the jury’s recommendation in the trial. An article written by Pierrepoint for The Guardian, but withheld until the pardon was granted, dispelled the myth that Bentley had cried on his way to the scaffold. Right until the last, he believed he would be reprieved. After a 45-year-long campaign, Bentley received a posthumous pardon in July 1998, when the Court of Appeal ruled that Bentley’s conviction was “unsafe” and quashed it.
  • Michael Manning, on 20 April 1954 the last person to be executed in the Republic of Ireland.
  • John Amery, son of wartime Secretary of State for IndiaLeopold Amery, and the first person to plead guilty to treason in an English court since Summerset Fox in May 1654. He was described by Pierrepoint as “the bravest man I ever hanged”. According to the official prison record of the execution, later released and now stored in the National Archives, Amery greeted his executioner with the words “Oh! Pierrepoint”, but the executioner took the proffered hand only to put the pinioning strap on, making no reply. However, this account is disputed, as Pierrepoint himself later stated in interview that the two men spoke at length and he felt that he had known Amery “all his life”, and there is a story that Amery greeted Pierrepoint with, “Mr. Pierrepoint, I’ve always wanted to meet you. Though not, of course, under these circumstances!” Hanged at Wandsworth Prison, London, 19 December 1945.
  • Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, on 13 July 1955, for shooting her lover. Pierrepoint had no regrets about her execution; it was one of the few times he spoke publicly about one of his charges and he made it clear he felt she deserved no less.

LAST PUBLIC EXECUTION BY GUILLOTINE, FRANCE – EUGENE WEIDMANN – JUNE 17 , 1939

EUGINE W

Eugen Weidmann (February 5, 1908 – June 17, 1939) was the last person to be publicly executed in France. Executions by guillotine in France continued in private until September 10, 1977, when Hamida Djandoubi was the last person to be executed.

Early life

Weidmann was born in Frankfurt am Main in Germany to the family of an export businessman, and went to school there. He was sent to live with his grandparents at the outbreak of World War I; during this time he started stealing. Later in his 20s he served five years in Saarbrücken jail for robbery.

During his time in jail Weidmann met two men who would later become his partners in crime: Roger Million and Jean Blanc. After their release from jail, they decided to work together to kidnap rich tourists visiting France and steal their money. They rented a villa in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, for this purpose.

Kidnapping

Their first kidnap attempt ended in failure because their victim struggled too hard, forcing them to let him go. In July 1937, they made a second attempt, Weidmann having made the acquaintance of Jean De Koven, a 22-year-old New York dancer visiting her aunt Ida Sackheim in Paris. Impressed by the tall, handsome German, De Koven wrote to a friend: “I have just met a charming German of keen intelligence who calls himself Siegfried. Perhaps I am going to another Wagnerian role – who knows? I am going to visit him tomorrow at his villa in a beautiful place near a famous mansion that Napoleon gave Josephine.” During their meeting they smoked and “Siegfried” gave her a glass of milk. She took photos of him with her new camera (later found beside her body, the developed snapshots showing her killer). Weidmann then strangled and buried her in the villa’s garden. She had 300 francs in cash and $430 in traveller’s cheques, which the group sent Million’s mistress, Collette Tricot, to cash. Sackheim received a letter demanding $500 for the return of her niece. De Koven’s brother Henry later came to France offering a 10,000 franc reward from his father Abraham for information about the young woman.

On September 1 of the same year, Weidmann hired a chauffeur named Joseph Couffy to drive him to the French Riviera where, in a forest outside Tours he shot him in the nape of the neck and stole his car and 2500 francs. The next murder came on September 3, after Weidmann and Million lured Janine Keller, a private nurse, into a cave in the forest of Fontainebleau with a job offer. There he killed her, again with a bullet to the nape of the neck, before robbing her of 1400 francs and her diamond ring. On October 16, Million and Weidmann arranged a meeting with a young theatrical producer named Roger LeBlond, promising to invest money in one of his shows. Instead, Weidmann shot him in the back of his head and took his wallet containing 5000 francs. On November 22, Weidmann murdered and robbed Fritz Frommer, a young German he had met in jail. Frommer, a Jew, had been held there for his anti-Nazi views. Once again the victim was shot in the nape of the neck. His body was buried in the basement of the Saint-Cloud house where De Koven was interred. Five days later Weidmann committed his final murder. Raymond Lesobre, areal estate agent, was shot in the killer’s preferred fashion while showing him around a house in Saint-Cloud. Five thousand francs were taken from him]

Arrest

Weidmann after his arrest.

Officers from the Sûreté, led by a young inspector named Primborgne, eventually tracked Weidmann to the villa from a business card left at Lesobre’s office. Arriving at his home, Weidmann found two officers waiting for him. Inviting them in, he then turned and fired three times at them with a pistol. Although they were unarmed, the wounded Sûreté men managed to wrestle Weidmann down, knocking him unconscious with a hammer that happened to be nearby.[1] Weidmann was a highly co-operative prisoner, confessing to all his murders, including that of de Koven, the only one for which he expressed regret. He is reported to have said tearfully: “She was gentle and unsuspecting … When I reached for her throat, she went down like a doll.”

The murder trial of Weidmann, Million, Blanc and Tricot in Versailles in March 1939 was the biggest since that of Henri Désiré Landru, the modern-day “Bluebeard”, 18 years earlier. One of Weidmann’s lawyers, Vincent de Moro-Giafferi, had indeed defended Landru. Also present was the French novelistColette, who was engaged by Paris-Soir to write an essay on Weidmann.

Weidmann and Million received the death sentence while Blanc received a jail sentence of 20 months and Tricot was acquitted. Million’s sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Execution

exec_014

On June 17, 1939, Weidmann was beheaded outside the prison Saint-Pierre in Versailles. The “hysterical behaviour” by spectators was so scandalous that French president Albert Lebrun immediately banned all future public executions. Unknown to authorities, film of the execution was shot from a private apartment adjacent to the prison. British actor Christopher Lee, who was 17 at the time, witnessed this event.

fritz_frommer_body

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