Murder under the microscope: The Ruth Ellis case is re-investigated

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The final steps of Ruth Ellis, the last woman killed under the UK death penalty, are retraced around Islington and Camden in a new documentary starting on BBC Four on Tuesday 13th March.

The former HM Prison Holloway, where she was hanged and buried, is visited, along with the Hampstead pub outside which the murder took place, the Magdala on South Hill Park.

Over three episodes in The Ruth Ellis Files: A Very British Crime Story, filmmaker Gillian Pachter takes a forensic look at the case which shocked the UK in 1955.

FilmFixer manages the film officer service for both Islington and Camden. FilmFixer director Andrew Pavord says, “The production filmed quite extensively along the many Hampstead streets that featured in the crime.

“On Easter Sunday, April 10th 1955, Ruth Ellis arrived by taxi at 29 Tanza Road in Hampstead, the home of Anthony and Carole Findlater, where she thought she’d find her lover David Blakely. Blakely’s car drove off, as she arrived. So she walked to the Magdala pub about a quarter of a mile away.”

It was recorded at the time that when David Blakely and his friend Clive Gunnell left the pub, Blakely passed Ellis waiting on the pavement. He didn’t reply when she said “Hello, David,” and then shouted “David!” Ellis took a gun out of her handbag and fired five shots at Blakely. Ellis said to Gunnell, “Will you call the police, Clive?” She was arrested immediately by an off-duty policeman, Alan Thompson, who took the gun from her.

Andrew Pavord continues, “It’s said that a former landlady drilled fake bullet holes in to the pub wall to impress tourists. But sadly, the Magdala has been closed since 2016. Hampstead residents had campaigned to safeguard the historic watering hole and had it listed as an asset of community value by Camden Council in September 2014.

“Holloway jail also closed in 2016. In 1955 crowds gathered outside on the day of Ellis’s hanging. As was the custom, Ellis’s body was buried in an unmarked grave inside the jail grounds at the time.

“Gillian Pachter is filmed visiting the site for the documentary, although it doesn’t bear much resemblance to its former self.

“In fact, when the film Suffragette with Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep was being shot in 2014, Islington’s House of Detention on Sans Walk became the cells in Holloway Prison where the women were force fed. The vast underground system of cells is quite appropriately a former jail and workhouse, first built in 1615.

“Lincoln’s Inn Gate in Camden was used as the prison gates of Holloway for scenes in which Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan are released from prison, and greeted by supporters. The Daily Mail was duped into believing the location was the real thing.

“In a couple of sidenotes, Ruth Ellis was hung by Albert Pierrepoint, famous for executing at least 400 people, and who later wrote that capital punishment was not a deterrent.

“And actor Nigel Havers’ grandfather was the trial judge, Sir Cecil Havers, who then sent money each year for Ellis’s son Andy’s upkeep, until Andy killed himself in 1982. Christmas Humphreys, the prosecution counsel at Ellis’s trial, paid for Andy’s funeral.”