Series re-examining the Ruth Ellis case. Gillian Pachter takes a forensic look at the police investigation and discovers worrying assumptions and problematic omissions.
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This is a photograph of a bedroom,
where the dead body of a 37-year-old man was found in 1982.
OK, let's do it.
This programme contains some scenes which some viewers may find upsetting
I'm reconstructing it
because I want to know more about the man who lived here.
The man's family retrieved this photo from his room after his death.
His body had lain undiscovered for weeks.
There were flies and blood everywhere.
Inside a drawer was a cassette,
which the man recorded shortly before his death.
You've probably never heard of this man, Andrea,
who had a troubled life and went by different surnames -
Turner, Nielsen, Hornby, McCallum.
But you may well know something about his mother.
Her name was Ruth Ellis.
She's known for being the last woman hanged in Britain
and after many months of investigation,
that's one of the few facts about her case I can still be sure of.
-On June 21st,
Ruth Ellis was found guilty of murder at the Old Bailey
'and sentenced to death in accordance with the law.
'On July the 13th...'
Ruth Ellis is one of Britain's most famous female killers
and her case is one of the most controversial in British history.
Her execution was met with huge protest
and a feeling among many that the legal system had let her down.
The shockwaves created by her case helped change the law.
Soon after, the defence of diminished responsibility was introduced
and murder has never been tried in the same way again.
My name's Gillian Pachter.
Normally, I make documentaries about killers in America, where murder
is still punishable by death in 31 states,
so I'm fascinated by Ruth and her legacy in the UK.
In this series, I'm going to take a look at her crime as an outsider,
examining not only the law, but the forces in post-war society
which both created and destroyed Ruth Ellis.
She was a woman being judged by the standards of the day,
which were shockingly discriminatory against women.
And, secondly, she was the victim of class prejudice.
With the help of top experts, I'm going to examine original
evidence from the police investigation,
trial and execution.
Welcome to the Central Criminal Court.
I want to know whether Ruth's fate was an inevitable consequence of her
actions, or whether in 1950s Britain, Lady Justice got it wrong.
The thing that keeps nagging people about this case is that things
-were not put before the jury.
-There was no injustice.
The law was applied entirely justly for 1955.
If the whole trial had been handled differently,
even by the standards of 1955, she could have lived.
I'm also going to try to piece together evidence that never
appeared in court and recover the testimony of a key witness.
If they'd interviewed Andrea, even for ten minutes,
they would've found out more.
I've arrived at the scene of the crime...
..about 60 years too late.
The Magdala Pub in Hampstead, north London.
It shut about a year ago and reminds me of a ghost town, a ghost pub.
It was, on the face of it, an open-and-shut case of murder.
Ruth Ellis, a 28-year-old working-class nightclub hostess,
had been living on and off with David Blakely,
a posh racing car driver.
When he tried to leave her,
she tracked him down to the Magdala Pub on the 10th of April, 1955...
-Are you crazy? Put down that gun.
..and fired six bullets, four of which hit their target.
I wonder if anyone around here still knows about Ruth Ellis.
-Did you know about this pub?
-Yeah, I know about this pub, yeah.
What's the story of what happened? What do you know about this place?
I think there were two lovers and the boyfriend was shot down
on that corner, but I don't know about those spots.
They are saying that it is fake ones.
-The bullet holes?
-The bullet holes, yeah.
-What do you think?
-It's a fake one, I think so.
He's right. The bullet holes were an afterthought
by an enterprising landlady.
Ruth's crime sounds like a scene from classic film noir,
right down to the Smith & Wesson gun she used.
From the moment that she stepped into the dock, Ruth Ellis
became a mythologised figure, written about as a femme fatale.
An ambitious nightclub hostess.
Please hurry, it's terribly urgent.
A platinum blonde with a put-on accent
to hide her working-class roots.
A Diana Dors type would-be starlet.
A vengeful harlot shooting her lover in a pair of stilettos.
These caricatures of Ruth still persist
over 60 years after her death.
I want to find out how much of this is a fair reflection and how much
was created by a nation
both appalled and fascinated by her crime.
My aim is to rebuild Ruth and her crime back up from the evidence.
Normally, I'd start with the witnesses,
but all the witnesses are dead.
What does exist is an extraordinary paper trail that's held
at the National Archives in Kew, south London.
This is the folder from the Metropolitan Police investigation
into the case.
Inside it is Ruth's statement.
Ruth Ellis, 44 Egerton Gardens, Kensington, W14.
Occupation - model.
"I understand what has been said.
"I am guilty, I am rather confused."
And now I'll summarise.
She says she has been living with David for the past two years
and when he failed to show up on the evening of Good Friday, the 8th of
April, 1955, she rang his friends,
a couple called Anthony and Carole Findlater,
who lived on Tanza Road in Hampstead.
Anthony says that David isn't there,
so Ruth goes over there by taxi,
discovers David's car parked outside and pushes in the windows.
David doesn't return to her on Saturday.
She rings the Findlaters' flat again on the morning of Easter Sunday,
the 10th of April.
At 8pm, she puts her son to bed, puts a gun in her handbag...
..takes a taxi to the Magdala Pub...
..and shoots David dead.
So far, this actually seems pretty open and shut.
We've got a motive, which is that she's angry at David,
and the murder weapon and an admission of guilt.
Yes, I killed him!
I wish I could've done it a hundred times.
So far, it still feels like the tidy plot of a film and the film's called
Ruth Ellis - Guilty As Sin.
I want to look into Ruth's statement further,
but in order to interpret testimony from 1955, I need help.
So I've recruited two retired Metropolitan Police
murder squad detectives.
Andy Rose joined the Met in 1980
and holds a degree in investigative forensic psychology.
Brian Hook joined in 1976, rising to the rank of a specialist
crime scene investigator in homicide.
Brian suggests meeting at the Crown Pub in Penn, Buckinghamshire.
These days they teach forensic science
at the University of West London, using Ruth Ellis as a case study.
I want to start with Ruth's statement
and your thoughts about it. I mean, anything that occurs to you
that can help me...
I want to see if Andy and Brian agree that this is basically
a slam dunk for the prosecution.
The interesting thing is that it's a confession to murder
and it's three pages long.
Three or fewer pages to confess to a murder,
certainly in this day and age, would be unheard of.
There's nothing in there. There's no timing in there,
there's nothing about how long she was outside the pub,
has she ever fired a gun before?
There's nothing to kind of get below the surface,
and effectively what you have here is a precis of events and it's
almost a cherry picking, isn't it, of things that would go to prove
the offence that she's been arrested for, which is, you know, murder.
What initially seemed like a comprehensive statement
actually lacks key information.
Instead of taking down raw evidence to aid the investigation,
the detectives seem to be trying to tie things up right from the start.
-There's your man, Sergeant. Well?
-We did it again.
The interesting thing I find about this statement is that the very
first line is, "I understand what's been said.
"I am guilty. I am rather confused."
And that's probably as close as it gets to some sort of explanation
for why she did it. I'm guilty, but I'm a bit confused.
That's my first question - why are you confused?
And whatever it was she said,
I would then want to unpick that piece by piece.
I'd want to know what the circumstances were
that led up to this single act.
Andy and Brian have exposed big holes in the statement.
It doesn't give enough information about the background to the murder,
or Ruth's motive.
Why were the original detectives in such a hurry to tie things up?
I skip ahead to the report the detective chief inspector submits
at the end of the investigation.
He concludes that Ruth's action was coldly premeditated.
How on earth did the investigation
get from "I'm confused" to coldly premeditated?
I look through the folders
at the National Archives to see if they questioned her again.
There's nothing else in the police files,
but I do find something from Holloway Prison, where Ruth was held
throughout the investigation.
Ruth explains to the prison doctor
that the bruise on her thigh is a result of David knocking her about.
She says that David had hit her
in the ear so hard that she went temporarily deaf.
She also refers to an abortion or miscarriage that happened
two to four weeks before the shooting.
It seems extraordinary that neither came up in Ruth's statement
to the police.
Both the violence and the miscarriage or abortion are issues
I want to investigate further.
-I wonder whether they could undermine the DCI's conclusion
that the murder was coldly premeditated.
Across the road from the Crown Pub is the churchyard where David
is buried. Do you know? That makes me quite sad.
-It's really sad.
It's saying he was born in '29, he died in '55.
That made him...
-Was he 26?
And people don't talk about the victim.
David's murder made Ruth famous,
but he wasn't there to give his side of the story.
Seeing this picture is a shocking reminder
of the brutality of Ruth's act.
-And there they go. It's a 680-mile course,
so they won't be back until midnight.
David was a racing car driver.
This is Pathe newsreel from the 1952 Goodwood Races in Sussex.
Almost at once, the Jaguars are in the lead.
Stirling Moss, number one's lying second,
with two HRGs close up behind him.
That's him in number 39.
Only around 15% of people in Britain even owned a car back then,
let alone a racing car.
This is a picture of Ruth at the races with David.
She made champagne picnics for him and his friends.
She seems like a working-class girl trying hard to fit in.
I look for people who knew David and find this man, Laurie Manifold,
who met him through a shared passion for Singer cars.
Gosh, it's so pretty.
-I just hope I don't crash it.
Well, the one I drove was the same as this to start with.
It had a smaller engine,
then I drove one with a slightly bigger engine.
He agrees to let me take him for a spin in a 1953 Singer Roadster.
So would David and Ruth have driven in a car like this?
This was the sort of car a young man like that would have.
Here was this chappie with a slightly plummy accent and obviously
a bit classy. This would've been paradise to a working-class girl
of those days to be taken out in a car like this.
GEARS CRUNCH Argh!
Laurie actually met Ruth, too,
when David brought her along to a car club meeting.
It was fairly shortly before the actual murder.
It wasn't very long before that, and it struck me that there was
something very strange and remote about her.
Somewhat of a striking figure, I must admit,
because she sat in a very rigid pose.
She was very heavily made up.
So heavily made up that her face was, to me,
a blonde mask on a protective shell under which she disguised all her
natural warmth and emotions.
What you might call a hard case.
This expression is new to me.
A hard case, meaning a tough and intractable person.
How did she become a hard case?
The DCI's 20th of April report
on Ruth's background doesn't really provide answers.
According to this report,
she was born on the 9th of October 1926 in Rhyl,
North Wales, and later moved with her family to London.
Her father was a musician
and travelled the country playing in cinemas.
Ruth fell pregnant by an American Air Force officer, who was killed
in action in 1944.
What the detective doesn't know or care to mention is that her father
lost his work, drove the family into poverty and,
as I find out from an old interview with Ruth's sister Muriel,
was sexually abusive.
Well, Ruth told me that he tried to put his thingy, she called it,
between her legs and all that and tried to perform on her
and he kept tight to her until he satisfied himself.
I wish I could talk to Muriel, but she died in 2013
and when I read her book, I discover that the American Air Force
officer was actually a married Canadian soldier,
who, after Andrea was born, went back to his family in Quebec.
I can see how the freedom of London during the war created ambitions
in Ruth for things that weren't truly on offer to a girl like her.
-This is Soho, catering for all tastes, low included.
Even the cats are a bit furtive.
It's the home of the drinking class...
So by 18, Ruth's a single mother, modelling and making ends meet.
She dreams of stardom, gets one part as an extra in a Diana Dors movie
and ends up posing for soft porn.
She has a brief, unhappy marriage
to a dental surgeon called George Ellis, who's a violent alcoholic.
The result is a second baby, Georgina,
who goes to live with her father at the age of two or three.
Yeah, a hard case.
And she then regarded men after that as punters,
except when she met Blakely,
and he penetrated, some way,
what the psychiatrist might call her armour,
and she fell for him in an emotional way, which was very unusual.
I suspect that, like lots of us small boys of all ages,
he dreamt of being a big racing driver.
He was a bit fey, not all that serious or determined.
He was a poncing playboy?
-Well, poncing means living off the woman.
He was poncing in the sense that he was for quite a time living with her
and she was paying the expenses from her earnings.
He really wasn't all that reliable.
A thin sort of character really.
After he'd taken her to a race and he'd lost, he blamed her
for losing the race because there was some issue she'd caused.
Perhaps some slight delay when they were going there or whatever.
Some piddling point, and he took it out on her.
He beat her up.
That showed her what a bad man he was at heart really.
He wasn't a good fellow.
It makes you reconsider the heavy make up and look a little closer
at some of Ruth's photos.
The evidence that Ruth was beaten by David was hiding in plain sight.
I'm curious whether the detectives on Ruth's case knew about it.
I discover that they found out the day after the murder, when they took
an 11-page statement from Desmond Cussen, a close friend of Ruth's.
Page five talks about her coming back after staying out the previous
Saturday. She was limping,
she had marks on her face, as though she'd been punched.
She was bruised all over her body and had a black eye.
There's lots of inference in here that she was a victim of domestic
-Is that relevant?
Oh, absolutely it's relevant because that will give some indication as to
her mental state and a motive for her wanting to go out and kill him.
The violence that took place between Ruth and David would be relevant if
Ruth were being investigated today.
Is it possible that in, 1955, the police made no connection between
this violence and Ruth's motive for murder?
"To sum up, this is clearly a case of jealousy on the part of Ellis,
"coupled with the fear that Blakely was leaving her."
Ken German joined Hampstead Police in 1960 and served for years in the
area where the murder took place.
I've asked him to help assess
the original Chief Inspector's summing up.
"The two people concerned, Blakely and Ellis,
"are of completely different stations in life."
He then goes on to describe how little her parents earn
and that David represented a leg up.
"On meeting Blakely and realising that his class was much above her
own and finding he was sufficiently interested in her to live with her
"and, if we are to believe Cussen, to promise her marriage,
"it seems she was prepared to go to any lengths to keep him.
"Finding this impossible,
"she appears to have decided to wreak her vengeance upon him."
Who does he think he is?
Chief Inspector, was it?
God, that's awful, isn't it?
Did he really write that? How did he get away with it?
Couldn't do that now.
My God, it shows you how powerful policemen were of rank then,
doesn't it? He's damned her, hasn't he, really, you know?
I'm getting a sense of just how much the values of the day played a part
in the investigation of Ruth's case.
-What was the motive - love or greed?
-A bit of both, I should think.
I wonder what response victims of domestic violence
got from the police in 1955?
No cause for police action.
NCPA was an abbreviated response
to lots of instances of domestic violence.
Go ahead and hit me, Sam. I've got it coming.
Back then, society was different.
You've only got to look at films of the period and, you know,
the archetypal screaming hysterical woman gets a good slap.
-Where's the dough?
-And that brings her round and makes her apologise
and, "I'm so sorry, I was..." I mean,
it's just bizarre today to think that that was an acceptable way
to behave, but it was.
So at the time of Ruth's arrest,
domestic violence was treated as a private affair, rather than a legal
matter, which is why it wouldn't strike the DCI as nearly sufficient
motive for murder.
After all, it was still legal to rape your wife in 1955.
But class was a different matter.
Against the backdrop of post-war Britain,
that's something the DCI would take seriously.
He writes that David's family are of some standing and highly respected
in the neighbourhood.
David's family lived at the Old Park, one of the grandest houses
in Penn, Buckinghamshire.
Brian and I have permission to come as far as the driveway.
That's as far as Ruth ever got, too.
David never introduced her to his mother.
-I'd like to live here. It'd suit me.
-So would I.
It'd be great, wouldn't it?
I can see why Ruth didn't want to let it go.
Yes, and it does perhaps give a certain rationale as to why there
was that clinging on. I think that's what it was.
I think, you know, David Blakely wanted things to end.
But it would be quite something to come to the gates here and know that
your boyfriend was never going to introduce you to his mother
because you weren't good enough, you were trash.
No wonder the second line of her statement, her confession,
no wonder she was confused.
The detectives who noted the standing of David's family
can't have looked into them in much detail.
If they had, they'd have discovered that David's doctor father had been
charged with murder in 1934 after administering an abortion stimulant
called Pituitrin to his mistress.
Anyway, if social advancement really was something Ruth desired enough
to kill for, she could've gone down a different route.
Desmond Cussen, who had made the statement to the police about her
violent relationship with Blakely, wanted to marry her.
He was wealthy, having inherited the family's chain of tobacco shops.
He paid for Ruth's son Andrea to go to boarding school and took her in
when she lost her job.
He may also have played a role in the murder,
something never proved in court and which Cussen denied until his death
Well, this is the Ruth Ellis tape.
What is this tape? Tell me about this.
-What is it?
-Haven't you heard it?
In addition to being a petrol head, Laurie was a crime reporter.
He reappraised the Ruth Ellis case in the 1970s and got this cassette
tape from her solicitor.
Shortly before the murder,
little tape recorders came out, you could buy them in the shops.
Sort of a great new thing, you could record yourself.
-Made possible by the development
of precision-controlled RCA Victor
sound heads and precision balanced motors...
And Ruth and Blakely and Cussen
all joined in talking
into the tape recorder.
"Here, it's our own voice. Here, hear yourself."
It was very novel then, you see.
INDISTINCT TALKING ON TAPE
That's him, yeah.
-That's Cussen, yeah. The quiet voice.
Yeah, that's him.
Desmond was a frequent visitor
to the nightclubs where Ruth worked.
And she's talking in a sort of fake accent.
Well, that was the club accent, you see.
Oh, yes, yes.
She wouldn't talk as a working-class accent in the club,
so to have the classy bird act, that's it.
Oh, yes, that was part of her equipment.
I'm struck by the casual way she threatens to give Desmond
a black eye and talks about getting one from David.
It sounds as though Ruth is in bed with Desmond,
but she can't stop talking about David.
It makes me wonder about the role Desmond played in Ruth's life.
We're building up a picture here of two separate relationships,
aren't we? One, our eventual victim, Blakely.
And then Cussen, who seems to be the sort of person in the middle here,
who's motivation is, certainly at this point,
-is, I think, unknown and slightly suspect.
If the police at the time regarded Desmond as suspicious,
they made no note of it, but I find his statement strange.
He gives a great deal of background information on the months leading up
to the murder, including details
of Ruth and David's violent relationship.
But on Easter weekend itself, he's surprisingly vague.
Good Friday, he says he drove her to Tanza Road, Hampstead,
where she pushed in the windows of David's car.
He can't remember Saturday.
And there's very little detail on Easter Sunday,
the day of the murder.
Just that he spent the day with Ruth and her ten-year-old son Andrea,
dropping them home at 7:30pm.
Ruth's statement provides no more detail
on the hours before the murder.
Just that she put Andrea to bed at 8pm.
One thing these statements do have in common is that they both mention
Ruth's son, which makes me wonder what Andrea had to say.
But there's no statement from him.
Perhaps they thought a ten-year old wouldn't have anything to contribute
or that asking him might be too traumatic.
I ask an ex-colleague of Brian and Andy's called Louise Charrington,
a retired Metropolitan Police detective,
who specialised in interviewing children.
Would you be interested in speaking to her son?
100%, most definitely.
From what we know,
there are very few people who could give you information about the
relationship that she was having with David Blakely,
about the comings and goings
immediately before the events took place.
And one of them is her son.
He's what would be referred to as a key witness.
Female officers did exist.
You know, it wouldn't have been beyond the realms of possibilities
for somebody to say,
why don't we send a female officer round to speak to her son?
'The police have had to act swiftly, but they must be quite sure of their
'justification for taking the children from home.'
I find this BBC film from 1957,
which shows WPCs taking neglected children into care.
I wonder if they sent a WPC to check on Andrea.
There's no note of it.
It's like there's a missing child.
One who could help me understand what happened.
I discover one cutting from an article written after Ruth's death.
He's even absent from his own photo.
If Andrea's testimony isn't in the police files,
I need to use other ways of discovering what he knew.
I decide to enlist my neighbour Emma and her ten-year-old son,
to help me piece together what Andrea witnessed.
We found a house nearby,
which has a lot of 1950s furniture and a willing landlady.
I'm dressing the rooms as different places from Ruth's life.
I'm going to reconstruct each piece of Andrea's story, in order to find
out what it can tell me about the crime.
I start with where Andrea appears in Ruth's statement.
"About eight o'clock this evening, I put my son Andrea to bed.
"I then took a gun, which I had hidden and put it in my handbag."
What kind of state of mind do you have to be in to kiss your son
good night and then go out and kill someone,
knowing that it could take you away forever?
So that was the last time that Andrea saw his mum.
He would probably think that moment over and over and over again,
Maybe see he could have done something
which would have stopped her.
Like, shoot David, maybe.
To discover anything more about what Andrea saw in the run up to the
murder, I'm going to have to look outside the police investigation.
Ruth's sister Muriel wrote a book where she mentions finding
a cassette in Andrea's bedsit after he took his own life in 1982.
I arrange to meet Muriel's co-author,
true crime writer, Monica Weller.
You've brought the tape? Or you have the tape?
The tape is here, yes.
The tape's here.
Can I see it?
The landlady had actually seen flies
and so forth coming from under the bottom of the door.
So, Muriel went in.
And it was really ghastly.
But included in his room were several cassette tapes.
Andrea was very, very keen on recording stuff.
Monica gives me the cassette.
I'm hoping it might contain some insight from Andrea.
The Andrea on this cassette is so troubled.
It's 1981 or two, toward the end of his life.
Somehow, he has tracked down Christmas Humphreys,
the prosecuting barrister in his mother's trial.
I want to know what happened to Andrea after his mother left him,
never to return.
What did Muriel tell you?
She told me that on Easter Monday...
That's the day after the murder.
..her parents and Andrea and Desmond Cussen arrived at her flat.
She certainly wasn't expecting them.
They all came into the flat.
Muriel was told that Andrea was to speak to nobody.
If anybody came to the door, he must not be spoken to.
But Muriel said it was more like a threat than anything else.
In other words, you let him speak to anybody,
and you'll be in big trouble.
Who was threatening her, Cussen or her parents?
I don't think it was Cussen who was actually doing the talking
because he was really not doing much talking at all.
It would have been her parents.
Why would her parents say that to her?
Perhaps because they had been told by Cussen.
Why would they listen to Cussen?
He obviously was something influential in their lives.
And Desmond Cussen was leaning, sort of, against the wall or something,
quite awkwardly and I know Muriel said he looked sort of shifty.
This contradicts what Desmond said in his statement,
that he dropped Andrea and his grandparents off
at London Bridge Station.
This makes me wonder if there was something about what Andrea
witnessed that needed to be hidden.
The next and final sentence in Desmond's statement
is about the murder weapon.
He's never seen Ruth with a gun, or heard her talk about one.
But given what I'm hearing about Desmond,
I'm not sure he can be believed.
Ruth's story is this.
"This gun was given to me about three years ago in a club by a man
"whose name I do not remember.
"It was security for money, but I accepted it as a curiosity."
The police did little to investigate this story.
She says it came from a club.
The police knew that she had worked at Carol's Club in Mayfair
as a hostess, and then the Little Club in Kensington as a manageress.
But, at this point, they didn't interview her colleagues.
Who might have given Ruth the gun?
They were still around when I was there.
You would go to the clubs.
And there'd be everybody from every single social class.
Quite a mix. You'd go in there and there'd be people you'd arrested
previously. There'd be people that were local businessmen.
The sort of clubs like the Little Club were the social meeting places
and social milieu of the post-war small-time businessmen,
small-time characters, but you did get the odd aristocrat there.
I met one particular young aristocrat who frequented clubs
like the Little Club, who went, and I taxed him about, why do you do it,
what's the fun? And he said, "I don't care
"with whom I drink, so long as I'm drinking."
The Little Club was located at 37 Brompton Road,
just down from Harrods, in a small room on the first floor.
If the police saw a register of customers from the club,
they didn't make a note of it.
And none exists now that I can find.
Ruth lived right here at the epicentre of wealthy London.
I wonder if this was a truly liberated atmosphere, where Ruth
enjoyed an equal status, or if that was just an illusion.
She is one of many young women from working-class backgrounds who come
to London immediately after the war, seeking glamour, fame, fortune,
and a degree of social and cultural freedom.
This is Frank Mort, social historian
and an expert on the post-war drinking clubs of London.
Ruth Ellis tried to adopt some of the manners and styles
of upper-class presentation but Ruth and her appearance,
of course, will never do,
in terms of the way she presents herself as a brassy blonde.
So there's no escape from the class structure of 1950s Britain,
which condemns her to a type, the brassy blonde.
Even in prison, she can't get away from being typecast, as I find out
in the first line of the doctor's report.
"A heavily made up woman, bleached, platinum hair,
"rather hard faced and abrupt in manner,
"enamelled toes and fingernails."
Even as it must have appeared to Ruth
that she was jumping over class barriers, she wasn't -
inside the club, or outside with David.
I pick up a book called Line Up For Crime, written by a famous
crime reporter of the 1950s called Duncan Webb.
There's a chapter on Ruth.
Duncan Webb had already met Ruth Ellis a few days before the murder.
And he describes her
in this book, Line Up For Crime.
This is Duncan Campbell, himself a highly respected crime reporter,
who is also an expert on the work of Duncan Webb.
"I met her in the bar of a public house not far from the Little Club."
Which is where she worked as a hostess.
"If you liked glittering ash blondes,
"you might have cared for Ruth Ellis.
"There could be no denying that she was attractive,
"in a nightclub sort of way.
"But behind the tinsel-like beauty that led so much to the doom of
"David Blakely, I could not help discerning a certain hardness,
"a brittle sense of calculation."
And this is around the time of Raymond Chandler and I think a lot
of crime reporters, then and now, kind of fancied themselves
as creating these pictures of the moll who walks into the room
and so on.
Webb met Ruth because he was investigating her boss,
Conley wasn't just running clubs.
He was one of the West End's biggest criminals.
Webb dubbed him "the monster with the Mayfair touch".
So Ruth wasn't just rubbing shoulders with wealthy men,
she's consorting with criminals.
I know from a guy who worked at one of the other clubs that Ruth
worked at, the Court Club,
that the reason Ruth was paid a good salary
was because she knew how to keep quiet.
What did Ruth know that she had to keep quiet about?
She clearly felt she had something to hide about the origin of the gun.
Buried deep in Ruth's lawyer's notes is a conversation that took place
between Ruth and the detectives
about the source of the murder weapon.
"When I came up to the Hampstead court on the 20th of April,
"I saw Chief Inspector Davies who said,
"'You were not quite truthful in your statement, were you?'
"I said, 'In what way?'
"He said, 'We don't believe your story about the gun.'"
But Ruth insists she can't remember the man who gave her the gun.
And here the trail seems to stop.
They don't take fingerprints from the weapon.
Forensic science was in its infancy.
And they don't use any other methods to trace its ownership.
And this is a Smith & Wesson,
is that a common revolver in circulation?
Yeah. I mean, they're a huge company.
This is post-war, so there were millions of weapons floating around.
Remember, you've had thousands
and thousands and thousands of servicemen
in the UK coming back, having served abroad.
And they all would have been issued with their own weapon.
There's no records kept of whatever happened to them.
Some will have been lost.
In that day, they were fairly easy to get hold of.
I feel like I haven't gotten any closer than the original detectives
did in establishing where the gun came from,
or the events directly leading up to the murder.
So I decide to scroll back a bit,
to where Ruth's life appeared to go seriously off-track.
According to Desmond's statement, Ruth lost her job at the Little Club
just before Christmas 1954
and moved in with him at Goodwood Court, in Marylebone.
Apparently, her plan was to take modelling lessons and improve
herself, but four months later, she would shoot David.
This is around the time that Ruth made the cassette
that Laurie lent me.
'Um... Repeat. Bob said...
'Bob used to say that he liked to seduce these two English girls."
-Is this Ruth Ellis?
I haven't actually listened to the rest of Laurie's tape,
apart from the bedroom chat with Desmond.
This must be a party happening at Desmond's flat.
This doesn't feel like the prelude to a murder.
It sounds like a happy event.
And there's Andrea.
Hang on, that's David.
I wasn't expecting to find him here.
It's hard to listen to this,
knowing how soon it would all come to a head.
So far, I've only looked in detail at Desmond and Ruth's witness
statements, as well as the Detective Chief Inspector's report.
But then I come across a statement
from a French tutor called Marie Therese Harris.
Mrs Harris contacted the police four days after the shooting on the 16th
of April. She tutored Ruth between January and March before the murder,
presumably part of Ruth's plan to improve herself while she was living
at Desmond's flat.
-Leave me alone!
-I'll let you alone when you promise to leave...
Mrs Harris describes how Ruth is covered with bruises,
that she looked like a person on the verge of a breakdown.
One day, she is let in by Andrea, who is home alone.
And then this, the primary reason she contacted the police.
"I chatted with the little boy
"and mentioned we were troubled by pigeons."
"He said, 'What you want is a gun.'
"And with that he opened the drawer of the table on which I was writing.
"In the drawer, I noticed, among other things, were two guns,
"which at first I thought were his toys.
"He handled one, the larger one, and then said, 'It's all right,
'It's not loaded.'
"Then he put it back and closed the drawer and I left the flat."
The DCI makes no mention of this statement in his summing up.
And Mrs Harris never appeared in court.
But, to me, her testimony that there were guns at the flat suggests
at least the possibility that the murder weapon
could have come from Desmond.
The gun used to kill David is held at the Metropolitan Police Crime
Museum. I contact the curator for the serial number.
I approach the Smith & Wesson archives in America
and give them the number. 719573.
They tell me that the murder weapon was part of a shipment of 1,500
revolvers for the British military, that went from Springfield,
Massachusetts, to Cape Town, South Africa, on December 1st, 1940.
Then I start looking into Desmond.
Here he is, fresh-faced, just joined up to the RAF,
before being sent to South Africa where he underwent training in 1942.
That's a strong possible link
between Desmond and the murder weapon.
A link which existed in 1955, had anyone looked for it.
The police's failure to thoroughly investigate the gun confuses me.
I call a conference with Brian, Andy and Louise,
and ask them for their conclusions about the decision not to treat
Desmond Cussen as a suspect.
Just to be a detective, you have to have this inherent
curiosity and need to know exactly what's happened, to know facts.
It just appears there was no direction at all.
Just an acceptance of what was put in front of them on the desk.
Well, that's it, then. And I find that a little bit niggly.
There's a huge gap in relation to Cussen,
as to where he was when all this was going on.
And I wanted to say to him,
where were you when you first found out what had happened?
-He was never asked that question.
And that, my feeling is, he would have been unable to have answered.
But not much comes out of the statement either.
It's all a bit vague and wishy-washy, is it not?
It's so blatantly obvious that he is, by omission,
telling an untruth.
The ex-detectives pick up on a detail that I hadn't noticed.
Ruth's claim that she took a taxi to the Magdala pub
on the night of the murder.
I know from when I first joined all those years ago
that the Met Police used to license the taxi drivers.
And the one thing a taxi driver would never do would be to upset or
get the police angry because they'd pull his badge.
They would hand in an umbrella, if it was left in the cab.
-Yeah, you're absolutely right.
-A licensed Hackney cab would have come
forward within 24 hours of the headlines.
-Being... Saying, "I took that woman."
I'm fairly certain that there was never ever any taxi driver.
Instead, these experts put Desmond at the scene, contradicting
his claims that he wasn't with Ruth on the night of the murder.
I mean, if you look at all the other times that Ruth is under pressure
and stress, and had arguments and fights with David,
she has gone to him and he's taken her.
-Early hours of the morning.
-Yet spent all night in Penn.
In the car with her, waiting for him to come out of the vicarage.
All this. But on the fatal night, for some reason, he stayed at home
-and can't remember.
-You know, I'm sorry, but I just don't wear it.
-I really don't.
-Not at all.
-He was involved, in the conspiracy, to murder David.
I go back to the cassette found after Andrea's death,
scouring it for any mention of Desmond.
Ruth and Andrea had moved out of Desmond's flat in Goodwood Court
and they were living in a bedsit in Egerton Gardens, Kensington.
Desmond Cussen's taxi.
Could he mean that Desmond actually owned and drove a black cab?
I discover that, after the trial,
a colleague of Ruth's told the police that Desmond did have a taxi.
So the taxi that Ruth took to the scene of the murder could well have
been driven by Desmond.
And that would place him at the scene of the crime.
So far, Andrea's missing testimony
differs dramatically from the witness statements taken.
Originally, I thought that Ruth put Andrea to bed and went out with the
gun, which is the version that appears in her statement.
But now it seems that Desmond
may have driven Ruth to the scene of the crime.
According to Muriel's account,
Desmond lied on his statement when he said he'd dropped Andrea
and his grandparents off at London Bridge Station.
She says he drove Andrea down to her house the day after the murder,
and that the boy had been told not to speak to anyone.
Had the police simply asked Andrea what he knew,
the murder investigation might have run very differently,
and Cussen might have been tried as an accessory, co-conspirator,
or even joint principal to murder.
-It's a very, very serious gap.
We've... Potentially, they have failed to investigate...
-..a murder suspect.
On April the 20th, 1955, just ten days after the police began their
investigation, the Detective Chief Inspector handed in his summing up.
The advice from the Crown's prosecutor was that the evidence on
the depositions was sufficient.
The police had done their job.
And yet they failed to fully examine Ruth's motive,
provide a complete account of the events leading up to the murder,
to investigate Desmond's role
or to nail the origin of the murder weapon.
Given what I've learned about how the police investigation
seems to have stereotyped, dismissed and prejudged Ruth,
I'm worried about her chances of a fair trial.
In the next episode, I investigate the court case.
Mrs Ellis, when you fired that revolver at
close range into the body of David Blakely, what did you intend to do?
I examine what came out in court and the agendas of all involved.
What was this man, John Bickford, from a City firm of solicitors,
how did he become involved with Ruth Ellis?
Because apparently he didn't know her before and apparently
she didn't ask for him.
Were Ruth's legal team inept, corrupt,
or simply restricted by the laws of the time?
Melford Stevenson was effectively forced to sit on his hands
and not defend his client.
-And I track down Ruth's niece,
who remembers another key piece of Andrea's missing testimony.
So what did Andrea say?
That he was standing watching,
as Ruth left with Desmond that night.
They both had a gun each.
That young boy of ten saw that and heard it.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media
In April 1955 Ruth Ellis shot her lover David Blakely dead. It's a case that shocked the nation and it still fascinates today. It has its place in ushering in the defence of diminished responsibility and the eventual abolishment of capital punishment. We all think we know the story, but why, when it was seemingly such an open and shut case, does it still divide opinion on whether Ruth Ellis got the justice she deserved? Film-maker Gillian Pachter wants to find out. The result is a fresh investigation with fascinating true-crime twists and turns that also shines a unique light on attitudes to class, gender and sex in 1950s London.
In this first episode Gillian takes a forensic look at the police investigation launched just after Ruth's arrest. Gillian is all too aware of the femme fatale persona that has stuck with Ruth since 1955. She wants to build Ruth Ellis back up from the evidence and this means looking carefully at the police documentation from the time. Gillian begins with Ruth's first statement where she confesses to the crime, but intriguingly states that 'she's confused'.
As Gillian follows the course of the investigation she uncovers some worrying assumptions, problematic omissions and missed opportunities. There's a key witness who was never questioned by the police - Ruth's 10-year old son Andre, who tragically took his own life in the 1980s. He left behind an audio cassette that features a recorded conversation where Andre shares his thoughts on his mother's case. Gillian uses this to piece together what the boy knew. Then there's the murder weapon; one of thousands of guns that flooded Britain during the war. Gillian traces its provenance and it leads her to a shocking conclusion.
Experts in policing shed new light on the involvement of a possible accomplice and Gillian tracks down those who met Ruth and David. A picture begins to build of their relationship and lifestyle and it's a unique snapshot of the complex world of post-war Britain that made and then broke Ruth Ellis.