Portrait of Ruth Ellis

Ruth Ellis was hung in Holloway Prison in 1955 for shooting her lover, David Blakely, in broad daylight outside a London pub. In court her defence tried to convince the jury that there was imitating circumstances to the murder in that Ruth was ‘not of sound mind’, but she was unwilling to play the role of the victim. To the horror of her solicitors she appeared in court with freshly died peroxide hair, her appearance as a ‘brassy blonde’ meant that she was less likely to gain public sympathy. Together with her steely composure and a matter of fact attitude to the killing meant that the jury was not long in deciding that she was guilty of murder and the judge sentenced her to death by hanging.

Ruth’s defence was meagre, various issues which would have helped her case were not examined in court. That fact that Blakely had caused Ruth to have a miscarriage with their child or that Ruth had assistance in obtaining and using the gun were both not examined.

The case is one of the most controversial in British legal history, it divided public opinion at the time and caused a national outcry to try the prevent the hanging. Despite last minute attempts to save Ruth from the gallows the hanging went ahead on 13th of July 1955, seeing her as the last women to be hung in Britain. Britain’s conscience over this act brought compassion to murder law by introducing diminished responsibility to the statute books as well as contributing to the abolition of capital punishment in Britain.

I used a photographic portrait of Ruth wearing a pearl necklace and etched it onto the piece of 1955 J. Whatman paper. I hand strung pearls around Ruth’s neck to resemble the necklace and continued to string them into a hangman’s noose.

26 / 1955 / Portrait of Ruth Ellis / Iona McCuaig / paper, pearl beads