DR JOHN BLAKELY OF CROOKES AND HIS 1934 TRIAL FOR MURDER

Originally from Glasgow Dr John Blakely lived and worked from a large house 203 School Road, in the Crookes district of Sheffield. His practice opened soon after the end of the First World War and he became, in subsequent years, the most popular doctor in the district. Tall dark and distinguished he had "the old-fashioned family doctor's air of curt, infallible mystery" that soon won the respect of any doubters. His patients were predominantly lower middle class: most were employed in either ill-paid white-collar jobs or in skilled trades. However the prospect of unemployment and ill health were never far away in the Sheffield of the late 1920's and 1930's and so it was not uncommon for families to descend into poverty almost overnight. Prior to the founding of the NHS poverty meant no access to doctors as doctors visits had to be paid for. Fortunately John Blakely never refused to treat a patient on the grounds of ability to pay and would  allow them to pay his bill at the rate of sixpence a week should  circumstances dictate such an arrangement. This concern with the welfare of his patients was to be reciprocated in the first few months of 1934 when Dr Blakely was charged with the murder of a 25 year old unemployed waitress

 On 10 February 1934 a small news item appeared in the Daily Herald under the headlines:

DYING WAITRESS RIDDLE - DRIVEN HOME THEN CAR VANISHED

The story of a dying girl being driven home in a motor which disappeared was told at the inquest yesterday at Sheffield on Phyllis Staton, aged 25, an unemployed waitress who died in hospital. The inquest was adjourned.

The girl's father said that she had been keeping company with a professional man for two years. In the middle of January she left home and he received two letters with a Sheffield postmark but no address. On Saturday last, he added, the girl returned home and fell on the floor saying: 'Oh Mother I shall die.' The father rushed outside and saw a motor car being driven away. The girl's sister said that when she asked who had brought her back she said 'The Doc.'

 Eleven days later on 21 February 1934 the Daily Telegraph carried a longer news story under the headlines:

DOCTOR & WAITRESS ALLEGED STATEMENT IN MURDER CHARGE

Dr John Blakely, 49, of School Road, Sheffield, appeared on remand at Sheffield yesterday charged with the murder of Phyllis Staton, 25, an unemployed waitress. A further charge was preferred of unlawfully applying a drug for a certain purpose.  Mr. J. W. Chant, prosecuting, said that during the past eighteen months the woman had been continually in the company of Dr Blakely. She left home on 15 January and her parents did not see anything more of her until 3 February when there was a knock on the back door of the house and the girl fell in. Dr Blakely was then seen driving away in his car. The woman died in hospital the next day from acute septicaemia. Detective Superintendent Bristow produced a statement alleged to have been made by Dr Blakely in which he said that he had given the woman some drugs but denied having carried out an illegal operation. He admitted intimacy with the girl but said that she had been with other men and that she had picked upon him because of his being better off than the others. Superintendent' Bristow in answer to Mr. F. W. Scorah, defending, said that he could find no evidence to support any allegation about Miss Staton's relations with men. Dr James Clark, medical superintendent of Sheffield City General Hospital, said there was no evidence of any illegal operation or the taking of drugs. Asked if it was possible for a medical man to procure an abortion without leaving any evidence the doctor replied 'Yes, it is.'

The hearing was adjourned until today.

The local paper The Sheffield Daily Telegraph gave a more detailed report of the proceedings in its edition dated 21st February 1934

 

The following day 22 February the Daily Telegraph reported:

DOCTOR ACQUITTED ON MURDER CHARGE

 After hearing the speech for the defence the Sheffield magistrates last night dismissed the charges brought against Dr John Blakely, 49, of the murder of an unemployed waitress Phyllis Staton, 25, and of supplying a certain drug to the girl knowing it to be intended for unlawful use. The presiding magistrate said the evidence was so weak that no jury would convict. For the prosecution it was alleged that Dr Blakely had procured a miscarriage in such a way that a post-mortem would not implicate him and that a drug had been used. For the defence, Mr F. W. Scorah said that the miscarriage was perfectly normal. There was no evidence that the accused had anything to do with it.

Taken from The Times dated Friday, February 23rd 1934 (page4,Issue 46686)

No one can fault the Sheffield magistrates' opinion that no jury would convict on that evidence. The Crown's case was a non starter as Dr Blakely had admitted nothing damaging in his statement and the principal witness, Miss Staton, was dead. What does not appear to have been questioned was the fact that Miss Staton had been Dr John's mistress for at least eighteen months prior to her death. However the effect of the trial on the doctor's practice was nil - whatever the patients thought they kept to themselves. The goodwill the Doctor had built up in the district had indeed stood him in good stead

However the case put a further strain on his marriage to his wife Annie. By 1934 John and his wife Annie had been married 21 years and were the parents of three boys Derek Andrew Gustav, John Brian, David Moffett Drummond and a girl Maureen. According to people in the locality the marriage was not a particularly happy one. Dr Blakely was very much the archetypal doctor, fond of golf and staying at home, whilst his wife, who was by all accounts a smart sophisticated woman, preferred a far more active social life.  The children were looked after be a nanny The youngest son David Blakely was almost five when his father appeared on this charge of murder and it is most improbable that he either heard or knew of the case.  Nevertheless it was clearly an incident that was unlikely to strengthen the marriage of David's parents. Phyllis Staton was one of the major frictions in the break-up, which came early in the Second World War. On 24 May, 1940, Mrs Blakely was granted a decree nisi for the dissolution of her marriage 'by reason that since the celebration thereof the said Respondent [Dr Blakely] had been guilty of adultery'. No woman was named in the suit. The divorce became absolute on 2 December, 1940. On 4 February, 1941, at the age of 47 Mrs Blakely remarried Humphrey Wyndham Cook, the wealthy son of a wholesale draper.

On the face of it this is just a small provincial drama that in most cases would have been forgotten in the mists of time. The reason why it was not forgotten lies in the life (and death) of Dr Blakely's youngest son David. David Blakely was shot and murdered outside the Magdala pub in Hampstead, London on Easter Sunday 1955. The person who pulled the trigger was

Ruth Ellis who was hung for the murder  - the last woman to be hanged in England.   

The Daily Telegraph  dated June 27 1999 contained an article on David Blakely's car and threw an interesting light on the events surrounding his murder.

A number of books periodicals and articles have been written over the years about the events surrounding the murder of Davis Blakely and the subsequent execution of Ruth Ellis. By far the most authorative and well researched book on the subject is one that was released in September 1912. The following information is taken from the Amazon website. I can thoroughly recommend this book  should you want to know more about the life and sadly the death of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to executed by the British government. 

Book Description - A Fine Day For A Hanging by Carol Ann Lee

6 Sep 2012

In 1955, former nightclub manageress Ruth Ellis shot dead her lover, David Blakely. Following a trial that lasted less than two days, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. She became the last woman to be hanged in Britain, and her execution is the most notorious of hangman Albert Pierrepoint's 'duties'.

Despite Ruth's infamy, the story of her life has never been fully told. Often wilfully misinterpreted, the reality behind the headlines was buried by an avalanche of hearsay. But now, through new interviews and comprehensive research into previously unpublished sources, Carol Ann Lee examines the facts without agenda or sensation. A portrait of the era and an evocation of 1950s club life in all its seedy glamour, A Fine Day for a Hanging sets Ruth's gripping story firmly in its historical context in order to tell the truth about both her timeless crime and a punishment that was very much of its time.

Postscript

 

Sources

The Daily Herald

The Daily Telegraph

The Times

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph 21st February 1934

Ruth Ellis - The Last Woman to Hang (1963) - Robert Hancock

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