This day in history: January 9, 1923 - The execution of Edith Thompson.
Edith Jessie Thompson was married to Percy Thompson and living in Essex when she began an affair with lodger Freddy Bywaters. When the affair was discovered Percy grew violent and evicted Bywaters, although the lovers continued corresponding and arranging surreptitious meetings. On October 3, 1922, the Thompsons were returning from an evening out when a man leapt from the bushes and stabbed Percy; the assailant fled while Edith tended to her dying husband. Later at the police station she told the lawmen that Freddy Bywaters was the killer and informed them of their relationship. Bywaters was arrested, and the ensuing investigation turned up more than sixty love letters between Freddy and Edith that contained accounts of how she had aborted Percy's baby, and tried to feed him poison and shards of glass. The police arrested Edith and charged her with accessory to murder, although she professed innocence, and Bywaters repeatedly said he acted alone. Edith Thompson and Freddy Bywaters were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging.
Nearly one million people signed a petition against the death sentences. Although Edith was seen as a foolish woman it was considered repugnant to hang a woman (especially one so young and attractive), and no woman had been executed in Britain since 1907. Edith herself stated that she would not hang, but the Home Secretary refused to grant a reprieve. She spent her remaining days in a state of near hysteria, screaming and unable to eat.
John Ellis was her executioner, a man who had been involved in several high-profile cases (including the execution of Dr. Hawley Crippen) and who took his job extremely seriously. His aim was to end the life of the condemned with a minimum of pain and fuss, and he was constantly afraid of making errors. On the morning of January 9, 1923, Edith was heavily sedated but still agitated; Ellis wrote in his biography that she looked dead already. She had to be carried from her cell to the gallows by four men. She was hanged at 9:00 AM (Bywaters was hanged at the same time, albeit in Pentonville Prison a half-mile away), and when she fell she hemorrhaged a copious amount of blood from her vagina. Some speculate that she was pregnant at the time of death (she had gained weight during imprisonment despite not eating); others suggest the self-induced abortion damaged her uterus, and the force of the drop caused heavy internal damage. Some claim it was merely a heavy menstrual flow, as research done in Germany before and during World War 2 showed that menstruation was often interrupted by the stress of being tried and sentenced to death, but could resume from the shock of being informed of the actual date of the execution.
John Ellis was horrified by the bloody mess, and friends later said he never recovered from the event. He retired in 1924, attempting suicide later that year. On September 20, 1932, he drunkenly threatened his wife and child with a razor, then slit his own throat.
After Edith Thompson, all women hanged in Britain were required to wear a special garment to prevent such bleeding from becoming visible. Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be executed in Britain, on July 13, 1955.
Sources: Wiki, Capital Punishment U.K., Our Manchester