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Gwynne Evans & Peter Allen: The Last People to be Hanged in the UK

Updated on September 7, 2014
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BritFlorida loves to track down historical stories, especially scandals and mysteries from the UK.

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A strange murder and a double hanging

Neither of the men you see pictured above could exactly be called the last man hanged in Britain because although the events took place in different prisons, they were both executed on the same day at exactly the same time. This was eight in the morning of August 13th., 1964.

Gwynne Evans (left in the image) and Peter Allen had committed a violent - and senseless - murder and despite the fact that their hangings were a turning point in British history, their names are little known.Many people have heard about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK. The case of Derek Bentley and Chris Craig is equally well-known because the wrong man was hanged.Another Evans, this time Timothy, was also an innocent man who met his legal, judicial death because of the murders committed by another - John Christie.

But Evans and Allen is a little-known combination. Yet the story of the pair should have been sensational, involving as it did a menage a trois, a badly bungled crime and a man with few intellectual powers.

Evans & Allen

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Evans and Allen were, respectively, twenty four and twenty one years old when they were hanged. Both could be described as petty criminals. Evans was a loner who had never been able to hold a job for long.He had enlisted in the army but had been dismissed. Like Timothy Evans, several years before, he was unable to hold a job down for more than a few weeks. With no prospects or skills, and minimal intelligence, it was easy to turn to petty crime.

Peter Allen had had a little more success in life - but only just. He too was unable to keep a job for long periods of time but at least he was married and led a more settled life, albeit including a life that included petty thievery.When Evans, who was something of a drifter, moved to Preston in Lancashire, he found lodgings with the Allen couple. A criminal partnership - and a menage a trois - was born.

The murder of John West

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John, usually known as Jack, was a middle-aged, single man who worked as a truck driver. Believed to be homosexual, he was visited one night by a man he knew slightly, Gwynne Evans.Evans had arrived in a stolen car in the company of Peter Allen and his wife and two young babies.

The men went into the house and, although the exact events will never be fully known, West was battered by an iron bar and stabbed in the chest.Neighbours who heard the noise of the scuffle and the sound of the car screaming away down the residential street, called the police who found West's body.They also found plenty of clues.

The menage a trois

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What on earth was Mary, Peter Allen's wife, doing in the car with her husband and lodger that night? Well, 'lodger' isn't quite the right description, as she and Gwynne Evans had embarked upon an affair.

She admitted their relationship during the murder trial and was known to have written him 'affectionate letters' when he was in jail, after the court case whilst the men were awaiting their execution ... or reprieve.

Investigation and arrest

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Showing a perfect example of his lack of mental bility, Gwynne Evans left his overcoat in the murdered man's home. All the information the police needed was right there.In the pockets of the coat were an army medallion - inscribed with Evans' name, a note from a girlfriend - including her address and the garment even had a name label. Add this to the fact that the abandoned, stolen car was quickly located and the two men were soon arrested.

In court, there was no doubt of their guilt. Unlike the cases of Ruth Ellis, Derek Bentley and Timothy Evans there was no question about the murder itself and who the perpetrators were.After a short trial, they were both sentenced to death.

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There was no question that the men were guilty. Jack West had been bludgeoned and stabbed by Evans and Allen - their meagre spoils being a watch and two bankbooks.But as the two men languished in jail, no-one expected that their fate would be that of hanging.

Capital punishment had long been debated and it was well-known that very few murders were executed at that time. Indeed, everyone knew that the death penalty would shortly be abolished. The previous year had seen only two hangings and people who had committed brutal murders had had their fates reprieved so that they faced life imprisonment.

Everyone, including the two prisoners, expected that this too would be their fate. But it turned out that they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many area authorities, knowing that the death penalty would be abolished, no longer hanged their murderers. But this wasn't the case in Lancashire.

The day before the arranged execution date, Mary visited her husband in jail and told him that time had run out - there had been no reprieve.So on that summer morning in 1964, the two men were hanged at exactly the same time. The death penalty was abolished the following year.

Recommended. Find out more

A Fine Day for a Hanging: The Real Ruth Ellis Story
A Fine Day for a Hanging: The Real Ruth Ellis Story

There are no books available regarding the hangings described above, presumably because the events didn't capture the imagination of the public.

On the other hand, the execution of Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in the UK, was a cause celebre. But did she really shoot her lover?Today this would be regarded as a crime of passion - that did not apply in those days. A fascinating read.

 

Capital punishment in the UK

Although the story of the two people who were the last to be hanged in the UK is largely unknown, there had been three cases in the few years previously that had changed public opinion. See details here.

A House to Remember: 10 Rillington Place
A House to Remember: 10 Rillington Place

Since the 1950s it has been generally accepted that Timothy Evans, an illiterate young man, was not the killer of his own wife and child.

Even though he was hanged for the crimes, a fellow-tenant in his shabby London home,later confessed to those crimes and the murders of several other women, including his own wife.But which was the true version?

 

See video

One of today's legal experts discusses the case in the video below. Interesting.

Let Him Have It
Let Him Have It

There is no current book in print about the affair of Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig. The two teenagers were apprehended by police when committing a minor robbery.

Craig, who was sixteen at the time, was armed. Bentley, a couple of years older, was not. Craig shot and killed a police officer. So why was Bentley hanged even though he wasn't armed and didn't commit the crime? Why was Craig not hanged?

 

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    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Reasonablerobby - so true! I suppose in those days hanging was thought of differently. He probably saw himself as an 'officer or the law' or something. As you say though, weird.

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      reasonablerobby 3 years ago

      Grim story, I find the story of Albert Pierrpoint the UK hangman really fascinating - everyday family man who hung people for a job. Well I suppose it meant he didn't take his work home with him.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Bill Armstrong - thank you. As you say, these things shouldn't be forgotten.

    • Bill Armstrong profile image

      Bill Armstrong 3 years ago from Valencia, California

      It's great to read about these events again, less we all forget what has happened in the world, great articles and thanks for sharing

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Interesting, Britflorida! I wonder what became of the wife. As always, a great read.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @JohnTannahill: They certainly shouldn't be forgotten. I'm trying to imagine what sort of sentences they would get today - fifteen years with time off for good behaviour?

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @stereomike83: I believe that I read that she remarried - within just a couple of years of the hangings. The chances are that she is still alive, as you say - she was probably born in the mid nineteen forties. It also makes me wonder what happened to the children.

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 3 years ago from Somewhere in England

      I suppose somebody had to be the last. It's tragic for these two men that they were it. I hadn't heard of them and they should be celebrated really - lest it should ever happen again.

    • stereomike83 profile image

      stereomike83 3 years ago from UK

      I read about this in one of the newspapers the other day and as you say, is surprising that given we now know them to be historic landmarks they are unknown. Even the fate of Mary is unknown today as she could quite easily still be alive today

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Brite-Ideas: I'm completely against it too (as you can probably tell). In the case of these two men, they certainly committed the crime, although robbery was their intention and it wasn't a pre-meditated murder. But in other cases, guilt wasn't proved.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      always interesting to read your UK stories! quite fascinating - I'm absolutely against the death penalty, fortunately Canada and the UK are on the same page regarding that position today - a couple of reasons I'm against it; 'Though shall not kill' <--doesn't say 'though shall not kill unless your heart is filled with hate and vengeance and someone else satisfies those emotions by doing it for you' and the fact that many times the wrong people are put to death - I always enjoy reading your pages Jackie!