They called Ronald Cooper the luckiest killer in Britain when he was sentenced to death, because just a few weeks earlier a new British Government had let it be known that it would probably discontinue capital punishment.
Not so lucky was Joseph Hayes, who was counting out the wages for his factory employees at his home in Longbridge Road, Barking, on JULY 23rd, 1964, when Cooper, armed with a revolver, knocked at the door. Demanding the cash which he knew was there, Cooper opened fire and Hayes fell mortally wounded.
A second shot wounded Mrs. Elsie Hayes, who screamed for help as the killer ran off.
Cooper conveniently left his fingerprints in the Hayeses hall, and he was known to police. By the time he was traced he had flown to Nassau in the Bahamas. It took six weeks for extradition proceedings to go through – by which time the new government was in office and the death penalty was almost certain to be abandoned.
Had Cooper been extradited quickly he might not have been so lucky. When he was finally arraigned at the Old Bailey on December 9th everyone knew why he was smiling as the judge went through the formality of sentencing him to death.
Ronald Cooper failed by a whisker to become the last man to be executed in Britain. His death sentence was predictably commuted to life imprisonment and he was released in January, 1980, aged 41.