By the time of the shooting Elvira Barney had been living at 21 William Mews for just over a year.She says twelve months in her statement, the neighbours say eighteen – which is unsurprising; it probably felt even longer to them.
There is no recorded evidence of any trouble for the whole of 1931. However, the car crash in July and an autumn spent in Paris and Cannes, added to what seems a relatively quiet relationship with Mervyn Pearce, would account for that.
Michael Scott Stephen appears on the scene towards the end of the year. My guess is that they became close in Paris. By Christmas he has pretty well moved in. From this time on, the parties increase in frequency and so do the disturbances. Early in the year, not sure of the date, a neighbour recalls the couple rowing in the street and Elvira hitting Michael.
On Wednesday February 17th, at 10.30 am, the police received a complaint from a Mr.Elverton at No.11 who was fed up of people arriving at Elvira’s late at night, noisily and drunkenly. “Shouting and quarrelling took place and it was impossible for anyone living near to sleep.” It is worth noting that all of the Mews disturbances are on a weekday, Fridays and Saturdays were probably devoted to grander parties, trips to Paris or sojourns at Elvira’s weekend retreat in Henley. Given that the people who shared the Mews with Elvira were mostly chauffeurs with wives in domestic service and would have all had very early starts to their working day, one can imagine the level of her popularity.
Anyhow, the police were already aware of trouble in the early hours of Feb 17th, as P.C. Campbell had been summoned from his Knightsbridge beat by a taxi driver who had been told to fetch a policeman. The allegation was that there was a “lunatic” at No.21. The person who sent the taxi-man on this errand was the owner of 21, who gave her name as “Janet Burnett” and was having trouble ejecting four people from her flat,three men and one woman. All four had been drinking and one man was exceedingly drunk. The constable got them to leave. You will have surmised that Janet Burnett was Elvira herself. in the light of future events P.C. Campbell may have wondered about the true identity of the “lunatic” .
Two weeks later, on Thursday March 3rd, at 2am, Elvira again called the police saying that a downstairs window had been smashed and she wished to charge a man with assault and criminal damage. When Sergeant Barnes of Gerald Road arrived, he was told that the man had left in a taxi but Elvira would not name him nor did she wish to pursue the matter.
Barnes noticed red marks on Elvira’s arms and chest and, at her request, agreed for a Constable to keep an eye on the property in case the man should return. He also thought the window (on the ground floor) had been smashed from the inside.
The next incident, date unknown,,did not involve the police but was when Elvira locked herself in the bedroom and a worried Terence skeffington-Smyth and some others had gone looking for a ladder to check that she was all right. (see
). These events were also recalled by other Mews residents.
On 15th April Elvira rang Gerald Street station around midnight, to ask them to eject a man from the premises. When the police arrived they found Michael Scott Stephen quite sober but Elvira very drunk. Stephen left without arguing but not before making Elvira promise “not to do anything” . He explained to the officer that this referred to often mention threats of suicide with “a revolver or poison”.
On 19th May, the most serious row yet took place. This was the occasion when Elvira apparently refused to lend Michael money, firstly for himself and then later, when he returned, to pay for his taxi. They fought – Elvira had bruises to her arms and Michael acquired a black eye and a swollen lip. It is also the occasion when Elvira leant out of the upstairs window and called out, “Laugh, Baby. Laugh for the last time.”. She then fired a revolver – into the street thought one witness, into the air in the flat according to Elvira. It must be noted that Michael, even in these heated circumstances, still seemed more concerned about Elvira shooting herself rather than him.
There was one more disruption to sleep patterns of the Mews residents. Either on the 24th or the 25th a group of late night revellers arrived in a car yelling to be let in and threatening to go round to Elvira’s parents if not allowed access. Elvira ignored them.
Then on the morning of the 31st of May, Michael Scott Stephens died of a single gunshot wound somewhere between the bathroom and the upstairs landing of number 21 – bringing the parties and the scenes of late night chaos to a dramatic end.