In August of 1932, probably on Friday 26th, a forty two year old woman called Gertrude Gamble committed suicide by throwing herself from a window of her hotel room in Half Moon Street. For the previous three years she had been known as Barbara E, Graham and had a history of drug dependency and depression. Her inquest aroused some interest as her suicide note had mentioned Elvira Barney who, along with one Tom Chadbourne, she blamed for her current state of despair. Elvira’s father attended the trial but the inquest did not pursue that line of inquiry.
Half Moon Street
This was fortunate for the Mullens family because apart from her final note Gertrude had sent two letters, one to Elvira and one to her mother, containing some outrageous accusations. The Daily Sketch had got hold of these but passed them on to the Police who (officially anyway) dismissed them as the ramblings of a very disturbed individual. The sex scandal contained in the letters I have dealt with already (see http://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/audrey-and-kenneth-carten/ ) but there is other information contained within them which, if true, tells us quite a lot about Elvira and her lifestyle in the aftermath of the trial. It is not a very uplifting tale.
According to her letters, Gertrude had been “employed” to look after Elvira following the trial. Her mother had wanted Elvira to undertake a “rest treatment” in the country, On the threat of the “country house” cure Elvira had rushed round to Gertrude, who tended to her while they made arrangements to go to the South of France. Gertrude tells of nursing her and bathing her head after Elvira had downed a bottle of brandy. Elvira left for France with the Cartens and Gertrude followed.
To Gertrude’s apparent horror, Elvira had got very drunk on the boat and instead of heading to the Hotel Continental in St.Raphael had stayed the night in a sleazy hotel nearby. She then told Gertrude that she wanted to be with friends in Cannes and gave the hitherto loyal carer money for a second-class ticket home. Elvira didn’t see her off – she was meeting the young man with whom she was to have the car car crash later that day (http://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/princess-karolyi-and-more-car-crashes/).Feeling deceived and smarting from an attack on her own narcotic excesses, Gertrude, on her return to London, wrote to Lady Mullens, detailing her daughter’s many vices and presenting herself as the victim of a callous and calculating degenerate. She wrote pretty much the same angry note to Elvira.
Two extracts from the letters are particularly revealing, Firstly, in an attempt to uphold her own character she writes “As for the drugs – I can refer you to Dr. Ripman who will tell you that I take my 3 pills a day just like a dose of medicine. I don’t drink, I don’t sniff cocaine and I don’t keep pimps.” Although I’m not sure she’s got the right word with “pimps”, this, if accurate, is confirmation of Elvira’s general predilections, which though widely suspected are elsewhere only hinted at.
Secondly, she suggests that Elvira’s motives in sending her packing were so that no stories of her excesses might get back to England, causing her mother to cut Elvira’s allowance. Given that Elvira’s actions had precisely the opposite effect this seems unlikely but it gives weight to a fairly constant feature in Elvira’s various scrapes – she was always more concerned with what her mother might say and do than any action on behalf of the authorities.
Whether these letters were ever received and how the Daily Sketch got hold of them is a mystery. How true they are is also uncertain. They are certainly not “deranged” in the way the Police argued. The betrayal they speak of has the ring of something deeper; they bear all the hallmarks of the revenge of a spurned lover. There is also a distinct class antagonism about them (“you say I am not good enough to know your daughter but.. etc”).
Anyway, three weeks later Gertrude Gamble was dead. It is fairly safe to assume that her passing was not much mourned by the Mullens family. In three months Elvira had (probably) shot her lover, Michael, nearly killed Countess Karolyi in a car crash and, in the mind of one sad soul at least, hastened the suicide of a former companion.Not exactly what one would term an uneventful summer.
Incidentally, the Hotel on Half Moon Street was owned by Charles Urban, the pioneer of colour cinema. Gertrude’s last note was to Mrs. Urban, apologising for any trouble her actions had caused.
Read more about Charles Urban here http://www.charlesurban.com/index.html