Elvira Barney had a reputation for all sorts of things – ebullience ,impulsiveness, arrogance and intemperance, to name a few. However, no-one , friend or foe, ever accused her of absolute consistency. Yet her statements to the police and her evidence in court are just that , consistent, – there is barely a change in tone or a factual contradiction to be found.
The version of events that she gave to Dr. Durrant -her own GP- when he arrived, while the body of Michael Scott Stephen was still warm, is, shorn of the wailing and lamentations, the same as her three police statements, her testimony at the inquest and her response to the prosecution at the trial. The only piece of additional information the Crown drew from her was the, patently obvious, fact that she and Michael had gone to bed together before the fatal row.That a woman in 1932 should attempt to conceal that fact says something only about societal attitudes rather than Elvira’s duplicity.
Nonetheless there are troubling elements within her testimony, some of which the prosecution might have profitably explored.
Of the three, very similar, police statements, this is the fullest -and to my mind the most telling.
“I am 27 years of age, of no occupation. I have been residing at the above address ( 21 William Mews) alone for about a year. I am a married woman living apart from my husband – John Barney- who is at present in America. The last I heard of him he was a singer. He left me about 2 and a half years ago- we were married in London in August 1929.
I have been cautioned that I am not obliged to make a statement but I am quite willing to do so.
I have known a man named Michael Scott Stephen of Doubleton House, Penshurst, Kent, for about a year. I was introduced to him through friends.
We were great friends and he used to come and see me from time to time. He had no occupation. He always used to see me home and last night he did so as usual. We had been out to dinner at the Cafe De Paris, Coventry Street, with Arthur Jeffress (30a Orchard Court, Portland Square). We left him and came home in my car, arriving home at 2am.”
(Note that there is no mention of the Blue Angel)
“Immediately we got home we had a quarrel about a woman he was fond of. He knew I kept a revolver in the house, I have had it for years. I do not know where it came from. It was kept in various places, last night it was under the cushion of a chair in the bedroom, near the bed. I was afraid of it and used to hide it from time to time.He knew where it was last night.
He took it from under the chair saying, ” I am going to take it away for fear you kill yourself”.
“He went into the room on the left and I ran after him and tried to get it back. There was no struggle in the bedroom, it was outside in the spare room, in the doorway. As we were struggling together – he wanted to take it away and I wanted to get it back, it went off. Our hands were together, his hands and mine, for a few minutes, I did not think anything had happened, it seemed quite all right, I did not think anything serious; he went into the bathroom and half shut the door; he said “Fetch a doctor” , I asked “Do you really mean it?”. I did not have the revolver at this time, I think it had fallen to the ground. I saw he looked ill, however, I rang up a doctor, no one answered. I went upstairs again and saw him sitting on the floor. I was then upset and began to cry. Again rang up the doctor and he said he would come.I went upstairs again. “quickly, why doesn’t the doctor come. I want to tell them what has happened. It was not your fault.” He repeated this over and over again. I tried to cut his tie off. I put a towel on his chest and brought pillows from the bedroom. I again rang the doctor (Dr. Durrant of Lancaster Gate Terrace) they said he was leaving. I again went upstairs and saw he was dead, and just waited. I do not remember what I did afterwards, I was so frantic. I am sure, as far as I know,there was only one shot fired.
Stephen and I have quarrelled before, but not often.”
There is an immediacy about this statement that has the ring of authenticity. It was taken less than twelve hours after the shooting, after all. However, it also bears the marks of a theatricality that makes me suspicious. The drama, frenetic as it is, is just a little too coherent.
Why was the gun, of which Elvira was so afraid, by the bed? How did Stephen know it was there? The prosecution asked the same questions.
What nobody asked, but which to me seems most problematic , is why a dying man, who nobody – even his friends -deemed heroic or altruistic in any sense, should be so insistent that a doctor be called urgently, not so much to save his life but so that he could attest to Elvira’s innocence. I can think of many things that I might yell out , having just been shot, but a desire to put on record the “truth” of the incident would be, I am ashamed to say, fairly low on my list of priorities.
However, that was Elvira’s story and she stuck to it – doggedly, consistently and, as it turned out, successfully.