One of the more striking aspects of the Barney case was a relative lack of interest shown by the prosecution in Elvira’s motives and even less in her emotional and psychological background. It is true that the latter factors were not given the weight that they would be today but the strength of the suspect’s motives were always part of any murder trial.
The prosecution was so confident of its ballistic expert and of the authority of the renowned pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, that it neglected to make full use of witness statements. Those of the Mews neighbours contained contradictions which are obvious even on a cursory reading. Sir Patrick Hastings exposed them fully. He then proceeded to cast grave doubts on Spilsbury and Churchill’s detailed but very dogmatic reports. Having done that, the prosecution case was left looking rather threadbare.
Elvira stated that her only rows with Michael Scott Stephen were over money and specifically his spending money, lent to him by her, on gambling. She admitted there was another woman involved but only to the extent that he went out gambling and playing cards with her. Their final, fatal row was, she said, over events earlier in the day, again involving money. Yet everyone at the cocktail party thought they were fine and the worst that was said of Elvira at The Blue Angel was that she seemed “excitable”. Why did they not argue earlier?
A different story emerges from her rather schoolgirlish letters to him which are all about jealousy and cruelty – jealousy on both sides, cruelty on his. They confirm,what most people thought, that the conflict was over emotions and not just financial. Stephen borrowed money everywhere and Elvira was not exactly hard-up.
The “other woman” line was never pursued with any great urgency. Terence Skeffington-Smyth mentions that “another woman is involved” and Arthur Streek names her as Dora Wright. The police got round to interviewing her just before the trial opened.
Dora Wright, also known as Peggy, lived at Flat 16, 115 Park Street, She told the police she was married and gave no occupation. She had first met Michael and Elvira together at Christmas at a cocktail party. She had seen them both frequently since then but saw more of Michael as they “played Bridge together at different places.”
The most interesting section of her very brief statement is this one,
“Mr.Stephen and I were very friendly indeed – we were Platonic friends and nothing more could be suggested.I believe Mrs.Barney was jealous of me and it is possible Michael might have told her he was leaving her for me just to annoy her, but I think he was really too fond of her to be serious about it. He used to bore us when he was away from her as he was always talking about her.”
Presumably the police had just suggested that she and Michael were intimate and her answer is what one would expect. Other questions spring to mind. How did she know that he “might have told” Elvira he was leaving her for Dora? Who are the “us”?
She then cites the last time she saw them together (first at The Prince of Wales Theatre and the Cafe de Paris) a few days before the tragedy. It seems an odd coincidence that she should be at both venues unless she accompanied them for the evening.Finally, after reporting that she saw Michael alone,briefly, on the saturday before the party, she says that she had never known Michael and Elvira to quarrel seriously, although they had “the usual tiffs that lovers have”.
The statement may well have been entirely true but it seems a little too concise and self-distancing. I think Dora was very much on her guard and am surprised that she was not questioned further (or earlier, for that matter.)
So who was Dora Wright? I don’t really know, I am afraid. She had first come across Elvira when as, Dolores Ashley, Elvira was on stage (1925-26) .That suggests that Dora might also have been an actress – and we know that actresses were very much part of Elvira’s circle.
She could be the Dora Wright who, having started out in the chorus, became a film production manager – best known for her work on three classic wartime documentaries (Fires Were Started,Listen to Britain and Target For Tonight). The dates are about right – born 1903 and therefore just two years older than Elvira. But I have, as yet, no real proof.
What I am convinced of is that Dora Wright knew considerably more about the couple than she was letting on. I think she was the cause of the final row and it is highly likely that Michael had threatened to leave Elvira for her and may have even been in the process of doing so when the gun “went off”.