Elvira’s behaviour after the trial rapidly turned her, in the public eye, from a figure of some sympathy into an object of scorn and disapproval. Rumours of a party at the Berkeley Hotel on the day of the acquittal did not help nor did the photographs of her smiling broadly on her return, the following day, from a hairdresser’s appointment. Her beloved and expensive car also seems to have caused offence.

More damaging was a ghost-written article, promising to be the first in a series, which appeared in the Sunday Dispatch on July 10th. A lurid piece, printed together with what purported to be Michael Stephen’s diary, it opened with the phrase “I write in tears” and went downhill from there. It said much about her great love for the deceased but did not allude to the “wild” lifestyle that the public wanted to hear about and which it saw as at the bottom of the tragedy. Elvira was simply not contrite enough nor did she admit to breaking any moral codes. The backlash was swift, questions were asked in Parliament and no more articles appeared.

Elvira left for St.Raphael in France at the end of the month. She could not, however, keep out of trouble.Drunken scenes on the ferry and in a hotel were followed by a serious car crash on the road to Cannes. On July 30th or 31st she collided with the car of Countess Katrina Karolyi, the wife of the exiled Hungarian Prime Minister, and herself a glamorous figure on both the French and English social scene.

Mirror Photograph of Countess Karolyi by Andre Kertesz

The Countess, variously known as Catherine, Katrina or Katinka, received injuries to her arm as her car was shunted 50 feet across the road and into a telegraph pole. An unnamed man in Elvira’s car was cut about the face and arms.Elvira was arrested but not immediately charged. As ever her main concern was her mother’s reaction. Fortunately the Countess was not, as first thought, critically injured and the story was rather buried at home – although the overseas press gave it maximum coverage.

Some months later Elvira was given a nominal fine for (wonderful term) “furious driving”. She was however forced to pay considerable costs and damages. Elvira was not present at the hearing. She was according to her parents recuperating in a nursing home after an emotional breakdown.

This, after the murder trial and the barely avoided scandal of the events surrounding the mysterious suicide of Gertrude Gamble (post forthcoming), was, for Lady Mullens, the last straw. Elvira was from now on kept at a distance and on a considerably reduced allowance. She divided her time between Paris and West End hotels and possibly attempted a change of name.

Occasional touches of defiance remained; she is believed to have told the dancers at the Cafe De Paris “Yes, go on and stare. I’m the woman who shot her lover”.  The drinking and drug-taking continued. However, her moment in the public eye, first as the unfortunate victim of an immoral lifestyle then as the personification of that immorality, had passed. Her death in 1936 went largely unnoticed.

The Karolyis continued in exile in France and then London. Katrina became known as “The Red Countess” – both she and her husband had moved politically to the Left, to the extent of being denied entrance to the USA. She died in 1985.

for earlier incidents involving cars see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/of-cars-and-car-crashes/

Advertisements