There was some dispute as to where “Michael” Scott Stephen was actually living at the time of his death. Elvira gave the police his parents’ address (Doubleton House, Penshurst, Kent) and the initial newspaper reports gave the Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly, as his residence.
The reading of the Will also gave Thomas William Scott Stephen’s address as the Park Lane Hotel. Given that his assets amounted to the princely sum of £5 one has to wonder how he afforded a room in one of the best and most fashionable hotels in London.
The Park Lane hotel, built in 1927, was (and remains) one of the finest Art Deco buildings in the Capital. There is a good article about it here http://www.historichotelsthenandnow.com/hotels/europe/united-kingdom/the-park-lane-hotel-london/ . It featured a fine ballroom and I have no doubt that Elvira and her friends dined there and danced to the likes of Jack Hylton’s orchestra. However, I doubt Stephen spent more than the odd night there and am a bit puzzled as to the certainty that both the press and the Probate Office showed in giving that address. Had Stephen just booked in? Was this part of his attempt to leave Elvira? Or, could it be that this was a place he used for other assignations – be they sexual or to do with his alleged gambling and drug dealing?
The police certainly did not waste time at the hotel. All Elvira’s disgruntled neighbours claimed that Michael lived at the Mews dwelling and all of Elvira’s friends said he lived on the Brompton Road. Detective Sergeant Scurr went to 178 Brompton Road and made a list of what he found in a room there. Assuming that he was as meticulous in this instance as he was in cataloguing Elvira’s magazine, his findings are worth noting. Apart from a useful insight into male attire in 1932 they do, I think, say something about Michael’s existence in the months leading up to his death.
“On the 1st June 1932, I went to 178 Brompton Road and searched a bedroom which had been occupied by the deceased man, Michael Scott Stephen. In that room I found a photo of Elvira Barney, one dress suit, one dinner jacket, one white dress waistcoat, one blue cloth waistcoat, light grey waistcoat and pair of trousers, one blue lounge suit, one pair grey flannel trousers, one mackintosh, three pairs of shoes, one pair of slippers, one dressing gown, two tennis shirts, one dress shirt, one or two day shirts, some ties, socks and handkerchiefs. There were no hats, night attire or underclothing. There were some testimonials referring to Michael Scott Stephen.”
178 Brompton Road 2010
Was there nothing else in the room? No other letters, no books or newspapers? If there had been anything else of interest we can be sure the good Detective Sergeant would have mentioned it. It does not appear to be a place where Michael spent much time – essentially it is a changing room. The absence of underwear and nightwear would support the neighbours’ claims that he was indeed resident at 21a. Elvira was more keen to hide this fact from the world, and particularly her parents, than any other – which, incidentally, casts doubt on her status as a rebellious non-conformist.
But it is the photograph of Elvira that interests me. It might have been there just for Elvira’s benefit, assuming that she visited this room. On the other hand, it may indicate genuine affection. It could be that Michael was fonder of Elvira than the press and later commentators have suggested. Many of the police interviewees said that he was as smitten with her as she was with him – notably Dora Wright, the presumed object of Elvira’s jealousy. This is not usually given much credence – Elvira’s circle was keen to play down any history of discord between the couple – but it may well be true.
Anyway, it doesn’t appear to have been much of a “gigolo’s lair”. The range of clothing is just about the bare minimum a young man who enjoyed the sort of social life that Michael lived would have needed. It hardly speaks of great excess or extravagance. If, as is likely, his main source of income was Elvira then the bulk of the money was going elsewhere. It is not as if there was anything much of his at 21 William Mews (apart, one hopes, for some underwear).
Brompton Road itself is a pretty good address but Michael only sub-let one room – the ground floor was an antiques shop and there were other tenants, probably friends of Michael. The whole set-up is not exactly squalid but nor has it any glamour – even of the seedy sort that the press was keen to pursue.
Like most things concerning Michael Scott Stephen it is all a little sad, and bears a definite tinge of failure. The testimonials suggest that he was, or had recently been, looking for employment. He was borrowing from everybody, according to Arthur Streek, and was not really going anywhere. Elvira said that their arguments were largely about his gambling debts and I’m inclined to think that there is some truth there. I can’t take seriously Cotes claim that he was a drug-pusher (at least not one of any competence). He most certainly was a drug-user but Elvira would have paid for that particular vice. If he lived off other men and women, as was claimed, he did not do that with any great acumen either.
No, this is a young middle-class, primarily gay man (“well -known in one particular section of London society” as the papers said), who wanted to enjoy a Mayfair lifestyle on little or no income. He needed Elvira – why else does he put up with her tantrums? But what of that that photograph by his bedside? It holds some secrets, I am sure.