The police found a few love letters at 21 William Mews, two of which were presented to the court, They make peculiar reading and are not easily accommodated within the official narrative of the affair. Both appear to have been written hurriedly and there is a directness and a sentimentality about them that is a little disconcerting. They offer unique access to the feelings of the protagonists in the affair, but they also contain information that is, in terms of the trial, inexplicable.

This from Elvira

“Tuesday evening

Mr. Darling Baby

I nearly had heart failure reading your letter, it was so divine. I’ve never been so thrilled over reading anything before.

I am sorry to reply on the typewriter, but I am rushing it rather so that I can post it early and you might get it in the morning, darling, long before I arrive down.

I am terrified you might not get the letter, so I won’t say much, but I really do love you darling, and even if this note were lost I wouldn’t care if anyone knew how much I love you.

You hand me the biggest thrills I’ve ever had, my sweet, and all I hope is we can go on being thrilled endlessly.

I adore it when you are sweet and kind to me, as I haven’t had a lot of affection in my life, as you have had. So you see it means a great deal and I feel like suicide when you are angry.

Sometimes when you are furious do try to think of the hell I had to endure with J.B. and then you’ll relent I think.

Don’t be too jealous with me, either, Baby please, as I suffered so much from that too , with him, and after all, if you trust me you won’t need to feel jealous. It absolutely ruined my marriage before, and it leads to all kinds of misery, so do be a bit broadminded. I won’t let you down, God knows why I should when you are so lovely.

I do hope you’ll be well soon, my darling. Take care of yourself for me

All  my love –

Really all

Elvira

I will read your letter dozens of times when I’m in bed tonight. I couldn’t until then read it, but I was alone as I promised and I drank to you darling.”

Because it is so artless and intimate, and intended for one person only, this letter is probably as close to  Elvira’s authentic voice that we can get. The fact that it appears to have been written in a hurry also adds to its credibility as a true approximation of Elvira’s emotional state in the weeks before the shooting.

As love letters go, it is hardly a literary gem. The image of Elvira as a worldly sophisticate is somewhat dented by its gushing  tone. But the picture it paints is vivid and very revealing.

Here is a woman who is passionate, completely infatuated and desperate for love. She is excitable and given to extremes of mood, She was deeply damaged by her disastrous marriage (JB is John Barney) and has missed out on genuine “affection”. When life goes wrong  she is quick to talk of suicide.All of this is in accordance with what we know of Elvira and bolsters the defence’s portrayal of her. Indeed, the letter was used to that end during the trial. But there are some loose ends.

When was it written? The general assumption was that it was the Tuesday preceding the shooting – which would mean the 25th of May.There is no proof of this though. There had been a huge row between them on the 19th  and this might be part of the making up process, but they rowed so regularly that it could well be earlier. The only “illness” Michael was suffering from that week, as far as we know, was a black-eye that Elvira had given him the week before. I doubt the “get well soon” refers to that.

The aspect of the letter than runs contrary to the narrative at the trial is contained in the phrase “Do try to be a bit broad-minded”. Rather than Elvira being jealous of Michael’s dalliances with other people it is the other way round, or at least mutual. There is also the issue of Michael’s temper. In the witness statements it is Elvira that is usually described as angry and furious, Michael comes across as relatively passive. Is Elvira lying? Unlikely, I would have thought, given the fulsome praise he receives throughout the piece.Of course, if Michael had been seen as just as volatile as Elvira, the story of an accidental shooting while he was trying to remove the gun from a suicidal woman would have sounded less plausible.

Finally, there is the afterword – the image of Elvira, like a love-struck teenager, reading and re-reading Michael’s letter, in bed and with a drink in her hand, rings the truest note of all. I think Michael was the love of her life, giving Elvira sexual satisfaction (“the biggest thrills”)  and the affection she felt had been denied her previously. If she thought that she was losing all that then the fatal row on the 31st May, allowing for Elvira’s history and the intensity of feeling shown in the letter, becomes , if not inevitable, almost predictable.

 

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