I am now almost certain that Effie Leigh is a pseudonym.For whom, unfortunately, I still have no idea.

Effie Leigh is thanked for her help with Peter Cotes’ The Trial of Elvira Barney. We learn that, apart from Lady Mullens, she was the.only person Elvira wished to see while awaiting trial. She must have been a friend of Elvira’s for a while as she provides the fullest account of the brutality with which Mr.Barney had treated his wife during their short-lived marriage.

“One day she held her arms in the air, and the burns she displayed – there and elsewhere – were, she insisted, the work of a husband who had delighted in crushing his lighted cigarettes out from time to time on her bare skin.”

So, we need someone who knew Elvira well, had done so for some time,was still alive in the early 1970s and was presumably now so respectable that she wished to remain anonymous.If it is someone whose name is already linked with Elvira, then Viva King is the obvious candidate. She knew Elvira and the way she lived, had done so for some years, and must have been a friend – as Elvira apparently left her what little possessions she still owned at the time of her death (the portrait, in particular).

The main problem is that Viva King never exactly courted respectability and is quite happy in her own autobiography to talk explicitly about Elvira.

If it was someone who was around on the night of the shooting then Irene MacBrayne is a possibility. The other (named) actresses were a little too young to have known Elvira in the late 1920s. By the 1970s, MacBrayne was, I think, Irene Holdsworth, a writer on pet cats and travel, so may not wanted to have identified herself too closely with the wildness of her youth.She was at three of the four social gatherings on the 30th May, so can reasonably be seen as a “group member”. But given that I’m not even sure I’ve got the biography correct then this does seem rather like clutching at straws.

Who else? Is there a clue in the name? There’s a Victorian novelist called Effie Leigh, are we looking for a writer? Of the party set, Marjorie Firminger was still about and thought of herself as an author (others would disagree). Again though, why would she wish to conceal her identity?

When you read about other cases involving scandalous females, Ruth Ellis or Christine Keeler for instance, the most reluctant witnesses tend to be women who later “married well”. The problem with Elvira’s world is that that applies to so many of her contemporaries as to be pretty meaningless.

I have one final candidate . Elvira was, by the end of her short and stormy life, pretty well disowned by her family, but this was not (quite) yet the case at the time of the shooting. Could the prison visitor have been her sister Avril? She lived until 1978, she was friendly enough with Elvira up to at least 1931 ( Broderick Haldane dined with them both that year) and Avril certainly married well, three times in fact (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/elviras-little-sister/ ). There is a logic about it and even Cotes’ description of the confidante as “one of Elvira’s friends” could be explained as part of the “pseudonymous” ruse. Of real evidence, however, there is not a whiff.

So, the search continues. Never mind. Blind alleys, false leads and red herrings have a charm of their own.

 

 

 

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