After her death, Elvira Barney’s name was kept alive only in the world of “True Crime” writing. She features in endless books bearing titles such as “Masterpieces of Murder”, “Crimes of Passion”, “The Murderer’s Who’s Who” and so forth. All tell pretty much the same story, concentrating on the Mayfair Parties aspects of the case and the brilliance of Sir Patrick Hastings for the Defence. All assume Elvira’s guilt. Apart from the routine comments regarding Society high-jinks at a time of mass unemployment, there is very little in the way of social or psychological analysis, a notable exception being  Giles Playfairs “Six Studies in Hypocrisy“. Peter Cotes’ introductory essay to the Trial transcription remains the fullest description of the events surrounding the shooting and is hard to fault, as far as it goes.

Cotes’ book benefits from his knowing people who knew Elvira and from his one encounter with her (see One other crime-historian also used a personal anecdote to enliven an otherwise standard narrative.

Rupert Furneaux was a prolific writer on various subjects – military history, unexplained phenomena and celebrated murder trials. He produced the first full length study of the Erroll/ Happy Valley case. His 1962 book “They Died By A Gun” covers a number of well-known cases (Ruth Ellis, Madame Fahmy etc.) and his chapter on Elvira  (“Laugh, Baby, Laugh” ) adds a couple of face-to-face observations to an otherwise conventional re-telling.

Of Elvira he says, ” though a leading member of London’s Smart Set, Elvira was neither “gay” or “beautiful”. I remember her as drab, coarse, rather fat and usually drunk.”  I’m not convinced that Elvira was a leading member of any “Set”, smart or otherwise but the unflattering adjectives certainly correspond to other accounts of the post-1932 Mrs. Barney.

He concludes his piece with the following comments, “After the trial Mrs. Barney returned to her old life, to be pointed out in sleazy clubs and notorious pubs as “That’s Mrs. Barney”, a fame which lasted until her death in Paris a few years later. I once asked her if she shot Scott Stephen deliberately. Mrs. Barney threw a glass at me. I’m sure she threw it intentionally.”

Amusing as this might be, I think it is probably a fiction. Furneaux was living in Kensington in the early thirties so he may have known Elvira. However, the lack of specifics (where did this take place?) and the reliance on cliche ( I am sick of the term “sleazy clubs”, which applies to very few of the venues Elvira favoured) do not inspire confidence. As to what constituted a “notorious pub” is anyone’s guess. The point is, of course ,both to boost Furneaux’ credibility and to leave the reader in no doubt as to the “truth” of the shooting.

Ruth Ellis

The most promising  aspects of Furneaux’ account are the parallels he attempts to draw between Elvira and Ruth Ellis This is a bit stretched as to the facts but has some strength in terms of thinking about Elvira’s character and the possible similarities between Scott Stephen and David Blakey. A proper comparative study would be quite enlightening. In the absence of which, expect  the odd digression concerning Ruth Ellis to crop up here in the not too distant future.