Tag Archive: Guns

Elvira’s Gun (Again)

After being acquitted of both murder and manslaughter, Elvira had to return to court to face a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm. The hearing was on the 21st July and was fairly brief. She was found guilty and fined £50.

Her demeanour at this trial was rather different from her earlier appearance. Though she was visibly distressed throughout the original proceedings and had been allowed to give her evidence while seated, she only broke down completely on hearing the “Not Guilty” verdict. She answered questions clearly and with no inconsistencies. She was also disarmingly frank when it came to the nature of her relationship with Michael Scott Stephen.

In contrast, she was in a state of high agitation during this less serious case. She wept constantly, her sobs almost drowning out the prosecution speech. She collapsed at the end and had to be helped from court. Given that the defence had pleaded guilty this could not have been through shock.

How one interprets this depends on how one views Elvira’s character and her state of mind. Although it was only three weeks since the crowd had cheered her at  The Old Bailey, the public mood had turned firmly against her. Her newspaper memoirs had been stopped after an MP had tabled a question in parliament and her lifestyle (and that of her associates) was being vilified in all corners of the press.

There was a possibility of a custodial sentence and she might have simply been acting, making her distress so apparent that such a judgement would have been seen as cruel and vindictive. She may, as her mother seems to have suggested, have been in the throes of a breakdown caused by the pressures of recent events.  She might have been genuinely unbalanced  – perhaps long before the actual horrors of recent weeks. Undoubtedly, if Elvira had appeared in court in modern times her psychological background would have played a more prominent part – both for the prosecution and defence.

What I find odd is the lack of curiosity as to why Elvira kept a revolver by her bedside at all. Was this not unusual? Elvira had owned the gun for the best part of ten years and had threatened to use it on more than one occasion. She admitted that it was kept loaded at all times but the most searching questions the prosecution asked where as to how Michael knew it was under a cushion in a chair at her bedside. Elvira said that it simply came with her from Belgrave Square along with her other possessions, but that seems unlikely given the relative sparsity of the furnishing of 21 William Mews. The whole matter is a bit puzzling.

The government ballistics expert, presumably a devotee of Freud, saw the gun as part of the fetishistic, sexual atmosphere he discerned in the Mews flat. However, given that he interpreted everything Elvira owned in that light, that might say more about him than Elvira. It does seem odd though, that her ownership of a gun should be deemed not to be in any way strange – in fact, it causes less distress to the media than Elvira’s fondness for Cocktail Parties.  I feel I am missing something here – was (unlicensed) gun ownership a less controversial issue in 1932 than it has since become?

Update on Charles Graves (2)

Further to https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/update-on-charles-graves/

I have now seen the aforementioned letters and though both appear to have been written by Charles they do confirm that the engagement was a more serious and public  matter than indicated in his autobiography. His mother Amy was deeply upset about the whole affair and Robert was, to say the least, less than sympathetic.In Charles’ defence he does appear to have attempted to end the engagement with care and consideration, which unfortunately did not impress Elvira (or anyone else). The relationship obviously caused great anguish to both the Graves and Mullens families and caused a lasting rift between Robert and Charles.

Robert Graves

The letters are largely concerned with justifying his actions to Lord and Lady Mullens and reveal little about Elvira. However, R.P. Graves’ biography of his uncle Robert  is a little more forthcoming.

“Charles’ career as a journalist was flourishing; but he had recently become engaged to a highly neurotic girl called Elvira Mullens, who had recently taken to her bed, explaining that she could not help being ill until she  was married. “I am disappointed”, Amy commented in a family letter “and Charles seems uneasy. Love should not come in such a devastating way.”  (The Assault Heroic p 295)

So, in 1924, Elvira already had a reputation as being  “highly neurotic” and was prone to erratic (well. downright eccentric) behaviour. For Elvira, love would always come in “devastating” ways.

Elvira in 1924/25

The account of the gun incident follows Charles’ reminiscence pretty closely (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/charles-graves/)

“What had happened to Charles was that he had fallen out of love with the neurotic Elvira Mullens, and had very sensibly broken off the engagement. Elvira had decided to commit suicide on the pavement outside Charles’s window, having first alerted him by throwing stones at his window. Luckily Charles spotted the pistol gleaming in her hand and arranged for a friend to distract her while he rushed from the front door and “made a grab for the pistol….She tried to pull the trigger but the pistol fell out of her hand and she fainted dead away.” This might well have led to a considerable scandal, especially as in those days it was thought to be  highly dishonourable for a man to break off an engagement, even if he did so having realised that marriage would lead to a lifetime of misery. Robert cert.ainly felt that he was justified in thinking of his brother as a “cad” and some years later threatened to expose him as such. However, Lord Beaverbrook, to whom Charles had made a clean breast of the whole affair, had allowed him to stay on at the Express, and Alfred and Amy (parents) had also taken a more lenient view of Charles’s actions.” (TAH p303)

Charles Graves

I’m still a little uneasy with Charles’ account of the events of that night but it seems to be generally accepted so I’ll let it pass. I was surprised at Robert’s reaction, I always thought he was more Bohemian than that. He himself was a bit “caddish” as far as Charles’ letters were concerned. On one of them , the real names are crossed out and fictional ones inserted. Robert was evidently going to use them in a short story or novel.

Whether Charles ever saw Elvira again is not known. As a journalist, theatre reviewer, sports correspondent and archetypal “man about town”, he definitely moved in similar circles. He was present at the infamous Bath and Bottle party (hosts – Brian Howard, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Eddie Gathorne-Hardy and Babe Plunket Greene) which is, for many, the very apex of the Bright Young People phenomenon. Like Elvira, he was a member of Ciro’s  and The Cafe De Paris and was a keen first-nighter and diner-out, so my guess is that their paths must have crossed at some point.

Ciro’s  – Mid Twenties

Elvira would have been 19 when engaged to Charles, who was 25. If engagements were the serious matter in the way that Robert patently thought them to be (I must confess, my knowledge of 1920s engagements is largely conditioned by P.G.Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster) then the effect of this rejection was likely to be great upon any ordinary young woman. On someone as highly-strung as Elvira, who knows what the lasting damage might have been?

To continue from




The third statement taken from other Mews residents was that of William Kiff. He was a chauffeur, who lived next door to Elvira on the same side of the Mews.

” I am a chauffeur and reside at No. 18a Williams Mews. I have lived there for the past two years. Mrs. Barney has resided at 21 Williams Mews for about 18 months. When she first came to live at No. 21 a fair man came with her and as he used to stay the night I concluded that he was living with her. At first I thought it was her husband. I have not seen this man with Mrs. Barney since last October when I came back from my holidays. after that she lived alone for a while but I cannot say how long. I should say it was somewhere about a month and then a man she spoke to as Michael used to stay there with her. It was getting on towards Xmas time when he came. Up to about six weeks ago he lived with Mrs. Barney continuously and then I think he went to the Park Lane Hotel Annexe . During the time the man Michael was living with her, there were frequent quarrels and I heard a high pitched voice shouting, but I did not know what the quarrels were about. All the quarrels were in the early hours of the morning.”

“Between a fortnight and three weeks ago, I heard Mrs.Barney shouting, I thought to myself “another quarrel”, but I did not hear his voice. I got up and went to the window which looks out into the Mews. I heard Mrs. Barney say “If you don’t go, I’ll shoot you, see this baby”. I then heard a shot fired. I was leaning through the window alongside a curtain, I did not open the window. Mrs. Barney’s voice appeared to come from the bedroom. The man Michael was standing by a drain opposite Mrs. Hall’s flat at No.10. I expected to see him fall but he didn’t. As he didn’t fall I concluded that she had fired a dummy bullet as I heard no whistle, or that she had fired in the air.I saw Michael speaking to Mrs. Hall, I did not hear what they said. After speaking to Mrs. Hall michael walked up the Mews towards the entrance. It was all quiet then and I went to bed. I heard footsteps coming up the Mews again and concluded it was him but I did not get up.”

William Mews Today

“Previous to the above incident, about six weeks ago and this time about midnight, I was awakened by Mrs.Barney screaming, and I got up and went to the window. I heard her say “The Police are coming”. I did not see either of them about. I think there was a party on and after the police came I saw some of them, men and women, put into a cab which drove away.

About a week before the tragedy, sometime during the night (I did not get out of bed to look at them) I was awakened by a crowd in the Mews shouting “Here we are darling”, undoubtedly outside No.21 . I laid in bed and later, I don’t know how long, I heard someone say “If you don’t let us in, we’ll go to Lady Mullens”. I did not hear Mrs. Barney or Michael that night.”

“On monday 30th May at about 7pm several cars began to arrive at Mrs. Barney’s flat and about two dozen persons went in. we counted up to sixteen men and then got tired and gave it up. I had to go away at about twenty to eight and returned about 8.15 and the party was still in progress and the cars were still there. The party broke up at nine o’clock, the people left and all was quiet. I did not see Michael and Mrs. Barney go away. I heard nothing more from No.21 until the early hours of the morning. Somewhere about 4 o’clock when I was awakened by Mrs. Barney screaming in No.21. I heard her gabbling away in a high pitched voice. I could not hear what she was saying. I did not hear a man’s voice. I got out of bed, came to the window of the Mews, looked out, but there was nobody about.I went back into the bedroom, did not go to bed. I spoke to my wife and then went back to the window to see if it was going to be quiet and worth going back to bed again.”


Elvira 1932

“It was fairly quiet then, no screaming, I thought the quarrel was over. I went into the kitchen to see the time, it was 20 to 5 by my clock, which is usually five minutes fast. I went back to the bedroom and told my wife I’d make some tea. I then put the kettle on the gas.I then heard a bang, which sounded like a shot, come from No.21, followed by groans and a sort of banging noise, which sounded like someone thumping on the floor, or a door. I spoke to my wife about it. I then came through to the front,opened the window looking out on the Mews and heard some moans. I heard Mrs. Barney, in a high pitched voice, rambling on incoherently. I could not understand what she was saying. whilst the groans were coming from 21 a cab drew up before No.14 and the lady who lives there got out, paid the cabman and went into her flat. This distracted my attention from 21 as I thought when the cab came down the Mews it was something to do with them.”

1932 London Cab

“The noises stopped and I went and made the tea, took some to my wife and as it was no use going back to bed then, I dressed myself and went down the Mews. I walked as far as the kitchen window of 21 thinking to look in and find out what was wrong, but  I heard someone moving about, I think downstairs, so I returned indoors and went upstairs. I had some more tea and then went down and looked through the open window at the front. A car came down the Mews and pulled up outside 21 and a person I guessed to be a doctor got out and went in. I then went down thinking something serious had happened. The doctor was upstairs then. The front door of 21 was closed. I could hear a man talking upstairs. He seemed to be having some trouble with Mrs. Barney, she seemed highly hysterical.”

Elvira 1930

“I heard him say “Good Heavens, control yourself woman, it’s the police you’ll have to speak to.” All I heard of Mrs. barney was her moaning. There was no-one else in the Mews but the doctor’s driver. I got rather cold and I went indoors. I heard the doctor’s car car go out of the Mews, went to the window and saw it return , followed almost immediately by two policemen.

I would like to add that the first time I went down to the Mews on the morning of the tragedy I picked up an iron gas collar and threw it at a cat t the end of the Mews. It hit the iron grating of the dung crate and it may have hit the dustbin. The noise it made might possibly have been mistaken for more shots.”

Michael Scott Stephen

Apart from the  addenda regarding gas collars and cats ( which has an air of the police trying desperately to explain the disparity in the female witnesses’ statements regarding the number of shots fired that night) , this seems to me to be an honest report.

Some points are worth noting.

Sir Patrick Hastings made much at the trial of the fact that Mews residents had not reported earlier incidents of shots being fired, thereby casting doubt on the actuality of such shots. However, nobody ran to the police on the actual night of Michael’s death – mere chauffeurs and their wives did not wish to get involved with the authorities unless absolutely necessary.

Taking the three statements together, the ease with which Hastings was able to deny that Elvira had ever threatened to shoot Michael defies understanding.

On the other hand, there can be no doubt that Elvira was horrified by the incident and talk about delays in both the doctor and the police being called are nonsense.

Everything in these statements point to a singularly dysfunctional relationship – with Elvira reaching for the gun on more than one occasion   – and threatening either suicide or murder depending on the state of the argument. Remember, both Elvira and Michael were always drunk and probably full of cocaine when these late night rows erupted.

Nothing in these accounts justifies a charge of premeditated murder. Very little hints at the likelihood that anyone other than Elvira pulled the trigger.

William Kiff was in his fifties. His father had been a coachman and I assume William had started his career as the same. He had worked in the Hanover Square/ Lowndes Square area for many years. He had two daughters about Elvira’s age. Their lives , I imagine, were somewhat different, and. one hopes, less melodramatic.

It is highly unlikely that Elvira gave even a passing thought to Dorothy Hall, mother of a small child and a chauffeur’s wife. Yet, had not Sir Patrick Hastings cast doubt on the accuracy of her evidence, she more than anyone would have been responsible for Elvira’s conviction.Mrs.Hall lived diagonally opposite from Elvira. The distance between the two dwellings was about 50 feet.

The defence went in pretty hard on Mrs.Hall’s statement – though much of the attack now looks like nit-picking  (had she actually called Michael “Chicken”‘? ). However, these uncertainties about the verbatim accuracy of the account seemed to work on the jury and by the time of Sir Patrick Hastings’  slick ruse, which appeared to prove that Elvira was right-handed not left Dorothy Hall’s narrative had lost much of its authority. In particular, Hastings argued persuasively that  the earlier shooting had not happened at all in the way described in the statement.

However, I regard the statement as as trustworthy as anything to do with the case. The behaviour of the participants and their chaotic lifestyle show through vividly and feel right. If there are serious errors, they concern the night of the fatal shooting – the doctor’sand police time of arrival seem all wrong. Also the reference to the ladder incident errs in mistaking the breaking of a window for the sound of gunfire – but she does say “like a gun shot”.

Anyhow, see what you think –

” I am a married woman living at 10 William Mews, with my husband John Charles Hall, a Chauffeur. We have lived here  nine months.In no. 21 lived a woman named Mrs. Barney, she has been there about three years I think. Before living at No.10., my husband and I lived at No.1a which is at the other end of the Mews. When we first arrived at No.10 which is almost opposite  No.21, Mrs. Barney had a man, who I should think lived with her there. He used to go in with her late at night and would be seen again there the following morning. He was with her up to the latter part of last year, when he stopped coming.”

“Shortly, quite a few weeks, a man to whom she spoke as “Michael” went and lived with her. Until a fortnight ago he was there every night.There has been a number of quarrels in the flat between this man and Mrs. Barney and I have often heard her tell him to get out of the place, I don’t know the exact dates or how often. About a fortnight ago, I think it was on a Thursday (19th May) we were awakened. my husband and I, by a taxi-man shouting to Mrs.Barney about some damage done to the cab. I heard her say she was sorry, but we sleep in the back and when I got to the front window Mrs.Barney had gone in and I heard the telephone bell tinkle as if she had been talking on the telephone I heard her mention Michael and say she would not have him in the house again or give him any of his clothes, she would never forgive him and if he came near her she would shoot him. she seemed hysterical and was crying and screaming. When she had gone in (illegible) darkness and I saw her switch on the lights. This would be about three o’clock in the morning.”

“I went back to bed and I heard some shouting again of Mrs.Barney and I went to the front again and Michael was ringing the front door bell at No.21 and a taxi was waiting. She looked out the window on the first floor in front. I heard him ask “Let me have some money, Vera”. She said !Clear away or I shall send for the police.” and he got into the taxi and went off. This was about quarter of an hour after the previous incident. I went back to bed but in about another quarter of an hour I heard her shouting “Will you please go away from my house” and I saw her shut the window as I had gone again to my front window.

He still rang the bell – there were no other people in the Mews. She took no notice and he started to walk away.He got almost opposite my door, she opened the window and screamed “Laugh baby for the last time”. she was right undressed then and I do not think she had anything on. I saw her put her left hand out of the window nearest the landing – she leaned out down to her waist -she had a small bright revolver which she pointed at the man and she fired. She then seemed to slide down inside the room and was looking out the bottom of the window.”

“The man looked up at me and said “I am sorry.” I was cross and said, “Why don’t you clear out the Mews, you are a nuisance.” He said “I’ve been away an hour and am afraid to leave her longer, I don’t mean to do her any harm. I won’t leave her for good as I’m afraid she might commit suicide as she is so hysterical”.I said, “She’ll never do that she is too wicked”. I noticed he ha a black eye (right one I believe) and his face was badly swollen and so was his lips. Mrs. Barney then again looked out of the window but seemed to slide back all of a heap. He said, “Good God, she’s shot” and he ran towards the door.

There was no noise of any shot that would make him believe that. He banged at it shouting “Vera, for God’s sake let me in.” but she took no notice and he walked off and got into a van that was in the Mews and settled down. This was going on till half past five, I went to bed again then. I next saw Michael about a quarter to eleven the same morning when he went to the house and was let in. About half past twelve I saw Mrs. Barney and Michael go out together seemingly quite happy.”

William Mews Today

“I don’t think anything was heard from 21 until the morning of the 31st of May.On monday 30th May about 7 o’clock in the evening people commenced arriving at 21 and continued to arrive till 8pm. There were about 25 of them, the party lated until about 10 o’clock when the last one left. About half past ten Mrs. Barney went off with Michael in her Delage car and nothing more was heard of them until about twenty five past four, when my little girl woke me up and I heard quarrelling. I went to the window and heard her screaming “Get out of my house at once, I hate you. Get out, Get out, I’ll shoot you.” I heard him mumbling something like “I’m going” and then I heard a shot, she screamed immediately in a hysterical manner and I heard him shout as if in pain “Oh Good God what have you done.”

She started screaming again and said “Chicken, Chicken, I’m sorry, Come back to me I’ll do anything you ask me”. This was during about five minutes. Then it was all quiet for about five minutes, then I heard her say “Michael,Michael”. Then all was quiet until the doctor arrived about five to six.

“She was at the door when he arrived and he rushed in. After about three minutes I heard her ask “What’s wrong” and the doctor said “He’s dead” and she again commenced screaming and said “Good God don’t say that I loved him. I adored him.” he told her to keep quiet and  heard him ask “Why did you not send for me before” and I heard her say “I got the operator and he gave me” or “I gave him the wrong number”. She looked out of the window and gave one scream and all was quiet and the doctor looked out of the landing window and spoke quietly to his chauffeur who went for the police.”

I forgot to mention that last Tuesday week I was awakened by my little girl abut three o’clock Tuesday morning and there was shouting in the Mews. I went and looked through the window and heard a bang like a shot from 21. There were three people outside the flat – two men and a woman.The front door was open but seemingly these people could not get in the room upstairs as somebody suggested getting a ladder and whilst they had gone someone came down and shut the door. Michael was not seen on that occasion. I did not see the people come back and all was quiet.

I have read this statement through and it is true”.

The prosecution coupled this statement with that of Kate Stevens but the discrepancy between them served to further muddy the waters. They would have been better advised to go with this one alone. I think it is fair to say that Dorothy Hall’s lowly social status and her evident (and very understandable) dislike of Elvira worked against her. It is worth mentioning that although Elvira was obviously a first-rate nenace at no time did Michael appear to be really afraid for his life. Even so, if even the gist of this account  is largely correct, Elvira was remarkably lucky to get the result that she did.

I will post Kate Stevens statement shortly.

The police thought they had a pretty watertight case against Elvira Barney. However, she was found not guilty of either murder or manslaughter. The prosecution case had relied on the forensic and ballistic evidence, statements from other Mews residents and, to put it bluntly, common sense.

Sir John Ashley Mullens employed Sir Patrick Hastings, a brilliant and very expensive barrister, to clear his daughter’s name. Hastings made great play of the several discrepancies in the witness statements and reduced their authority to nil. He then laid into the expert witnesses, giving the highly respected Sir Bernard Spilsbury and Robert Churchill a particularly hard time. Having had staunch support from a remarkably steadfast Elvira, he then gave what has come to be seen as one of the classic closing speeches in the history of Great British Murder Trials.

The police were, understandably, aggrieved and Detective Inspector Winter was delegated to report on what had gone wrong. His response was a four page letter which is, to put kindly, rather short on self-criticism.

He agrees that the principal reason for Elvira’s acquittal was the skilful advocacy of Sir Patrick Hastings. He finds no problems with the Mews residents’  accounts of the event but thinks that Hastings cross-examined them “severely”, as indeed he  did. Of the defendant’s “attitude” during her time on the stand, Winter grudgingly comments that it “was well affected and one no doubt intended to invoke sympathy.” There is a hint at contrivance here but if  Elvira’s performance was well rehearsed then it was with someone other than Hastings, who refused to meet her before the trial.

If Winter does concede to any prosecution failings, then it concerns the lack of interest shown in the provenance of the gun and its place at Elvira’s bedside. Why did she have the thing and had she really only fired it once before? Winter feels,rightly, that more should have been made of the simple fact of Elvira, illegally, owning the weapon.

Crowd outside Court

The two remaining  facets of Winter’s report are more controversial. The first hints at perjury and evidence manipulation: the second is simply prejudice.

Winter is  very suspicious of Dr.Durrant, Elvira’s doctor and the first person on the scene after the shooting. Winter accuses Durrant of doing “all in his power to assist Mrs.Barney in making up  the story which he says she told him as to the circumstances leading up to the shooting. ” This is a striking claim and not one that I’ve seen made elsewhere. He adds “it will be remembered he was in the Mews quite a considerable time before the police were sent for.” For good measure, he throws in the opinion that Durrant  when shown the photograph of the body in court stated that it had been moved, thus undermining Spilsbury’s testimony.

Whether Winter had any grounds for these charges I cannot say, but if true they would explain the fact that Elvira’s story changes by not one word throughout the investigation and trial. It was not unknown for family doctors to be overly “loyal” to their richer clientele – Dr. O’Donnell in the Alma Rattenbury trial was certainly more interested in protecting his patient than in telling the truth. Remember, Winter is not trying to prove a case, just summarising what the police thought about it.

The concluding remarks of the Detective Inspector are concerned with Elvira’s lifestyle. His disgust is almost palpable.

“When addressing the Jury the Judge very aptly described Mrs.Barney and the deceased saying that their affection for each other was more of a sexual one than a sincere one and went on to say that that the story as told in court was one which suggested two rather wasted lives.

This was borne out during the course of enquiries for it was learned that not only they, but the clique in which they moved, indulged in almost every sexual vice it is possible to imagine and one can only think that Mrs. Barney is indeed a very fortunate person to be at liberty at the moment.”

So there you have it. A pervert in a clique of perverts and therefore guilty.Why close with this? Apart from the obvious bigotry, it is I think because the Police had been sure that the jury would view Elvira in a very negative light and turn against her. Well, they didn’t – and Detective Winter is left with his moral outrage and his fulminations against “every imaginable vice”.

One might respond by suggesting that if the Police had not been so fascinated by the sex lives of this “clique” and looked closer into Elvira’s psychological background  then they might have presented a case that Sir Patrick Hastings could not have knocked down so easily. As it was, Winter got his wish in the aftermath of the trial. Elvira, having been found innocent of the charge of murder, was found guilty -by the press and hence the public – of the apparently greater crime of immorality.