Tag Archive: Lady Mullens

Newspaper Photograph

This photograph appears on the back cover of “Crimes of Passion” (1975 Verdict Press).

I don’t know which newspaper or magazine it is from, but it is a single page or part of a page . The reproduction isn’t that great but it does give a sense of the case was being covered.

The captions read,

Top Row

“Measurements were taken by the police at the scene of the tragedy – Williams Mews, Lowndes Square.”

“The Shot Man: Mr. Thomas William Scott Stephen, ex dress designer in Paris, who was found shot after the party.”

“The Accused : Mrs. Elvira Dolores Barney, daughter of Sir John and Lady Mullens who has been charged with murder.”

Middle Row

“Chief Inspector Hambrook C.I.D., who was in charge of the police activities, leaving the scene of the tragedy the day after.”

“Mr. and Mrs Barney after their wedding in 1928. Mr. Barney was a member of the prominent cabaret turn – The Three New Yorkers.”

“The Mother and Father of the Accused: Lady Mullens, escorted by Mr.Coleman, solicitor for the defence, behind whom is Sir John Mullens.”

Bottom Row

“Holloway Prison wherein Mrs. Barney awaits her trial on remand. Lady Mullens is seen moving from her motor-car to visit her daughter who, it is stated, has now recovered from her breakdown at the charge.”

“The Sympathy of the Crowd went out in typically English fashion to Lady Mullens when visiting Mrs. Barney in Holloway. The mother has paid several visits to her daughter since her removal on remand from police court to prison.”

The photograph of Elvira on her wedding day is one that doesn’t get published often. Is Elvira’s choice of outfit not a little odd?  I’m completely ignorant of such matters but it doesn’t strike me as particularly “bridal”.

The sympathy for Lady Mullens (I love that “in typically English fashion”) has been pointed out elsewhere. Giles Playfair (in “Six Studies in Hypocrisy”) sees the public support for Lady Mullens as the key to Elvira’s acquittal.

Michael’s family do not feature at all and this photograph of him, as far as I can tell, is the only one ever used in the press or in later accounts.

As it mentions several visits to Holloway, I’m guessing this item appeared towards the end of June, a week or so before the actual trial. A definite narrative is already firmly in place. The word tragedy is used twice, why not “shooting” or “alleged murder”? And whose tragedy – “the ex-dress designer in Paris” or the Mullens family?





Gertrude Gamble (Barbara Graham)

In August of 1932, probably on Friday 26th,  a forty two year old woman called Gertrude Gamble committed suicide by throwing herself from a window of her hotel room in Half Moon Street. For the previous three years she had been known as Barbara E, Graham and had a history of drug dependency and depression. Her inquest aroused some interest as her suicide note had mentioned Elvira Barney who, along with one Tom Chadbourne, she blamed for her current state of despair. Elvira’s father attended the trial but the inquest did not pursue that line of inquiry.

Half Moon Street

This was fortunate for the Mullens family because apart from her final note Gertrude had sent two letters, one to Elvira and one to her mother, containing some outrageous accusations. The Daily Sketch had got hold of these but passed them on to the Police who (officially anyway) dismissed them as the ramblings of a very disturbed individual. The sex scandal contained in the letters I have dealt with already (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/audrey-and-kenneth-carten/ ) but there is other information contained within them which, if true, tells us quite a lot about Elvira and her lifestyle in the aftermath of the trial. It is not a very uplifting tale.

According to her letters, Gertrude had been “employed” to look after Elvira following the trial. Her mother had wanted Elvira to undertake a “rest treatment” in the country,  On the threat of  the “country house” cure Elvira had rushed round to Gertrude, who tended to her while they made arrangements to go to the South of France. Gertrude tells of nursing her and bathing her head after Elvira had downed a bottle of brandy. Elvira left for France with the Cartens and Gertrude followed.

To Gertrude’s apparent horror,  Elvira had got very drunk on the boat and instead of heading to the Hotel Continental in St.Raphael  had stayed the night in a sleazy hotel nearby. She then told Gertrude that she wanted to be with friends in Cannes and gave the hitherto loyal carer money for a second-class ticket home.  Elvira didn’t see her off – she was meeting the young man with whom she was to have the car car crash later that day (https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/princess-karolyi-and-more-car-crashes/).Feeling deceived and smarting from an attack on her own narcotic excesses, Gertrude, on her return to London, wrote to Lady Mullens, detailing her daughter’s many vices and presenting herself as the victim of a callous and calculating degenerate. She wrote pretty much the same angry note to Elvira.

Two extracts from the letters are particularly revealing, Firstly, in an attempt to uphold her own character she writes “As for the drugs – I can refer you to Dr. Ripman  who will tell you that I take my 3 pills a day just like a dose of medicine. I don’t drink, I don’t sniff cocaine and I don’t keep pimps.”  Although I’m not sure she’s got the right word with “pimps”, this, if accurate, is confirmation of Elvira’s general predilections, which though widely suspected are elsewhere only hinted at.

Secondly, she suggests that Elvira’s motives in sending her packing were so that no stories of her excesses might get back to England, causing her mother to cut Elvira’s allowance. Given that Elvira’s actions had precisely the opposite effect this seems unlikely but it gives weight to a fairly constant feature in Elvira’s various scrapes – she was always more concerned with what her mother might say and do than any action on behalf of the authorities.

Whether these letters were ever received and how the Daily Sketch got hold of them is a mystery. How true they are is also uncertain. They are certainly not “deranged”  in the way the Police argued. The betrayal they speak of has the ring of something deeper; they bear all the hallmarks of the revenge of a spurned lover. There is also a distinct class antagonism about them (“you say I am not good enough to know your daughter but.. etc”).

Anyway, three weeks later Gertrude Gamble was dead. It is fairly safe to assume that her passing was not much mourned by the Mullens family. In three months Elvira had (probably) shot her lover, Michael, nearly killed Countess Karolyi in a car crash and, in the mind of one sad soul at least, hastened the suicide of a former companion.Not exactly what one would term an uneventful summer.

Incidentally, the Hotel on Half Moon Street was owned by Charles Urban, the pioneer of colour cinema. Gertrude’s last note was to Mrs. Urban, apologising for any trouble her actions had caused.

Read more about Charles Urban here http://www.charlesurban.com/index.html

Countess Karolyi and More Car Crashes

Elvira’s behaviour after the trial rapidly turned her, in the public eye, from a figure of some sympathy into an object of scorn and disapproval. Rumours of a party at the Berkeley Hotel on the day of the acquittal did not help nor did the photographs of her smiling broadly on her return, the following day, from a hairdresser’s appointment. Her beloved and expensive car also seems to have caused offence.

More damaging was a ghost-written article, promising to be the first in a series, which appeared in the Sunday Dispatch on July 10th. A lurid piece, printed together with what purported to be Michael Stephen’s diary, it opened with the phrase “I write in tears” and went downhill from there. It said much about her great love for the deceased but did not allude to the “wild” lifestyle that the public wanted to hear about and which it saw as at the bottom of the tragedy. Elvira was simply not contrite enough nor did she admit to breaking any moral codes. The backlash was swift, questions were asked in Parliament and no more articles appeared.

Elvira left for St.Raphael in France at the end of the month. She could not, however, keep out of trouble.Drunken scenes on the ferry and in a hotel were followed by a serious car crash on the road to Cannes. On July 30th or 31st she collided with the car of Countess Katrina Karolyi, the wife of the exiled Hungarian Prime Minister, and herself a glamorous figure on both the French and English social scene.

Mirror Photograph of Countess Karolyi by Andre Kertesz

The Countess, variously known as Catherine, Katrina or Katinka, received injuries to her arm as her car was shunted 50 feet across the road and into a telegraph pole. An unnamed man in Elvira’s car was cut about the face and arms.Elvira was arrested but not immediately charged. As ever her main concern was her mother’s reaction. Fortunately the Countess was not, as first thought, critically injured and the story was rather buried at home – although the overseas press gave it maximum coverage.

Some months later Elvira was given a nominal fine for (wonderful term) “furious driving”. She was however forced to pay considerable costs and damages. Elvira was not present at the hearing. She was according to her parents recuperating in a nursing home after an emotional breakdown.

This, after the murder trial and the barely avoided scandal of the events surrounding the mysterious suicide of Gertrude Gamble (post forthcoming), was, for Lady Mullens, the last straw. Elvira was from now on kept at a distance and on a considerably reduced allowance. She divided her time between Paris and West End hotels and possibly attempted a change of name.

Occasional touches of defiance remained; she is believed to have told the dancers at the Cafe De Paris “Yes, go on and stare. I’m the woman who shot her lover”.  The drinking and drug-taking continued. However, her moment in the public eye, first as the unfortunate victim of an immoral lifestyle then as the personification of that immorality, had passed. Her death in 1936 went largely unnoticed.

The Karolyis continued in exile in France and then London. Katrina became known as “The Red Countess” – both she and her husband had moved politically to the Left, to the extent of being denied entrance to the USA. She died in 1985.

for earlier incidents involving cars see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/of-cars-and-car-crashes/

Charles Graves

Viva King’s revealing comments about Elvira (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/viva-king/    )           are given weight by Charles Graves, in his 1951 autobiography, “The Bad Old Days”. Charles Graves (1899-1971) was the younger brother of the poet Robert Graves  and a journalist and prolific author (146 books!). He was also, in the 1920s, one of that army of gossip writers who did so much to publicise The Bright Young People.

Unlike King , his re-telling of the circumstances of his brief affair with Elvira seeks to show her suicidal rather than homicidal nature and hence support the Not Guilty verdict in the shooting of Scott Stephen. I am not entirely convinced that the facts, as he expounds them, warrant such an inference.

“I wrote “I found Lady X and her very pretty daughter who is at the Benson School of Dramatic Art to learn how to be a musical comedy star. I expect she will.”

That was the start of a brief unhappy flirtation for which I blame myself entirely.  The girl was the daughter of a rich business man. Her home life was not particularly happy and I made the unfortunate error  of  mistaking sympathy for love.It was entirely my fault,The girl said that she would like to marry a poor man and that she was surfeited with her rich home life which was why she was planning to go on the stage. I regarded this as most romantic and we became unofficially engaged.This lasted for a couple of months and then I began to realize that I was not in love with her. So I wrote her a note asking her to break it off. By this time I had been made news editor of the Sunday Express and in consequence did not get home to my chambers (then in Royal Avenue, Chelsea) until 2.30 a.m. One Saturday night I had gone to the Hambone for eggs and bacon, before returning home, and found a young South American there short of a bed for the night. So I brought him back, although I could only give him a divan in my front sitting-room. I myself retired to bed but was woken up by my guest half an hour later. He said “There is a girl walking up and down the pavement below.She threw a pebble at the window. Her car is there and I think she has a revolver in her hand.”

Royal Avenue, Chelsea

“My worst misgivings were about to be realized. I went to the window which was on the first floor and sure enough there was the girl with something gleaming in her hand. It was a pistol all right.I hurried back to my bedroom, put on my dressing-gown over my pyjamas and returned.”I am going to try to surprise her,” I said. “When you hear me undo the latch of the front door,Philip, open the window and attract her attention. I’ll do the rest.” The stratagem worked. While the girl’s attention was distracted there was just time enough for me to grab the pistol. Luckily I knew the correct wrist to grab.She tried to pull the trigger but the pistol fell out of her hand on to the pavement with a clang, and she fainted dead away. Fortunately there was not a policeman in sight.”

, .

“I uncocked the pistol, (it was a .32) , removed the bullets, carried her upstairs and dabbed cold water on her forehead until she came too when she became hysterical for some minutes, being evidently surprised that my companion was not some girl. I was appalled when I realized the horrible situation with which we had become embroiled, entirely thanks to me. I put Philip Perez into my bedroom and made the girl sleep on the divan while I sat out the night in an armchair to make sure that she did not run away or do herself a damage. Next morning she seemed much better and I took the risk of letting her drive me in her car, which had been parked outside my place all night, to her home in the West End where I saw her mother and told her what had happened. She was horrified….”

Lady Mullens

“…….Jumping ahead a few years, however, it is easy to imagine my discomfort when,as a happily married man, I opened the newspaper one day and found that the girl had been charged with the murder of an acquaintance of hers in the early hours. The last thing I wanted to do was to draw public attention to myself.On the other hand, I knew that I must give evidence if necessary. I wrote to the girl, who was in Holloway, and received a perfectly charming letter back from her that she would tell her counsel about in case he thought I could be a good witness. I heard nothing at all from him. The case was heard. The girl gave evidence quite wonderfully and, as I expected, she was duly acquitted.”

Charles Patrick Ranke Graves, by Howard Coster, 1930s - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Charles Graves

“I read the newsin the Stop Press of the Evening Standard during the Varsity match and gave the startled newspaper seller a ten bob note.If, of course, she had been convicted I would have gone to the lawyer and told him about the event five years before when the girl had behaved in such a highly hysterical manner – powerful circumstantial evidence that she was trying to commit suicide when the young man was accidentally shot. I only saw her once more before her death in Paris some time afterwards.”

All very intriguing – if not entirely convincing. No shot fired – as opposed to Viva King’s version and a rather excessive use of gentlemanly mea culpa. What is very significant is that these events took place in 1925 or 1926 – well before Elvira’s disastrous marriage, which was always cited as the start of her descent into emotional chaos.