"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Murder in Kenya



It is part of the conventional wisdom that May/December marriages rarely work out well. Fortunately, however, few have turned as lethal--and mysterious--as the union between Sir John Delves "Jock" Broughton and Diana Caldwell.

They were among the passengers on a ship that was sailing from England to South Africa in October 1940. Broughton was 56, divorced, with the air of a classic English gentleman of the "old school." He was rather quiet and reserved, but charming and courtly in manner. (Nevertheless, this "English gentleman" had a past that included heavy gambling debts that were likely paid off through insurance fraud.) He was on his way to Kenya, where he had rented a home on the extensive estate at Karen. His health was poor, and he hoped that an African idyll would help him regain his strength. Caldwell was from an entirely different background. The divorced 26-year-old had little money and few real prospects in life, but she was highly alluring, with a bubbly, outgoing nature.



It was a classic case of opposites attracting. Broughton was charmed by the young woman whose free-spirited manner was so different from his own. And Caldwell saw in him the financial wherewithal and social status she conspicuously lacked. They agreed to marry as soon as they reached land. Broughton was, however, experienced enough to see the obvious hazards of taking a beautiful wife young enough to be his daughter. He offered her what today would be called a "prenup": If either of them became unhappy with their marriage, they would part as friends, without any recriminations or hard feelings on either side. He also promised her a lavish financial settlement.

Diana readily agreed to these generous terms, and as soon as they arrived in Cape Town, the pair were married on November 5, 1940. The newlyweds honeymooned at their new home outside of Nairobi.

If you had enough money, Kenya could be a very pleasant place to wait out World War II. The conflict's horrors seemed very far away. The colony of upper-crust English expatriates had little to do but enjoy themselves. The "Happy Valley Set," as they were called, quickly became famous for their decadence. Heavy drinking, drug use, and indiscriminate sexual adventures were commonplace. All in all, it was not the wisest place for Sir Delves to bring his attractive, pleasure-loving bride.

One of the colony's most prominent members was 39-year-old Jocelyn Victor Hay, Earl of Erroll. He was in Kenya as England's Military Secretary and Assistant Director of Manpower, but his real occupation was women. The brilliantly handsome, twice-married Erroll was known as the "Great Lover," and the nickname was evidently not at all exaggerated. He immediately became part of the Broughtons' social circle. Sir Delves admired the younger man's "bain, humour, and kindness." Diana--as did most women--responded to Erroll's good looks, romantic charm, and passion for life. She saw him as a kindred spirit.



Broughton gave his new wife all the freedom she desired. Although he did not share her love for frivolity, he made no complaint about her attending the Nairobi set's endless rounds of parties and dances without him--but with the Earl of Erroll. "One must keep a young wife amused," he would say tolerantly.

However broad-minded Broughton's attitude may have been, it would not be surprising if others saw the situation differently. Before long, Sir Delves received several anonymous letters. Unsigned messages are usually best left unread, and these were no exception. "What about the eternal triangle?" said one note. "What are you going to do about it?" Another read, "There is no fool like an old fool," and repeated the taunting question, "What are you going to do about it?" Broughton took the letters to the police, but the writer was never identified.

Broughton had not needed these poison-pen letters to tell him that his marriage was already in trouble. By the time 1941 dawned, he knew that the woman who had married him only weeks before was in love with another man. At a dinner party on January 12, as Sir Delves watched Diana and Erroll dancing, his friend Lady Delamere rather tactlessly asked him, "Have you heard the talk that Josh is wildly in love with your wife?"

Broughton frostily declined to answer, but Lady Delamere later recalled that his face showed "anger, misery, rage, agitation and restlessness."

Later that evening, both Diana and Erroll separately confided in Lady Delamere. They were in love and wanted to marry. What did she think they should do? The older woman advised them to be honest. If they truly wanted to be together, they needed to tell Sir Delves the news as soon as possible. They both agreed.

Meanwhile, Broughton was taking his side of the story to an old friend, Lieutenant Commander J.B. Soames. He admitted that lately, he had taken to drinking heavily to try and forget his troubles. He had wanted to give Diana freedom to enjoy herself, but even his tolerance had its limits, and "I feel the limit has been reached. Now." He feared that she and Erroll were falling in love. What did Soames think of the situation?

Soames, like Lady Delamere, counseled a direct approach. Broughton should ask Diana and Erroll how they felt about each other. If, as Broughton suspected, the two were romantically involved, he should return to England and put the painful episode behind him.

The baronet followed this advice. When he asked Diana about Erroll, she admitted the truth. "It is something I just cannot help," she said rather lamely. Broughton still loved his wife, and couldn't bear the idea of giving her up without some sort of fight. He suggested that they go away for three months, to give herself time to decide if she truly wanted to be with Erroll, of if her feelings were just a passing infatuation. Diana refused. She believed she knew what she wanted perfectly well. A three-month wait would make no difference, she said.

Broughton was desperate enough to pocket his pride and go to Erroll himself for help. He begged his rival to persuade Diana to leave Nairobi for three months. "Diana is so young," he said despairingly. "She has been so happy in Kenya with me. Please give me a chance to make something of our marriage!"

Erroll wouldn't hear of it. He told his former friend that he loved Diana and refused to be parted from her. "I'm sorry it has worked out like this for you, Jock, but I suppose it was fated to be."

Broughton announced he was giving up. He told Diana he would begin divorce proceedings. He talked of moving to Ceylon. To all appearances, the baronet was handling his humiliating loss with gallant magnanimity. However, he privately cherished the hope that within a few months, his wife's infatuation for Erroll would cool. He later recalled, "I loved her, in spite of everything, and I hoped that all might still come right in the end."

On January 21, Broughton called police to report a theft at his house. Two Colt revolvers, a .32 and a .45, were missing. He had last used them when doing target practice at J.B. Soames' farm a few weeks back. There were no other signs of a burglary, and Broughton professed to have no idea who could have taken them.

Two days later, Broughton instructed a lawyer in Nairobi to begin the process of divorce. He told Diana the news, assuring her that he realized he "had to cut my losses." Broughton said he was leaving for Ceylon the following week, but he asked her in the meantime to remain under the same roof with him, "for the sake of appearances."

Erroll was delighted by how smoothly things were going. That same day, he told a friend that he would be dining that night with the Broughtons and another friend, June, Lady Carberry at the Muthaiga Country Club. "But after dinner Diana and I are going to dance at the Claremont Roadhouse. We're going to leave the old boy and Lady Carberry behind." Broughton had no objection to this plan, stating only that Erroll should bring Diana home by 3 a.m.

The dinner party was, considering the circumstances, weirdly convivial. No one was more cheerful than the jilted husband. Broughton even proposed a toast to the future happiness of his wife and her lover.

However, once Diana and Erroll had left, Broughton's mask began to slip. As he and Lady Carberry sat in the club's lounge together, Sir Delves downed a few too many brandies and vowed bitterly that Diana would not see a penny of his money. "We have been married only three months, and look how it is for me now," he moaned. Others at the club noted that he suddenly looked very old, very tired and very, very unhappy.

Broughton and Lady Carberry returned to Karen House at about 2 a.m. He spoke to his guest again about an hour later and retired to his bedroom. Soon afterwards, Erroll brought Diana back home and turned his car in the direction of his lodgings in Nairobi. All appeared to be quiet.

At 5:30 a.m. Nairobi's police station received a call reporting an accident. A car was overhanging a gravel pit on the road leading from Karen to Nairobi, about two and a half miles from Broughton's home. The driver was inside the vehicle, and appeared to be deceased.

Authorities soon determined that the dead man was the Earl of Erroll. And he had not been killed in a road accident. Someone had shot him in the head. Another bullet was found in the car roof. The pathologist believed that the murderer had fired at very close range, possibly just a few inches away. The theory was that the assassin had then entered the car, pushed Erroll's body away from the wheel, and started the vehicle towards the gravel pit at a slow speed. Just before the car reached the pit, the killer leaped out and made his/her getaway.

When Diana heard of her lover's sudden and violent death, she was overwhelmed with shock and grief. Broughton appeared to be equally stunned by the news. He showed great sympathy and kindness towards his wife, advising Lady Carberry to bring Diana to her home at Nyeri, about 100 miles away. He thought it would be easier for her to be far away from painful memories of Erroll.

However, later that day, when lunching with Lady Delamere, Broughton's true feelings again began to peek out from his show of goodwill. He told his companion that he never wanted to see Diana again. He talked wistfully of his first wife, and expressed his regret that he had not remained with her. Lady Delamere later described his behavior as rather abnormal. "He was nervy and jumpy and wanted company; he did not want to be left alone."

Sir Delves had good reason to be nervous. He was more than intelligent enough to realize that the police had him on top of their list of suspects for Erroll's murder. After all, he had the strongest motive any man could have to want the Earl dead.

Motive was, however, the only evidence the police had at the moment. No unusual fingerprints were found on the car, leaving it valueless as evidence. No footprints were found at the scene. Although the .32 calibre bullet which killed Erroll had been recovered, the gun that fired it was nowhere to be found. And Broughton made a point of reminding investigators that the only two firearms he had were stolen before the murder. He did, however, have an unsettling question for a detective: "Are Europeans hanged for murder in Kenya?"

The police thought they had finally found a promising lead when they heard of Broughton's target shooting at the Soames farm. When they searched the firing range, they found four .32 slugs. Ballistics experts examined the bullets and found markings that appeared identical to the ones found at the crime scene. They believed the bullets had been fired from the same gun.

Investigators formulated their theory of how Broughton had killed Erroll. As no one had heard him leaving the house on the fatal night, they proposed that he had slipped out by climbing the drainpipe outside his window or lowering himself from the balcony. Then, he had somehow accosted Erroll in his car. They believed that Broughton's report of his guns being stolen was a hoax. He had merely kept them hidden somewhere in or around Karen House. After he used one of the guns to shoot Erroll, he put it back in its hiding place.

The police, confident they had finally solved the mystery, arrested Broughton on March 14. He stood trial two months later.

Broughton's lawyer, H.H. Morris, Q.C., realized that the crux of the case was the issue of whether or not the two bullets found at the crime were indeed identical to those found at Soames' firing range. Expert witnesses for the Crown testified that markings on the bullets used to shoot Erroll, as well as powder grains found on the body, were the same as those found on the bullets at Soames' farm. All of those bullets, they declared, were fired from the same .32 revolver. However, they also testified that the bullets were fired from a gun with five right-hand rifling grooves. Morris pointed out that the Colt is a six-grooved gun. In other words, Broughton's missing Colts could not have been used to commit the murder. Morris also produced his own experts, who asserted that they did not believe the two sets of bullets had identical markings at all.

For that matter, who could say that the slugs found on Soames' farm had anything to do with Broughton? The shooting range had been used as a hunting camp for twenty years. The bullets produced in court could have been fired at any time, by any one.

The defendant had a number of character witnesses, all describing him as a placid, even-tempered, self-controlled man, a "very good loser" who would be the last person in the world to let jealousy or anger lead him to murder.

Broughton himself made an excellent asset for the defense. On the stand, he appeared calm, gentlemanly, and utterly guiltless. He described his various infirmities. During World War I he had contracted sunstroke which forced him to leave the army. A year later, a car accident badly fractured his right wrist, leaving that hand largely useless. His eyesight had deteriorated so badly he could not drive a car. He also suffered from night blindness. In short, he presented himself as too physically damaged to have killed Erroll, even if he had wanted to. He admitted that learning of his wife's affair had left him "very upset," but he had resigned himself to the situation. He forcefully denied having anything to do with the murder. When the prosecution suggested that Erroll's death was certainly a "very satisfactory solution" to Broughton's marital problems, the baronet replied dryly, "I do not think that an average man would relish resuming married life with one who had been madly in love, and still is, with another man." It also probably did not hurt Broughton's defense that this was one of those murder cases with a massively unpopular victim. (One of the Happy Valley Set privately described the deceased as "an appalling shit who needed killing.")

In the end, however, it was the contradictory evidence about the bullets that decided the case. With these "reasonable doubts" about whether or not any gun owned by Broughton could have been used in the murder, the jury had little trouble voting for acquittal. In fact, it later emerged that eleven jurors wanted to return a verdict of "Not Guilty and Innocent," but the twelfth persuaded them to stick to the conventional wording.

A few days after the end of the trial, a friend of Morris' asked him playfully, "Tell me, Harry, who shot Erroll?"

"My God," replied Morris. "I quite forgot to ask."

Erroll's death remains--legally, at least--an unsolved mystery. Over the years, a number of alternate theories have been presented for the crime. In the 1930s, Erroll had been involved with the Fascist movement in England. Perhaps this earlier political association was behind his murder? Erroll was also active in Kenyan politics, and was known to be against England's war with the Nazis. Could the English government, disapproving of his political views, have been behind his assassination? Or was the playboy Earl killed by one of the countless women he had romanced and then discarded? Or could Diana, the last person acknowledged to have seen Erroll alive, have been the killer? Did she shoot her lover out of fear that she was already losing him? (It is an interesting fact that Diana was a hot-tempered sort who went on to threaten at least three subsequent lovers with a pistol.) One rumor had it that Diana was having a lesbian relationship with her friend Lady Carberry, and that the two women staged the shooting. A socialite named Alice de Janze has also been named as a possible suspect. She had been Erroll's mistress just before (or possibly even during) his affair with Diana. Based on previous form--a few years earlier, she had shot and wounded a previous lover--she was certainly capable of the murder. Could she have killed Erroll out of jealousy? (Perhaps significantly, de Janze committed suicide shortly after Broughton's acquittal.)

Or--as most crime historians assume--was the seemingly quiet, harmless Sir Delves Broughton a man who got away with a very clever murder? In 2007, the author Christine Nicholls claimed that she had obtained witness statements claiming that on the night of the murder, Broughton had hidden himself in Errol's car and shot his rival when they were a safe distance from the house. He was then picked up in the car of an associate who had been paid off for his help--and his silence. The story is certainly not unconvincing, but despite Nicholls' boast of "solving" the Erroll murder, alleged testimony given so many years after-the-fact cannot be considered definitive.

If Sir Delves was indeed guilty, he learned the hard way that crime does not pay. Unsurprisingly, he and Diana parted company for good. She remained in Kenya while he sailed back to England alone. Several days after arriving in his home country, Broughton killed himself with a lethal injection of morphine. He left no explanation for his act.

His former wife managed to land on her feet. Erroll had scarcely been cold in his grave before Diana found herself a new lover, Gilbert Covile. Like Broughton, he was wealthy, staid, and considerably older than Diana. Also like Broughton, he was able to keep Diana in the luxurious lifestyle she craved. In 1955, she left Covile for yet another rich aristocrat, Lord Tom Delamere. She died in 1987, having kept whatever she might have known--or suspected--about the Erroll murder a secret to the end.

6 comments:

  1. It sounds as though Lord Erroll's end was inevitable; he was immensely disliked and had any number of enemies, even among the women who once loved him. If Sir John killed him, he probably just got to him first.

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    1. It's interesting how many murderers seem to get off the hook largely due to a consensus that the victim was a SOB who had it coming.

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    2. Your very true statement put me in mind of the case of Ken McElroy, an evil man who committed many crimes but never went to jail. After shooting a 70 year old man, he himself was shot to death while he sat in his truck, surrounded by a hostile crowd. There must have been fifty witnesses, none of whom saw a thing. Brian Dennehy played a fictionally named McElroy in a tv movie.

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  2. "He was in Kenya as England's Military Secretary and Assistant Director of Manpower" - that's a very large title for what was probably a very cushy job! BTW, Diana was a gold-digger, wasn't she!

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    1. And a very successful gold-digger, too!

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  3. The most clever criminals wait for the right opportunity to commit their crimes. What could be more perfect than seeing your target involved in a love triangle and knowing the police will immediately put one of those parties on the top of their suspect list? If they steal the murder weapon, what choice does the owner have other than to report it or remain silent? Either way, they'll look even more guilty when the murder happens.

    While it may be likely Delves killed his romantic rival or had him killed, I would be very hesitant to disregard the possibility someone else set him up.

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