This young woman was certainly proof that money does not buy happiness:
Alice Silverthorne was born in Buffalo, NY, on 28 September 1899, the daughter of wealthy shoe manufacturer William E. Silverthorne (1867 – 1941) and of Julia Belle Chapin, an heiress to the Armour meatpacking fortune (Julia’s mother, Marietta Armour, was a sister of Phillip Danforth Armour who founded the family company with another brother). When Alice was very young, the family moved to Chicago and her mother died of tuberculosis on 2 June 1907. Alice was also infected but remained a consumptive without symptoms for the remainder of her life. She was then raised by governesses and became known for her wild debutante years. Her father often took her to Europe where she became a regular on the social circuit. After an accident possibly caused by his alcoholism her father lost custody of Alice and she was made a ward of her uncle.
Alice moved to Paris when she was 21 and, while working in the model department of Jean Patou, she met Count Frederic de Janzé (1896-1933) who was not only a race-car driver in the Le Mans race but also a friend of Marcel Proust and Anna de Noailles. Their engagement was announced in July of 1921 and they were married on 21 September 1921 at Chicago’s Church of Our Lady of Carmel. Her matron of honor was her cousin, Lolita Ogden Armour, who had recently married John J. Mitchell, Jr., first cousin of the aesthete Sir Harold Acton (Acton’s mother was Chicago heiress Hortense Mitchell whose fortune purchased the Acton estate, La Pietra, near Florence; her parents were killed in a 1927 auto accident leaving an estate of $10 million). They were lent the J. Ogden Armour estate on Long Island for a two week honeymoon, then left to visit the groom’s family at Dinard near Paris before spending their first winter in Morocco.
Alice promptly gave birth to two daughters, Nolwen (born 11 months after her parents’ wedding) and Paola, born in 1924. They were reared almost entirely by nannies and by their father’s sister at the de Janzé chateau in Normandy. Alice exhibited what her husband termed as “unstable, suicidal” thoughts and he suggested that the two travel to the hedonistic community of British nationals living in Kenya. Termed the “Happy Valley” set, they were known for sexual excess, drugs and alcohol, and Alice was all too happy to join them. They moved next door to Josslyn Hay, Lord Kilmarnock (1901 – 1941), the future 22nd Earl of Erroll, and his twice-divorced wife, Idina. Lord Erroll was handsome and virile and immediately began to enjoy the attractions of Alice, who was described by her husband as having “full red lips, a body to desire.” Alice soon earned the nickname, “the wicked Madonna.”
In 1926 Alice began an affair with Raymond de Trafford (1900 – 1971), third son of inveterate gambler Sir Humphrey de Trafford, 3rd Baronet (who declared bankruptcy in 1907 despite an annual income of $240,000). The handsome young man was a friend of Evelyn Waugh. Although Alice’s husband was aware of the affair, he eventually recognized that this one was far more serious than those in her past. In his attempt to save the marriage, the de Janzés moved to Paris. When Alice returned to de Trafford in Kenya, her husband surrendered to the inevitable and began divorce proceedings. His elder daughter by Alice, Nolwen de Janzé, would eventually marry as her third husband the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, Baron Clark of Saltwood, known principally for his role as host of television’s acclaimed series, Civilisation. Nolwen died in France in 1989, followed by her sister, Paola, in 2006.
Alice planned to marry de Trafford but his socially-prominent Catholic family was violently opposed to a union with a divorced seductress and threatened to disinherit him. On 25 March 1927, Alice was with de Trafford in Paris’ Gare du Nord where he intended to tell her goodbye before leaving for London on an Express boat train. He used the occasion to tell her that their relationship was ended. Alice pulled a revolver from her purse, shot him in the chest, then shot herself in the stomach. Both were critically injured – he was shot very near the heart – and rushed in the same ambulance to the hospital. They lay near death for days, were given surgeries, and his wounds were found to be worse than hers. The beautiful but caustic Lady Diana Cooper joked, “shot him, then herself, and missed both.”
Two weeks later Alice was charged with the shooting while still a hospital patient. She responded that she intended to commit suicide but, overcome in the heat of the moment, shot her lover as well. After his recovery de Trafford was flown to London, telling Paris authorities that he did not want to press charges against Alice who was held at the women’s prison at St. Lazare.
Her husband was granted a divorce on 23 December 1927, and the Paris tribunal made no mention of the shooting. Unsurprisingly, he was given custody of both daughters. Count Frederic de Janzé in 1930 married a wealthy American wife, Genevieve Willinger Ryan, widow of Thomas Jefferson Ryan. He wrote two books, Vertical Land and Tarred With the Same Brush, and died at Baltimore, MD, of septicemia on 24 December 1933.
Alice was tried in Paris on 23 December 1927. When de Trafford took the stand, he attempted to present his shooting as brought about by his own action when, “a movement on my part caused the weapon to be deflected…. The accident was due to my own imprudence.” Evidence was presented that Alice had attempted to commit suicide four times. As the New York Times reported of the trial, “The Countess told her story in French as simply and unemotionally as if reciting a tale which she had heard. Her imperturbability was more perhaps a matter of feature than of nerve, but such as it was, it rather shocked the Judge, who seemed to think the pretty young woman did not quite realize the nature of her offense.” She was found to have been temporarily deranged and was guilty only of possessing a gun without a license. Alice was given a suspended sentence of six months, fined four dollars, and less than two years later was given a full presidential pardon.
Alice returned to Kenya early in 1928 but was asked by the government to leave as “an undesirable alien.” Rumors surfaced that she and de Trafford were to be married but her attorney denied the published reports. But, on 22 February 1932, at Neuilly-sur-Seine, Alice de Janzé and Raymond de Trafford were married. Three weeks later they argued publicly in a restaurant and never saw one another again. Alice obtained a divorce in 1937, charging her husband was “an idler who associates with disreputable women.” One American newspaper headlined their reporting of the story, “She Loved Him, Shot Him, Married Him, Divorced Him” Alice was then re-admitted to Kenya where she settled again with the Happy Valley set. She spent most of her time attending to her animals and became heavily addicted to morphine.
Her former lover had succeeded to his title as Earl of Erroll in 1928 and pursued his voracious sexual appetite. Having divorced Idina, his second wife died of an overdose of alcohol, morphine and heroin. Lord Erroll began an affair with Diana, the beautiful young wife of Sir Jock Delves Broughton. On 24 January 1941, Lord Erroll was shot to death in his car outside Nairobi. Alice became an immediate suspect both because of the relationship they had shared years before as well as her own trial for shooting de Trafford. Alice appeared at the morgue where Lord Erroll’s body was resting. In front of witnesses, she lifted her dress, rubbed her hand between her legs, wiped her fingers on the corpse’s mouth, and said, “Now you are mine forever.”
Sir Jock Delves Broughton was arrested for the murder and evidence was presented of his wife’s affair with Lord Erroll. Alice regularly visited him in jail as he awaited trial where Broughton was acquitted because of a lack of evidence against him. Years later, author James Fox wrote of the incident in his book and movie White Mischief (Alice’s role was played by Sarah Miles) and asserted that Broughton eventually confessed to the killing before his own death of suicide on 5 December 1942.
Alice was diagnosed with uterine cancer in August of 1941. Soon after having a hysterectomy, she unsuccessfully attempted to take her life with poison but was rescued when a friend secured medical care. Finally, on 30 September 1941, Alice Silverthorne de Janzé de Trafford shot herself to death in her home in Kenya only two days after turning 42. One of her three suicide notes was to the daughters she had so rarely seen. Another asked that her friends throw a cocktail party on her grave. Her death was officially ruled a suicide in January of 1942.