Drink, drugs and death: Juanita Carberry’s Happy Valley childhood
The unconventional writer and sailor, who died last weekend, was the teenage witness in the White Mischief murder case
White Mischief: Juanita Carberry in 1987. Photograph: Rex Features
The death of Juanita Carberry last weekend, at 88, probably closes the file on one of the most notorious murders – and one of the most notorious lifestyles – of the 20th century.
In old age Carberry was a handsome woman, with what friends described as “a filthy vocabulary” from her years at sea. She was unconventional, and it is thought that she has left her body, with its several tatoos, for exhibition by the controversial anatomist and showman Gunther von Hagens. A 2002 photograph of her shows a good-looking woman, without make up, wearing a summer dress made of African fabric. She spent her later years in a flat in London. Let us hope it was a happy ending.
“My father, John Carberry, was a renegade Irish peer who admired Hitler and had sadistic tastes,” she wrote in her memoir of her early years, Child of Happy Valley. “My stepmother June, famous in the colony for her cheerful promiscuity and prodigious drinking, was an enthusiastic member of the Happy Valley set.”
Her father was Lord Carbery, the 10th baron and sixth baronet. (There is one R in the title and two in the family name.) He came of age in 1913 and, to the fury of his formidable mother, Mary, with whom he was feuding, announced that he would be selling Castle Freke, in west Cork. He later renounced his title, and was a Nazi sympathiser. He seems to have been a psychopath, being extraordinarily cruel not just to his only daughter but also to any vulnerable human and, perhaps most tellingly, to animals.
In Kenya he had Juanita beaten until she bled. He entered her for terrifying swimming races and diving competitions, and wagered on them. He built what he called the “children’s wing”, where she slept alone. Her natural mother, Maïa Anderson, had died in her own plane when Juanita was three. (John Carberry was a flying enthusiast and in July 1914 had landed his plane in Clonakilty.) When his wife had her fatal crash in Kenya, and died aged just 24, the Anderson family held her husband responsible, as he had bullied her into performing a flying display at an air show.
In 1941 Juanita was the teenage witness in the scandal around the murder of Josslyn Hay, 22nd earl of Erroll. This was the murder that was later explored in the book White Mischief. A film of the same name starred Charles Dance as the serial adulterer Hay and Greta Scacchi as his young lover, Diana Delves Broughton.
The murder trial gave Juanita a new standing. “The realisation that her testimony risked sending the man accused of murdering [Hay] to the gallows gave ‘the brat’ a new status,” she wrote.
According to statements she made almost 50 years later, the murderer, Sir John Henry Delves Broughton, 30 years older than Diana, confessed his crime to Juanita the day after the killing. She had noticed that he was burning some gym shoes on a bonfire; this drew her attention because it was routine to give old shoes to the African servants. A mark from similar shoes had been found in the car in which Hay’s corpse had been discovered.