Dark Facts About Alice De Janzé, The Wicked Madonna

Brendan Da Costa

Alice de Janzé was an American socialite with a dark side—a very, very dark side. Ironically, she chose to live most of her life in Kenya’s “Happy Valley.” But there was nothing happy about her terrifying story. The eerie heiress kept panthers for pets, married the man she shot, and abandoned her children. And that’s just half the story.


1. She Was Born With A “Silver Spoon”

The scandalous heiress that the tabloids would later call Alice de Janzé was born Alice Silverthorne in September 1899. Through her mother, Alice was related to the illustrious Armour family—one of the wealthiest dynasties in America at the time. In fact, she was so rich that her friends called her Alice “Silver Spoon.” But all the money in the world couldn’t save Alice from tragedy. 

2. She Suffered A Devastating Loss

When Alice was just eight years old, she suffered a terrible loss from which she would never truly recover. Her mother passed away suddenly of tuberculosis. Just a girl, the loss of her mother was devastating—but this was just the beginning. Losing her mother was nothing compared to the mental anguish that followed.

3. Her Father Might Have Been Guilty

Alice’s mother’s passing was sudden and unexpected—so unexpected that some people thought there was foul play afoot. Allegedly, six months earlier, Alice’s father William locked his wife out of the house on a freezing cold night. The going theory was that he had caused his own wife’s fatal illness. Sadly, the other theories were even more damaging to little Alice.

4. She Blamed Herself

It’s entirely possible that William was blameless in his wife’s demise…because it might have been Alice’s fault. Records show that Alice was an asymptomatic carrier of tuberculosis from birth. It’s possible that Alice unwittingly gave her mother the terminal condition and that she blamed herself for her untimely demise. It would certainly explain her disturbing behavior later in life.

5. She Was Missing A Few…Hundred Screws

The emotional burden of her mother’s passing was too much for Alice to bear, regardless of whose fault it was. There’s evidence that, from a very early age, Alice suffered from any number of mental illnesses ranging from vague “melancholia” to bipolar disorder. This began young, but her fractured mind would only worsen as she got older.

6. She Was A Party Girl

Perhaps in an attempt to brighten Alice’s mood and mend her broken heart, William encouraged his young daughter to enjoy her status in life. In fact, he allowed her to go out to nightclubs and partake in Chicago’s wild party scene. Though it might sound like he was a “cool dad,” Alice was just a preteen at the time. And very vulnerable.

7. Her Father Took A Shine To Her

The people of Chicago began to take note of the odd relationship between Alice and her “encouraging” father. He often took her out on the town and showcased his preteen daughter as an eligible debutant. Scandalous rumors quickly spread around town. In the circles of upper-crust society, people began to whisper that William’s interest in his daughter was…not paternal.

8. She Managed To Escape

The sordid rumors about Alice’s relationship with her father reached one of her wealthy uncles in New York. Mortified at even the idea of such a thing, he managed to get custody of the 14-year-old heiress and whisk her away from her father. But that didn’t save Alice. Shortly after that, William managed to take Alice out of the country. And that’s when it all went bad.

9. Her Father Took Her Away

After losing custody, William took Alice away on an indefinite trip to the French Riviera. With the anonymity provided to the illustrious father-daughter duo by a foreign country, William threw caution to the wind. He reportedly openly paraded Alice around France as his mistress. And while her father treated her like some kind of exotic pet, Alice got a pet of her own.

10. She Had The Purr-fect Friend

The truth about Alice’s relationship with her father behind closed doors is still mysterious to this day, but one thing is for certain: Something was causing Alice to act out. While in France, the young heiress kept a black panther as a pet. Much to the horror of the locals, she would stroll down the Promenade des Anglais with her “cat” in tow.

11. She Found Her Own Way

Alice finally managed to break from her father when she was 20. In 1919, she briefly moved back to Chicago to live with her aunts before returning to Paris on her own. Even though she didn’t have to work, Alice took up a job managing the models at French designer Jean Patou’s studio. But she longed for more exciting things—and boy, would she find them.

12. She Had A Whirlwind Romance

While working in Paris, Alice met Frédéric de Janzé, a famous race car driver and heir of noble descent. After just three weeks of dating, Alice and de Janzé decided to ignore their better judgment and make their love official. The couple got married in September of 1921 in Chicago. It was the beginning of a truly disastrous relationship.

13. She Had A Great Name

In the years to come, Frederic de Janzé would regret ever having met the macabre Alice Silverthorne. But at the time of their marriage, he only had one regret. He loved her surname, Silverthorne, so much that he lamented marrying her because she would have to change it. It wasn’t long, though, before the cracks started to show.

14. She Was A Neglectful Mother

Alice her new husband decided to settle in Paris. For a while, it seemed like Alice was happy to “play house.” She had two daughters with de Janzé, but she was a neglectful mother and had the children raised in Normandy by their governesses. De Janzé knew that his wife yearned for more than a simple domestic life. And what she really wanted horrified him.

15. She Met The Wrong People At The Right Time

Alice de Janzé met Josslyn, 22nd Earl of Erroll and his wife Idina while living in Paris. The Earl of Erroll and the Countess Idina took a liking to Alice—she must have been in one of her good moods—and quickly invited her and her husband to join them in Kenya’s “Happy Valley.” If that sounds like the ominous name of a cult, that’s because it was.

16. She Was A Valley Girl

The “Happy Valley” was an enclave of mostly British aristocrats in Kenya which was, at the time, a colony of the British Empire. In the 1920s, the tiny enclave earned a reputation for a hedonistic lifestyle that puts the Roaring Twenties to shame. Illicit substances, swinging, and debauchery of all kinds were par for the course in this bizarre little colonialist paradise. It was just the kind of thing that Alice was looking for.

17. She Was In Full Swing

Alice de Janzé and her husband agreed to join their new friends, the Errolls, in the Happy Valley for three months. The couple wasted no time getting into the “swing” of things. Alice began an affair with the Earl of Erroll while de Janzé began an affair with Idina. While it all seemed like fun, de Janzé had no idea he’d created a monster.

18. She Loved Animals

Alice’s darkly seductive tendencies came out in the Happy Valley. She developed a reputation amongst the “Happy Valley set” for her physical beauty, darkly sarcastic sense of humor, and, above all, her wild mood swings. She enjoyed playing the ukulele and flirting when she wasn’t going on passionate tirades about animal rights—panthers in particular, obviously.

19. Her Husband Suspected The Worst

If Alice’s husband hoped that the Happy Valley would make her, well, happy, he was in for a rude awakening. While he wrote about her “wide eyes so calm[…]full red lips, a body to desire” he knew that something dark lurked beneath the surface. “That weird soul of mixtures is at the door! Her cruelty and lascivious thoughts clutch the thick lips on close white teeth,” he wrote. And that’s before their union went up in flames.

20. She Was The Wicked Witch

Frederic de Janzé wasn’t the only one who was beginning to notice that something was “off” with Alice. Her erratic behavior and depressive episodes worsened to the point that even the “no-holds-barred” crowd of the Happy Valley took note. The other residents began calling her the “wicked Madonna” for her seductive beauty and unstable mental state.

It was only a matter of time before she did something truly horrible.

21. She Was Untouchable

As their first three-month stint in the Happy Valley was drawing to a close, Frederic questioned his marriage to Alice. It seemed to him that, despite his best efforts, she was slipping further and further away from him. And closer and closer to madness. He wrote, “No man will touch her exclusive soul, shadowy with memories, unstable, suicidal.” He wasn’t far off…

22. She Was A Man Hunter

Alice and her husband returned to Paris after three months in the Happy Valley, but Alice had no interest in regular life anymore. She dragged de Janzé back to the Happy Valley in 1926. While Alice slipped back into her hedonistic ways, de Janzé occupied himself with lion hunting. With her husband gone hunting, Alice was free to go completely off the deep end.

23. She Picked Up Where She Left Off

It’s unclear whether or not Alice resumed her affair with the Earl of Erroll when she returned to the Happy Valley, but she wasn’t hurting for lovers. Shortly after she got back, she began another affair with the recently widowed Raymond de Trafford. But this affair was different. Something Alice de Janzé never expected was about to happen.

24. She Fell In Love, For Real

If it was at all possible for the moody, mysterious Alice to fall in love, then she fell in love with de Trafford. Their romance was so intense that the couple even tried to elope while in Kenya. It’s not clear why they abandoned their plan but they returned to the Happy Valley without having taken any vows. At least, no holy vows.

25. She Drove Her Husband To The Edge

Alice’s new affair with de Trafford began to take its toll on her husband. Though he never spoke out about it publicly, years later he referred to his marriage and Alice’s affair with de Trafford as the “infernal triangle.” In an attempt to salvage what he could of his relationship with Alice, de Janzé insisted that they return to Paris. He had no idea just how far-gone Alice really was.

26. She Was A Changed Woman

When they returned to Paris, something had clearly changed in Alice—and it had changed for the worse. Upon their return, Alice went to see her mother-in-law. She revealed her greatest secret: that she was in love with de Trafford and wanted to divorce de Janzé. If only it could have been that simple—there would have been a lot less blood.

27. She Abandoned Her Husband

Alice’s mother-in-law cautioned her against divorce for the sake of their children and told her not to do anything rash. Of course, acting rashly was Alice’s modus operandi, so that advice meant nothing to her. After their conversation, Alice returned to the Happy Valley to be with de Trafford, leaving poor Frederic behind.

28. She Had A Love Nest

In an attempt to keep Alice’s scandalous affair out of the tabloids, her mother-in-law gave her and de Trafford a “love nest.” The tiny, fully-furnished apartment on a quiet street in Paris seemed like a good place to sweep the whole thing under the rug. At least, it could keep her in Paris and under a watchful eye—but no four walls could contain Alice de Janzé’s erratic behavior.

29. She Was Getting Everything She Wanted

Alice de Janzé carried on her affair with de Trafford, yet they managed to keep the whole thing quiet. For a time. Facing pressure from his family, Frederic de Janzé sued Alice for divorce. Of course, divorcing de Janzé to marry de Trafford was exactly what Alice wanted. And she was going to get what she wanted. No matter what.

30. She Knew Something Was Wrong

Alice awoke on the fateful morning of March 25, 1927 in an “agitated state”—she must have known what lay ahead. She and de Trafford met for lunch, and that’s when he dropped a bombshell. He explained that his Catholic family would disinherit him if he married her after her divorce. And then her heart—and mind—broke.

31. She Purchased An Instrument Of Love

De Trafford left that day thinking that Alice took the news better than he’d expected. Really, she was just biding her time. Later that afternoon, de Trafford accompanied Alice to a sporting goods store. Suffice to say, she was not in a “sporting” mood. Alice purchased a gold and pearl-decorated revolver along with several cartridges. De Trafford thought nothing of it…

He should have been fearing for his life.

32. She Couldn’t Say Goodbye

Later that evening, Alice de Janzé and her lover went to the Gare du Nord train station. De Trafford had booked a train ticket back to his hometown of London, England. Sad as it was, their hot and heavy romance was coming to an end. But Alice wasn’t one to just let her lovers go. If she couldn’t have de Trafford, then no one could.

33. She Took Her Lover With Her

Just as de Trafford was waving one final farewell to his lover from his train compartment, Alice did the unthinkable. She reached into her purse and pulled out the revolver she had purchased. She aimed it right a de Trafford and pulled the trigger with a bang, striking him in the stomach and puncturing his lungs. And that was just the opening salvo.

34. She Turned The Barrell On Herself

Alice then turned the revolver on herself and pulled the trigger again as another loud bang echoed throughout the train station. The bullet struck her in the stomach and she gasped, “I did it!” before collapsing to the ground in front of an astonished train conductor. But you know what they say about lovers’ quarrels…

35. She Regretted Her Actions

Alice woke up in the hospital, dazed and confused after her crazed and brazen act at the train station. When she asked, the authorities informed her that de Trafford was also in the hospital and unlikely to survive his injuries. In horror, she screamed out, “But he must live! I want him to live!” Then why did she pull the revolver on him?

36. She Was “Gentle”

Alice’s wealthy relatives rushed to the hospital in a desperate attempt to contain the growing scandal, but it was far too late for that. The newspapers wasted no time sensationalizing the incident. While de Trafford’s life hung in the balance, the media portrayed Alice as a mentally unstable femme fatale who had “shot herself very gently.” Her motives, however, remained a mystery.

37. She Kept Her Secrets To Herself

With all of the public attention, the authorities were eager to charge Alice with the whole bloody affair. They interrogated her to try to get to the bottom of it, but they didn’t realize who they were dealing with. Every single time they asked, Alice replied with the same answer: “I decided to shoot him just as the train was leaving. Why is my own secret. Don’t ask me.” Sorry Alice, but I’m not sure that’s good enough…

38. Her Lover Defended Her

Much to Alice’s relief, de Trafford regained consciousness and recovered. Instead of pointing a guilty finger at his lover, de Trafford was quick to defend her. He exclaimed, “Why, Madame attempted suicide. I tried to stop her and the [revolver] was accidentally discharged. A deplorable accident, surely…but yet, an accident!”

39. She Wanted To Go To The Great Beyond

Once she knew that de Trafford was safe, Alice signed a confession and shed some light on her macabre mind. She explained, “The whistle of London Express blew, and I realized that he was going away from Paris—and from me forever—I suddenly changed my mind and resolved to take him away with me into the Great Beyond. Slowly—very slowly—I loosened my grip around his neck, placed the revolver between our two bodies, and, as the train started, fired twice—into his chest and my own body.”

40. She Wanted To End It All

During the trial, Alice and her lover garnered significant public sympathy as victims of passionate love. The court was also lenient on her, as she clearly displayed a history of mental illness. She recounted, “I have always had ideas of suicide. From time to time, and without reason, I have wanted to [end it all].” Plus, Alice had one big advantage in this case.

41. She Got Off Scot-Free

Thanks to the intervention of Alice’s powerful family, she received a full presidential pardon for the whole incident. In fact, it was almost like it never even happened at all—you know, apart from the physical and emotional scars. About a month later, Alice and Frederic de Janzé quietly secured their divorce and parted ways for good. Or so he thought.

42. She Was No Longer A Countess

Shortly after her divorce, Alice de Janzé shocked the public again. She declared that she would remarry Frederic “for the sake of the children.” There was just one problem: Frederic did not feel the same way. He was quick to react to the story and forced Alice to retract her statement. He then instructed every newspaper in France to never refer to her as the Countess de Janzé again.

43. She Was “Undesirable”

With her reputation in France ruined, Alice returned to the Happy Valley in Kenya in 1928. Unfortunately, she didn’t get the warm welcome that she had expected from her former friends. The government of Kenya kicked her out and declared her an “undesirable alien.” Upon her return to Paris, however, not everyone found her “undesirable.”

44. She Wanted Her Lover(s) Back

Back in Paris, Alice resumed her affair with Josslyn, Earl of Erroll. But the tabloids suspected that there was something else brewing in Alice’s heart—something much more sinister. Rumors circulated in the newspapers that Alice and de Trafford were planning a marriage. It sounded like a ridiculous tale; she did shoot him, after all. Well, unbelievable as they were, the rumors were true.

45. She Pursued Her Lover To The Ends Of The Earth

Five years after she pulled a revolver on him at a train station and put him into a coma, Alice de de Janzé wed Raymond de Trafford. According to Alice, “We were deeply in love. It was arranged that we should marry.” That’s not the whole story though. Later records reveal that Alice had to pursue de Trafford to convince him to marry her.

46. She Had Another Lovers’ Spat

Shortly after their marriage, Alice and de Trafford got into a heated argument on a train about their honeymoon destination (Seriously, what was with this couple and trains?). Alice revealed to de Trafford that she had purchased the cottage in Happy Valley where they had first fallen in love and wanted to honeymoon there. Maybe that’s not the kind of news you spring on somebody?

47. She Reached For Her Rev…lon

During the heated argument, Alice slowly reached into her purse to pull something out. The move must have triggered bad memories for de Trafford because he promptly fled, fearing another attempt on his life. Turns out, she had just intended to powder her nose. At least, that’s what she claimed she was doing.

48. Her Lover Abandoned Her (In Fear)

Even if she hadn’t been reaching for the revolver, de Trafford wasn’t interested in finding out what Alice’s true intentions had been. After fleeing the train, the wounded lover fled to Australia and left Alice to attend their honeymoon in Happy Valley all alone. Eventually, Alice obtained a divorce from de Trafford, claiming “abandonment.”

49. She Frightened Everyone

Once she finally got Kenyan officials to let her back in the country, Alice de Janzé decided to settle in Happy Valley. She spent most of her time raising animals such as lions, panthers, and antelopes. They were just about the only ones who could tolerate her presence. Her close friend Beryl Markham later commented, “Loneliness fixed Alice. Everyone was frightened of her.” And they had every right to be.

50. Her Lover Came To A Bloody End

In January 1941, one of Alice’s former lovers met a horrible fate. An unidentified assailant gunned Josslyn, Earl of Erroll down while he was sitting at an intersection in Nairobi. Given her history, the authorities immediately suspected that the infamous Alice de Janzé was behind the whole thing.

51. She Claimed What Was Hers

Alice had a solid alibi for the night of the terrible incident that claimed the Earl of Erroll’s life. But there were still grounds for suspicion—namely that Alice was certifiably insane. Case in point: When Alice went to see Erroll’s body at the morgue, she left everyone gawking and confused when she placed a tree branch over his body and said, “Now you are mine forever.”

52. Her Behavior Aroused Suspicion

Despite their suspicions of Alice, the authorities ultimately charged Sir John Henry Delves Broughton, the husband of one of Erroll’s lovers, in connection with the incident. But Alice’s behavior continued to arouse suspicion. Without explanation, she made regular visits to see Broughton as he awaited trial. And then more evidence emerged.

53. She Incriminated Herself

A jury acquitted Broughton for lack of evidence—but they may have been looking in the wrong place. Alice’s biographer, Paul Spicer, claimed that Alice had written letters to her doctor and lover, William Boyle, that proved she had something to do with the chilling murder. Plus, she did have a thing for firing rounds at lovers.

54. She Finally Got What She Wanted

Later that year, Alice was diagnosed with cancer. She was also aging out of her beauty—and somehow becoming even more erratic. On September 30, 1941, Alice took out her gold and pearl-decorated revolver and aimed it at the one person she had never learned to love: herself. Alice succumbed to her self-inflected injuries but she left more mystery behind than anything else.

55. She Left Everyone “Dumbfounded”

Alice left behind three notes: one for the authorities, one for her two estranged daughters, and another for Dickie Pembroke—a Happy Valley resident and her alibi for the night of Erroll’s “incident.” No one ever revealed the contents of the letters except to say that the contents left one government official “dumbfounded.”

56. She Just Wanted To Party

Alice’s final acts will almost certainly remain a terrifying, blood-soaked mystery. But her final wishes, on the other hand, made for horrifying headlines from an eerie heiress. Alice’s final wish was for her friends to host a cocktail party over her grave after they buried her. No word on whether her pet panther attended the festivities.

Sources: 1, 23

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