The mysterious case of Lord Lucan

It was one of the most mysterious disappearances in the modern era when Lord Richard John Bingham, Seventh Earl of Lucan seemingly vanished without trace.  These days he is often mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Presley being seen sighted working in a Fish and Chip Shop in Burnley but the light-hearted jokes paper over a cold-blooded murder.

Recently the missing peer’s widow Veronica, the Countess of Lucan, recalls the gory events of November 7, 1974, when her family’s nanny Sandra Rivett was killed and her husband disappeared without a trace.

Murdered-Sandra-Rivett-219176

Sandra Rivett, nanny who was the victim of mistaken identiy.

Lord Lucan was a member of the aristocracy with a less than cosy life.  Unknown at the time, Lord Lucan had had unsecured debts of £45,000 and preferential liabilities for £1,326. His assets were estimated at £22,632.

At the time, Veronica had recently won a court battle against her estranged husband, claiming custody of their three children. Lucan was heavily burdened by debt, and had a history of domestic abuse. It is generally believed that he  had intended to murder his wife but ended up killing Rivett by mistake when he attacked her half-seen figure in the darkened basement of their home, in London’s upmarket Belgravia.

Normally Sandra would have that particular night off to see her boyfriend but unknowingly to Lord Lucan, his wife Veronica has given the nanny permission to switch her days around.   After putting the younger children to bed, at about 8:55 pm, Sandra Rivett  asked Veronica if she would like a cup of tea, before heading downstairs to the basement kitchen to make one. As she entered the room, she was bludgeoned to death with a piece of bandaged lead pipe. Her killer then placed her body into a canvas mailsack. Meanwhile, wondering what had delayed her nanny, Lady Lucan descended from the first floor to see what had happened. She called to Rivett from the top of the basement stairs and was herself attacked. As she screamed for her life, her attacker told her to “shut up”.

Lady Lucan, 79, describes how she fought for her life. She says she pleaded with Lucan – who had just bludgeoned nanny Sandra Rivett – as he tried to strangle her.

‘I screamed and my husband put three gloved fingers down my throat to stop me screaming and we started to fight, he tried to push me down to the basement stairs but I clung on to the balustrade and kicked one of them out of place.  He started to strangle me and then tried to poke my eye out but I continued fighting and then I grasped at his genitals and he moved back and I found myself sitting in between his legs. I put my hand down and I felt something metal covered in bandaging and a great deal of my hair. I said, “Please don’t kill me John” and then I asked “Where’s Sandra?” and he said, “She’s dead. Don’t look.”

She says she believed he tried to get her to take sleeping tablets so he could kill her.

‘When your life is in danger… you’ll try and play on his psychology,’ she says. ‘But I still tried to placate him. I said, “What shall we do with the body? Sandra has few friends, no one will miss her. And I can stay in the house until my wounds have healed.” He appeared to be accepting.

PAY-Lord-Lucan-7th-EARL-OF-LUCAN-Richard-John-Bingham-with-his-fiancee

Lord and Lady Lucan

‘Then he said, “Have you got any sleeping tablets” and I said, “Yes I have”. And he hustled me… up the stairs. He asked, “Would you take some [sleeping tablets]?”. I said yes. Well presumably he was hoping that I would go to sleep and – well I don’t know if this is true – that he’d be able to put a pillow over my head and smother me.

‘I could see that my face was absolutely covered in blood and it was impossible to see how much damage had been done because there was so much blood.’

Lord Lucan and his wife then went upstairs.  Whilst the children were in one room, the couple then went into their bedroom.  Both were covered in blood, from when he had battered his wife with some lead piping and so the Lord went in the bathroom to wash his hands and face which is when his wife Veronica took her chance to escape.  Though badly injured and bleeding profusely, Veronica found the strength to stagger to the nearby Plumbers Arms pub on Lower Belgrave Street, calling for help, where she shared the news of Rivett’s murder. Lucan, meanwhile, was never officially sighted again.

Early the next morning, his borrowed car was found – abandoned – on a quiet residential street in Newhaven on the south coast. In the intervening years, strange theories have proliferated about the peer – did he take his own life? Or did he flee to another country, to avoid prosecution? Here are a few of the most compelling theories that have been put forward by members of Lucan’s circle.

 

The theories: what happened to ‘Lucky’ Lucan next?

1. ‘He drowned himself after murdering the nanny by mistake’

James Wilson, a close friend of the earl and part of his circle of wealthy gamblers at the Clermont Club, shared his own version of events with The Telegraph in 2015. In this account, with what is widely thought, Lucan had planned to murder his estranged wife Veronica, Countess of Lucan, but killed Rivett by mistake after failing to recognise her in the dark.

According to Wilson, he filled his pockets with stones before jumping off his boat and drowning himself in Newhaven Harbour, just hours after the killing. “I believe that when he realised he had killed the nanny, the remorse, guilt and panic led him to commit suicide,” he said.

Wilson claimed that Lucan had been planning to kill his wife for quite some time, and had mentioned his murderous intentions to his acquaintance Lady Osborne, mother of Lucan’s friend Lord Aspinall, and grandmother of Evening Standard editor George Osborne. “She told me that Lucky had confided to her that he intended to kill Veronica,” said Wilson.“She told me she said to him: ‘Well John, if you intend to do that, make sure you hide her body well!’ Lady O had a loud cackling laugh and it was obvious she did not like Veronica – not many people did.”

“She told me she said to him: ‘Well John, if you intend to do that, make sure you hide her body well!’ Lady O had a loud cackling laugh and it was obvious she did not like Veronica – not many people did.”

“She told me she said to him: ‘Well John, if you intend to do that, make sure you hide her body well!’ Lady O had a loud cackling laugh and it was obvious she did not like Veronica – not many people did.”

Wilson added: “John Lucan was a gambler. He gambled on successfully killing his wife and being able to hide her body and get away with murder.

“But when it went terribly wrong he must have realised he only had two options open to him; hand himself in or kill himself. Having lost the gamble he chose the latter.”

2. ‘He moved to Africa and lived a secret life there until 2000’

In 2012, Shirley Robey stepped forward with her theory about what happened to Lucan.

She claimed to have overheard conversations about his whereabouts – after his disappearance – between two of his friends: James Goldsmith (father of former MP Zac Goldsmith), and casino owner John Aspinall, her employer at the time.

Robey worked for Aspinall from 1979-85, and said she often heard him talk about Lucan, but didn’t know the gory details of the case at the time.

 “I knew he was hiding, I knew he was in Africa, I knew we were hushing it up. I knew he’d fallen out with his wife and I knew it was a major secret but for whatever reason I didn’t appreciate there had been a murder until some years later,” she said.

“It didn’t occur to me to be honest. I had a very great deal of admiration and respect for him [Aspinall] and it just didn’t occur to me that he would get me into any kind of trouble. […] If I’d have known it was a murder, I think I would have handled things quite differently. In fact I know I would have done.”

3.  ‘He shot himself and his body was fed to a tiger in a zoo’

Philippe Marcq, another of Lucan’s wealthy gambler friends, claims he was told by Stephen Raphael – another regular at the Clermont Club – that Lucan drove to a private zoo in Kent after the killing. At the zoo, which was owned by Aspinall, a group of friends tried to advise Lucan about what to do next.

Marcq said: “They told him: ‘Look, it is absolutely terrible what happened. You are a murderer. You tried to kill your wife out of desperation for your children and so they would be free from her influence.

“But what you have done makes absolutely sure she will be in control of your children for years to come – you are a murderer and you are going to be in a cell for the next 30 years’.”

His friends allegedly told him that, without proof of death, probate could not be granted on his estate for at least seven years – by which time his children would be old enough to look after their own affairs.

They allegedly dismissed the idea that he flee abroad, saying he was not cut out for a life on the run and he would be returned to the UK. Instead, Marcq said a pistol was placed in front of Lucan, who picked it up, went into the next room, and shot himself. The body was then allegedly fed to a tiger named Zorra.

Police reportedly investigated the tiger theory at the time, after Aspinall’s mother, Lady Osborne told them: “The last I heard of him (Lucan), he was being fed to the tigers at my son’s zoo.”

When police visited Howletts, Aspinall is said to have responded: “My tigers are only fed the choicest cuts – do you really think they’re going to eat stringy old Lucky?”

4. ‘He didn’t commit the murder, and his friends helped him flee from the accusations’

Lucan’s brother, Hugh Bingham, has defended the peer’s innocence, and claimed that (rather than committing suicide) he in fact went into hiding after Rivett’s death.

“I have always believed he didn’t commit murder,” Bingham said. “He had no choice but to flee in the face of cruel allegations.”

Although Bingham has not put forward a definitive theory regarding Lucan’s whereabouts, he claimed that parts of the police investigation didn’t quite add up.

 

“The police inquiry was compromised from the start,” he has alleged. “For example, there is significant evidence of the existence of an unknown man at the scene – is he known to police?”As it happened, Lord Lucan was only declared officially dead in February 2016 which allowed his estate to be passed on to his son.

 

Giving her her on take on what she believed happened to her husband, the Countess said “I believe my late husband committed suicide shortly after the murder of Sandra, most probably by bravely throwing himself on to the propellers of a ship in mid-Channel, hoping that his remains would be irrecoverable so that death duties would not be immediately payable as the children’s education had not been secured.”

She added: “My husband committed suicide because he was an honourable man. Of course, I have learned to forgive.”

Nevertheless, Lord Lucan continues to be spotted as far away as New Zealand and India with most sightings being in South America or Africa.

The Countess of  Lucan herself has said that she hasn’t been the best mother and has not seen her estranged children for 35 years and was known to be a difficult woman who wasn’t particularly liked back in the 1970’s.

Now aged 79, Veronica says “I am deeply sad that my marriage caused Mrs Sandra Rivett to die. I am very sorry about that. But I cannot alter it, except not to forget about her – and I don’t forget about her.”

Lady Lucan as she is today.

Countess of Lucan as she is today.

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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One Response to The mysterious case of Lord Lucan

  1. Francis says:

    This story truly haunts me. At the time of the murder my wife-to.be lived her school-girl life quite close by and she described to me the very real shock of this incident among the community. ‘Lucky Lucan’ must also have been intoxicated when he became a murderer. I cannot see his military ethics so turned upside down unless he was. Also his love for his children and his inability to see them when he wanted must have played on his mind. It’s so sad to read his widow’s web page and read about her pain at her children’s estrangement from her. I am so intreaged by the disappearance of people. For all I know Lucan might be still living on Mount Athos as a penitent monk or some other place where no questions are asked. Who knows? We’ll never know!

    Liked by 1 person

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