Lord Lucan, a name of considerable infamy, not as a member of the aristocracy, but for the murder of his children’s nanny in a house in the elitist district of Belgravia, London in 1973 and his subsequent disappearance. It was a story that the press went to town on, a classic us vs them tale of Class superiority and those that would seek to protect the hierarchy at all costs, but how much of it was based on truth and how much just a convenient narrative for the journalists that covered the case? It was a case that was launched into mythical status after the Lord himself vanished without trace, leaving a question that runs until today. Where in the world is Lord Lucan?
A Different Class of Murder – Laura Thompson: This is a pretty good, up to date book on the whole Lucan affair. Some might find it a bit Pro-Lucan, or a little Anti-Veronica at least, but all in it’s solid and had a revised second edition last year, so is bang up to date.
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The Disappearance of Lord Lucan
Lord Lucan, a name of considerable infamy, not as a member of the aristocracy, but for the murder of his children’s nanny in a house in the elitist district of Belgravia, London in 1973 and his subsequent disappearance. It was a story that the press went to town on, a classic us vs them tale of Class superiority and those that would seek to protect the hierarchy at all costs, but how much of it was based on truth and how much just a convenient narrative for the journalists that covered the case? It was a case that was launched into mythical status after the Lord himself vanished without trace, leaving a question that runs until today. Where in the world is Lord Lucan? This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Britain in the 70s
Britain in the 70s is often pictured as the time when the excesses of the post war good times caught up with Britain. The colossal hangover from the swinging sixties that plunged a country into a cultural dark age. It was a decade that saw fashion go backwards and the living rooms of houses turn into lurid caverns of endless, tobacco stained, brown and beige. People were struggling, workers were striking, electricity was not a guarantee and bombs were exploding in the streets. At least, this is the popular stereotype, though the reality does contain elements of all these things. After the post war boom, Britain had become complacent in it’s affluence and globalization had not only allowed competing nations to catch up, but in many cases surpass the industry of a country that had been resting on past glories for too long. War in the middle east caused oil prices to soar, coal miners went on strike over wages, dock workers followed in support and soon the supply lines for energy were throttled so heavily that power cuts became a daily inconvenience. A state of emergency was announced and the three day working week introduced to alleviate demand. There followed a brief period where a hung parliament ruled for the first time since before the second world war and although it didn’t last long, the inflation that followed was close to 30%. Amongst all of this were the headlines concerning the friction between Britain and ireland, the IRA grew in stature and violence from both sides boiled over with tragic results. Britain was in a sorry political state, even the Prime minister himself was famously quoted as saying “If I was a young man, I would emigrate”.
But so too was the 1970s a period of great cultural change. Despite all of the grim headlines, there was colour TV, foreign holidays, the androgynous fashions of David Bowie and at the end of the decade a female prime minister. By the mid 1970s, the new consumer orientated working and middle classes became dangerously close to blurring traditional boundaries whilst the upper classes who had been under satirical attack for decades, were by now severely outmoded. Not that they had the time to notice, nor care, between arranging for their food deliveries from Harrods and tossing money they didn’t have away in illegal Casinos.
Richard John Bingham was one such man, born into a family of Anglo-Irish aristocracy, he would inherit his father’s peerage to become the 7th earl of Lucan, trappings and all. He was affectionately known as Lucky Lucan to his friends, Lord Lucan to everyone else.
Richard John Bingham and the Lucan Family
Richard John Bingham, better known as John, was born to mother and father Kaitlin and George James Patrick Bingham, the 6th Earl of Lucan, on the 18th December, 1934. Whilst in the hospital, his mother Kaitlin received a telegram from buckingham palace congratulating them on the birth of their son. John was the second of four children and the first son. He had an elder sister named Jane, born in 1932, and a younger sister sarah, born 1936 and a younger brother named Hugh who was born in 1939.
His father had served in the Army during the first world war and would go on to serve again during the second world war, eventually retiring from the military in 1949 after succeeding his father’s title of Lord. He went on to sit on the Labour benches in the house of Lords. Somewhat unusually for their background, both his mother and father were left leaning liberals who devoted large portions of their life campaigning for a breed of politics which went quite against their own way of life as Lords and Ladies. Active in their politics, Johns father would eventually take the role of Labour Chief Whip, whilst his mother Kaitlin was a Labour councillor who canvassed the area with fervor and was described as “wildly” left leaning.
The family lived in Eaton Square in Belgravia, a highly affluent district in central London, whose residents over the years included numerous ex-prime ministers, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Michael Caine, Virginia Woolf, Frederic Chopin and Wolfgang Mozart. Though in 1940, aged 6 years old, Richard john Bingham was transported out of country due to the dangers of the German bombing in the second World War. Like many children, he was first evacuated to rural country areas, the Bingham children wound up in Wales, however like most well off Londoners, they were soon sent to more distant shores. The children were packed on a boat and sent to the USA to live with family friends the Brady Tuckers, an exceptionally rich family who had profited heavily within the American banking system and sat amongst the elite of the country. Whilst there, they lived in the families large, post civil-war period estate in Westchester, New York, though John himself was quickly packed off and sent to boarding school. Feeling alienated, this was a move that the young John Bingham hated, he ran away on at least one occasion and was eventually removed from the school. The children returned to London in February 1945 and now 9 years old, Richard John attended Arnold House Prep School where he displayed signs of promising intelligence, but likewise difficult delinquency. His sisters later speculated that the years spent in America, removed from his family and further removed from his surrogates, had caused him to be deeply unhappy. His parents, against their better judgements, sent him to Eton in an effort to gain him the attention that they suspected he needed and whilst John did become far happier in the elite surroundings of a school that was founded by King Henry VI in 1440 and that boasted alumni, or “old Etonians” as they are known, of princes, novelists and actors, it was not for the reasons his parents had hoped.
Rather than settle down, John continued his delinquent streak at Eton, taking up illegal gambling, slinking off to the nearby racecourses. He eventually became the schools bookkeeper, running the bets for not only himself, but all his classmates too. In the evenings, he snuck off to clubs though despite this, he still managed to become the captain of his house, an effort that clearly demonstrated his popularity amongst the other boys and if not his good conduct, perhaps his “energy” to the school masters.
All of this good humour on behalf of John however, presented a problem. His left leaning parents were supposedly never comfortable with him attending such an elite academy and now he appeared happier, they sought to pull him out of Eton and send him to the local grammar school. This was not an amusing thought to the young man who had found a position in life that suited his breeding. At Eton, he was surrounded by people as well to do as himself and he positively relished the life he was living. In what could be seen as an act of rebellion against his parents, John Bingham had absorbed the traditions of aristocracy to the full.
In 1953, aged 18, John left Eton to join the Army. Up until 1960, National Service was still in effect in varying degrees for young British men aged 17-21. He graduated as a second lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, a regiment in the Army with roots as far back as 1650, the oldest in the British Army and was sent to Krefeld in Germany. Until this point, Johns gambling had been capped by the illegalities of the practice in Britain. He made do with betting amongst friends or was limited to racecourses, however, in Germany Casinos were perfectly legal and so John spent much of his time in Krefeld playing poker in the barracks or slinking off in the evenings to play the tables in the town. It was also a period for John that cemented his motivations in life. Until now, he had shown a desire to live up to his family name in terms of class and wealth, but during this time in Germany, he became obsessed with wealth and the life of luxury that it allowed. In a letter he wrote to his uncle, he spelled it out quite clearly,
“I am perfectly happy now (this is to say I am not unhappy), but I know that with £2 mil in the bank I should be happier still (who wouldn’t?). It wouldn’t be a case of ‘buying happiness’, but motor cars, yachts, expensive holidays and security for the future would give myself and a lot of other people a lot of pleasure. These are some of my carrots, and I’m certainly not ashamed of them.”
After he finished his 2 years military service, John entered a position in the City working for a small Merchant Bank named William Brandts, in Fenchurch Street, London. He was on a yearly wage of £2,500, a sum that amounted to around the value of an average house, however, it was small fry to John Bingham. He felt that hard work would not pay off for him in the long run and saw a dead end in banking. In his years working in the city, he became close friends with Stephen Raphael, a stockbroker and skilled backgammon player who took him under his wing and taught him to gamble in a more professional role. In 1962, when British laws around gambling relaxed and the first casino opened in London, Bingham was among the Dukes, Marquees, earls and cabinet ministers to become the first members.
The Clermont Club opened in Mayfair in 1962 and its owner, john Aspinall knew exactly the sort of clientele he wanted to corner. Billed as an elite and exclusive club, it was lavishly decorated with chandeliers and glamorous members. These rich members knew how to gamble, they spent big, it was high stakes for both the players and Aspinall himself, at least on the surface because as everyone knows, the house always wins. By now, John Bingham had left the family home and was living in his own flat in Park Crescent. He drove an Aston Martin, went skiing in mountain resorts, gambling in monte carlo and raced the odd powerboat here and there. Naturally, he spent the majority of his free time in the Clermont. His game was Chemin De Fer, a variation on the table card game of baccarat and the Chemmy table at the Clermont was where all the most glamorous players would sit after their evening meals in the restaurant on the floor below. Amongst the fancy artwork hanging on the walls and the expensive wine drunk at the bar, John won vast sums of money and lost more. The genius behind Aspinalls club was knowing that the rich always paid, it was simply not gentlemanly or proper conduct to get upset when one loses and so in keeping with their class, the players would remain stoney faced and emotionless whether they won or lost. In fact, in 1962 when the club opened, there did not even exist a rule that could enforce a gambling debt to be paid. Amongst the clientele of the Clermont, however, a law was just not necessary. A gentleman of class will always pay. Besides, if you didn’t pay, where else could a person of such high standards go? And so, within the walls of the club, John Bingham played his role in the grande illusion. He mixed with high society, spent sums of money that would make most wince and at the end of the night as the sun rose, would go home to bed only to repeat it all again the next day.
It was at the club that John met and socialised with his friends for the majority of the days of the week. They were known as “The Clermont Set” and included John Aspinall himself, James Goldsmith, Charles Benson, Daniel Meinertzhagen, Ian Maxwell-Scott, Stephen Raphael, Michael Stoop and Dominick Elwes, an exclusive and elite core of upper class gamblers that John Bingham slipped into with ease. He was tall, charming, handsome and very much liked amongst this group, who affectionately nicknamed him Lucky Lucan. Though he was always a central figure in the Clermont set, his friends often thought of him as introverted and whilst most thought he should have been quite a playboy, he rarely showed interest in women, instead preferring the mans world of gambling. It came as some surprise to his friends then, when in March of 1963 he Met Veronica Duncan and by November of the same year, the couple wed..
Veronica Duncan was born in 1937. Her father was Major Charles Moorhouse-Duncan and her Mother Thelma Duncan, though when she was just two years old, her father died in a fatal car accident. Her mother remarried and the couple ran a pub named the Wheatsheaf Inn before moving to South Africa where Veronica attended Boarding School. Upon returning to England, she attended St. Swithens, an all girls boarding school in Winchester and after her graduation went on to study Graphic Design at Art School in Bournemouth.
After she finished in education in 1957, Veronica moved to a studio flat in Gloucester Place, London, a stones throw from Regents Park and whilst not quite as fancy as Belgravia, it wasn’t what one might call a terrible place to live. She worked as a model and a secretary, helping to run a small business that printed scripts, but a few months later, she moved in with her sister, Christina, and the pair shared a flat in Kensington. She had a brief love affair with an older man, but it ended prematurely when she found out that he was already married. Throughout the time living with her sister, she got on well enough, though her sister later pointed out that she thought she was deeply unhappy and showed signs of depression.
“I was the happy one, and she was always the troubled one”
In 1963, Christina married William Shand-Kydd, one of John Binghams closest friends. Veronica was the head bridesmaid at the wedding and three months later, in March, Veronica met John at a golf club where she had been attending a party with her sister. The couple struck it up and although this came as a surprise to some, others pointed towards their shared feelings of separation as children and their similar introverted characters as a key factor in the sudden change in Johns outlook towards relationships. After a brief courtship, the couple were married on 20th November, 1963 at the Holy trinity Church, the same venue they had both attended just months previously.
Marriage and separation
Four months after the wedding, on the 21st January 1964, Johns father passed away after suffering a stroke. He left John £50,000 and a trust which paid £12,000 per year, along with the family home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street, back in Belgravia. This was no small sum of money, £50,000 was the equivalent of around £1,000,000 today and the trust paid the equivalent of around £125,000. A more sensible, money minded person would have been set for life, but John Bingham, now the 7th Earl of Lucan, or, to use the more infamous, Lord Lucan, was anything but sensible when it came to finances. In 1965, Lucan quit his job at the Merchant Bank and instead took up full time gambling. It is undeniable that he had some talent for gambling, with the amount he was betting in the Clermont on a nightly basis he would have bankrupted himself within weeks if he didn’t, but it was nevertheless a dangerous move and one that his friends advised against and his family protested. It was perhaps, even more foolish given that just months earlier, his first child, Frances, had been born. The couple hired a nanny named Lillian Jenkins and in good times, the family lived a sort of surreal ideal, with expensive holidays in the South of France, Playing Golf, the Horses, hobnobbing with the elites in Monte Carlo and Italy. But their were bad times too. Veronica hated Lucan’s gambling habit which was by now just part of daily life and the Clermont club had become a home from home. Lucan would go there in the morning, return home to change for dinner when the couple would dine in the club and then spend the evening, Lucan gambling at the Chemmy table whilst Veronica sat on the delightfully named “widows bench” with all the other wives.
It was not a bad life, to many, it would have seemed like quite an enjoyable one even, but for Veronica who never quite felt she could fit and who was suffering from Postnatal depression, it was a struggle. Later her sister said that she had, in fact, been suffering for some time with depression,
“She hadn’t been well for a long time, from long before marriage, and so one was aware that he was in for a rocky ride. And we weren’t quite sure that he realized to what extent.”
None of this would have been helped by the alienation that she would have felt sitting on the Widows Bench in the Clermont, surrounded by people she struggled to get along with whilst her husband tossed money into the abyss for hours on end. Lucans friends were aware and it seems likely that Lucan was too, but for his part, he had explained his gambling lifestyle to her before the marriage and as far as he was concerned, that was the end of the matter. Stuart Wheeler, one of Lucans friends said of veronica,
“His wife would have a terrible time of it, I got the impression that she was very lonely there.”
She may have been very lonely at the club although she did at one point tell the press that she enjoyed it there, but what other choice did she have anyway? By her own admission, she was an introvert and had had her own troubles making friends and so, night by night, this nightmarish existence continued. For the rich elite, the Clermont was still the place to be, but for the Lucans, it was one of the only places to be.
The Lucans had two more children, George in 1967 and Camilla in 1970. Both times Veronica fell into bouts of postnatal depression. She would spend the days in her bedroom with the curtains closed, shut off from the outside world until once again, it was time to go to the club.
By 1972, the cracks in the facade of the relationship were beginning to show. The reality of their marriage, that they were two somewhat broken people unwilling or unable to give each other the things each needed was taking a fatal toll. Veronica was struggling with depression and Lucan was not forthcoming with empathy, it was not in his breeding as a stoic aristocrat, in the same way he took losses without flinching, the same facade needed to be in place when dealing with domestic arguments, especially in public and especially in the 1970s when mental health issues were considered by the majority as something that needed hiding away in private. In 1967 he did try and take her to The Priory to get psychiatric help, perhaps the only way he knew how to deal with the situation rather than turning the light on himself and considering his own role in the relationship. Veronica was prescribed Lithium and Fluphenazine, both medications with sedative properties. Once again in 1971, Lucan attempted to have her hospitalised, this time Greenways Nursing home, but she promptly ran away. Lucan claimed she was unstable, whilst Veronica claimed he was violent towards her, Lucan countered by saying she tossed herself around the house, causing self harm to bring up bruises. She had loud public outbursts in the Clermont, culminating eventually in her tossing a glass of wine into another womans face and all the while Lucan continued to gamble.
“The whole thing was a nightmare”, her sister said “for everyone involved.”
In December of 1972, veronica sacked the nanny against Lucans wishes. They spent the Christmas holidays at their sisters house, but on Boxing Day, had a huge fight that lead to veronica walking out and returning home early. It was all too much. Lucan called the GP, confirmed that she was unfit and could be left and on January 7th the pair separated, with Lucan moving into a flat behind Lower Belgrave Street in Eaton Row.
After the separation, Veronica employed a new nanny named Stefanja Sawicka from Sweden, whilst Lucan holed up in his flat, another piece of the inheritance from his father, directly behind the house in Lower Belgrave Street. Lucan wanted custody of the three children however and so he rented a 5 bedroom flat in nearby Elizabeth Street and employed a nanny of his own, Jordanka Kotlarova, to accommodate them. On the 23rd March, he gained a temporary court order for the children’s custody by submitting evidence that his wife was not fit enough to act as a mother. He approached Stefanja and his son and daughter whilst they were in the park, showed the nanny the court order and she handed them over to him without fuss. Lucan then went to Frances school where he once again showed the headmaster the court order and took custody of Frances on the same day. Veronica was furious, so much so that Stefanja called the doctor in concern for her wellbeing. Custody being given to the father in a separation was incredibly unusual, but her doctors gave evidence against her and her prescription medications would not have helped matters. The full custody hearing was set to take place in July. Lucans case against Veronica pivoted on the point that she was not fit as a mother, whilst Veronicas case against Lucan lay in his unstable future as a professional gambler as well as murkier details stating that he was sexually deviant and violent. On the 20th July, 9 days after the start of the hearing, Lucan was advised by his solicitors to concede the case. With his money severely drying up at an alarming rate and with the evidence given by Veronicas doctors, that she was not suffering from Schizophrenia and that her depression was being controlled by lithium, the outcome was nailed on to tilt in the mothers favour. Lucan conceded and Veronica gained full custody of the children with the caveat that she must hire a live in nanny to help her with taking due care for the children. Lucan was given limited access on every other weekend.
What followed after the hearing was nothing short of a 15 month obsession on the part of Lucan to regain custody of the three children. He hired a private investigator from a company named Devlin & Co. to follow Veronica and the nanny and to stake out the house in Lower Belgrave Street and he did much the same himself, often parking up outside to watch through the windows. He recorded telephone conversations, up to 70 hours worth in total, in an effort to prove that she was unfit to be a mother. He was gambling, and losing, at a pretty steady rate and paying maintenance for the children as well as funding Veronicas life, including the food account at Harrods, was taking a heavy toll and that was before the employment of the solicitors and investigators. He had also been ordered to pay all Veronicas solicitors fees for the custody hearing costing him around 20,000 in total. He began drinking hard and gambling harder, borrowing money from friends and family. At one point, he wrote to the Brady Tuckers in America asking for an obscene loan of £125,000 in order to pay off Veronica to buy back custody of his children. Friends who spent time with him during the period spoke of his obsessive focus on the custody battle and of how, at dinner parties he spoke of little else.
All of this too took a toll on Veronica too, who claimed that Lucan was trying to drive her mad, or to damage her mental stability, though in truth, she was doing a fair job before Lucans involvement. She hired and sacked 6 nannies in 13 months, never able to get on with a single one until she hired Sandra Rivett in June of 1974.
Sandra Rivett was 29 years old wehn she took the job as nanny in 46 Lower Belgrave Street. She had only been on the books with the Belgravia Domestic agency for a few weeks after retiring from a job in a cigarette company in Croydon. Her parents had taken Sandra and her two children to live in Australia when Sandra was only two years old, but they returned to England in 1955. After she left school, she became something of a drifter, working a series of jobs from a hairdressers apprentice, to a secretary as well as several stints as a nanny, but never settled into any for a long period. Her first serious relationship had broken down rapidly and after the breakup, she was treated in a hospital for depression. Upon he release, she continued to work as a nanny and finally appeared to settle down when she met a builder and the pair had a child. The relationship once again failed shortly after the birth however, and in 1965, upon suggesting giving her child up for adoption, her parents took the responsibility. She had a second child 2 years later with another man who she had been seeing, but later found out was already married once again. She put the baby up for adoption, though this time her parents allowed his adoption to go ahead without getting involved. In 1967 she met Roger Rivett, a seaman in the royal navy, and the couple married in June, after which Sandra continued to skip from job to job, mostly as a nanny, whilst her husband became employed as an oil tanker driver. Whilst he was away, Roger suspected Sandra of having an affair and the couples marriage broke down. They seperated in May of 1974 when Roger left to return to live with his parents. Sandra filed herself onto the books as a nanny and domestic carer in an agency that serviced the Belgravia district owned by her friend and had been working for several weeks, caring for an elderly couple when she went she took the position of live in carer with Veronica and the Lucan children.
Sandra took well to the her new position in Lower Belgrave Street and so too did the children and Veronica take well to her. She worked in the house 6 days a week, taking Thursdays as her night off and for the first time in some years, Veronica and the children lived in relative harmony. Lucan still maintained his surveillance in an effort to gather evidence against his wife and continued to gamble. By November of 1974, all four of his bank accounts based in the UK were considerably overdrawn and he owed debts to both his electricity company and to the Clermont Club. The club itself had been sold to Playboy by Aspinall and whilst it was no longer the elite stronghold of its former glory days, it was still an upmarket gentlemans club, though it now had unfriendlier management towards Lucan who could no longer leave IOU’s quite as often as he once could.
On the 23rd October, he arranged to borrow Michael Stoops car over dinner, with his old Clermont buddy. Stoop offered him his Mercedes, but Lucan instead asked to borrow his much more average Ford Corsair. He claimed he needed the car to be more covert to allow him to keep up the constant vigils on 46 lower Belgrave Street. Whilst his life was in a chaotic state, he still maintained his relationship with his children, both on his officially awarded weekends and in many other situations he by rights, shouldn’t have been doing, such as attending his daughters school play. On the 7th November, he had dinner with a friend, a publisher, with whom he discussed the possibility of publishing an article on gambling and at 8pm he drove him home to Chelsea.
At just after 10pm the same night, Veronica fell through the doors of the Plumbers Arms pub in Belgravia, covered in blood. “Help me, help me!” she cried out to the barman, “I’ve just escaped from being murdered. My children my children, he’s murdered the nanny!”
The barman of the Plumbers Arms took Sandra to lie down whilst he called the police who arrived shortly after. Police Constable Chapman took her to the hospital where she received 60 stitches across 7 wounds on her head. Meanwhile Police Constable Beddick and Police Sergeant Baker kicked the door in at 46 Belgrave Street. It was just got 10pm and the house inside was silent, in complete darkness. At the top of the stairs leading into the basement lay a 9” piece of lead piping weighing 2 and a half Lbs. They tried the light switches to no avail and found out when they reached the bottom of the stairs that the bulb had been removed and placed on a chair. The orange glow of the streetlamps outside cast enough light for them to make out the pile of rags lying on the floor however and upon inspection they found the body of Sandra Rivett, stuffed into a US Post mailbag.
At 10:20pm, Detective Sergeant Graham Forsyth arrived at the house and later described the scene,
“There was blood all over the shop, when I saw the girl, i thought Christ, they’ve beheaded her.”
Sandra had not been beheaded, but she had been badly beaten. She had six large wounds on her head along with bruising to her head, shoulders and right arm. Blood had covered the basement landing and been smeared across the walls in what appeared to be an apparent struggle. When doctor Michael Smith arrived at 10:45pm, the medical inspector for the MET police, he was immediately satisfied that the death had not been due to natural causes. The scene was now the center of a murder investigation. Further details of the scene were investigated and evidence was collected. They Found that although the font entrance in the basement had been locked, the back door, which led to a small rear garden surrounded by 6 feet high walls and topped by 3 feet of trellace, was unlocked, though no evidence of forced entry was found anywhere. Blood stains were found throughout the basement including some footprints, and curiously, blood was found on some of the Ivy on one of the garden walls, though after extensive questioning, no one in the area had seen anyone leave the house that night. By 1am, when Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Ranson arrived, the scene was something of a mess. Upwards of 50 police officers had been traipsing across the scene and what might have once been an important hotbed of evidence had become compromised at best and utterly useless at worst.
Policeman Graham Forsyth meanwhile took on the duties of breaking and entering Lord Lucans flat in Eaton Row behind Belgrave Street. He found a space that appeared relatively unlived in, though there wa a suit laid out on the bed, along with Lucans wallet and car keys on the bedside cabinet. His passport was found in a drawer and the battery to his Mercedes, which was parked outside, was found to be flat, though there was no sign of Lucan, a fact that was not unsurprising given the fact that Veronica had told police by now that the attacker was her husband.
Lucan arrived at the house of his friends Ian and Susan Maxwell-Scott in Uckfield, Sussex, around fifty miles south of London at around 11:30pm. Ian was not at home, but Susan let him in and made him a drink whilst she listened to his story. He told her that he had been walking past 46 Lower Belgrave Street earlier that night when noticed a man downstairs in the basement attacking his wife. He let himself in through the front door and called out to Veronica which caused the attacker to run off, Veronica told him that someone had killed the nanny and accused him of hiring a hitman to kill her, a claim she had made several times before. After he took veronica upstairs to lie down on the bed to see to her wounds, she ran out of the house whilst he went to the bathroom to wet a towel. Unable to find Veronica, he left and drove to Uckfield. After telling his story to Susan he used the Maxwell-Scotts home phone to call his mother, who was by now in the company of several policeman. His mother asked Lucan if he would like to speak with them, but he declined, saying he would call them in the morning. He then sat down in the study of the house and wrote two letters to his friend Bill Shand Kydd, the first repeating the story he had told Susan and the second detailing an upcoming sale of some of the Lucan family heirlooms and advising to which bank accounts the money should be sent to in order to pay off debts. It was signed Lucky.
Susan then gave him four valium tablets after Lucan asked her if she had anything to help him sleep and he left, leaving Susan to post the letters to Bill Shand Kydd. Later, he wrote a further two letters on paper torn from a notebook, to Michael Stoop, the owner of the borrowed Ford Corsair,
“My Dear Michael,
I have had a traumatic night of unbelievable coincidence. However I won’t bore you with anything or involve you except to say that when you come across my children, which I hope you will, please tell them that you knew me and that all I cared about was them. The fact that a crooked solicitor and a rotten psychiatrist destroyed me between them will be of no importance to the children. I gave Bill Shand Kydd an account of what actually happened but judging by my last effort in court no-one, let alone a 67 year old judge – would believe – and I no longer care except that my children should be protected.
The second letter was never turned into the police, but came out years later in 2004 when a journalist, James Fox interviewed Michael concerning Lucan. The full details of the letter are lost, but from Fox’s notes, he had written,
“Smallish paper… no envelope… keys in glove compartment… in Norman Street… Please forget you ever lent it to me… burn envelope”
Though Stoop insists he never burnt the envelope, it was nevertheless destroyed when his wastepaper bin was emptied later on the day he had received it, so it remains a mystery from where it was posted.
On Sunday 10th November, the Ford Corsair was found parked in Norman Road in a small port town named Newhaven in Sussex, some 16 miles from uckfield. In the boot police found a second piece of lead piping that closely matched the piece found in Lower Belgrave Street, though an exact match was never confirmed, an unopened bottle of vodka, but no keys in the glove compartment. The police were immediately diverted to the small town, fishing boats were searched along with the surrounding countryside, but to no avail. Frogmen were dispatched to search the harbour but no evidence of Lucan was found. He had vanished leaving no trace.
If Lucan’s story sounded far fetched, that was because it had been. It contained some remarkable coincidences. Not only that, but police found that it differed almost entirely from veronicas side of events, which she gave in a twenty page statement the day after the attack. Veronica told police that on the evening of the attack, she had been watching TV with her children and Sandra Rivett upstairs on the third floor of Lower Belgrave Street. Sandra normally took thursdays off, but on this occasion, she had switched the days in order to go out with her boyfriend on Wednesday, the night before. At 8:55pm, Veronica put the three children to bed and Sandra asked her if she would like tea, disappearing off towards the basement kitchen. By 9:15, wondering where the tea had gotten to, veronica went downstairs to chase up the matter when she found the lights in the basement were not working. Standing at the top of the stairs, she called down into the darkness. As she had done so, she felt an almighty thud on the back of her head as she was attacked from behind by a large man that she later recognised as her husband, Lord Lucan, when he told her to “shut up”. The pair struggled as they fought in the hallway until Veronica, grabbing tight on Lucan’s testicles stopped the attacker cold. Exhausted from the brawl, the pair sat in the hallway and Veronica asked Lucan where Sandra was and he told her that he had killed her, that it was an error and that he had meant to kill veronica herself. He then took veronica to the second floor bedroom to inspect her injuries and she fled to the Plumbers Arms pub to get help when he went to wet a towel.
This account differed in more ways than one, but it did sit with the story that was unfolding before the police. They had a body and a runaway husband who was making himself look very guilty indeed. It did however leave a gap of thirty minutes between the attack and Veronica showing up in the pub, though veronicas recollection of the conversation the couple had during that time was only vague. The police double checked that she saw no one else on that evening, but she replied comprehensively that she had not and that the man she had seen was most definitely her husband.
To bolster the unravelling pile of evidence that was stacking up against Lucan, the forensics of the crime scene, or at least, what forensis could be done, were all backing Veronicas story. Police had found blood of the same category as at the crime scene in the abandoned Ford Corsair along with some of veronica’s hair. There were some inconsistencies however, no fingerprints could be found of Lucan’s at the scene and none in his own flat. Police had made such a mess of both scenes that it was altogether impossible. The blood in the hallway was of two types, A and B, one matching Sandra and one matching Veronica, but it was in unusual places. Police put this down to transference, if Lucan had been covered in Sandra’s blood, then it is completely understandable that some would have ended up back upstairs and on veronicas clothing, but blood was also found on the sole of Veronicas left shoe, though she claimed to have never been in the basement and what about the blood on the leaves in the rear garden? Police did search the area but found no one and found no witnesses that saw anyone leaving the house, but they also found no witnesses that saw Lucan leave either. Sandras estranged ex-husband was found to have a solid alibis and dropped from suspicion almost immediately and with so much evidence against him, the issue of blood transference became rather trivial for police who, quite naturally, viewed Lucan as the primary suspect and dismissed the idea of an intruder almost immediately. The question was, where was Lucan now?
The first newspaper reports on the murder hit the evening editions of the press on the 8th November, they contained very little information. The headline “Body of nanny is found in a sack at the home of Lady Lucan” was the most enlightening aspect of the small article. The police had not yet made any reference as to a suspect however, and Lucan is only mentioned at the end of the article, when it reads:
“Police were trying to trace Lord Lucan, whose home is at Eaton Row, to tell him about the death.”
Likewise, the news stories that hit the headlines on the 9th followed a similar vein,
“Nanny Murder Riddle – Peer is hunted”
“Last night, police issued a photograph and a description of the Earl of Lucan – Pictured above with the countess before they were seperated last year – and said that they would like ot trace him to help with their inquiries.”
Though the paper did hint at an early theory that would define the case:
“One police theory about the nanys murder was that it was a case of mistaken identity. Lady Lucan and Mrs Rivett, who started her job only five weeks ago, were of similar build and about the same age. In the dim light of the basement room, the killer could have struck at the wrong woman.”
Even on the 11th, after the car had been found in Newhaven, the press were reporting only that the police were searching for Lord Lucan “for questioning” though the obvious suggestions are helped along by dramatic stories of Lucan possibly crossing the Channel to france on a powerboat. The headline on the 12th read simply: “Where did he go?”
“The search for Lord Lucan centered yesterday on the Channel port of Newhaven after a car he had borrowed was found in the town with bloodstains on the back seat….Interpol passed an alert to all French ports. The car was spotted by a detective on Sunday afternoon, and at one time it was thought that Lord Lucan might have caught the evening ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. But the Yard discounted the idea because passengers were screened on both sides of the channel. Police are holding Lord Lucans passport, but he could have used a temporary one to leave the country. Throughout yesterday detectives followed up dozens of reports that the Earl had been sighted. Police are satisfied they know the killers identity. The countess has given detectives an account of what happened in her house in Belgravia, but Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Ranson, who is leading the hunt said: ‘I cannot comment on what she told us’”
Meanwhile, an armed guard was placed in Veronicas hospital room, keeping watch 24 hours a day and the Clermont Set, all of Lucans friends were finding themselves under heavy police questioning. Susan Maxwell Scott said that she had not been alarmed to see Lord Lucan visit her on the night of the attack as she had not hear anything about it on the TV or Radio, but there were many in the police who found Lucans friends difficult to deal with and some suspected that this was not entirely unintentional. On the 12th November a warrant for Lucans arrest was issued and as such, the press reporting dropped their loose facade immediately. The headline on the 13th November in one paper read: “Earl wanted for murder”. This was a story the press could sink their teeth into. The upper classes were unpopular enough as it was and now they had a story of a brutal Earl who murdered his nany and attempted to murder his wife. He was daubed a “playboy” whilst Veronica reenacted the fight scene for The Daily Express, a paper with which she had signed an exclusive contract with upon her release from hospital. An article on the 14th November, stated the three lines of enquiry the police were following in their hunt for Lucan,
“1 That he has left the country – although an unsigned cable which arrived at his flat offering him a place to stay in haiti has been written off as a hoax.
2 That he is still in England, possibly in the Newhaven area.
3 That he has had an accident near where he left his car.”
The days passed and turned into weeks and there was still no sign of Lucan. Police were becoming frustrated and were all too happy to go along with the narrative that had formed in the press coverage that the old Clermont Set had close ranks and obfuscate the facts around the whereabouts of Lucan. This elite set were conspiring against the police in order to complicate the investigation and to erect an old guard around their friend. At least, that was the clear narrative fed to the public. In reality this had some truth, but it was not quite as the papers would report it. On the 8th November, many of Lucans friends gathered for a lunch to discuss everything that happened, the papers reported it as a clandestine meeting where operations were discussed and plans to aid Lucan’s escape were plotted and schemed. In truth, most of Lucans friends did want to help Lucan, but only as any friend would. Bill Shand Kydd, who attend the lunch later said,
“There was certainly no question of helping him flee. I said I certainly didn’t think he’d done it and I wanted to get hold of him as soon as possible before he did something silly like killing himself or pissing off.”
A sentiment reflected by another attendee of the lunch, Daniel Meinertzhagen,
“I would have helped John: To turn himself in.”
But still, the narrative of Us, meaning of course, Veronica, Vs Them was good copy and persisted throughout. It is a narrative that still persists today. There were some elements however, that did work to frustrate the police. Aspinall was one, who, with his penchant for flair and for bending the law did not help matters when he dropped clanger after clanger in interviews or purposefully wound up police during their various searches of his property. As Bill Shand Kydd put it, “Who needs friends like Aspinall?”
In truth, the case against Lucan was almost entirely circumstantial. It was his word, scribbled in a letter, Vs Veronicas. The most damning evidence against him was lie in the fact that he had chosen to flee. When viewed through the lens Lucan described in his letter to Michael Stoop however, it seems obvious why he would take off.
The inquest was adjourned several times after a preliminary hearing whereby the indentity of the body was confirmed was held on 13th November. The full hearing was scheduled for 16th June 1975. The inquest was heavily one sided, given that the only person available to give a full statement was Veronica. Lucan’s story could only be presented via the letters he had written and the snippets given by his friends. There was however, one other problem with the inquest which was true of all Coroners inquests at the time. Cases could not be presented to the jury in the same way as that of a criminal trial. Statements could not be seen before the fact, witnesses were selected solely by the coroner who would have had access to evidence on his own time before the hearing and would often arrive already with a conclusion in mind and there was no way to address the coroner, witnesses or jury on the facts by the defense as questioning that could place witnesses at a disadvantage in a future criminal trial could be denied by legal right. Subsequently, any line of questioning in the Sandra Rivett inquest that related to Lady and Lord Lucans marriage and the problems that it involved were instantly shut down.
On the 19th June 1975, the jury went out for just 31 minutes before returning a guilty verdict against Lord Lucan, who was found guilty of the murder of Sandra Rivett. On hearing the verdict, the Coroner stated:
“I will record that Sandra Helena Rivett died from head injuries. The offence was committed by Richard John Bingham, Earl of Lucan. It is very rare for a coroners court that a person is named as you have done, it is my duty to commit that person to trial at the central criminal court, but in this case, there is nobody to commit for trial because we don’t know where Lord Lucan is.”
Naturally, Lucans friends and family were entirely unhappy about the outcome and criticised the entire inquest heavily. The fact remained however, that the Coroners final words were ringing true. A kind of justice may have been done, but the undeniable problem was still running, where was Lord Lucan?
In the years following the inquest, the search for Lucan sporadically continued to no avail. In 1980, Veronica was once again struggling with mental health issues, and by 1982, the Lucan children were living full time with Lucans friends the Shand Kydds. In 1983 she was found wandering the streets of Belgravia and hospitalised and in 1984, custody was given to the Shand Kydds officially. In later years, veronica estranged her children and in 2017, she commited suicide at the age of 80. Lucan, if still alive would now be aged 84. Most believe that he committed suicide in 1974, but the myth of his disappearance has persisted. Sightings have come in as a steady stream and it wasn’t until 2016 that he was officially declared dead and his son George allowed to succeed his title as the 8th Earl of Lucan. Popular opinion leans towards the official conclusion given by the coroners Inquest in 1975, including at least half of Lucans friends, the other half however, at least publicly, believed in his innocence up until their deaths and there are many theories as to what might have happened on the tragic night of 7th November, 1973.
Amongst the numerous theories of what may have happened and who may have murdered Sandra Rivett, there remain four that have persisted through various channels, put forward by people close to the case at the time.
The first, is that perhaps the attack was the consequence of a burglary gone wrong, either as a common burglary, or as an insurance sting set up by Lucan himself. This theory was aired by Lucans son George in a TV interview in 2004. Any theory concerning a second attacker relies on two key pieces of evidence. Firstly, that the attack was carried out on Sandra rather than Veronica. If this was by mistake, how had Lucan not recognised his own wife? Secondly, the lack of witnesses that saw anyone leave the Lucan house after the attack, but then, no one saw Lucan leave either and yet one theory is taken as a dead cert, whilst the other is thrown out instantly. There is also the matter of blood on the Ivy outside in the garden, that the back door was unlocked, that there was a locked safe in the basement that had bloody footprints around the area it was in and that the house could easily have been a target for burglary. It had been the target for an attempted robbery in 1962.
The second theory is that Sandra was in fact, the intended target for the attack, not Veronica. This theory revolves around Sandras private life, which included several boyfriends, one of which she had broken up with only a few nights prior to the attack. Had Lucan, just in the case of a robbery, really walked past and seen someone attacking the nanny, only to enter the house in an attempt to help causing the intruder to flee and Veronica to misconstrue matters? It seems far fetched, but Veronica herself said in a 1981 interview in the News of The World,
“What is extraordinary is that there was no blood on lord Lucan. Our daughter confirmed this… there is a theory that someone else was in the house and that it was he who killed Sandra and hit me and knocked me unconscious. Some people don’t believe I could have withstood such heavy blows and it does seem strange that I did. I only know that at the time, I thought my husband had hit me. I didn’t think I had fallen. Maybe I did. Maybe he had lifted me to my feet when I recovered consciousness. There could quite easily have been someone hiding downstairs or in the cloakroom. Our house was heavily carpeted and I would not have heard them if they had kept still. I simply don’t know.”
The third theory is that Veronica was the intended victim and Sandra was killed accidentally by a hitman employed by Lucan. This theory clears up the concept, much like the burglary theory, of the mix up between Sandra and Veronica. In both theories there is one quite large piece of evidence that leans in favour of Lucans noto being in the house at the time of attack. A man named Billy Edgson who worked at the Claremont gave a statement to police that at 8:45pm, Lucan drove past the club to ask who was in. If this fact is true, it comes dangerously close to being an alibis for Lucan. The club was an 8 minute drive to Lower Belgrave Street on a good run, which left him less than 10 minutes to drive from the club to the house, let himself in, unscrew the lightbulb in the basement and conceal himself. However, the hitman theory raises questions too. If Lucan had hired a hitman, then why turn up at the house on the night of the attack at all? One suggestion is that he had a change of heart at the last minute and went to stop the plan before it could be put into action. Susan Maxwell Scotts nanny aired a story that says exactly that, that when Lucan arrived at their house in Uckfield, this is the true story that he told to Susan, not the public story that he walked by the house by pure chance and saw an unknown attacker.
The fourth theory, is of course, the accepted truth, that Lucan is guilty of the attack in the basement and on Veronica, however, as the police themselves admitted at the time of the investigation, almost all the evidence was entirely circumstantial and it boiled down to a case of Veronicas word versus Lucans.
The most damning evidence in the whole thing, evidence which of course can be pointed at across all theories is if Veronicas version of events were the truth, fall son the question, why did Lucan run? Was it really a fear that as he saw the events of the custody case consore against him, so to would the same happen here? Or was it just as it appears, that he was a guilty man? For those closest to Lucan, about half contested his guilt, whilst the other half recognised in him an obsessive figure and one who was very probably guilty.
Guilt aside, the mystery continues with Lucan’s ultimate fate. Did he commit suicide by jumping from a ferry that departed in newhaven on the morning on the 8th November? Or did he somehow wind up in the surrounding countryside, lost and giving in to the elements? Did he escape by fishing boat, or sail away himself? Or was he even in Newhaven at all? There are more theories and stories behind all, but they are all just stories. The maxwell Scotts driver told one such story when he said that his father, who was a driver for his families Uckfield based taxi company drove Lucan from the maxwell Scott’s house in the early hours of the 8th November to an airfield in Kent where he took a private plane to France. The driver then claims that he picked up a person from newhaven who had driven the Corsair to the port town to leave it there as a decoy for police. At the time he claimed he knew nothing of the truth behind the request to drive someone from Newhaven to uckfield,
“Why would I think it was odd? Why is anyone anywhere? That was what I did, I was a taxi.”
It was only later that he learnt the truth directly from his father. The police never questioned the family on the matter and the story was never offered, not to the police or the papers. The fact remains however, that if it were true, how had Lucans letter to Michael Stoop contained the name of the street the car was parked in and how was it on paper that was found taken from a notebook that was found within the car itself? Or were these all part of an elaborate decoy to aid his escape?
Reported sightings since his disappearance are so numerous that he has been seen in almost every continent across the world, from places as remote as unnamed pacific islands to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, Japan. The most credible stories place him somewhere in Africa, but like all the sightings, are entirely unconfirmed.
If he did escape, how has he managed to not be found after all these years? How has no one talked, why would he have not attempted to make contact with his children that he so obsessed over and if he did, how did he get away with? And before any of this questions need be asked, who bankrolled his existence for all these years?
The myth of Lord Lucan so often falls into the trap of becoming one that enacts out a tale of class war, but just as one cannot paint all the working classes with a single stroke, so one would be equally foolish to do the same with the upper classes. It is a tragedy that has been surrounded by a myth, the disappearance of Lucan driving it for years, but behind that, the truth of the murder itself does not hold particularly satisfying answers. Was he guilty? Was he the attacker? Or was he as his letters suggested, innocent in the whole affair? If he was innocent, why did he run and if he didn’t kill himself, where did he go?
If Lord Lucan was still alive, then he had achieved something that very few have achieved; A perfect vanishing act, disappearing without trace.