7th Earl of Lucan (1964-1974?)
Professional gambler and alleged murderer
Born 1934 Died 1974?

Known as John to his friends and Lucky Lucan to his many gambling acquaintances, Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan is of course the infamous 'Lord Lucan' who disappeared without apparent trace in the early hours of Wednesday the 8th November 1974.

Born on the 18th December 1934, Richard John Bingham was the son of George Charles Patrick Bingham, 6th Earl of Lucan and Kaitilin Elizabeth Anne Dawson. He spent some time in Florida during his childhood avoiding the worst aspects of World War II, but returned to Britain to enter Eton College and later served in the Coldstream Guards before working for a merchant bank. However he spent most of his free time gambling at the Claremont Club in Berkley Square, and after winning more than £26,000 in two days during 1960, he decided to quit his job and become a professional gambler.

On the 28 November 1963 he married Veronica Duncan, and with the death of his father some two months later on the 21st January 1964, he inherited the earldom together with a sum of around £250,000, the bulk of which he later blew gambling at the Clermont Club. His wife Victoria suffered from post-natal depression and this, together with her concerns regarding her husband's addiction to gambling and his continuing losses, led to a gradual deterioration in their relationship. There are also suggestions, arising from the testimony of their former nanny Stefanja Sawicka, that Lucan was violent towards his wife and that he had beaten her on more than one occasion.

In any event, shortly after Christmas 1972 the couple separated and during the course of 1973 fought a bitter dispute over the custody of their children. The Earl appears to have believed that his wife was mentally ill, and was thus incapable of properly caring for his children. However much to the Earl's surprise and disappointment, in June 1973 the Court awarded custody of their three children to his wife. Thus whilst Lucan entertained hopes that he would one day regain custody, and even attempted to buy off his wife with a sum of money, he was left nursing the grievance that he had been deprived of his children.

The murder of Sandra Rivett

At around 8.30pm on the evening of Tuesday 7th November 1974, Sandra Rivett (the Lucans' nanny) put the two younger children to bed at the family home in 46 Lower Belgrave Street, and went down to the basement kitchen to prepare tea. Sometime later around 9.15 pm Veronica wondered what had happened to her employee and descended the stairs to the ground floor, peered down into the basement and called Sandra’s name. She heard a noise, and then a voice which told her to "shut up", which she recognised as her husband’s voice. Veronica was then attacked and there was a struggle during which her assailant stuck his gloved hand down her throat and struck her twice with a blunt instrument. Victoria fought back and grabbed her attacker by the testicles. The attack ceased and an exhausted Lucan and his battered wife collapsed together on the stairs.

Bizarrely the two then struck up a conversation. Lucan admitted that he had killed Sandra Rivett and then sought to persuade his wife to take an overdose of sleeping tablets. To buy time she agreed, and allowed him to take her upstairs to her bedroom. Lucan then went into the bathroom to get a cloth to clean her face (bloodied from the earlier attack) and she took the opportunity to escape from the house and run to the nearby public house, The Plumber's Arms, where she cried out "Help me, help me, help me. I've just escaped from being murdered. He's in the house. He's murdered the Nanny!"

The alarm was raised and the corpse of Sandra Rivett was soon discovered lying in a sack in the basement of the house. The subsequent post-mortem examination revealed that she had been struck four times with a length of lead piping covered in surgical tape, but the cause of death was suffocation by choking on her own blood.

Lucan's own version of events

According to the testimony of Susan Maxwell-Scott, who spoke to the 7th Earl later on the evening of the 7th November, and further expounded in a letter the Earl himself had afterwards written to William Shand Kydd, his explanation was as follows.

He happened to be passing by the house when he peeped in through the basement window and saw his wife struggling with an intruder. He then rushed to her assistance, the intruder ran off, but his wife then became hysterical, telling him that the nanny was dead and accusing him of hiring a hitman. He went into the bathroom for a few minutes, only to find that his wife had rushed out into the street and was crying 'murder'. He then decided to make his escape as the "circumstantial evidence against me is strong in that V will say it was all my doing" with the intention to "lie doggo for a bit".

As far as Lucan was concerned this was simply "a traumatic night of unbelievable coincidences".

Did the Earl do it?

Very probably. Certainly the inquest jury of the Coroner's Court held in June 1975 thought so; they delivered a unanimous verdict of "Murder By Lord Lucan". (Incidentally the last occasion on which a British inquest jury was permitted to name anyone as a murderer. The right was abolished by the Criminal Law Act 1977)

Lucan's own account of events doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. Subsequent investigations showed that the very little of the basement was actually visible from the street outside the house (and only then after considerable physical contortions). Furthermore the forensic evidence showed that his wife had been attacked at the top of the stairs leading down to the basement (confirming his wife's story), rather than in the basement itself; a location that wasn't visible from the outside. Neither does it seem credible that an intruder would have entered the house equipped with a length of lead piping bound in surgical tape (head, for the bashing in of), and a large sack (body, for the disposal of) given that such items are not generally carried around by the average burglar in pursuit of his profession.

Lucan's motivation for the killing appears to have been his belief that with his wife out of the way, he could sell the house in Lower Belgrave Street and thus raise funds to clear his debts. His friend Greville Howard later testified that he'd had a conversation with Lucan in which he had suggested that a way out of his troubles was to kill Lady Lucan, and had even discussed the idea of dumping her body in the Solent. The writer Taki Theodoracopoulos has also claimed that Lucan had bought a 20ft speedboat which he kept moored on the South Coast, and had already made two dummy runs carrying a weighted sack.

As to why Lucan killed the nanny and not his wife as intended the answer is simple. Tuesday was Sandra Rivett's usual night off, the earl was not to know that she had swapped it for a Wednesday that particular week; she was the same height as his wife and in the darkened basement he had simply struck out at what he expected to see.

Some have attempted to prove the Earl's innocence, whilst some have claimed that Lucan hired a hitman to carry out the murder, whilst retaining the responsibility to dispose of a body. This latter theory seem particularly unlikely given that half the point of hiring a hitman is to ensure that the hirer is elsewhere at the time and thus establish a good alibi.

The disappearing earl

Sometime around 10.30 that evening, Lucan telephoned his mother who lived in St John’s Wood. He told her that that there had been an unspecified catastrophe at the house and asked her to collect the children. Then using a borrowed Ford Corsair (his own Mercedes had battery problems) he drove to the home of his friends Ian and Susan Maxwell-Scott at Uckfield in Sussex. He arrived there at about 11.30pm looking very disheveled, spoke to Susan Maxwell-Scott, made a number of calls and wrote two letters, both addressed to Bill Shand Kydd. Then at about 1.15 a.m., he said that he had to "get back" and drove away in the Ford Corsair, never to be seen again.

On Sunday, 10th November the Ford Corsair was found abandoned near the docks at Newhaven some sixteen miles away. Bloodstains were found inside the car, together with a piece of of bandaged lead piping similar to the one that had been used in the attacks at Belgrave Street. There was also a notepad with one sheet torn out, matching the paper used to write a letter received by Michael Stoop.

It was widely believed at the time that some of the Earl's rich friends such as James Goldsmith or John Aspinall (the owner of the Claremont Club) had helped him escape and establish a new life somewhwere under an assumed name. (There were also other more lurid suggestions including the one that Lucan had been fed to the tigers at Aspinall's zoo.) Various sightings of the missing aristocrat have since been reported at sundry locations across the world including in South Africa, Australia, the Netherlands, Ireland and Sicily. However none of these sightings have ever been substantiated. Over the course of the years other notable runaways such as Ronald Briggs and John Stonehouse were mis-identified as the missing Lord Lucan, but as to Lucan himself there has been no sign.

At one time Scotland Yard belived that Lucan was living in Johannesburg, based on the frequency of his children's choice of South Africa as a holiday destination, but nothing came of their investigations. A former Scotland Yard detective by the name of Duncan MacLaughlin and author of Dead Lucky: Lord Lucan The Final Truth, claimed that Lucan had fled to India and lived in Goa under the name of Barry Halpin until his death in 1996. However this 'Barry Halpin' turned out to be none other than Barry Halpin, a folk musician and banjo player from Merseyside, who took to the hippy trail to the subcontinent in the 1970s.

The fate of the 7th Earl

Whatever the Earl of Lucan's original plan was for the evening of the 7th February 1974, it is clear that fleeing the country wasn't part of it. He seems to have imagined that it was possible to kill his wife and escape conviction so long as he made the body disappear. This seems unlikely even in the pre-DNA age of forensic science. The obvious conclusion is that the 7th Earl was in a disturbed mental state and that once the consequences of his actions had sunk in decided to end his life. John Aspinall believed that Lucan simply "tied a stone around his body and scuttled the powerboat he kept at Newhaven and down he went" and that he ended up "250ft under the Channel". However John Wodehouse, 4th Earl of Kimberley, who was gambling with Lord Lucan on the night before he vanished, was of a different opinion, and believed that Aspinall did indeed help Lucan escape, but later hired a contract killer to finish him off after he later tried to return to Britain.

Veronica Lucan believes him to be dead and consistently refers to her 'late husband' and herself as the 'dowager countess', as indeed does her son who has been reported as saying: "If anyone buys the official story then they have to explain why a man who murdered out of obsession for his children has made absolutely no contact with them for 24 years". The Earl was declared legally dead on the 11th December 1992 and probate was later granted on his estate on the 11th August 1999, despite which there are many who belive that he is still alive, indeed he still appears in the 2006 Edition of Who's Who.

In 1999 George Bingham declared that it was his intention to assume the title and start calling himself the 8th Earl of Lucan, taking his seat in the Lords. His petition was however rejected by the Lord Chancellor as "he was not satisfied that his case had been made out".

In 2004 the Metroplitan Police announced that it was re-opening the case. This was however nothing more than a fairly standard 'cold case' review where the police apply modern DNA testing techniques to old evidence on open investigations in the hope that something will turn up. Nothing further has been reported regarding this investigation and it therefore seems that it has thrown no new light on the events of the 7th November 1974.


SOURCES

  • The Official web site of the Countess of Lucan: Setting the Record Straight. http://www.ladylucan.co.uk/index1.htm
  • Rachael Bell, Lord Where Art Thou? The Mystery Of Lord Lucan from http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/family/lord_lucan/3.html
  • Other information from http://www.lordlucan.com/ and http://www.lucanarchive.co.uk/
  • From BBC News at http://news.bbc.co.uk/
    Lord Lucan murder case reopened, 16 October, 2004
    Lord Lucan mystery 'solved' Sunday, 7 September, 2003
    Lucan 'committed suicide' 13 February, 2000
    Lord Lucan 'officially dead' October 27, 1999
    Lucan's son barred from Lords, July 31, 1999
    Lucan is dead, says son, August 8, 1998

Further Reading;

  • Norman Lucas, The Lucan Mystery (WH Allen, London 1975)
  • Sally Moore, Lucan: Not Guilty (Sidgwick and Jackson, London 1987).
  • Patrick Marnham, Trail of Havoc (Guild Publishing, London 1988).
  • Roy Ranson and Robert Strange, Looking for Lucan: The Final Verdict (Smith Gryphon, London 1994)

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