Lord Lucan: Wanted for Killing the Wrong Victim

I missed getting a blog posted last week because every so often my day job gets in the way. My last blog featured the so-called Lonely Hearts Killers that dominated headlines in 1949. This week we look at an English case, the murder of a nanny and disappearance of her aristocratic employer, Lord Lucan.

Introducing Lord Lucan

Richard John Bingham was to the manor born on December 18, 1934. His father was an nobleman, the 6th Earl of Lucan. Bingham’s parents had him evacuated during World War II. After the war, he returned to England and attended Eaton, where he developed a taste for gambling. After college, he joined the Coldstream Guards for his national service.

Bingham’s gambling continued during his military service and afterward. He often won at backgammon and even earned the sobriquet “Lucky Lucan.” But he also racked up big losses and over time, he lost more money than he won. On a single bad night in a casino, he lost £10,000. An uncle helped him pay the debt, but it took him two years to pay the uncle back.

Lord Lucan: Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan
Lord Lucan: Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan

When Bingham’s father died in January 1964, he became Lord Lucan, the 7th Earl of Lucan.

Lord Lucan Takes a Wife

Lord Lucan met his future wife early in 1963. Veronica Duncan was something of an artist and had entrée into high society through her sister’s husband. She and Lucan married on November 20, 1963. Upon their marriage, Veronica became the Countess of Lucan. For a while, the marriage prospered. However, after the birth of the couple’s third child, Veronica suffered from post-partum depression and her mental state declined.

Lord Lucan with his future wife, Veronica Duncan, October 14, 1963 (By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36116676)
Lord Lucan with his future wife, Veronica Duncan, October 14, 1963

As if Veronica’s problems weren’t enough, Lord Lucan’s gambling addition was taking a toll on the family finances. The pressure of trying to maintain their financial position, coupled with Veronica’s depression, took a toll on the marriage. After a strained family Christmas in 1972, Lord Lucan moved out.

The separation generated a fierce custody battle between Lord Lucan and his estranged wife. He wanted full custody of the children and painted Veronica as unable to care for them. However, Mr. Justice Rees found the Earl’s character unimpressive and awarded full custody to Veronica.

The court case cost Lord Lucan about £20,000 and his gambling was now almost completely out of control. The pressure on his financial condition was immense. Furthermore, he began drinking more heavily than usual and started chain-smoking. He began spying on Veronica and, on at least one occasion, talked to friends about murdering his wife.

The Murdered Nanny

Sandra Rivett was a young woman who experienced several ups and downs in her life. Toward the end of 1974, Veronica hired her to be the nanny for her three children. Shortly before 9:00 p.m. on November 7, 1974, Sandra went to the basement kitchen of the Bingham home to make Veronica a cup of tea. When she entered the room, someone bludgeoned her to death with a lead pipe wrapped with tape. Her killer then stuffed her body into a canvas mailbag.

 (By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36114738)
Sandra Rivett (Daily Mail)

Countess Lucan wondered why it was taking so long to make a cup of tea and went downstairs herself. She called to Sandra from the top of the basement stairs and was attacked herself. When she screamed, her attacker told her to “shut up.” She immediately recognized her husband’s voice. The two continued fighting, but Veronica eventually escaped and ran to the Plumbers Arms, a nearby pub.

The Lucan home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street in London's posh Belgravia district (By Carcharoth (Commons) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20077974)
The Lucan home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street in London’s posh Belgravia district

Where Is Lord Lucan?

Lord Lucan made some phone calls and drove to East Sussex to visit friends, the Maxwell-Scotts. After that, he disappeared. An initial inquest into Rivett’s death began on November 13. However, the full inquest did not take place until June 16, 1975. The verdict, read by the coroner’s jury foreman, was “Murder by Lord Lucan.” The assumption was that he intended to kill Countess Lucan but killed Rivett by mistake.

Lucan’s fate remains a mystery. The last time anyone saw him was when he left the Maxwell-Scotts’ at about 1:15 a.m. on November 8, 1974. Since his disappearance, police have investigated thousands of supposed sightings but were not able to confirm any of them. At least one supposed sighting was an outright hoax. The generally accepted theory is that Lord Lucan committed suicide by scuttling his motorboat and jumping into the English Channel.

Lord Lucan
Lord Lucan

On February 3, 2016, 42 years after his father disappeared and became a fugitive, his son, George Bingham finally obtained a death certificate. Richard John Bingham was now officially dead, and George inherited his father’s title, becoming the 8th Earl of Lucan.

Epilogue

Veronica Lucan killed herself on September 26, 2017 with a mix of drugs and alcohol. She was 80 years old and had diagnosed herself as having Parkinson’s disease.

Several books about the case recount the facts of the crime and explore different theories about Lord Lucan’s fate. An early entry was Patrick Marnham’s Trail of Havoc: In the Steps of Lord Lucan, published in 1987. Later works include Dead Lucky: Lord Lucan: The Final Truth, Lord Lucan: What Really Happened?, and the recently revised A Different Class of Murder.

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