History Mysteries

The Disappearance of Lord Lucky Lucan



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Lord 'Lucky' Lucan is notoriously connected with the death of Sandra Rivett and the attack on Lady Lucan in 1974. He vanished the same night and has never been seen or heard from since. There are theories that he fled to South Africa, possibly Canada or America, but there is no substantial evidence to back these claims.

Born in 1934, Richard John Bingham was the eldest son of the 6th Earl of Lucan, George Bingham. The title was an hereditary peerage and would eventually pass to John upon his father's death in January 1964, making him the 7th earl of Lucan. Bingham enjoyed a privileged childhood, attended Eton College and had a career in the Coldstream Guards, making the rank of Lieutenant. Although Lord Lucan pursued a career in banking, he is best remembered as an inveterate gambler and is known to have accrued significant debts due to his gambling exploits.

In 1963, Lucan married Veronica Mary Duncan and the couple went on to have three children, two girls and a son. Over time the marriage deteriorated and the couple eventually split 1972. It is known that Lady Lucan had developed Post-natal depression and was prescribed drugs to help her cope, but little was understood about the condition at the time and Lady Lucan has stated that her treatment did little to actually relieve her symptoms.

Growing more and more concerned about the heavy losses her husband was taking at the gaming tables, and worried for the future of her children, Lucan apparently refused to put money aside for their education, Veronica filed papers against Lucan and this precipitated the split. Lucan was desperate to get his children away from his wife, using many underhand tactics, spying on her himself when he ran out of money to employ private detectives and ultimately assuming that his position as a Peer and the fact of his wife's mental instability would influence the outcome in his favour. He was reportedly devastated when the courts decided that custody should go to Lady Lucan.

Despite his growing debt, Lucan now had to pay maintenance, bills, rent on the property in Belgravia and legal costs looming over him, and then an added burden appeared. Lucan had to employ a nanny for the children. He chose a woman named Sandra Rivett, aged 29 at the time of her death.

On the night of November 7th 1974, Lady Lucan burst into the Plumbers Arms public house, covered in blood from head wounds she had suffered and stated "Help me, help me, help me, he's in the house, he's murdered my nanny." Within 15 minutes, the police arrived at the Lucan home and broke in through the front door. Inside they discovered a bloodstained towel in a bedroom. Upon reaching the basement they found a large pool of blood with a man's footprints in it. In a mailbag they discovered the body of Sandra Rivett who had died from blows to the head. A bloodstained piece of piping appeared to be the murder weapon and the basement light-bulb had been removed and lay on a nearby chair.

Lady Lucan survived her wounds and was able to tell the police what had happened. She named her husband as the murderer and recounted the events of that night. Sandra Rivett had asked Lady Lucan if she would like some tea and, although this was a little out of the ordinary, Veronica said yes, and Sandra went downstairs. At least a quarter hour passed, the nine o'clock news coming on the television. Lady Lucan began to wonder why no tea was forthcoming and she went to look for Sandra.

Strangely, the basement was dark and, when Lady Lucan called Rivett's name, a man emerged from the cloakroom and hit her with something heavy. When she screamed, fingers were shoved down her throat and the man said “Shut up”,whereupon Lady Lucan recognised her husband's voice. Somehow, she managed to calm her husband and, when they were sitting on the stairs, she asked him what had happened to the nanny. Lucan said she was dead. The pair apparently went upstairs to send the eldest daughter, Frances, to bed and Lucan went to look for a cloth to wash his wife's face. Lady Lucan ran as soon as she heard the taps running, heading for the pub.

What happened next is still the subject of speculation. Lucan, now a wanted man, suspected of murder, may have tried to get help from a friend who lived nearby, Madeline Florman. She heard her doorbell around 10pm, but ignored it, thinking it might be local youths. The police later found bloodstain on her doorstep. 20 minutes later she got a phone-call from Lucan who sounded extremely agitated. He then phoned his mother, Kaitlin, claiming to have seen a fight occurring as he drove by his wife's house. He stated that he had seen his wife covered in blood and 'something terrible' in the basement. He then asked his mother to look after his children and hung up.

Next Lucan drove 42 miles to the home of Ian and Susan Maxwell-Scott. Susan was alone and Lucan gave her an expanded version of what he had told his mother. He said he'd slipped in the blood in the basement and that the attacker had already fled the premises by the time Lucan arrived on the scene. He also claimed that his wife had accused him of hiring the man to kill her.

Lucan rang his mother a second time, was told his children were safe with her and his mother then asked if he wanted to speak to the police who were with her. He claimed he would call the police the following morning. Lucan then tried to ring his brother-in-law, William Shand-Kydd, but got no reply. Lucan wrote two letters, asked Susan to mail them to Shand-Kydd and left just after one in the morning. He was never seen again.

Ever since that fateful night there has been speculation as to what happened to Lucan. The borrowed Ford Corsair he had been driving (belonging to a gambling buddy) was found abandoned near Newhaven on the South coast. There were bloodstains on the seat and a matching length of pipe to that found in the basement was also recovered. Rumours that Lucan had made it out of the country and was living abroad soon began to surface. A good place to read about these rumours and supposed sightings can be found here.

A further piece of information came to light during an investigation by the BBC's Inside Out programme. In 1998 a mystery informant contacted the police and told a strange tale. According to the informant he had been at Grant's Hill (the home of Ian and Susan Maxwell-Scott) on the night Lucan was there. He recalls seeing three men leave the house and walk towards the edge of the grounds. He moved into the undergrowth to avoid detection and shortly after heard two gun-shots followed by a splash. Only two men returned to the house.

Although the Inside Out team spoke to two Sussex police officers off camera who said the informant did indeed exist, that was all the information forthcoming. In 2005, using the Freedom of Information act, the programme makers applied to look at the case files and were promptly told that all information pertaining to the mystery caller had been destroyed or passed to the Metropolitan Police. They decided to look into it a little more by themselves.

If Lucan was indeed the third man who did not return, the informant said the body was pushed into a cesspit at the bottom of the house grounds. The programme called on forensic archaeologist, Lucy Sideburn to help them investigate. They proved that there had indeed been a cesspit at the now demolished house and that there was the possibility of some disturbance there but, without something concrete to go on, the police are highly unlikely to order the cesspit dug out. Lucy stated that, in her experience, “bodies generally turn up close to where they were last seen.”

 In June 1975 the jury at the inquest into the death of Sandra Rivett took just half an hour to name Lucan as the murderer, the last time anyone was named as a murderer by inquest verdict as the law was abolished soon after. During the inquest the contents of the two Lucan letters were revealed. One repeated the tale he had tried to tell his mother and Susan Maxwell-Scott, and the other asked for the sale of family silver to clear Lucan's debts with the banks. In 1992, Lucan was 'presumed dead' and he was finally pronounced legally dead in October 1999.

So, did Lucan's family shoot and bury him in the grounds of Grants Hill house to prevent further scandal, or did he escape to live out his life somewhere overseas? Until there is some real, indisputable evidence, it is likely we will never know.

More about this author: Gillian Taber

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