The 1974 disappearance of Richard John Bingam, 7th Earl of Lucan, after allegedly murdering the family nanny remains one of Britain’s most notorious unsolved cases.
Born in 1934, Bingham inherited the title of Lord Lucan at age 30 after the death of his father. He certainly had a taste for the extravagant—in his spare time, Lucan raced power boats, cruised about in an Aston Martin, and was even considered to play James Bond in the film adaptations of Ian Fleming's spy novels.
Just 10 years later, however, Lord Lucan's found himself in a downward spiral of hard drinking, lavish spending, and enormous gambling debts. He was also locked in a bitter custody battle with his estranged wife Veronica, Lady Lucan. Despite his enormous privilege and family wealth, he was losing his grasp. By the end of 1974, he would be gone.
On the night of November 7, 1974, an intruder entered the Lucan's London home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street. Sandra Rivett, the Lucan family nanny, was there at the time; she was beaten to death with a length of metal pipe wrapped in surgical tape. Lady Lucan was also attacked, but managed to fight off the assailant. After escaping the attack, she staggered to a nearby pub for help.
Lady Lucan soon identified her estranged husband as the intruder. November 7 was a Thursday—Sandra Rivett’s usual day off. It is suggested that Lord Lucan did not expect Sandra to be home, and so mistook the nanny for his wife, killing her before realizing his mistake. While the Lucans were separated, Veronica had indeed told one of the family nannies that Lucan had assaulted her more than once. She claimed to fear for her life. It would seem that her fears were justified.
By the time police arrived to survey the scene, Lucan was nowhere to be found. The last confirmed sighting of him was leaving the home of friend Susan Maxwell-Scott in the early hours of November 8, having visited her and posted two letters to other friends. His car was later found near Newhaven, not far from Maxwell-Scott’s home. It contained a number of bloodstains and a length of metal pipe wrapped in surgical tape, very similar to the murder weapon that had been left behind at the scene of the crime.
The letters Lucan sent were handed over to the police by their recipients. One of those letters was spotted with blood. Additional bloodstains on the murder weapon recovered at 46 Lower Belgrave Street were forensically matched to Sandra Rivett and Lady Lucan. An arrest warrant was issued and Interpol notified.
An international manhunt commenced. Lucan’s aristocratic friends and acquaintances were questioned. Yet despite the whole world searching, Lord Lucan's whereabouts remained a mystery.
In June 1975, a Coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of willful murder specifically naming Lucan as the killer. It was the first time since 1760 that an aristocrat had been named by a Coroner’s inquest. Lucan's charge was also the last time a Coroner’s inquest ever named a suspect as a murderer without or before a trail.
Speculation swirled. Had Lucan used his connections to start a new life in a distant country? Or did he committed suicide in an act of desperation? Many suggested that Lucan’s aristocratic friends helped him flee England and evade the international dragnet at his heels. Yet another theory suggested that Lord Lucan's connections assisted in his escape—then discreetly had him murdered.
While this particular theory smacks of conspiracy, it does have some supporting evidence. Lucan had enormous gambling debts and had been closely involved with John Aspinall. Aspinall was a well-known conservationist and the founder of the Clermont Club, a casino and private members club operating in London during the 1960s.
The Clermont Club was an expensive and exclusive organization. It was also a hub for illegal activity, meant to con rich men out of their money. Aspinall’s club was famous for a gambling con called ‘The Big Edge.’ This involved slightly bending certain cards in a characteristic manner to help the house take in more money on each card game. Aspinall was allegedly able to make this scam work with the help of Billy Hill, a notorious English criminal.
Lucan was a near-daily presence at the Clermont—and his winnings only served to feed his gambling habit. He played to pay debts and keep his place at the table, not walk away with any profit. As a constant player, close to Aspinall, Lucan would almost certainly have known about the skimming, the cheating, and how the Big Edge was run.
It is possible, therefore, that Lucan knew too much about the con. In asking Aspinall and his associates for help after the murder, Lucan may very well have fallen into the hands of people who wanted him silenced. Permanently. One strain of the execution theory points to Aspinall’s wildlife park as the site of Lucan's murder. Afterward, his body was allegedly fed to Aspinall’s tigers.
It is also possible that Lucan's aristocratic connections helped him evade capture, and afterward closed ranks to protect both him and themselves. Lucan could then have taken his own life rather than subject his family—and himself—to the frenzy that surrounded his case. With the Coroner’s jury having already branded him a murderer, a trial jury would almost certainly have agreed. Many police officers and former friends believe he took his own life, with or without help from others. In a recent interview, Lady Lucan agreed with this take, saying that it would have been the “brave” and “noble” thing to do.
Whatever the truth, there have been numerous reported sightings and endless theories as to what happened to ‘Lucky’ Lord Lucan. His family protest his innocence even today, believing he fled to avoid being wrongly convicted after having already been presumed guilty.
Like Jack the Ripper, Lucan’s case has lingered in the public’s minds long after the event. Sandra Rivett’s murder remains officially unsolved. According to police practice, it’s likely to remain so without a conviction. With Lucan himself either long-lost or long-dead, it’s likely that, as long as the case remains unsolved, there will be no shortage of theories and speculation about what really happened on November 7, 1974.
Featured photo of Lord Lucan with his estranged wife Veronica: Wikimedia Commons