In 1974, Britain, and later much of the rest of the world, was captivated by the brutal murder of a 29-year-old nanny named Sandra Rivett, and the disappearance of the main suspect: an aristocrat named Richard John Bingham, or simply Lord Lucan.
Lucan was a dashing British aristocrat and army officer, known for his prowess at backgammon and bridge and his fondness for vodka martinis, powerboats, and Aston Martin cars.
But, in order.
Dressed only in a nightgown, the Countess of Lucan burst into the Plumbers Arms pub in Belgravia, London, just before 10pm on this day, November 7, 1974, screaming for help.
The landlord said later that 37-year-old Lady Lucan was literally covered from head to toe in blood. “Help, help me,” she said. “I have just escaped from a murderer. He’s in my house. He’s murdered the nanny.”
The “he” in question, an inquest jury later decided, was Lady Lucan’s husband, Lord Richard John Bingham himself, Seventh Earl of Lucan.
Armed just with a piece of lead piping, he allegedly bludgeoned to death Sandra Rivett, the 29-year-old nanny who cared for his three children, mistaking her for his wife, Veronica. He then tried to kill also Lady Lucan herself, police claimed.
In any case, Lucan was in the middle of a bitter drawn-out battle with his estranged wife over custody of their children. He disappeared immediately after the attacks and nobody has officially seen him since, apart from a friend, Susan Maxwell-Scott.
It was established that, after Lady Lucan raised the alarm her husband drove 45 miles to Uckfield in East Sussex, where his close friends, Ian and Susan Maxwell-Scott, lived. Ian was away but Susan welcomed her visitor. Susan said later that Lucan told her he was passing by the house when he saw Veronica being attacked by a man and, when he let himself in, he slipped in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs. He also told Mrs Maxwell-Scott that the attacker ran off, and that Veronica was “very hysterical” and accused him of having hired a hitman to kill her.
While at the Maxwell-Scotts, Lucan took time out to phone his mother and to write two letters to his brother-in-law, Bill Shand-Kydd. One of them, dated 7th Nov, 1974, read (in part):
The most ghastly circumstances arose tonight…
When I interrupted the fight at Lower Belgrave St. and the man left, Veronica accused me of having hired him. I took her upstairs and tried to clean her up. She lay doggo for a bit and when I was in the bathroom left the house.
The circumstantial evidence against me is strong in that V will say it was all my doing. I will also lie doggo for a bit…V. has demonstrated her hatred for me in the past and would do anything to see me accused.
The car that Lucan had used to reach Uckfield was later found bloodstained and abandoned at the nearby port of Newhaven, from where ferries sailed regularly to France.
A warrant for the peer’s arrest, to answer charges of murdering Sandra Rivett, and attempting to murder his wife, was issued on 12 November 1974. In his absence, an inquest jury later decided that the cause of Ms Rivett’s death was “Murder by Lord Lucan.”
In Britain, interest in the case has scarcely dwindled over the decades and there have been many reported sightings of Lord Lucan, at least 70, in countries including Portugal, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Mozambique and New Zealand.
There are even claims that he fled to India and lived life as a hippy called Jungly Barry, while another bizarre story has it that he shot himself and his body was fed to tigers at a zoo.
In any case, Lord Lucan was legally declared dead in 1999 and a death certificate was issued in 2016. Susan Maxwell-Scott, the last person officially to see him alive, died in September, 2004, taking any secrets to the grave.
During an interview in June, 2017, Lady Lucan, who named her husband as her assailant on that fateful night, said she believed he had made the brave decision to take his own life: “I would say he got on the ferry and jumped off in the middle of the Channel in the way of the propellers so that his remains wouldn’t be found – I think quite brave” she said.
Lady Lucan, formally named Veronica, Dowager Countess of Lucan, was found dead at her home three months after the interview. She was 80, and her son George Bingham, the 8th Earl Lucan, said that she passed away at home, alone and apparently peacefully.
Still today the disappearance of Lord Lucan is one of the great unsolved mysteries of British criminal history.