Lord Lucan Biography

PHOTO: Lord Lucan

The aristocratic Lucan family were accustomed to a certain amount of ignominy on account of the actions of their ancestors: the Third Earl had been responsible for the massacre of 600 men, during the Charge of the Light Brigade; but when Richard John Bingham was born on 18 December 1934, to the Sixth Earl of Lucan & his wife Kait, they had no idea that the actions of their son, known as John, would make previous misdeeds pale into insignificance.

The aristocratic Lucan family were accustomed to a certain amount of ignominy on account of the actions of their ancestors: the Third Earl had been responsible for the massacre of 600 men, during the Charge of the Light Brigade; but when Richard John Bingham was born on 18 December 1934, to the Sixth Earl of Lucan & his wife Kait, they had no idea that the actions of their son, known as John, would make previous misdeeds pale into insignificance.

Early life for John was nomadic, as a result of the war, and the Lucan children spent time in the United States attended by servants and nannies. After the war they returned home, where John attended Eton and, a strapping 6 feet 4, excelled at speedboat racing, and also developed an interest in gambling that would prove his undoing.

A spell in the Army was followed by a short-lived career in merchant banking and, in 1960, following a massive win of £26’000 in 48 hours, after which he was known as “Lucky Lucan”, he took up gambling as a career, usually at the Clermont Club in Berkeley Square, his favourite haunt.

He married Veronica Duncan in March 1963, and they moved to Lower Belgrave Street, in wealthy Mayfair, a short distance from the Clermont Club. John inherited the Lucan title, becoming the seventh Earl, when his father died two months later. Veronica, Countess of Lucan as she was then known, gave birth to three children between 1964 & 1970, but suffered severe postnatal depression after each delivery, which was treated with a variety of anti-depressants that compromised her mental well-being over subsequent years (although she continued to care for her children.)

Although initially sympathetic to his wife’s condition, Lucan became increasingly dissatisfied with his wife’s behaviour and the marriage deteriorated. Mounting gambling debts also added pressure, and there were reports that he became violent towards his wife. The marriage disintegrated in 1973, and Lucan moved out of the family home in Lower Belgrave Street and into a garden flat, in Elizabeth Street, nearby.

He tried unsuccessfully to get custody of the children, by hiring private investigators to spy on his wife and goad her into violent exchanges on the telephone but, despite his best efforts, she was granted full custody in June 1973. By this stage his debts had mounted considerably, and his acrimony towards his wife was increased further by the fact that she resided in the family home that, if sold, would solve his financial problems immediately. He is reported to have told more than one person that he wanted to kill his wife, to get back his home & his children.

The Crime:
Lady Lucan had a live-in nanny, Sandra Rivett, to assist with the children, who was approximately the same height and build as Lady Lucan. She usually had Thursday evenings off but, on Thursday, 7th November 1974, she was at home in the house. She offered to make tea for Lady Lucan and her daughter, Frances, shortly before 9 p.m., going downstairs into the basement kitchen to prepare it.

When she had not returned 15 minutes later, Lady Lucan went downstairs to investigate. When she reached the ground floor level, she noticed that the lights in the basement weren’t working, and called out Sandra Rivett’s name, at which point she was brutally attacked and hit over the head with a blunt object. When she screamed, her attacker forced his fingers into her mouth to silence her. In retaliation, she grabbed her assailant by the testicles, forcing him to retreat.

It is at this point that the account of the chain of events that followed diverges, according to whether one accepts Lady Lucan’s version of events, or that of her husband, as told to various people, either in person, on the telephone or in letters which he left.

Lady Lucan claims that she identified her attacker as her husband, and that he had admitted to killing the nanny, which she surmised was a case of her husband having mistaken Rivett for herself, given the lack of light in the basement, their similar builds and the fact that she usually had Thursday nights off. Realising this immediately, and recognising the danger that she was in, she decided to play for time, allowing herself to be taken upstairs, where her husband went into the bathroom to get a cloth for her wounds. Seizing the opportunity to escape, she ran into the street and into a nearby pub, The Plumber’s Arms, where she raised the alarm and the police were alerted.

Fearing for the safety of the children, the police broke into the house on arrival, and discovered them safely in bed, but found the body of Sandra Rivett in a bag in the basement, as well as a length of deformed lead pipe, wrapped in tape, near the front door. Lord Lucan had disappeared, and a search of his nearby flat revealed only that his wallet, passport, licence and car keys were all still there.

Lucan had, in the meantime, tried unsuccessfully to summon the help of a nearby friend, Madeleine Floorman, and then called his mother to tell her that Lady Lucan had been injured and instructed her to collect the children from the house. She arrived to find the police already there, and she took the children home with her.

In the meantime Lucan took another car, which he had borrowed from a friend, and drove down to the Surrey home of Susan Maxwell-Scott, a close friend, where he told his own version of the story, which was in stark contrast to his wife’s view of events:
he had been passing the house that night when, looking inside, he had noticed his wife struggling with an unknown man, at which point he went to her assistance, letting himself in and going down into the basement, where he slipped in a pool of blood. The man then ran off, and his wife became hysterical, accusing him of hiring someone to murder her. When he tried to help her, she ran off, and he realised that it would be best if he left the house.

He reinforced this version with a letter to his brother-in-law, Bill Shand-Kydd, whom he had been unable to reach on the phone, in which he emphasized his wife’s mental condition, suggesting that she was suffering from paranoid delusions. He called his mother again, and she advised that the police were at her home, asking to speak to him. He promised to be in touch the next day.

Recognizing the gravity of his position, Lucan left Maxwell-Scott’s home at 1.15 a.m. in the borrowed car, and was never seen again. The car was recovered in Newhaven some days later, in which the police found a lead pipe similar to the murder weapon. The owner of the vehicle received a note from Lucan in the post, protesting his innocence and putting events down to unfortunate coincidences, stating that his main concern was now to protect the welfare of his children.

The Inquest:
An inquest into the death of Sandra Rivett began on 5th June 1975, and included evidence from all those who had witnessed that evening’s events, including Lady Lucan, despite the fact that, at that time, a wife was not required to testify against her husband. Blood samples and fibre evidence were also introduced, despite forensic evidence having been in its infancy at that time.

Persuaded by the evidence presented, the jury returned after only a half hour’s deliberation, to offer the verdict that Rivett’s death was a result of murder by Lord Lucan. As a direct result of the outcry that followed, a parliamentary bill was passed later, restricting any coroner’s court from naming a murderer in the future.

The Aftermath:
Although it is most likely that Lucan killed himself within a short time of the events that unfolded on 7th November 1974, it was widely rumoured that he had managed to escape with the assistance of his wealthy friends, and there have been numerous sightings over the years in places as far apart as Australia and South Africa. More recently, there have been claims that his body is on the estate of the Maxwell-Scott’s, and that his car was driven to Newhaven to mislead the police, but no proof of this allegation has ever been found.

Despite Lucan’s claims to have the welfare of his children at heart, his attempts to save his name have only served to cause them grief in subsequent years. The absence of a body, and lack of a death certificate, is especially complicated for the aristocracy. The financial crisis, brought on by gambling debts, was made worse by huge legal fees resulting from attempts to wind up his estate. Although he was declared officially dead in 1999, an attempt by his son to claim his father’s seat in the House of Lords was refused. He is forced to use the courtesy title, Lord Bingham.

Many of Lucan’s aristocratic set maintain that his wife was responsible for his predicament, and her continuing mental health problems have also caused estrangement between Lady Lucan and her children. Their son, George, chose to be adopted by his aunt & uncle at the age of 15, when Lady Lucan was admitted to a psychiatric facility, and Lady Lucan also claims that he stole property from her home during her absence. Camilla, Lady Lucan’s younger daughter, refused to accept that her father was dead, and did not invite her mother to her wedding.

Lady Lucan has never remarried.

Related Bios

View More Biographies
GalleryLightboxDialog
© 2013 AETN UK. All Rights Reserved.