2 – Lord Lucan
If D.B. Cooper’s actions in the sky made his name synonymous with mysterious disappearances throughout the United States and Canada, then his British equivalent is Lord Lucan. In fact, many Brits will cite Lord Lucan’s name while referring to someone that they haven’t seen in a while, or someone notable by their absence while knowing themselves very little about the disappearing Peer himself. Such is the fame – and the infamy – of Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan.
In many ways, John Bingham was the archetypical British aristocrat and gentleman. He was dashingly handsome, flashy and confident and a darling of London high society. Once considered as a potential to play James Bond in the original movies (he even drove an Aston Martin), Bingham seemed to have everything: a huge inheritance and fortune, a job that afforded him both ample pay and plenty of recreational time, a beautiful wife and two young children. He had been educated at Eton, the most prestigious school in England and served as an officer in the Army before going on to work at a merchant bank in the City of London. He married and, when his father died in 1963, inherited his titles and his place in the House of Lords. Lord Lucan was set for life, or so it seemed.
What the good Lord had, however, to go with his success, was a voracious appetite for gambling. He had long been interested in betting – he would bunk off school to go to horse races – his habits grew alongside his bank balance. In the rarified air of London high society, it was possible for gentlemen of his stature to run up huge lines of credit. His wage at his regular job became increasingly irrelevant in comparison to his gambling and he quit. Spending his days in the gentleman’s’ clubs of London, he would play backgammon and cards until the small hours. His winnings dwindled and his losses began to rack up, while at home, his wife Veronica was suffering severely from post-natal depression and began a programme of psychiatric care. Lucan began to maneuver against his wife, aiming to gain custody of their children. He became obsessed with the idea, attempting to cast Veronica as a lunatic, far more seriously mentally ill than she actually was. Lucan stopped paying bills for food and childcare, all the while gambling and drinking more. By 1974, he had discussed the idea of killing his wife on several occasions while drunk. On the 6th November, he would put that plan into action.
In the evening of the 6th, Lady Lucan was at home with the children and the nanny, Sandra Rivett. Ms Rivett went down to the basement kitchen to make a cup of tea for herself and Veronica, whereupon she was struck with a lead pipe and her lifeless body wrapped in a canvas sack. When the nanny failed to return, Lady Lucan went the basement to check and was met by the assailant. She recognized her husband’s voice in the struggle that ensued and he soon admitted to the murder of Sandra Rivett. She persuaded him that she could aid his escape, if only he would lie low at the house for a few days, before making an escape while Lord Lucan was in the bathroom and running to a pub close to their Belgravia home.
Lucan’s whereabouts from that point onwards become increasingly vague. He certainly telephoned his mother, telling her that something terrible had happened and that she was to come to the house to collect the children. He then drove out of London, stopping at the East Sussex home of the Maxwell-Scott family, long-standing friends of the Lucans. Susan Maxwell-Scott would be the last person to see the Lord. The police immediately raided the flat in which Lord Lucan had been living, and found nothing untowards. His wallet, car keys, passport and glasses were all in place. They sent out a search warning across the south of England.
While at the Maxwell-Scott’s, Lucan wrote two letters to his brother-in-law, Bill Shand-Kydd. One explained that “the most ghastly circumstances” had occurred, that an unknown assailant had attacked his wife and that Lucan was being framed, and that he wanted him to care for the children. The other was a note indicating how his debts might be paid off. The car that he had driven to East Sussex was discovered several days later, a lead pipe in the trunk along with a bottle of vodka. The Lord himself would be far trickier to locate. The newspapers were full of lurid stories – Lucan was a famous man, a Lord of the Realm no less, while the story had the perfect mix of salacious and gruesome so beloved of the British tabloids – but none of them produced a concrete sighting of the missing peer. A hearing was convened in absentia that declared that Sandra Rivett had been murdered by Lord Lucan.
The immediate thought was that he had killed himself. Veronica Lucan claimed that her husband had committed suicide, while his mother, the Countess Lucan, speculated that his mysterious disappearance had been a ruse by which the children’s expenses could be paid for, as his estate would have passed onto his infant son had a death been confirmed. The chief policeman in charge of the investigation, Roy Ranson, initially thought that the Earl had drowned himself in the English Channel, but later stated that he thought Lucan to be alive and living in Africa. The disappearance captivated the nation and newspapers regularly printed articles about the case, with sightings reported everywhere from India to Gabon to Switzerland. The heinous crime of the late Lord Lucan, declared dead only in 1999, remains a source of fascination to the British public.