John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, was a well-connected, high-rolling aristocrat who got away with murder—literally. After a brutal attack, the lord went on the lam, leaving one of the most notorious mysteries in the UK’s history not so much a whodunit…but a “where’d-he-go”? Was his escape aided by his close circle of powerful friends? Did guilt push him to take his own life? Or is he still out there somewhere? The theories are many—so let’s investigate the facts surrounding the vanishing act of Lord Lucan.
Richard John Bingham—known to family and friends as John, and later as Lord Lucan—was born December 18, 1934, in London to parents Kaitlin Dawson and George Bingham, the 6th Earl of Lucan. Shortly after his birth, a blood clot in his mother’s lung forced her to remain under nursing home care while Lucan spent his earliest days with a nanny. It was not the last time he and his family lived apart.
In 1940, young John and his siblings, Jane, Sally, and Hugh, traveled to Kisco, New York to spend the next five years with family friend and multi-millionaire Marcia Brady Tucker. There, they would be safe from the perils of WWII. During their time with Tucker, they wanted for nothing, giving Lucan an early taste of the high life he would do anything to preserve.
When the children returned to the realities of post-WWII England, they had to face some devastating damage. The family home bore damage from previous explosions, not to mention rationing was still in effect. The Binghams were nobles, but they were also socialists who preferred a far more austere lifestyle than the one the children experienced in the US. For a time, Lucan suffered from nightmares. It’s easy to see why.
Lucan attended Eton College and developed a knack for gambling. He used to sneak off school grounds regularly to place bets at the horse track. It was lucrative enough that he was able to supplement the allowance from his parents with a small income from bookmaking. He even opened a secret bank account to keep his winnings—and losses—private. And there would be plenty of losses...
His grades were meh—but Lord Lucan had just one thing on his mind. After all, what does a future Earl care about grades when connections are all that matter? He was popular enough to be the captain of his school boarding house, and after graduating in 1953, his National Service placement was with the elite Coldstream Guards, just like his father before him.
The gambling bug bit him again in the barracks, where he spent much of his free time playing poker. He may not have known it yet—but he was playing with fire.
Service completed, Lucan found work with a London-based bank earning £500 a year. This was on top of the roughly £12,000 he received annually from various family trusts. He was flush with cash when he befriended rich stockbroker Stephen Raphael in 1960, and could easily afford to join him for water skiing weekends in the Bahamas, rounds of golf, and late nights at the Clermont Club casino, which became his home away from home.
He and his wealthy friends became known as the Clermont Set. Lucan was living a lifestyle that many dream of—and now that he was at the top, he’d do anything to hold onto his position.
Lucan did best at games of skill like backgammon. After winning a tournament, he was not only the backgammon champion of the west coast of North America, but was listed as one of the best players in the world. His winnings earned him the nickname “Lucky”—but there was a dark side to it all.
Ironically, his losses could be staggering. There were nights when he lost £8,000 or more. Fortunately, he had an uncle to help pay his debts, because that £500 salary from the bank wasn’t going to cut it. In fact, he began to treat his banking career like it was getting in his way…
Nothing burns quite like a co-worker getting promoted ahead of you. It happened to Lucan in 1960 just before he won £26,000 playing Baccarat. This prompted him to tell the bank to take their job and shove it, saying, “why should I work in a bank, when I can earn a year’s money in one single night at the tables”?
Soon Lucan moved out of his parents’ home and on with his new life as a professional gambler—a “career” that’s untenable at its best…and completely life-crushing at its worst.
Lord Lucan found himself lucky in love when he met Veronica Duncan in 1963. She worked as a model and secretary in London before her sister Christina’s marriage to wealthy businessman Bill Shand Kydd introduced her to high society. She once said she’d been “looking for a god” and when she and Lucan locked eyes at a fancy golf function, she thought he was a “dream figure”.
If those dreams were nightmares, maybe, but we’re skipping ahead.
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Lord Lucan and Veronica married in a low-key ceremony on November 20, 1963, just months after they met. For their honeymoon, they traveled Europe first class on the Orient Express, thanks to a generous cash gift from Lucan’s father. The money also bought the couple a home in Belgravia—but with good fortune came great tragedy.
Two months later, George Bingham suffered a fatal stroke. Lucan inherited his father’s title of Earl, making Veronica Countess of Lucan. He also inherited £250,000. If only he had somewhere to spend it...
Lucan loved a routine and every day was the same: Breakfast with a newspaper and a walk in the park, then lunch at the Clermont Club followed by an afternoon of backgammon. In the evenings he’d come home and change into black tie attire, ready to gamble into the wee hours at the Clermont again.
If Veronica ever joined him, she had to spend her time in the ladies’ area of the club known as “the widow’s bench”—and soon enough, she grew tired of her hubby’s expensive hobbies.
To his credit, Lord Lucan tried to get Veronica into his other hobbies like golf, hunting, and fishing, but she wasn’t interested. Her hands were full with their three children, Frances, George, and Camilla. Their births were a great joy—but behind closed doors, Veronica was suffering. She developed post-partum depression after the birth of George in 1967, and it only intensified after Camilla came along in 1970. Lucan, meanwhile, was living his best life.
Lord Lucan invested in thoroughbred racing horses, but in 1968 he paid more out in race entry fees than he received in winnings. Somehow, he kept living the high life, flying friends to racetracks, driving an Aston Martin, speeding around in power boats, and drinking. It is any wonder then, that he was once considered for the role of the world’s most famous British spy?
Clermont member and James Bond author Ian Fleming suggested that producer Albert Broccoli screen-test Lord Lucan for the role of James Bond after Sean Connery left the franchise. Lucan had auditioned unsuccessfully for a role in the film Woman Times Seven in 1966, so he passed on Broccoli’s offer when it arrived. How differently things might have turned out if he’d won the role…
On the surface, Lord Lucan and his wife were the glamorous picture of an upper-crust couple—but they were hiding the dark side of their relationship. Veronica said that Lucan spoke more to her before the wedding than he ever did after it. Even when they were together she felt lonely—and this had an undesirable side effect.
Veronica was depressed and desperately isolated. Her husband barely had time for her—so unsurprisingly, she formed an attachment with Lucan’s Clermont buddy, Greville Howard. Suspicious of an affair, Lucan warned Howard off before anyone had actually crossed a line. What Veronica saw as Howard’s rejection sent her spiraling further into her depression. Her husband’s methods for dealing with her mental health weren’t exactly helpful.
Lord Lucan tried to admit Veronica to a psychiatric clinic but she refused, agreeing to a course of antidepressants instead. The meds were one thing—but dealing with Lucan was another. In a documentary, Veronica claimed Lucan would hit her with a cane, vowing to “beat these mad ideas out” of her. The cane was wrapped in bandages to soften the blow. How thoughtful. A signature move of Lucan’s, as it later turned out.
Between Veronica’s struggles with medicating her depression and Lucan’s gambling addiction wreaking havoc on their finances, the couple had a hard time keeping up appearances. In July 1972, Veronica bailed on a family holiday early, and after the same year’s strained Christmas break, Lucan called a doctor to ask if his wife was mentally well enough to be left alone with the children.
When the doctor assured him she was, he packed his bags and moved out for good.
Lucan settled into a nearby apartment, but his Mercedes-Benz was often seen parked just outside the family home. He visited his kids often—but this devotion had a twisted side. He became obsessed with winning custody of his children and started spying on Veronica to help his cause.
Having a doctor declare her an unfit mother seemed his best bet, but no luck. None would support his accusations that she was “mad”. He tried goading her into arguments over the phone while he secretly recorded them as proof. This strategy would come back to bite him—hard.
Lucan told everyone that Veronica couldn’t keep a nanny because of her erratic behavior. It’s more likely his behavior was the problem. One nanny claimed Veronica was afraid of him and told her not to be surprised “if he kills me one day”. When Lucan managed to get a court order granting him temporary custody, he and two private detectives accosted the nanny while she was out with the children and simply drove off with them. Veronica wasn’t about to let him get away with it.
Ahead of the custody hearing set for June 1973, Veronica booked herself into the Priory Clinic in Roehampton. The clinic’s doctors stated in court once and for all that there was no indication she was mentally unwell. Lucan’s lawyers played his recorded phone calls hoping to prove otherwise.
Instead, the judge called his intimidation tactics into question and ultimately awarded custody to Veronica. He was not happy.
No “crooked” lawyers and “rotten psychiatrist” were going to stop Lucan—and his plans to get his way were brutally cruel. He canceled Veronica’s regular grocery order with Harrod’s and delayed paying the milkman and the childcare agency—anything to sabotage her. He continued to have private eyes spy on her or did it himself, as a series of family nannies would attest to.
Lucan befriended nanny Elizabeth Murphy and plied her with drinks to get her to dish the dirt on his wife, only to fire her afterward. Another nanny, Christabel Martin, reported numerous wrong number calls from the same man to the house. This, everyone assumed, was Lucan. It was Sandra Rivett’s tragic misfortune to be hired next.
By late 1974, Lord Lucan was on the verge of bankruptcy. The custody case cost him £20,000. Strapped for cash, he asked friends and family for loans. He even asked old moneybags Marcia Tucker for £100,000, and when she said no, he asked her son for the money saying he wanted to “buy” his children from Veronica. No dice.
He was nearly £50,000 in debt by the end of the year, and his gambling was as out of control as his drinking—and his big mouth.
The debts were one problem—but friends were far more worried about Lucan’s disturbing statements. He started openly discussing how murdering his wife would solve all his problems. He told Aspinall and his mother that it would save him from bankruptcy, and he told Greville Howard that if he dumped Veronica in some body of water he “would never get caught”. Guess it wasn’t enough of a red flag for anyone to warn her.
In the days leading up to the horrible night in question, many described Lucan as unusually chipper. Though he generally slept in until noon, he awoke early on the morning of November 7 and made several plans to meet with friends. He was a no-show to all but his appointment with literary agent Michael Hicks Beach.
For this, he turned up, not in his Mercedes-Benz, but in a beat-up old Ford Corsair he borrowed from a friend the week before. Why? Certainly not to show it off.
On the night of November 7, Veronica and Frances were in a second-floor bedroom of the family home watching television. Nanny Sandra Rivett usually had Thursdays off, but changed dates to spend time with her boyfriend the day before. Just before 9:00 pm, after putting the other children to bed, she offered Veronica a tea and went downstairs to the basement kitchen to make one, unaware of the danger waiting for her.
20 minutes later, with no sign of Sandra, Veronica decided to see what was taking so long. She got to the top of the stairs leading to the basement and saw no lights on. She called Sandra’s name only to hear a noise behind her. Suddenly, she felt several violent strikes to her head. At this point, she had not seen her attacker.
As Veronica fell to the ground and screamed, a gloved hand came down over her mouth and she heard a voice say “Shut up”. It was Lucan. They struggled. She bit his fingers and grabbed his groin. Lucan lost strength and fell back. That’s when she saw the bandaged lead pipe he hit her with. She asked where Sandra was. His reply was chilling.
He said, “I’ve killed her. She came down first. If it had been you, you would have got it”.
Lord Lucan had ended Sandra’s life with a fatal blow from the same pipe before placing her body in a canvas mailbag. Terrified, Veronica offered to help him escape after she tended to her wounds. They went upstairs, sent Frances to her room, then put towels on the bed for Veronica to lie on. Lucan asked if she had any sleeping pills and went to the bathroom to wet a towel for her injured head. That’s when Veronica made her move.
Veronica ran out of the house and made it to the nearby pub, The Plumbers Arms. She burst through the doors, collapsed on the floor, and screamed, “Help me! My children...he’s murdered my nanny”! Officers arrived at the pub quickly and took her to the hospital. They also forced their way into the home to check on the children and made a gruesome discovery.
At the scene, investigators found blood patterns clearly marking the two areas of attack. They found Sandra’s body, the wrapped lead pipe, and also an unscrewed lightbulb from the basement which ensured the brutal act would take place in the dark. Frances told officers she saw blood on her mother’s face as her parents sent her to bed. Not long after, she heard her father call for her mother and watched him leave the house. But where had he gone?
A neighbor who knew Lord Lucan well reported her doorbell ringing at 10:30 pm. Shortly afterward, she hung up the phone on a caller whom she believed to be Lucan. He also called his mother to say there’d been a “terrible catastrophe” at Veronica’s house where he claimed he’d interrupted an assailant.
He asked her to call Bill Shand Kydd and to go get the children. When he called his mother again at 12:30 am, officers were with her. They asked to speak with him, but he said he’d contact them the next day. He didn’t—but his night wasn’t over yet.
At 11:00 pm, a disheveled Lucan showed up at his friend Susan Maxwell-Scott’s house and told her he’d been walking past Veronica’s home when he saw a man attacking her through the basement window. He intervened, slipping on a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs.
According to Lucan, Veronica was hysterical and accused him of hiring the attacker who ran off. Susan gave him some paper to write two letters to Shand Kydd. He asked her to mail them, which she did. What she didn’t do was contact investigators.
Later, when Detective Chief Superintendant Roy Ranson asked Susan why she didn’t report the incident, her answer was infuriating. She said she didn’t think it was important. In the letters to Shand Kydd, which were bloodstained, Lucan wrote of breaking up the fight with the intruder. He said the evidence against him was very strong and because Veronica was paranoid she’d say he “did it”, so he was going to lie low for a bit.
He also listed items to be auctioned to satisfy his debts, specifying which creditors to pay and which could “get lost”.
After taking Veronica’s statement, investigators searched Lucan’s apartment. A suit lay neatly on top of his bed next to a book on Greek shipping millionaires. His wallet, car keys, driver’s license and glasses were on the bedside table with his passport in the drawer. With his Mercedes-Benz in the driveway, one might assume he was prepared to make a getaway, but what about the car he actually got away in?
Investigators found Lucan’s borrowed Ford Corsair in Newhaven on November 10—and it contained disturbing evidence. There was another bandaged lead pipe and a full bottle of vodka in the trunk. On November 4, 2022, the Daily Mail published a story claiming a former detective revealed they also found three cards from the game of Clue: Colonel Mustard, Lead Pipe, and The Hall.
If true, the eerie similarity of the cards to the night of terror hints at premeditation, but they didn’t come up as evidence at the inquest.
Though lead investigator DCS Ranson initially suspected Lucan took his own life, there was still a warrant out for his arrest. Tracking dogs and divers searched surrounding areas for him but turned up nothing. In an interesting bit of coincidence, the man flying the autogyro outfitted with infrared cameras during an aerial search had previously worked on a James Bond film.
It’s funny that Lord Lucan nearly became Bond, as the story he’d cooked up was more of an attempt to cast himself as The Fugitive.
The Earl’s escape made headlines worldwide, and the press had a field day speculating about a hasty meeting of the Clermont Set the day after his disappearance. James Goldsmith, not present at the time, sued a magazine for saying he’d been there and won. Artist Dominic Elwes did attend, but after visiting Veronica in the hospital, he was critical of Lucan in a magazine article—but he paid a devastating consequence for it.
The Set were not friends you wanted as enemies. When they turned their backs on Elwes, he took his own life. And their antics only got more obnoxious from there…
Investigators called Lucan’s friends the “Eton Mafia” and accused them of impeding their efforts. Susan refused to add to her statement, and when detectives asked John Aspinall’s mother where Lucan might be, she said she’d heard one of her son’s tigers ate him.
This meant they had to waste time searching Aspinall’s private zoo, only to have him joke about how his tigers were too finicky to eat “stringy old Lucky”. A woman was dead—and they were busy making jokes.
After multiple postponements, the inquest into Sandra Rivett’s grisly demise opened on July 16, 1975. Led by coroner Gavin Thurston, the 33 witnesses testifying before the jury included Veronica, the landlord of the Plumbers Arms, and forensic specialists—and it was a total circus. The Queen’s Council for Lucan baited Veronica to admit hatred for her husband. Then, Susan repeated Lucan’s claim that Veronica had accused him of hiring a hitman.
Around the world, thirsty media outlets awaited details and a verdict.
Once the hearing was over, the jury foreman announced a finding of “Murder by Lord Lucan”, leaving it up to the Crown Court to decide Lucan’s fate. His defenders complained the inquest was a sham. Maybe if Lucan had been there to testify, instead of leaving his version of events to come from the blood-stained letters he’d left, they wouldn’t have felt the inquest wasn’t so one-sided. Maybe he could’ve explained why none of the evidence supported his story.
The evidence was stacked against Lord Lucan. Sure, he’d left no fingerprints, but Veronica said he wore gloves. Why would he have the same type of wrapped lead pipe in his car as the one that the “intruder” used as a weapon? And how did Lucan see through a dark basement window without stooping low to the pavement? Blood patterns contradicted his basement struggle story and supported Veronica’s claims entirely.
In the eyes of the national press and general public, Lucan had done it—but was he still alive to answer for it?
Lucan’s bankruptcy hearing went ahead in his absence. Courts granted probate over his estate to his family in 1999 but issued no death certificate. Lead investigator DCS Ranson, Veronica, and his friend Aspinall shared the opinion that he likely ended his life jumping from a boat into the English Channel, “like the nobleman he was”. But that wasn’t the only theory floating around.
Lucan’s friends Raphael and Philippe Marcq swore that the story about Lucan being fed to a tiger story had teeth. Some believed he fled the country aided by a shadowy group of financiers only to be bumped off and buried in Switzerland—but one account was more ridiculous than the others.
One story that made the rounds was that a then 27-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger terminated Lucan to cover up the fact that he was the paid hitman! But let’s focus on a theory with a little more credibility, shall we?
DCS Ranson changed his mind about Lucan taking his own life, and had reason to believe he moved to South Africa to live near his brother Hugh. Another former detective on the case, Bob Polkinghorne, reported a reliable witness saw Lucan in the country in the early 1980s—around the same time that Aspinall’s secretary Shirley Robey claimed to have made arrangements for Lucan’s eldest children to travel to Gabon so their father could observe them in secret. For the record, the kids denied this happened.
Veronica may have survived the attack—but the aftermath was devastating. She continued to struggle with addiction to anti-depressants and in 1982, her children became wards of the Shand Kydds. She refused to speak to any of them again. Until the end of her life in 2018, she remained confident that Lucan was not “the sort of Englishman to cope abroad”.
Courts officially declared him dead in 2016, and George Bingham inherited his father’s title. He maintains the rest of the family still do not know who Sandra’s murderer was.
Since his disappearance, there have been thousands of “sightings” of Lord Lucan around the world. Bounty hunter John Miller, who previously nabbed train robber Ronnie Biggs, claimed to have captured him, but it later turned out to be a hoax. Tips pointing to a man in Goa, India, famously only led to a folk singer named Barry Halpin.
Now a new lead from a surprising source suggests he might actually be hiding out in Australia.
Neil Berriman only learned he was Sandra Rivett’s biological son in 2008. Since then, tracking down Lucan has been his top priority. In 2020, his own investigations led him to suspect a pensioner living in a Buddhist commune in Brisbane. When questioned, the man, who is now 87, the same age Lucan would be, denied being the Earl.
Authorities ruled him out as a possibility, but Berriman wanted an expert opinion. He sure got one.
Respected facial software recognition expert Professor Hassan Ugail recently claimed the man in question is a near-perfect match for Lucan. An artificial intelligence algorithm ran 4,000 cross-checks of seven photos: four of Lucan and three of the mystery pensioner. The results, Ugail says, aren’t based on opinion but mathematical fact.
For now, the identity of the man who might be Lucan is still a secret, but surely there is more of this story to come.
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