Born in 1934, Richard John Bingham became Lord Lucan when his father died in 1963. A naturally shy man but already a figure famed for his successes at the gambling table, he was nicknamed “Lucky” and was once ranked among the top ten backgammon players in the world.
Some 30 years before his birth, his forebear the third Earl of Lucan had brought shame on the family name through his role in the Charge of the Light Brigade, the most infamous British disaster of the Crimean War.
In the 20th Century, however, his grandfather had served as a Tory politician, then his father as a Labour one during Lucan’s childhood.
Though he served with the Coldstream Guards in West Germany in the 1950s, the seventh Lord Lucan did not show the same desire for public service as his ancestors.
In time, however, he would become the most famous and notorious Lord Lucan of them all.
Lucan’s marriage failed in the early 70s and he moved out of the family home and Lady Veronica Lucan was suffering from a severe bout of post-natal depression following the births of their children, Frances, George and Camilla.
Lucan was also under pressure having suffered mounting gambling losses, the true extent of which he had largely concealed from his wife. After the marriage failed, Lucan became consumed by an obsessive desire to win custody of his children, hiring private detectives to spy on his estranged wife in a bid to prove her apparent unsuitability to be mother to his children.
The unfortunate victim of this story, though, was 29-year-old Sandra Rivett, who was employed as a nanny by Lady Lucan.
On the fateful night of 7 November 1974, Sandra had gone down to the basement kitchen of the Lucan’s Belgravia house to make a cup of tea. There she was attacked and bludgeoned to death with a piece of bandaged pipe. Later, when Lady Lucan went to investigate Sandra’s absence, she too was attacked on the stairs and a vicious fight ensued.
According to her, she recognised her husband’s voice and even endured a stilted conversation with him, after his attempts to kill her had failed, during which he admitted killing Sandra.
She then made her escape, entering a nearby pub, The Plumbers Arms, exclaiming: “Help me, help me, I’ve just escaped from being murdered” and “My children, my children, he’s murdered my nanny”. She was covered in blood.
Meanwhile, Lucan made his own escape, telephoning his mother to tell her of a “terrible catastrophe” at his wife’s home involving an attack by an intruder. He visited a friend and wrote letters to his brother-in-law and another to a friend. The letters were understandably desperate in tone. In one, Lucan said that he would “lie doggo for a bit”.
Though many claimed to see Lord Lucan in the decades since that time, the last confirmed sighting of him was the same night as the murder in 1974. After that, it was as if he vanished into thin air.
By any standard, it was an ineptly executed crime. Lucan had presumably mistaken Sandra Rivett for his wife and then, realising his mistake, had tried (and failed) to kill his actual wife too. Even if he had successfully killed Lady Lucan it is not really clear what his plan was, assuming he had even got away with the initial crime.
At one point, it appeared Lucan had surfaced in Australia. In December 1974, Australian police arrested an Englishman of similar age to Lucan and ordered him to drop his trousers in the hope of revealing the distinctive scar on his right thigh belonging to Lucan. There was no scar to be found. It wasn’t Lucan.
Amazingly, the man turned out to be John Stonehouse, a British Labour politician and former member of the Wilson government who was on the run himself, having faked his own death on a Miami beach in November. He was later sent to prison for fraud.
Lord Lucan remained missing. In June 1975 there was an inquest into Sandra Rivett’s death and Lord Lucan was named as the murderer – the first member of the House of Lords to be named as a murderer since 1760 – although the verdict was not without controversy: his counsel was prevented from offering any significant evidence in his defence and some of his family and social circle continued to defend him afterwards.
As time passed, news of reported sightings of Lucan became something of a joke. A puppet with Lucan’s likeness frequently made appearances in the background of satirical TV comedy Spitting Image.
After a lengthy battle, Lord Lucan was eventually declared dead in 2016 allowing his son, George, to inherit his father’s title, becoming the eighth Earl of Lucan.
Nobody knows what happened to the seventh Earl of Lucan: Rumours persist, some suggesting he was whisked away abroad by his powerful friends, others that his remains were fed to the tigers in the zoo of his casino-owner friend, John Aspinall.
Ultimately, suicide seems the most likely outcome of Lucan’s sad story. This was certainly the view of his wife, the late Lady Lucan who subsequently took her own life at the age of 80 in 2017. She left her fortune to charity.