Where is Richard John Bingham, also known as Lord Lucan? He hasn’t been seen since November 8, 1974, the day after the family nanny was found beaten to death in the basement of the home where his estranged wife, Veronica, lived with the couple’s three young children. Left in his wake: scandal and endless speculation.
It was a story that captured the rapt attentions of the British tabloids. At the time of his disappearance, the Mirror reports, Lord Lucan was “working” as a professional gambler and had racked up, roughly, the equivalent of $95,000 in debts — adjusted for inflation, that’s nearly half a million dollars. Though he was the 7th Earl of Lucan and hailed from a well-off family, it wasn’t looking like a career path that would be sustainable for much longer.
He was also having a difficult time in his personal life. He and Veronica had split up in 1972, and the ensuing custody battle was decided in her favor. The exes were not cordial, but they remained neighbors. Veronica employed nannies to help care for the kids, who ranged in age from four to 10. She hired 29-year-old Sandra Rivette in the summer of 1974. The fact that Rivette was similar in stature to the petite Veronica may have been the ultimate in unfortunate coincidences.
The most popular theory is that Lord Lucan, distraught over his debts and loss of his children, decided to kill his wife, and tragically took out Rivette by mistake when she entered the home’s darkened basement. As the Huffington Post pointed out in a 2013 revisiting of the case, the circumstantial evidence is compelling:
On the night in question in November 7, 1974, Lucan had not only prepared his own alibi, arranging to meet some friends for supper at the infamous Clermont Club, but had also borrowed a car, a Ford Corsair ... All the evidence indicates that Lucan planned to hit his estranged wife Veronica over the head with a piece of lead piping. He then intended to drive her body to the south coast, before dumping her in the Channel. The next day, he was going to be back in London, duly feigning complete ignorance as to Veronica’s whereabouts.
The forensic evidence was also pretty damning; the borrowed Corsair was found 75 miles away, abandoned and containing Lucan’s fingerprints, Rivette’s blood, and a lead pipe eerily similar to the weapon left at the murder scene. And there was a near-eyewitness: Veronica, who became worried when Rivette didn’t return from the basement, and confronted an assailant she identified as her husband. The man took a swing at her, but she was able to escape and went running for help. Lord Lacan, who told the last person to see him alive that he’d seen an unidentified person attacking Rivette through the basement windows, never reappeared at his home, despite leaving his car keys, passport, eyeglasses, and other essentials behind.
A 1975 inquest found him guilty in absentia (despite being ID’d by his wife, some think he might have actually hired a hitman to do the deed) — but in this case, the whodunnit aspect of the murder isn’t its greatest mystery. The vanishing of Lord Lucan has inspired theories galore over the past four decades. Some are logical; Lucan’s son, George Bingham, shares his mother’s belief that Lord Lucan killed himself shortly after committing the crime. (Veronica Lucan’s personal website offers a detailed take on her version of events.) But despite an excessive search, his body was never found.
He was smuggled abroad with the help of friends and that has sparked ‘sightings’ in Australia, Ireland, South Africa, Mozambique and Holland.
Another theory was that he was smuggled out of Britain by an ex-MI5 agent and hidden in a Greek monastery.
Other (more bizarre) claims include:
He was living with a goat called Camilla in New Zealand
He was fed to the tigers of close friend and millionaire zoo owner John Aspinall
He ended up in Goa, India, where he became a hippie known as “Jungle Barry”
He was shipped to South America where he befriended a group of Nazis that fled Germany in 1945
If he’s still alive ... somewhere ... Lord Lucan would be 80 years old.
From top: Veronica Lucan in 1974; Lord Lucan and Veronica Lucan after their 1963 wedding; police search for Lord Lucan after his disappearance. Credits: photo by John Downing/Getty Images; photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images; photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images