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Thursday, October 23, 2008

MURDER BY CAD

I think it may be the most unusual murder mystery in the history. We know who was killed, and we how and why and when the victim was murdered. We even know the name of the murderer. The only thing we don’t know is what became of the murderer. Did he get away? Did he kill himself? Did justice fall upon him unbeknownst to the rest of the world? It is a real mystery, I guess: or…maybe it’s a myth.
The murderer was Richard John (Lucky) Bingham, the Seventh Earl of Lucan. He stood six feet four inches tall, was dark and handsome and debonair and a blue blood. He was a professional gambler and descended from a long line of royal cads. His great-great-great grandfather, the second Earl, gained infamy during the Irish Potato Famine as the very epitome of a heartless, greedy English landowner, throwing starving Irish peasants out of their homes. John’s Great-great-Grandfather, George Charles Bingham, the third Earl, was the cad who ordered the charge of the Light Brigade. The Fifth Earl, George Charles Bingham, sat out the First World War in the House of Lords, but liked to be called “Major” a rank he achieved between the wars when there was no shooting going on. And John’s father had shocked the family by switching his alliance to the Labor Party in the 1930’s. John chose his profession the way most gamblers do, right after a winning streak: he won twenty-six thousand pounds in two days, while playing backgammon. What John did not know was that his gambling club of choice, the Clermont Club, was in fact a den of thieves. One associate of the clubs’s owner, John Aspinall, described the Claremont as “…like robbing Fort Knox or the Bank of England - just a lot easier.” Aspinall referred to his upper class customers as “pigeons”, and treated them like that too. Lord Lucan was such a favored pigeon that Aspinall had a bust of him placed on display in the clubIn November of 1963 John married the petit and pretty Veronica Duncan. She gave birth to three children; a daughter, Frances, in October 1964, George (the heir) in 1967, and Camilla, born in June of 1970.
John seems to have always been a control freak, and one nanny would later claim that John beat Veronica with a stick wrapped in masking tape. However Veronica would insist that was not true.
The Lady Lucan was stricken with post-partum depression after Camilla was born, and required medical assistance for herself and a nanny to help her care for the children.
Meanwhile, his Lordship had discovered that not only was the income of a professional gambler prone to ups and downs, it was also prone to its own addictions. By the mid 1970’s John was spending the wee hours of each morning, after putting his time in at the backgammon tables, playing what he had once labeled as the “mugs games” of roulette and craps; and he was losing at them, when he wasn’t being fleeced by his friend John Aspinall. The marriage bent under the strain of mounting bills and Veronica’s personal struggles, and the couple separated. John moved into an apartment a few blocks away from their five story London townhouse at 46 Lower Bellgrave Street . (It was just around the corner from Buckingham Palace.) He hired a private detective to spy on his wife and gather information for what he was certain would be an eventual divorce.
He was now suffering from regular headaches, and began drinking heavily. He became obsessed with regaining control of his children. When he could no longer afford the P.I., John turned to stalking Veronica himself. In March of 1973, John kidnapped his children and sued to gain legal custody. But in June the judge sided with Veronica. He labeled John’s behavior as “lawless” and granted Veronica full custody. All three children moved back into the mansion on Lower Bellgrave. What with child support, alimony, Veronica’s medical care and the cost of a nanny, the judge’s decision left John in debt for forty thousand pounds. So John began to make other plans. By 9:30 P.M. on the night of Friday November 8, 1974 the two younger children had been put to bed. Frances was watching television with her mother in the family room on the second floor when, just before ten, the new nanny, Sandra Rivett, (above) poked her head in the door and asked if there was anything else she could do before going home. On a whim Veronica suggested a cup of tea, and Sandra went down to the basement kitchen to put the kettle on. Thirty minutes later, when Sandra had not returned, Veronica went downstairs to see what had become of her. When she reached the darkened main floor she was attacked by a man wielding a bent pipe. He struck her several times in the head. Veronica tried to cry out, but the man ordered her to “shut up”, and roughly shoved two gloved fingers down her throat. Veronica instantly recognized the voice as John’s. She fought back, grabbed John by the testicles and squeezed as hard as she could. He released his grip and the two collapsed on the floor in heap. Gathering her courage and her voice, Veronica asked where Sandra was. John admitted he had just murdered the nanny. In the dark of the basement he said, he had mistaken her for his wife (they were both 5’2” and slightly built). Thinking quickly Veronica assured John that Sandra would not be missed, and that in order to avoid a scandal she would help him dispose of the body. John led her to the second floor where they bothj told Francis to go upstairs to her own bedroom. In the master bedroom Veronica lay on the bed while John went in to the bathroom to wet a washcloth. And the second Veronica heard the water running she leapt off the bed, ran down the stairs and out of the house. She stumbled down the street to the Plumber’s Arms Pub. In her nightdress and covered in blood, she made quite an impression. She gasped hoarsely to the startled patrons, “Murder, murder, I think my neck has been broken - he tried to kill me” Back at the house, when John realized that Veronica had escaped, he ran for it. They found poor Sandra stuffed in a bloody sack near the basement door. She had been horribly bludgeoned to death.
John’s apartment was empty. Later the police would discover that he driven forty miles to a friend’s farmhouse, and told them he had been passing the home on Lower Bellgrave when he saw an attacker through a basement window. He had rushed in only to be knocked down by the attacker. Then, he told the friends, realizing he would be blamed for the murder, he had run away. He called his mother twice. The second time she asked if John wanted to speak to the police officer who was with her. John hung up. And then, after his friends went back to sleep, Lord Lucan disappeared.
Three days after the attack they found his car parked near the docks in Newhaven. In the car was his passport and a note to a friend asking him to look after his children. In the trunk was a bloody length of pipe, bent by the beating administered to the innocent Sandra Rivett and Veronica.For decades the police continued to search for Lord Lucan. An industry sprang up seeking the most famous missing royal murderer in recent history. John was reported living happily in Australia, South Africa, and even India. But oddly enough none of this string of "Could-Be Johns" has displayed a gambling addiction, or an affinity to act like Royality. In 1984 Scotland Yard tried to reopen the case but it ran into another dead end. The last suspected "John" was a man living in a van in New Zealand with a pet possum, a cat and a goat. But like all the others, he turned out to be somebody else. Veronica Lucan, (http://www.ladylucan.co.uk/) who has never remarried, insists that John threw himself into the Thames estuary (the Solent), probably on November 9th or 10th. And to tell you the truth, I agree with her. But it makes a much more interesting story if Lord Lucan is still alive someplace, Tahiti maybe, or perhaps Ceylon. But like the famous missing Judge Crater (see earlier column) in the United States, Lord Lucan will likely remain not dead, but missing, forever. Because that’s the way most people prefer their harsh reality; with a softening dose of myth.
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