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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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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

LEGACY

I prefer to think of this inhuman event in human terms. It was important not for when or why it was, because the “when” was mere connivance. M-hour was 7:15 A.M. local time, November 1st. But five hundred forty miles to the east at the same moment it was still October 31st - Halloween.

The difference was the imaginary International Date Line drawn on paper across the not really empty emptiness of the Pacific Ocean. The “why” is the simplest of the elements; because we could, because we had to, because we wanted to. So you see that ultimately the only important things about the event is the humans it happened to; the people who lost their homes, the man who was not there, and the man who died.
Humans arrived on “Aelon Kein Ad” (our islands) 4,000 years ago, and by their very presence on one of those atolls, Enewetak, they prove the perseverance of humanity. The nearest land is another atoll, Ujelang, 140 miles to the southwest.
It seems impossible but some how humans crossed all of that open ocean to reach this string of islands. And somehow, on an atoll barely ten feet above sea level and less than 200 yards across on its widest island, they survived for two millennia, enduring isolation, hurricanes and droughts.
And somehow they survived the arrival of the Spanish in 1528, the British in 1788 (who renamed their home “The Marshall” Islands), the Germans in 1885, and the Japanese in 1915.
And somehow they even survived the Americans, who bombarded their island and invaded it in February of 1944 (Operation Catchpole). Over three hundred Americans and two thousand six hundred Japanese died for possession of the islands of Enewetak. But how many of the people who actually lived on the islands were killed in the battle was not recorded. In December of 1947 the 141 of those who had survived were taken away from their island and transported to Ujelang. It would be, the Americans assured them, a mere three year sojourn. Two fission bombs were exploded on Bikini Atoll in 1946, and three at Enewetak in 1948.
Meanwhile a people who had lived on three islands around Enewetak lagoon, were now crowded into a single village on a single island. Food was sometimes so short that coconuts, which were supposed to have been sold for copra, were instead eaten for survival. Government assistance struggled to fill the gaps.
Epidemics of polio and measles and rats plagued the village. As one woman told an ethnographer, “In those days, the wailing across the village was constant.” And always there was the paradise lost, an Eden that looked more perfect as memories of it faded. What could have been worth all that was taken from these people? It was the dream of one man more than any other. Edward Teller was an Hungarian born genius who was despised by most of his fellow scientists. In 1950 he had aided and abetted the humiliation of his mentor, Robert Oppenheimer, by slyly suggesting that “Oppie”, who had overseen the invention and construction of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki fission bombs, could no longer be trusted with state secrets. Because of Teller’s testimony Oppenheimer was stripped of his security clearance and branded a traitor.
But Oppemheimer’s actual crime seems to have been that he simply believed that Teller was over selling his design for a hydrogen fusion bomb.
Most scientists familiar with the subject agreed with Oppenheimer, including Stanislaw Ulam, a Polish-American mathematician, who in 1950 completed calculations that proved the design championed by Teller would never work. However Ulam did suggest there was a way “The Super” bomb could be made to work.
Exactly what Ulam suggested is still classified. But Teller seized on Ulam's suggestion and pushed for the design to be tested. But Teller
did not journey to Enewetak to supervise the construction of the device he had championed for six years because he “did not feel comfortable” at the test site, surrounded by his peers. Instead, on that Halloween night, Teller monitored events on a seismograph in the basement of the University of California at Berkley.Meanwhile, on the tiny island of Elugelab, part of the atoll of Enewetak, the United States built an explosive device based on the “Teller-Ulam Concept”.
It was not a bomb, as it was not a practical weapon. Nicknamed “The Sausage”, it stood 20 feet tall, was 22 feet long, built of several 5 foot wide cylinders. It weighed a total of 140,000 pounds, not counting the 24,000 pound refrigeration plant used to chill the heavy hydrogen down to minus 417 degrees Fahernhiet in order to keep it liquid. Officially the device was nicknamed "Mike", and it was serviced by Joint Task Force 132, with 9,350 military and 2,300 civilian personnel. Eniwetok had never been so crowed. Precisely at 7:14:59.4 AM on the morning of November 1, 1952 (19 hours October 31, GMT time) Operation Ivy ignited MIKE by remote control from a ship 30 miles away.
Mike exploded with the force of 10. 4 million tons of TNT and sent 10 million tons of seawater and coral rocketing out of the lagoon. Waves 80 feet high raced outward for three miles.
Within 90 seconds the fireball had reached 57,000 feet, and the mushroom cloud would eventually become 100 miles wide. The island of Elubelab simply evaporated, leaving behind a crater 6,240 feet wide and 164 feet deep. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/32912172@N00/2924242774/)
One hour and forty minutes after MIKE was ignited, four F-84 fighters (Pebble Red Flight) flew into the stem of the mushroom cloud at 42,000 feet to gather data on radiation levels. Each pilot wore a heavy lead lined “gown” for added protection against the radiation threat.
Red one, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Virgil Meroney, and his wingman Red Two, entered the cloud first. Maroney afterward reported that his cockpit was instantly bathed in a deep red glow. His “rad indicator” hit the peg – maxim readings.
Worse, the rate indicator, which show how quickly radiation was being accumulated, “went around like the sweep second hand of a watch.” Col. Meroney immediately instructed Red Two to follow him, executed a 90 degree turn and flew back out of the cloud. Red three and flour were next to enter, and Meroney warned them not to go too far into the cloud. Very quickly Red Three returned, but at first there was no contact from Red Four, flown by Lt. Jimmy Priestly Robinson. Then Robinson reappeared, at 20,000 feet. He reported that his autopilot had put him into a spin, and that his compass was out. He asked to be vectored to a B29 refueling tanker, but then reported that he had picked up the radio beacon from Enwetok air station, and was going to land there. He popped out of the overcast at 5,000 feet, out of fuel and said he intended to bail out. But he never did. A helicopter reported that Robinson piloted into the lagoon about 3 ½ miles from the end of the runway at Enewetok. Robinson’s tail hit first. The plane skipped 1-300 yards and then slammed into the water nose first and flipped over onto its back. It quickly sank in 175 feet of water, leaving an oil slick, a flight glove and some maps to mark the grave. The accident report suggested that the lead line apron may have prevented Robinson from getting out of the plane. Edward Teller claimed he was burdened with the title “Father of the Hydrogen bomb”. Yet he was drawn his whole life to “bomb” science, championing the idea of using hydrogen bombs to build a harbor in Alaska and crushing petrolium out of Canadian oil sands. Later he was one of the primary salesmen who sold the “Star Wars” concept to Ronald Reagan. Teller died in September of 2003, a controversal figure to the end. The people of Eniwetok finally appealed to the United Nations. An embarrassed American government then began, in the 1970’s, to scoop up the radioactive soil left from the dozens of nuclear bombs exploded on their island. This was then transported by truck to the Northern most island in the atoll, mixed with Portland cement and poured into one of the blast craters until it formed a mound some 25 feet high. This was then covered with an 18 inch cap of clean concrete. In 1980 the island was declared safe for human habitation again. A recent visitor to the atoll reported after climbing the protective dome, that “Cracks riddle the surface, many water-stained at the edges and crumbling. Some… are so large, birds have laid eggs in them.” Although told that divers reached the wreckage of his F-84, the widow and children of Lt. Jimmy Robinson have never received his body or been told what happened to it. They have not been told if he or his plane was even recovered from the Eniwetok lagoon. All details were covered by the phrase, "National Security".
It wasn’t until fifty years later that the Department of Defense allowed the family to hold a memorial service for Jimmy in Arlington National Cemetery, complete with an empty, flag draped coffin. His daughter, Rebecca “Becky” Miller works for a Veterans organization but has been told that officially her father was not a casualty of the cold war. As a web site notes, "In reality, Jimmy Robinson remains lost because his own government …has chosen to abandon him.” And that is, largely, the legacy of nuclear weapons.

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