A death certificate for Lord Lucan, the British aristocrat who disappeared after the 1974 murder of his children’s nanny in which he was implicated, was officially issued this week.
The awarding of the certificate, which allows Lucan’s son Lord Bingham to assume the title of Lord Lucan, brings to an end one of the most absurd yet intriguing wild goose chases in the annals of British missing persons.
However, the truth is that few in British aristocratic circles who actually knew the Lucans have ever given much credence to the ever-more ridiculous rumors.
My grandmother, for example, who knew Lady Lucan (we kids would stare open-mouthed at the nervous lady when she came for tea) always rubbished such fantastical ideas.
She was firmly of the opinion that Lucky—as he was ironically enough known to his friends due to his love of gambling—“threw himself off a boat” in the English Channel (his car was found near the port of Newhaven).
Other friends and contemporaries who knew Lucan well have told me repeatedly over the years that they have no doubt that he was dead within hours of saying a final farewell to some friends, the Maxwell-Scotts, in Uckfield, Sussex, just hours after Sandra Rivett’s—the nanny’s—death.
Many of those who knew Lucan still find it hard to believe he did in fact murder Rivett.
Lucan was a terrific snob—he refused to talk to people who didn’t have “proper shoelaces”—and he was undoubtedly addicted to gambling; one relative once told me that he spent a wedding service openly studying the form for the next day’s races at Ascot.
But he was not violent. This has led some staunch defenders to maintain that Lucan was not responsible for the crime.
The circumstances surrounding the murder were undoubtedly odd. At 9.45 p.m. on the night in question, November 7th, 1974, Lady Lucan ran into a pub called The Plumbers Arms shouting, “He’s murdered the nanny.”
Police found Rivett’s body inside a sack, together with a length of lead piping.
Lucan himself denied responsibility. In a letter written to his friend Bill Shand Kydd from the house of the Maxwell-Scotts, and read at the inquest into Sandra Rivett’s death in 1975, Lucan claimed that he had been walking past his old house (Lucan and his wife were estranged due to his gambling) when, peering into the basement window, he saw his wife struggling with a man.
Letting himself in, he made his way down to the basement, where he slipped in a pool of blood as he was rushing to his wife’s assistance.
The assailant had by then run off, but Veronica became hysterical, accusing him of hiring someone to kill her before running from the house.
“I will lie doggo for a while,” Lucan wrote, “but I am only concerned about the children. If you can manage it I would like them to live with you.”
Shand Kydd believed, like most of his friends, that Lucan probably took his own life shortly after his disappearance, but he never accepted that he was a murderer.
John Aspinall, the owner of the Clermont Club, where Lucan played cards, was suspected by many of their set of actively using the Lucan murder to publicize the Clermont.
He goaded the police and courted the media in the months and years after the killing, talking up the “Clermont Set’s” amorality and snobbery.
“If she’d been my wife, I’d have bashed her to death five years before and so would you,” Aspinall reportedly told the police of Lady Veronica.
While Aspinall is not believed to have been started the rumor that Lucky committed suicide and his body fed to the tigers at Aspinall’s zoo, he did nothing to quash such tall tales.
“He enjoyed that story,” says one acquaintance of Aspinall’s.
Aspinall, like all the rest of Lucan’s friends, knew full well that the idea Lucan was living in hiding somewhere in South America or under Jimmy Goldsmith’s protection in Mexico was untrue, yet he reveled in the attention, which he saw as good for business.
“Aspinall was very clever and a complete shit, and he was onto anything that gave him the slightest advantage,” says one former member of the set.
“But Lucan was a complete fool. ‘Lucky’ was the worst nickname ever. He had one big win right at the start, I think it was £26,000, which would be about a quarter of a million in today’s money. And he was hooked. It was like he was on heroin. And then he lost everything to Aspinall.
“It suited Aspinall to have him in the club, because he still had a few grand friends, so he became a ‘house player’ [meaning his losses were covered by the club], sitting there with his stupid moustache. Aspinall kept him around for his own benefit.”
Speaking immediately after the judgment, Lord Bingham said: “I am very happy with the judgment of the court in this matter. It has been a very long time coming. I would be grateful if now we could all move on and find another Loch Ness Monster.”