LONDON, ENGLAND — The UK’s 1977 Criminal Law Act declared an end to the British government being able to deliver a guilty murder verdict against a defendant whose whereabouts were unknown.
This change did not just come out of nowhere.
Two years earlier, John Bingham — the dashing, adventurous, six-foot-four Earl of Lucan who had once been considered for the role of James Bond — received England’s last-ever such verdict.
On that day, a coroner’s inquest jury officially ruled Bingham to be the culprit in the November 1974 slaying of Sandra Rivett, a full-time nanny who cared for the Lord’s children and who lived with his wife from whom he was separated, Veronica Duncan Bingham — aka, Lady Lucan.
John Bingham was not present at the ruling. He had been on the run for seven months. And he may still be on the run today.
Nevertheless, on June 19, 1975, the state officially decreed that Bingham killed Rivett and that he acted mistakenly, believing Rivett to be his wife.
The judgment, therefore, added macabre irony to Bingham’s well-known nickname, “Lucky Lucan.”
According to numerous accounts, Veronica’s battles with depression and mental illness largely tore the Binghams’ marriage asunder. She is said to have embarrassed John with her baffling behavior, especially while in the company of posh friends and other aristocrats.Compounding those tensions, the jet-setting, power-boat-racing Lord had also developed quite an international gambling debt. He sought to pay it off by selling the family home, but Veronica said no deal. As a result, John moved out into his own apartment. From there, he fought with ugly — and unsuccessful — vigor to win custody of the children.
In time, Lord Lucan simply announced more than once in public that all he wanted was his kids and house back, so he was planning to murder his wife. No one took him seriously.Alas, on November 7, Sandra Rivett allegedly learned just how grave those threats were while making tea in the Binghams’ basement kitchen. Rivett physically resembled Lady Lucan, and it was a Thursday evening — the night she usually had off and therefore wouldn’t be home.
Lord Lucan reportedly had been hiding downstairs in wait for his wife. Confusing Rivett for Veronica, he allegedly then bashed in the nanny’s skull with a lead pipe.
Veronica says she went to investigate what was taking Rivett so long and that John attacked her. She says he shoved his fingers in her mouth, so she bit down with all her might.
Lady Lucan recounts that she then spun around and squeezed the Lord’s testicles as hard as she could, which prompted him to back off.
Next, Veronica claims, John admitted to the killing and carried her upstairs. Once there, she broke loose and ran to The Plumber’s Arms, a nearby pub, screaming for help.
Police stormed the Lucan home. The children were safely sleeping. Sandra Rivett’s body lay on the floor, wrapped in a bag, next to the murder weapon.
Other officers barged into John’s home, and found his wallet, passport, and car keys. Regardless, he was gone — and he’s remained gone ever since.
That occasion was not the last anyone heard from Lord Lucan, though.
John called his mother right away and asked her to send help for the children. He then drove to the home of his friend Susan Maxwell-Scott and claimed he had walked in on an intruder attacking his wife and broke up the struggle.
Afterward, John said, he slipped in a pool of Sandra Rivett’s blood while Veronica became hysterical and accused him of hiring a hitman. So that’s why he skipped out.
Later, John reiterated this version of the story in a letter to his brother-in-law and stressed that all he cared about now was the protection of his children. Still, he never came back.
During the trial held in Bingham’s absence, prosecutors used early, unreliable versions of modern forensics to place the Lord at the murder scene. Lady Lucan’s testimony drew criticism for inconsistencies. The guilty verdict didn’t come as a particular surprise, though.
It did, however, draw outcry against the notion of condemning a suspect as a murderer without him actually be on hand to receive the ruling. As noted, British law changed on that front in short order.
Many believe Lord Lucan committed suicide, including his daughter, Veronica Lucan, who says she thinks her dad did himself in, “like the nobleman he was.”
Other theories propose that Lucan lived abroad for some years, possibly in Africa, and he has been “sighted” thousands of times, in places from India to New Zealand to South America. No such sighting, though, has ever panned out to be the legitimate Lord.
In 1999, the government declared Lord Lucan dead. Seventeen years later, they issued an official death certificate, which enabled his son, Lord Bingham, to inherit the family’s title and wealth, making him the 8th Earl of Lucan.
So far, this Lord seems “luckier,” at least, than his father.
Main photo: John Bingham, Lord Lucan; and Veronica Duncan Bingham, Lady Lucan [Wikipedia]