Inside The Disappearance Of Lord Lucan, A Mystery That Has Puzzled The World For More Than 40 Years

Though their names may not mean much in America, Lord and Lady Lucan have an infamous place in British aristocracy. Born Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan married Veronica Duncan in 1963, and it all went downhill from there. Like an upper class spin on Sid and Nancy, the couple's problems escalated from everyday arguments to their demise, all fueled by mental health issues and gambling debts.

Their volatile relationship culminated in the murder of the family's nanny on November 7, 1974. It was believed to be a case of mistaken identity. While attempting to kill his wife, Lord Lucan ended up beating their nanny, 29-year-old Sandra Rivett, to death. After the night of the crime, Lord Lucan was never seen again.

So, what happened to Lord Lucan? He remains one of the most mysterious missing person cases in the world over 40 years later, with no leads as to where he (or his body) might be. Lord Lucan sightings have been reported all over the world, from Africa to Peru, but we may never know what happened to the 7th Earl of Lucan. At least one thing is certain: his children and the child of the murdered nanny were left to pick up the pieces of two broken families.

  • The Lucans' Marriage Fell Apart Due To A Combination Of Gambling Debts And Depression

    The Lucans' Marriage Fell Apart Due To A Combination Of Gambling Debts And Depression
    Photo: / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, met his future wife, Veronica Duncan, at a London golf event in early 1963. By November of that same year, they were married. Unfortunately, their marriage faced serious pressure right from the beginning. Lord Lucan had developed a serious gambling problem, losing a significant portion of the family's money and plunging himself into debt.

    Adding to their marital problems was the fact that Lady Lucan suffered from severe depression. After giving birth to each of their three children, she suffered from post-partum depression which was treated with various anti-depressants that compromised her mental health over the following years. Lord Lucan was said to have been understanding of his wife's condition at first, but he eventually became overwhelmed and essentially checked out. 

    The combination of her depression and his gambling problem were too much for the couple; Lord Lucan began to lash out violently towards his wife, and their marriage fell apart in 1973. He moved out of the family home, and into an apartment nearby.

  • Lord Lucan Hatched A Plan To Kill His Wife, But Accidentally Killed Their Nanny Instead

    The murder of 29-year-old Sandra Rivett on November 7, 1974, was believed to be a tragic case of mistaken identity. As nanny to the three Lucan children, Rivett usually had Thursday nights off. However, that particular Thursday, she had remained at the home and was making tea for the family at around 9 pm. She went down to make some tea in the basement, where the downstairs lights weren't working. She was roughly the same height and build of Lady Lucan, and in the dark it would have been hard to tell the two apart.

    When Rivett didn't come back right away, Lady Lucan went downstairs to investigate and was attacked by a man in the dark. She managed to escape and run to a local pub for help, but Sandra Rivett wasn't so lucky. She had been beaten to death with a lead pipe. Lady Lucan told authorities that her husband was the man who attacked her and murdered the nanny.

    George Weiss, one of Lord Lucan's gambling buddies, claimed that the lord had discussed how he was plotting his wife's murder over a game of backgammon the day before. Weiss said, "He went to his house that day with his mind set on killing his wife. He saw no way back into family life and the life of his children."

  • Lord Lucan Disappeared The Night After The Murder Of Sandra Rivett

    When the police arrived at the Lucan family's home, they found a pipe and Sandra Rivett's body in the basement. Lord Lucan had fled to the home of a close friend, Susan Maxwell-Scott, in a borrowed car. After telling Maxwell-Scott his side of the story, he left her home around 1:15 am; she was the last person to see him alive. When police searched Lord Lucan's apartment, they found his wallet, passport, and car keys. The car he had been driving was found abandoned by the coast a few days later. There were bloodstains on the vehicle, and police found a pipe similar to the weapon used to kill Sandra Rivett.

  • "Lucky Lucan" Was A Career Gambler

    Born in 1934, Lord Lucan began his career in the army before briefly moving into merchant banking. In 1960, he found his true calling as a gambler. He won £26,000 in 48 hours, an unbelievably lucky streak that earned him the nickname "Lucky Lucan." 

    He quit his banking job to become a gambler full-time, but his luck was short-lived. After his huge win, things went downhill for the 7th Earl of Lucan. The gambling debts he accumulated hastened the end of his marriage, and by 1973, he was in a very difficult financial situation. On top of the resentment he already felt towards his wife after the divorce, she was living in their family home, which, if sold, could have paid off all of his debts.

  • An Innocent Pet Was Allegedly A Casualty Of The Lucans' Custody Battle

    The divorce of Lord and Lady Lucan had been very difficult on their three children. The father was not living with them, so Lord Lucan decided to buy the kids a kitten as a peace offering after their 1973 divorce. However, a few hours after he had delivered their new pet to the family home, the kitten was allegedly found shoved into his mailbox with its throat cut

    Lord Lucan believed that his wife had killed the kitten out of spite, and it made him furious. It also allegedly made him believe that his wife was no longer mentally stable enough to care for their children. Until her death, Lady Lucan believed that it was the kitten that sent her husband over the edge and turned him into a murderer.

  • Lord And Lady Lucan Had Very Different Versions Of What Happened On The Night Of The Murder

    Both Lord and Lady Lucan had their own version of how the events on the evening of the murder unfolded. After leaving the scene, Lord Lucan went to a friend's home and told the story of how he had been walking by and saw his wife through the window, locked in a struggle with a strange man. He went inside to help, slipped on a pool of blood, and scared off the intruder. He claimed that his wife was in hysterics and accused him of hiring someone to kill her. After she ran to the local pub to get help, Lord Lucan realized how bad things would look for him and fled. 

    Later that night, he wrote multiple letters, one to the owner of the car he was borrowing and one to his brother-in-law. In both, he proclaimed his innocence, and in the letter to his brother-in-law, he described his wife's altered mental condition.

    Lady Lucan's version, on the other hand, is the one most people today accept as true: that in a botched attempt to murder his wife, Lord Lucan accidentally killed their nanny. That's the version shared in the trial where Lord Lucan was ultimately found guilty of the murder.