Victoria’s Spooky Past – The Lucan Murder Mystery

Headline Date 02-10-2018

It’s hard to find a nicer place to live than Victoria, with its brilliant transport links, friendly neighbourhood and refined British atmosphere, it truly has some of the best things London has to offer. It is hard to imagine that just a few years ago it was the location of a murder mystery, never to be resolved.

Lord Lucan, or without his official title, John Bingham, was a descendant of a family well known in military circles. His parents were left-wing politicians but sent him to the famed Eton College, where he adopted more conservative views. Whilst there he also discovered a love for gambling, something that would come back to haunt him later in life as a professional gambler, losing at his game and steeped in debt.

Fifty miles south of Eton, Veronica Duncan was growing up in a Hampshire hotel belonging to her stepfather. She caught the eye of John Bingham one evening at a party in London, and in the midst of a whirlwind romance they married in 1963. Veronica and John Bingham moved into 46 Lower Belgrave Street and went on to have three children:  Frances, George and Camilla. Their seemingly happy marriage, however, was anything but. Lord Lucan had growing concerns that Lady Lucan was mentally unstable, at times taking her to mental institutions and having her put on a cocktail of antidepressants. On the odd occasion – and out of desperation – he physically tried to ‘beat’ these paranoid thoughts out of her mind.

Lord Lucan was also struggling financially. His losses as a professional gambler were considerable, and the stress he was under to maintain his social standing as well as to keep his family in the manner to which they were accustomed was mounting. With this intensifying pressure – as well as a measure of unfaithfulness committed by both parties – Lord Lucan called his wife’s doctors, asking if she was fit to be left alone with their children. With an affirmative answer, he ran upstairs, packed two bags and left for an apartment round the corner, where he would live for the rest of his time in London.

A custody battle for their children commenced and Lord Lucan won the first round, gaining temporary custody of his children, who willingly and happily jumped into his car. His profession, however, stopped him from gaining custody two months later, when Veronica Bingham took him to court. She was allowed custody of their children on the condition she had a full time nanny to assist her. After this, John Bingham would record every conversation he had with Veronica, deliberately riling her up and provoking her. He hired detectives to watch her every move, hoping to catch her out. Every nanny was taken out by him in an attempt to get to know them, and to assess whether they were or were not fit to care for his children. With a high turnover of nannies, this event was a regular occurrence, until one day a nanny appeared whom everyone loved: Mrs Sandra Rivett.

In Veronica Bingham’s household everything continued as normal with Sandra being a new and welcomed addition: the children loved her, Veronica loved her, and perhaps most importantly, Lord Lucan loved her. On November 7th 1974, they all retired to their bedrooms to watch that evening’s entertainment on television – as they normally would. Only a few weeks into her appointment, Sandra was pottering around, making sure everyone in the residence was happy. She poked her head round Veronica’s bedroom door, and uttered the last words she would hear her say: “would you like a cup of tea?”

Veronica lay on her bed, continuing that night’s viewing, Mastermind and then The News, when she realised that Sandra was taking an unusually long time. Leaving her daughter, Frances, in the room alone, she went downstairs to the kitchen in the basement to find out where the nanny had gone. Upon reaching the stairs to the basement, Veronica noticed that the light was not on, and when she pulled the chord, the room remained pitch black. All of a sudden, someone rushed out at Veronica, hitting her on the head. She fell back, into a pool of blood, coming from a postal sack where Sandra’s body was. Wounded, Veronica was dragged upstairs by her husband, who sent Frances to her room and lay Veronica on a towel placed on her bed.

Still conscious, John gave Veronica sleeping pills, insisting she took them. He went into the en suite and started running the tap. This was her chance – Veronica knew he would not be able to hear her leave over the noise of the running water. She picked herself up and ran out of the house to a pub down the road called The Plumbers Arms (still there today). With each doddery footstep she managed to enter the pub, screaming for help.

Meanwhile, John Bingham, having returned to the bed to find his estranged wife having disappeared, escaped to a friend in the country. From there he wrote to his brother-in-law, as well as to a friend. He told them his story: he had been passing the house – as he often did, to check that everything was in order – when he saw a struggle in the basement. Using his old key he ran in to help when he saw that whomever had struck his wife on the head, had now escaped. He helped her upstairs, but this awful turn of events meant that Veronica had assumed John was the perpetrator. Out of fear, and knowing his financial and familial state was in ruin – not to mention his reputation would now be smeared – he felt he had no choice, but to leave.

Lord Lucan also asked for these contacts to tell his children about him, and insisted they be well looked after. He then called his mother – a former Lady in Waiting for the Queen – and told her there had been a dreadful accident and that the children needed collecting immediately. A few days later, a car that Lord Lucan had borrowed from a friend turned up in New Haven on the Sussex coast. Its bloody interior confirmed police officers’ suspicions: Lord Lucan was indeed the murderer. Now began the hunt; the cliff tops would be searched and the water in the harbour drained, but to no avail. There would be numerous unconfirmed sightings of him over the years, but nothing substantial or concrete. After some months, they decided to have a hearing for the sake of Sandra Rivett’s family. At this trial, Lord Lucan was not allowed any representation, there were numerous accounts of the judge being biased and convinced others that Lord Lucan was guilty.

Lord Lucan never showed his face again, some believe he parked that car, boarded a boat and disembarked mid-stream. Others imagine he slipped into the night, making his way to South America where he had plastic surgery so as not to be identified. His closest friends maintain faith in his story and his innocence, thinking that he simply couldn’t go on living in a world that was breaking apart, especially after this horrific incident.

Over the years Lady Lucan has spoken out numerous times, telling various versions of the story. Her children stopped speaking to her in the 1980’s, and in 2017 she committed suicide by way of a cocktail of drugs and drink after wrongfully suspecting she had Parkinson’s Disease. In January 2018 it was confirmed that she left her estate to the charity, Shelter, cutting her children out of her will entirely.

Behind closed doors, the Bingham family in the idyllic neighbourhood was complicated and in a state of turmoil. Victoria’s greatest mystery will forever be: was Lord Lucan running in to protect his family? Or is Lord Lucan Victoria’s most wanted man? Shakespeare said: ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’ Lord Lucan took this to the extreme: as a professional gambler, in the end Lord Lucan risked it all.

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