Transcript: 215. The Lucan Affair | England

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On the night of November 7, 1974, Lady Veronica Lucan, the estranged wife of Lord John Lucan, was attacked and her nanny, Sandra Rivett, was brutally murdered in her home in Belgravia, London. After the attack, Lady Lucan managed to escape and run to a nearby pub., where she frantically pleaded for help.
The police arrived at the eerily quiet scene of the Lucan home. They made their way through the house and did not find anything at first. As they reached the basement where the kitchen was located, they saw blood spattered on the walls and floors, and Sandra’s body was lying in a pool of blood.
The attack and events that followed sent shockwaves through the British aristocracy, and the police launched a massive manhunt to find the suspected perpetrator. All fingers pointed to Lord Lucan, who had been involved in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife over their three children.
Lord Lucan was a colourful character who had a reputation for gambling and extravagant spending. He was often seen at high-end casinos and was known to have a taste for fast cars, beautiful women, and high-stakes games. But when the police went to his home to question him about the murder, he was nowhere to be found.
The disappearance of Lord Lucan only added to the mystery surrounding the case. Despite numerous alleged sightings of him over the years, he has never been found, and the case remains unsolved to this day.
The truth remains elusive, and the case remains one of the most fascinating and mysterious in British criminal history. It's a story of wealth, privilege, betrayal, and murder.
Sandra Hensby was born on the 16th of September to parents Albert and Eunice. The family lived in Australia for a couple of years, but returned to South London when Sandra was 10. Although she was bright, she was not academically minded. Still, Sandra thrived at school. She took part in everything and had many friends.
After school, she started work as an apprentice hairdresser, but that wasn’t for her. She tried her hand at secretarial work, but that also didn’t pan out. Her caring nature made her best suited for a job in care, and she found employment as a nanny.
Sandra met a builder called John, and they were planning on getting married when Sandra fell pregnant by him. The relationship broke down and Sandra and her baby son moved in with her parents in 1964. Having suffered a bout of depression after a previous break-up, Sandra was aware of her mental health and feared that she would not be able to take care of her son as a single mother. Her parents stepped in and adopted her son, taking full responsibility for him.
Sandra took a job at a retirement home, working as a carer for a while. But when the opportunity came to leave London, she embraced it. She moved to Portsmouth to live with her sister and was excited about her fresh start. It was here where she met Roger Rivett, her future husband.
The couple moved back to Croydon and set up a lovely home. Roger was employed by the Royal Navy and was away a lot. Sandra worked at an orphanage and later at a cigarette company and was very self-sufficient. Roger was suspicious about infidelity on Sandra’s part, so much so that the marriage ended in divorce in 1974.
By this time, Sandra was eager to get back to childcare, as she was naturally nurturing and good with children. She got onto the books of Belgravia Domestic Agency, and soon she had her first interview. Sandra met John Bingham (or Lord Lucan) for lunch. He was impressed with her and offered her the job of looking after his children in the home of his estranged wife. Lady Lucan was equally impressed, and thankful to have the no-nonsense, easy-going Sandra as part of her household. It was a privilege to work for an aristocratic family, and 29-year-old Sandra felt fortunate to have landed the job.
Lord Lucan was born Richard John Bingham, on December 18, 1934, in Marylebone, London, to George Bingham, the 6th Earl of Lucan, and Kaitlin Elizabeth Anne Dawson. He was the second of four children and had a brother and two sisters.
John grew up in a privileged environment and was educated at Eton College, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in England. If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because of the royal connection: both prince William and prince Harry attended Eton college. John Bingham started gambling while in high school and continued into his twenties. He started out as a ‘bookie’ and sometimes skipped school to attend horse races. But as time went on it became evident that he was especially successful in games of skill, like bridge and backgammon.
As a young man, Lord John Bingham – as he was known, Lucan was his father’s title – was good looking, charming, and witty. He was a talented athlete and excelled at boxing, fencing, and squash. After finishing his education, he joined the British Army, where he served in Germany and the Middle East. During this time, he learnt to play poker, and spent most of his free time gambling.
Nearing his thirties, this playboy was one of the most eligible bachelors in all of England. Lord Bingham was tall-dark-and-handsome with a charming smile. And John liked to be flashy with his wealth: he drove an Aston Martin and raced power boats. He spend endless money on his boat and was very competitive in races.
His social standing and privilege helped him land a job at William Brandt’s Sons and Co - a   merchant bank in London. His annual salary was £500, not a great amount for the time, suggesting that the job was perhaps only a formality. He was also receiving around £10,000 a year from his family trust, so it was not like he needed the job.
One night in 1960, he won big, taking £26,000 in a game of chemin de fer. Today that would be about ten times as much in today’s terms. This windfall gave him the nickname of ‘Lucky Lucan’. He quit his job, saying that having a job is not worthwhile if one could make an entire year’s income in one night at the tables.
It was through one of his gambling connections, Bill Shand-Kydd that he met the young Veronica Duncan. Shand-Kydd was married to Veronica’s sister, and even though they had a privileged upbringing, they were not quite on the same social level as the Lucan family.
It was a whirlwind romance and John proposed to Veronica after only dating for a couple of months. With her petite stature and fine features, Veronica was very beautiful, but she was a bit demure, and his family was a bit puzzled by the new union. Still, they made a dashing couple and when they entered a room, people took notice.
John continued the high rolling lifestyle of a professional gambler, and Veronica tagged along, dressed in only the best, and looked on as her husband squandered away thousands of pounds.
The amicable earl was a well-connected member of the British aristocracy and was friends with many high-profile figures, including gambling impresario, John Aspinall. Aspinall's gambling establishment, the Clermont Club in Mayfair, was a favourite haunt of Lord Lucan's. His friends often bailed him out after a big loss, and he never seemed overly concerned about his losses. It was all part of the deal, as a professional gambler.
When his father died, John received a handsome inheritance. But that was not all: he became the 7th Earl of Lucan, a prestigious title that opened many doors. And he also understood the importance of legacy. John and Veronica had three children together –Frances, George and Camilla – and the family line was secured, because of their son.
For the most part, the children were raised by nannies, as their parents lived a carefree jet-set life. They travelled to Europe, throughout Britain and spent their days lunching with friends, having copious amounts of champagne and frequenting some of the most exclusive casinos in the world.
Veronica was struggling to keep up with John’s lifestyle and gambling debts and started speaking up about it. John did not like this. People in their circle of friends claim that a part of his reason for marrying Veronica, was because John thought she would not ever cause him any trouble.
He was always clear that he was of higher social standing by descent, and Veronica was expected to feel thankful that he plucked her from obscurity. However, after having children, and seeing how reckless John was with the family fortune, Veronica felt compelled to stand up to him.
John learned that Veronica’s mental health had been a concern for years, even before their marriage. As a teenager, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and throughout their marriage she had bouts of depression. Many years later, in an interview, Veronica admitted that she had some tough times, and that she sometimes ‘took to her bed’ for a couple of days.
On one occasion, John took her on a drive through the country. She thought it was his way of trying to cheer her up, but when they stopped at a mental hospital, she realised he wanted to have her committed. She refused but agreed to home treatment and medication.
Eventually, the couple could no longer find a middle-ground and decided to separate in 1972 and John moved into a small apartment in Elizabeth Street, nearby. A bitter custody battle for the children followed, with John using only the very best legal representatives.
When John was a young teen in the 1940s, he was shipped to the US along with his siblings, to live with a wealthy widow. He experienced the flashy side of wealth and privilege and would covet this lifestyle to the end. However, the fact that his parents were absent was a big deal for John. He did not want the same for his children and set out to prove that Veronica was not mentally fit to have custody.
After many courtroom battles, Veronica was awarded custody, but the court mandated that she had to have a full-time nanny to assist her. John would have the children every other weekend, and he was not required to have any assistance during visitation.
John took this ruling badly and made sure that he kept tabs on all of Veronica’s movements. Nannies came and went through what seemed like a revolving door at the Belgravia home of Lady Veronica Lucan. John befriended the nannies, hoping to gain information about his ex-wife.
Using a small recording device, he also recorded his phone conversations with Veronica and would occasionally play it to his friends. Some nannies reported strange phone calls to the house, with heavy breathing on the other end of the line. Lucan was evidently stalking his family and had become obsessed with getting as much information as possible.
In 1974 Lord Lucan decided to step in and help find a nanny that was prepared to sign on long-term. He was excited to meet Sandra Rivett, and relieved to have someone who seemed trustworthy and steady to be a part of his children’s lives.
Veronica welcomed Sandra and also saw long-term potential. She hoped that Sandra would provide some stability to the children after the tumultuous separation. Sadly, this was not going to be the case, as nine weeks later, Sandra was murdered inside the Lucan home.
Lord Lucan had been on a downward spiral since the separation. His gambling debts were at an all-time high, he drank more than ever and when drunk he even mentioned that he wanted to kill his ex-wife and throw he body in the sea.
He tried to solicit hefty loans so he could ‘buy’ his kids from Veronica. However, Sandra’s appointment did seem to bring some calm to the earl. Friends recalled him being more relaxed, in control of his emotions, his old self again.
On the 6th of November, John met his uncle who recalled that he was in good spirits. He also met a young friend who said there was nothing in his demeanour to suggest that he was ‘worried or depressed’. However, the next day, he failed to show up for lunch with two friends. He did meet a publisher friend at 6:30, for advice about an article he was writing, and they parted ways around 8. Lucan had also arranged to meet someone at the Clermont at 11pm but was a no-show.
Meanwhile, the evening of November 7th 1974 was no different to any other in Lady Lucan’s household. Around 9pm, the kids were in bed, settled for the night and Veronica was watching TV in her room. Sandra usually had Thursday nights off, but this week, she had taken the Wednesday off, to see her boyfriend, John Hankins. John spoke to Sandra on the phone at 8pm that Thursday night, after which Sandra went upstairs to put the children to bed.
Typically, Veronica would go downstairs to make herself a cup of tea, but this night, Sandra offered to do it. When she didn’t return after about 30 minutes, Veronica grew concerned and went downstairs to see what was taking her so long.
Lady Lucan stood at the top of the basement stairs and called down to Sandra when she saw a man with Sandra’s bloodied body. Before she could get away, she too was attacked, but managed to escape. She knew the corner pub, The Plumbers Arms, would be open and moved a fast as she could, painfully aware that she might lose consciousness at any moment. As soon as she made it inside, blood dripping from her head, she shouted:
“Help me. Help me. I’ve just escaped from a murderer.”
An ambulance took the 26-year-old Lady Lucan to St George’s hospital where she was treated for her injuries.
Police arrived at her Belgravia home and kicked down the front door, as it was locked. They made their way from one room to the next. At the bottom of the basement stairs, they found Sandra Rivett’s bludgeoned body, half-stuffed into a canvas bag.
There were two cups and saucers laying on the floor, in a pool of blood. The walls were covered in spatter, indicating that multiple blows were served. Picture frames on the wall leading up the stairs were distorted, like someone had rushed passed. At the top of the stairs lay: a lead pipe, wrapped in bandage. In the back garden, police found blood on foliage, suggesting that the perpetrator had fled that way.
The children were still in their bedrooms and Lord Lucan was nowhere to be found. One of the Lucan children had a friend who lived in Chester Square, and Veronica and John knew the parents. Madeleine Florman later reported that someone rang her doorbell between 10 and 10:30 that night, but because her husband wasn’t home, she did not open.
Soon after that, she received a phone call but could not make out who the person on the other end of the line was. When police came around to her house, they found blood on the front doorstep. They believed it was Lucan, hoping to convince her to take care of his children.
It was 11pm when he called his mother. He told her that a ‘terrible catastrophe’ had taken place at the Belgravia residence and asked her if she could pick up the children and take them to her place for the night. The dowager countess went to fetch her grandchildren and met police officers at their home. She informed them about the strange call from her son and an officer was tasked with escorting them back to her St John’s Wood home and wait in case Lucan called again.
And he did – at 12:30. He told her that he noticed a struggle inside the house as he was walking passed. When he entered he saw a man attacking Veronica. The man left and he tried to help his estranged wife, but she ran away, thinking he was the one who attacked her. Lucan told his mother that he would be in touch later to make arrangements regarding the children. When the police officer wanted to speak to him, he refused, but asked his mother to assure police he would contact them in the morning.
Where Lucan was when he made this phone call has never been established. But after he hung up, he left London for East Sussex, to the country home of his close friends, the Maxwell-Scott’s. Uckfield is located 42 miles outside of London and Susan Maxwell-Scott was home alone when Lucan arrived, as her husband Ian was away.
Lucan was dishevelled and in shock and told her the same version of the story that he had told his mother. He told her he was on his way home from Clermont Club, to change for dinner when he walked passed his ex-wife’s home. The venetian blinds were partially open and he caught a glimpse of a man attacking Veronica.
He entered, using his own key, and found Veronica being struck by an unidentified man. He claimed that he slipped in a pool of blood and the assailant ran away. In the confusion of the moment, his wife, completely hysterical and confused due to a serious head injury mistook him for the attacker. 
The morning of 8 November 1974 Lord Lucan left Uckfield and was never seen again.
Police interviewed Lady Lucan in hospital on the night of the attack. Her face was bruised and she had severe lacerations on her skull, but she was clear in her recount of events. She told police that when she went downstairs to check on Sandra, she saw the nanny’s bloodied body on the kitchen floor.
A tall man was trying to bundle her body into a canvas bag. Shocked, she screamed, and the attacker turned to her, caught up with her and hit her over the head multiple times. She screamed again and he barked at her to ‘shut up’. As soon as he spoke, she recognised the voice: it was her estranged husband.
According to Veronica, realising it was John, she lashed out and bit his fingers – then he pushed her down, face-first onto the carpet. She managed to grab a hold of his testicles and squeezed as hard as she could. This disabled him for a while and she stood up, asking where Sandra was. He refused to tell her at first, then was forced to admit that he had killed her.
Veronica knew that her own life was in danger, and she had to think on her feet. She told John that she would help him evade capture, but only if he helped her tend to her head wound first. He agreed and accompanied her upstairs, where he ushered her onto her bed, covering the pillow with towels so it wouldn’t stain. He then went into the bathroom to fetch barbiturates and a wet towel to clean her wound.
Lady Veronica Lucan saw the opportunity to escape and ran downstairs, out the front door. After being informed about her situation, staff at the Plumber’s Arms raised the alarm with police.
Investigators set out to find Lord Lucan – he was not at his apartment yet his wallet, passport and other personal effects were there. His Mercedes was parked outside, the engine cold – it had not been driven that night as the battery was also flat. He had not been in touch with his mother again and no one seemed to know where he could be.
The investigation into Sandra’s murder commenced the next morning and her autopsy concluded that she died of blunt force trauma and it was ruled that the lead pipe found at the scene was the murder weapon.
In the days following his disappearance, some of Lord Lucan’s friends received letters he wrote on the night of the murder, and sent from Uckfield the next day. The stationary had blood smears on. This is the letter he wrote to his brother-in-law, Bill Shand-Kydd:
Dear Bill,
The most ghastly circumstances arose tonight which I briefly described to my mother. When I interrupted the fight at Lower Belgrave St and the man left, Veronica accused me of having hired him. I took her upstairs and sent Frances up to bed and tried to clean her up. She lay doggo for a bit and when I was in the bathroom left the house. The circumstantial evidence against me is strong in that V will say it was all my doing. I will also lie doggo for a bit, but I am only concerned for the children.
If you can manage it, I want them to live with you – Coutts (Trustees) St Martins Lane (Mr Wall) will handle school fees. V has demonstrated her hatred for me in the past and would do anything to see me accused. For George and Frances to go through life knowing their father had stood in the dock for attempted murder would be too much. When they are old enough to understand, explain to them the dream of paranoia and look after them.
Yours ever, John
Bill handed the letter to police, who kept in in the casefile, and would eventually consider it to be a suicide note of sorts.
In the days leading up to the attack, Lucan had borrowed a friend’s Ford Corsair. On the 10th of November, three days after Sandra’s murder, this vehicle was found in Newhaven, a short distance from the port. Police found blood inside the car, and in the trunk was as a portion of the lead pipe found at the murder scene. Newhaven has a regular ferry service to France. It was anyone’s guess if Lucan boarded a ferry and fled to Europe, or if someone provided a boat which he used to escape. Or did he purposefully park the car near the port to throw police off his trail?
Because of Lucan’s disappearance, law enforcement considered him to be the prime suspect in the murder of Sandra Rivett. They questioned all of his aristocratic friends, suspecting that someone was hiding him. If they did, they did a good job, because authorities never found him.
Police never really suspected anyone else of the murder. Sandra’s ex-husband Robert Rivett was questioned and he was ruled out as a suspect, seeing as he had an alibi. They also looked at Sandra’s boyfriend John but concluded that he had nothing to do with the murder.
While there was no definitive evidence that Lucan was responsible for the crime, there is a significant amount of circumstantial evidence that pointed towards his guilt. A year after that fateful night, an inquest ruled Sandra Rivett’s death a murder.
And even though Lord Lucan had vanished, the coroner deemed the evidence strong enough to find him guilty. After this trial, English law was changed so a suspect could not be charged, tried and found guilty without being present.
After Veronica’s release from hospital, the court ruled that the children could remain with her, and the continued to live in their Belgravia home.
The disappearance of Lord Lucan captured the imagination of England and beyond. Theories as to his whereabouts range from the plausible to the outlandish. Some believe he fled the country and is living abroad under an assumed name. Some think Lucan was a victim of a mafia-style hit, and his body was disposed of in the sea. Others believe that he jumped into the water at Newhaven, committing suicide in the immediate aftermath of events. There was even a rumour that he was fed to a tiger in John Aspinall’s zoo.
There is also a theory that Lucan was sheltered by members of the aristocracy, and his disappearance was part of a conspiracy to protect him from prosecution.
John Aspinall said in an interview, that if Lucan had come to him after the murder, he would have done whatever he could to help his friend. He emphasised:  “If you’re going to hand over your friend to the authorities, albeit the law, you are no longer a person in my view.”
John Aspinall’s theory was that the earl had taken a boat out to sea from Newhaven, tied weights to his body, then scuttled the boat, ending his own life.
Police searched for Lucan all across the globe – from South America to Africa and India – and were unable to locate him.
After his disappearance, he never touched his bank accounts, and by all accounts has not been in touch with family or friends. In 2003, a former detective claimed that Lucan had been living in Goa as a hippie called Barry Halpin, or ‘Jungle Barry’. However, Barry was a musician from Merseyside who had decided to move to Goa for an alternative lifestyle – he was not Lucan.
A man named Roger Woodgate in New Zealand was also pointed out to be Lucan’s new identity, however he was ten years younger and five inches shorter than the missing earl.
The most popular theory is that he fled to Africa. Police in Cape Town followed a man resembling Lucan and lifted fingerprints from a glass he had used, but the man was not Lucan.
In 2012, a report emerged, claiming that a former secretary of John Aspinall's had witnessed meetings between Aspinall and financier Sir James Goldsmith during which they discussed Lord Lucan. She alleged that Aspinall asked her to book trips for Lucan’s children to Kenya and Gabon, one in 1979 and the other in 1981. These trips were arranged so Lucan could see his kids from a distance, not to have direct contact.
The secretary said John Aspinall intended to announce Lucan’s death in 2000, and she inferred that Lucan had died in Africa. However, Aspinall himself died that year and Sir James Goldsmith three years before, so this information could not be corroborated.
The two Scotland Yard officers who spent years looking for Lucan landed on two different theories. Superintendent Roy Ransom thought that…
“He killed the nanny by mistake, thinking he could dispose of his wife and get custody of the children he loved. When he realised the error, he killed himself in some remote spot, like a lord and a gentleman.”
But Superintendent Dave Gerring came to another conclusion:
“Lucan is still hiding somewhere and is the only man who knows the full story. He is a lord and a gentleman, but he’s still a gambler. And he is still gambling on the odds no one will ever find him.”
This was many years ago. If Lucan is still alive today, he would be about ninety years old.
Legally he was noted ‘Presumed dead’ in 1992, and then officially declared dead in 1999. A death certificate was issued as recent as 2016, declaring Richard John Bingham, The Right Honourable Earl of Lucan dead. His son George inherited his title, making him the eighth Earl of Lucan.
George spoke in an interview in the documentary ‘The Hunt for Lord Lucan’, and said he doubts his father was in fact the attacker that night. He feels police never considered any other suspects and that Lucan was deemed guilty by the media before the inquest was complete.
George theorises that his father was not completely innocent, but that the intention was something else entirely. According to George, he thinks Lucan Senior hired a man to break into the family home, perhaps to stage a robbery for insurance fraud.
Remember his finances were quite dire at the time. The lead-pipe was perhaps intended as a tool to break a window, and it was bandaged to reduce the noise. The robber was given a canvas bag for items from the home.
Meanwhile Lucan waited outside in an inconspicuous car, and when it took longer than expected, he went inside to see what was going on. As soon as he entered, he realised that the plan had gone awry. He chased the man away and helped Veronica upstairs. George feels that Lucan, who was obsessed with the welfare of his children, would not have killed their nanny inside their home. Especially not at that hour when the eldest, Frances, was still awake.
George feels that his mother, in shock after suffering a blow to the head, and by her own admission on heavy medication for her depression at the time, understandably concluded that Lucan was the attacker.
The fact that Lucan helped her and tended to her injuries makes George question if his mother’s summation of the attack was correct.
Sadly, all of the Bingham children were left in the dark, grappling with what could have happened that night, and ultimately, what happened to their father.
In 2017, 80-year-old Lady Lucan was found dead in her Belgravia home, after ingesting a cocktail of alcohol and drugs. She spent her final years in seclusion, having no contact with her children. She left her entire estate to charity.
This case was overshadowed by the disappearance of Lord Lucan. But let’s not forget the victim: Sandra Rivett was a daughter, a mother, a friend, a girlfriend… She was taken from her loved ones who never quite felt that justice was served. As her son, Neil said:
“We have to get to the truth and justice for Sandra. A horrible death, a young woman beaten - my mother."
The disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1974 has remained one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries in British history. And although he was found guilty of Sandra’s death, it is not entirely certain that he was the one who struck the blows that killed her. One can only hope that the truth will come out someday…
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