Kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood. . . Alfred, Lord Tennyson
It was the night of November 7, 1974, a Thursday night it was, close to 9 p.m. It should have been the nanny’s night out at 46 Lower Belgrave, the townhome in posh Belgravia, London, of the 7th Earl of Lucan, but Sandra Rivett remained in tonight. The kitchen was in the basement floor of the 5 story townhome. It was dark. The lightbulb that illuminated the bottom of the landing was lying still on a dinette chair. A figure melded with the darkness. A flick back and forth could be heard from upstairs, but the switch at the top of the stairs didn’t buy any light. No matter. The person slowly descended into the darkness. There was a little rattle here and there. The petite figure carried a tray with the implements for tea on it. At the bottom of the stairs, in the darkness, she was taken by surprise when a piece of that darkness suddenly detached and moved toward her like a cat that thrusts upon its prey. She is punched in the faced, drops the tray with a splatter, and falls back. She is punched again. Then she is bludgeoned to death.
Crime scene investigation tells us this and a bit more that we shall soon go into. The rest of that night is oral testimony.
Lady Lucan grew curious as to why her children’s nanny was laggard. From her second floor bedroom (first floor in British parlance) she went downstairs. She stood at the top of the stairs. The switch did not bring light to the horror scene at the bottom. She stepped a couple of stairs down and suddenly she was pounced upon, beaten, fingers shoved in her throat, strangled. She struggled, recalls grabbing the inseam of the attacker and twisting until he fell to his knees and stopped choking her. She became compos mentis enough now to recognize her husband, Lord Lucan.
Lady Lucan asked where was Sandra. Lord Lucan was evasive at first. Now that his wife was before him, however, he had realized the horror of what he had done, at least insofar as one-sided oral testimony tells us. He finally told her bluntly– he had killed the nanny! Due to their extremely bad relationship at the time, Lady Lucan deduced that he had intended to kill her and mistook the nanny in the darkness for her. Lady Lucan then said she could help him escape from what he had done if he would spare her. According to her he let her go into the first floor (ground floor in Britain) washroom, but only the hot water tap was working. It was too hot to drink. They went upstairs to her bedroom, where she passed her eldest daughter and went into the bathroom to clean up. She told her to go to bed. She scampered upstairs. She saw that her mom was crying and had blood on her. She saw her daddy briefly. He was dressed in a long overcoat, full length, fawn colored with brown check, and had dark trousers on. It was about 9:05 p.m.
According to Lady Lucan, when she came out of the bathroom, ready to lie down, Lord Lucan said she looked a sight. He told her to put a towel around her head to prevent getting blood on the pillow. He said he would clean up her face. He went into the bathroom and she heard the tap water running indicating he was wetting a towel. She dashed out, rushed down the stairs and burst out the front door, running to the corner of Lower Belgrave Street, to the pub the Plumber’s Arms, where she burst in, covered in blood, declaring “he” tried to murder me.
The eldest daughter, Lady Frances, remembers looking down the stairway from her upper floor room and seeing her dad, Lord Lucan, come up the stairs to the floor where her sister and brother had rooms, and call for “Veronica,” Lady Lucan’s name. “Where are you?” He didn’t come up to her level but then went back down to the second floor. He must then have left the house.
The police would soon come, called by those at the Plumber’s Arms. The bobbies had to kick in the front door since they found one of the locks engaged, there to find blood all over the first floor (ground floor) but the children safe upstairs, unaware of the bloody mess in the kitchen. To the kitchen landing they returned, where a bloody metal pipe with tape wrapped around it lay, and then down the stairs to the basement kitchen, and there to find a body in a canvas mail bag, one limp, bloody arm hanging out of it; a pool of blood continued to ooze out around it, and blood splattered about the walls, floor, and apparently also the ceiling. There was a bloody shoe print as well. There was a broken tea cup, a tray on the floor at the bottom of the landing, and the lightbulb that should have brought light was lying still on a dinette chair. Sandra Rivett was dead.
Lady Lucan had passed out at the Plumber’s Arms, never mentioning a culprit name. She had been rushed to St. George’s Hospital. As the townhouse swarmed with police, the dowager Countess of Lucan, Lord Lucan’s mother, arrived. She said that her son had called and said there was a terrible “catastrophe” at the house and please go get the kids.
46 Lower Belgrave today, between the two porches.
Lord and Lady Lucan were estranged, separated. In a nasty court case which Lord Lucan finally withdrew from, his wife had gotten the children. He had insisted she had been mentally unstable, but the judge did not care for the fact that Lucan was a professional gambler. Lucan couldn’t stand the fact he had lost his children to what he considered a mentally ill woman who thought he had put a contract on her, “like in American television movies,” had said one friend.
The dowager Countess had to tell the detective that her daughter-in-law was only verbally abusive, not physically, but that she was being treated for a mental disorder and the children were wards of the court. The dowager Countess then said that when her son had called her he had said he was driving past the house and saw through the kitchen window a man fighting with his wife. He rushed in to defend her. The man hopped it. Now he wanted his mother to check on the kids and get them out of there. He had called her at 10:45 p.m.
Naturally, this was curious to the police. If their father had been present, why did he leave his children alone and why did his wife then escape down the street to the pub to get help? Is he the one who locked the front door again, to make sure the kids would be safe in the house?
The kitchen window. It was impossible to see into it from a passing car.
In any case, investigation soon cast suspicion on Lord Lucan. He had vanished!
The chief detective, Roy Ranson, arrived and had the area cordoned off. Far too many people had been in the house already. Ranson now started looking at the clues. From what is described at the Inquest we can put it back together ourselves.
Before we do, we must go back. I have achieved my recognition in cold case for having treated such cases like a “hot case.” We must start all over again and act as though this was November 7, 1974. Any prejudices must go. All the folklore and rot of over 40 years must be put away. As such we start from the assumption that John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, is entirely innocent. We recommence the investigation by combining the method of the French police (reenactment) with that of Scotland Yard (obsess on every clue).
“And every man that striveth for mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.” 1 Corinthians 9:25.
The injuries on Sandra Rivett allow for a detailed reenactment. According to the coroner, the injury to the left side of her mouth and left eye were not caused by the tape-wrapped metal pipe. It seemed she had been punched. The other wounds were to her head, behind the right ear and then a couple at the nape of her neck. There was a defensive wound on the back of her right hand. Significantly, there were four bruises on the front of her upper right arm, left by four fingers as she had been clutched by her assailant.
I have reenacted how Sandra Rivett had been approached and punched already. But now with the other information we can proceed. Her killer then grabbed her by the right upper arms, from the back, so that his four fingers embedded into the front part of her arm. He lifted the dazed nanny off the floor. She hung limp from his left hand. He then, with the pipe in his right hand, started beating her head. She raised her right hand at one point and he hit her outer right hand. Her head slumped under the blows, and two more poundings with the lead pipe came down on the nape of her neck.
The canvas mail bag indicates that the killer had fully intended to take the body away. He put her therein and folded the it up so the top part was leaning against the wall. Despite having drawn the draw strings an arm flopped out. Leaning it up was no doubt to keep any blood from leaking out the top. However, the bag was not waterproof, and blood began to ooze out the seam or some other crack and form a pool around the canvas bag.
The killer was not very clever. He did not make sure the bag was waterproof. He also chose to kill in the sloppiest manner there is– bludgeoning. Quite stupid really. According to Lady Lucan’s testimony, she was taken by surprise at the top of the stairs. There the police had found the lead pipe. Ranson theorized that the killer had gone upstairs to clean himself in the washroom. Then he heard another person approach. To Ranson, the killer was Lucan himself. He heard his wife call for Sandra and then realized he had killed the wrong woman. He burst forth and started attacking her, but then soon gave up and agreed to help her.
There is much here that doesn’t fit if or if not Lord Lucan is truly to blame. The killer fully came prepared with a weapon and a bag in order to dispose of the body. He came prepared to bludgeon. Those who believe that Lucan was guilty posit that he knew this was Rivett’s night off. When a figure came down the stairs he knew it had to be his wife. He intended to kill her in order to get custody of his children. But the fact the killer lurked and awaited in the basement presupposes that he knew Lady Lucan would come down the stairs later at night. How could he be sure? The manner in which Rivett was beaten would have put a lot of blood on the killer. Yet the eldest daughter didn’t notice blood on her father, but did notice her mother had lots of blood on her.
Logistics make many other points quite curious. If Lord Lucan was guilty, then he intended to dump his wife’s body somewhere and leave the kids alone in the house unattended. His reason for removing the body was because he didn’t want his children to find their mother like that. But he also chanced them finding the bloody mess, which would be traumatic enough. He had a late night dinner date that night, and when his apartment was opened, his clothes were lying out. He had taken everything from one pants pocket and laid it out, as if ready to dress for dinner. He really didn’t have time to dump a body and make the dinner appointment at 11 p.m.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. . .
To keep to chronology, all that was known is that Lord Lucan had vanished. He made a couple of calls, and wrote a few letters. Not too many clues were left by these. The car of the friend he had borrowed was found at a seaside town. He has never been found again, and became one of Britain’s most famous celebrities in crime because he was convicted in the popular court. He was convicted on oral testimony and on the fact he vanished. He is the last person who has ever been named a murderer by a coroner’s inquest jury. That power was soon removed by law. Because of this few have looked at the details of the crime scene logistically. Lord Lucan has been reported in many places around the world. He became a highly sought and exotic fugitive.
. . .But the immediate aftermath and the continuing saga of “looking for Lucan” is for the next post.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.