Within a couple of hours after the murder at 46 Lower Belgrave it was still a jumble as to what exactly had happened. Lady Lucan was incoherent in the hospital. Lord Lucan could not be reached. The dowager Countess, Lord Lucan’s mother, had whisked away the children to keep them safe.
The clues in the bloody kitchen indicated somebody planned out a brutal murder, a murder most foul. But their planning showed they weren’t too skilled. The murder was by bludgeon. It is the clumsiest and messiest way imaginable. Not only is bludgeoning the messiest way to kill someone, it would be a messy act indeed to then, in total darkness, try and fold the victim’s body up and shove it in a large canvas mailbag. The person must have had blood all over them, especially their sleeves after having maneuvered the bleeding corpse into the sack, shoved it in, then drew the draw strings.
At the Plumber’s Arms, Lady Lucan had only identified her attacker by the line “he tried to kill me.”
The only clues we have about her estranged husband’s location at the time of the crime comes from his mother. The dowager Countess had said her son called her and said there had been a “terrible catastrophe” at the house. Please go get the kids. This alone had told the police that Lord Lucan had been by the house. He therefore must have been the one who locked the front door when he left. But why did he leave the house? The police were right to ponder this.
Roy Ranson became the chief detective on the case. However, his own account of what must have happened, and indeed his account of his own investigation, does not illuminate significant clues, nor does he follow through on them. This seems largely because he believed that very night that Lord Lucan was guilty. He believed the peer had wanted to kill his wife, mistook the nanny in the darkness for her, then realizing his mistake he tried to kill his wife but was emotionally and physically too fatigued now.
Examples of clues not followed up are the mailbag. He doesn’t mention how Lord Lucan stealthily got a large canvas mailbag. Surely this unique item, the item vital to carting off the body, merited its provenance being uncovered? Nor did Ranson try to explain why a former Guardsman like Lucan would choose the most inconvenient and messiest way to do-in his wife and then think that a canvas mailbag was waterproof and capable of holding in all the blood and bodily fluids. There was a pool of blood around it when the police found it.
Ranson was, however, sure he was able to trace Lucan that night from the house. Around 10:30 p.m. the mother of one of Lucan’s eldest daughter’s school friends, Madelaine Florman, heard a knock on their front door. They lived nearby in Chester Square. She was alone with the kiddies, and did not answer. Soon the phone rang. She answered. She was sure it was Lord Lucan. He was somewhat incoherent. She noted no “pips” when she picked up. The “pip” was a distinctive sound indicating the caller was using a payphone. She couldn’t figure out Lucan’s incoherent call and eventually hung up. Soon thereafter, Lucan, more possessed of himself called his mother.The dowager Countess said that at 10:45 p.m. her son had called her and didn’t explain much either. She heard no pips as well.
The next day Mrs. Florman called the police. She had noticed bloodstains in her front doorway. They were tested. They were a mix of blood groups A and B– Lady Lucan’s and Sandra Rivett’s. Ranson deduces something strange: that Lord Lucan, dripping with blood, called at the house of a relative stranger, then called her later on the phone.
Ranson admits that the location from which Lucan made these calls is an enormous mystery. His flat on Elizabeth Street was undisturbed, all things neat and lying in suspension like when Lucan had left it, almost as if he left when preparing to change for dinner. Ranson figured that had he returned to make the calls, he would have left blood here. Thus Ranson concluded he had not come home. His Mercedes was found outside; cold engine, it had not been used. But Ranson soon learned that 2 weeks before Lucan had borrowed an old dark blue Ford Corsair from his friend Michael Stoop. He gave no reason why he needed the old Ford.
Thus Ranson assumes it was Lord Lucan at Mrs. Florman’s door; that he walked there dripping with blood, then got in the Ford and fled to some unknown location and called her, the mother of his daughter’s school chum, and then called his mother.
Ranson never explains the time element here. We have two conflicting times from the inquest. Lady Frances, the 10 year old daughter, believed that Sandra descended to the kitchen around 8:40 p.m. Lady Lucan thought close to 9 p.m. Lady Lucan says that at 9:15 or thereabouts she went down to check on the delay. Lady Frances says about 9:05 p.m. her mother and father came back into the bedroom.
If taking Lady Lucan’s estimate, this would mean that at least an hour and 15 minutes passed after she was attacked until Lord Lucan left the house and walked just around the corner to Chester Square to the Florman’s townhome. Yet by her account it doesn’t seem that much time passed since she came into the bedroom and then fled the house, certainly not an hour’s worth.
However, at 11:30 p.m. Lord Lucan definitely turned up outside of London in Sussex, at the country home “Grants Hill House” of his friends the Maxwell-Scotts in Uckfield. This is south of London, about 15 miles from the coast of the Channel. Ian was not home, but his wife Susan was. She let him in. He was disheveled and not his usual prim self. She said he was only wearing a sweater and dark gray trousers. There was no blood. He told her of the horrifying events at 46 Lower Belgrave. He had a whiskey and soda and penned two notes. They were to his brother-in-law, Bill Shand-Kydd.
The first sentence implicitly conveys that Shand-Kydd would already have spoken with the dowager Countess by the time he received the letters.
Dear Bill: 7 Nov. 1974
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 with the children If you can manage it I want them to live with you– Coutts (Trustees) St. Martins Lane (Mr Wall) will handle the 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.
The second letter was merely an afterthought. It was a listing of financial matters. Put together it was clear that the noble lord was not going to just lie doggo for a bit. He was not coming back. One can’t exactly say these words were implying suicide, but “Lucky Lucan” wasn’t coming back– a rather precipitous decision considering all the tumult that still existed back in London.
From the Maxwell-Scott’s country home, Lucan drove away in that ratty old dark Ford. He was never seen again. But the Ford was found parked on Norman Road in Newhaven. Again, there is a time discrepancy. People who lived on the street thought it wasn’t parked there until around 5 am. Yet the Maxwell-Scott’s home is only 16 miles away. It didn’t take over 3 hours to drive to Newhaven, and if Susan Maxwell-Scott was clear about one thing it was that Lucan left about 1:15 to 1:30 a.m.
Lord Lucan had once raced boats before, but none were docked here. Yet he was never found again. No body washed up. No boat was missing or found derelict in the Channel. Where had Lord Lucan gone?
By the time the car had been found, on Sunday, November 10, Lady Lucan had squarely blamed her husband in the hospital. Scotland Yard already had the letters Lucan had sent his brother-in-law. (On Saturday Bill Shand-Kydd received the letters and then had taken them to Ranson.) Forensics confirmed that a couple of the stains on them were blood despite Susan Maxwell-Scott saying she saw no blood. Interviewing her had revealed that essentially Lord Lucan had told her the same story he had given to his mother. He was passing the house and he had seen a man fighting with his wife. He rushed in and slipped in a pool of blood. Thus a few things are implicit in Lucan’s account– the nanny was already dead, in the canvas bag, and his wife was struggling with a man in the basement kitchen, he also had to account for why he had blood on him. His letter to his brother-in-law tells us why he fled afterward.
On Monday, Ranson was surprised to find that Lord Lucan had sent Michael Stoop a letter as well. Stoop only gave him the letter. He said it came in an unstamped envelope and it had gotten thrown out.
By this time investigation of the car in Norman Road had revealed the front seat, dash and floorboard had blood on them. The boot (trunk) had an identical piece of pipe wrapped in tape, a full bottle of vodka, and a Lion brand notepad. The notepaper on which Stoop’s letter had been written matched the notepad.
The note to Stoop is a pointless note, really, one again that implies Lucan is not coming back. This is the truth of it. Lord Lucan was never found again despite Britain’s national obsession to find him for decades.
Ranson leaves many things open for us. It may be his writing style, or he may truly have convinced himself from the beginning that Lucan was guilty and therefore interprets all things in that light and doesn’t proceed with some obvious clarifications. In noting that the paper of the letter Lucan had written to Stoop had matched the paper in the boot (trunk) of the Ford Corsair he had driven, Ranson doesn’t tell us if envelopes were also present. If not, it would have been impossible for Lord Lucan to have gotten an envelope and mailed the letter to Stoop. Ranson also doesn’t make it clear if he is guessing that Stoop’s man received the unstamped letter and paid the 7 P for it. Nor does he tell us this man testified to that fact at the inquest. We only know that Stoop brought in a handwritten note and no envelope. Without the clarification above, we do not know whether the letter was merely handed to Stoop and there never was an unstamped envelope to lose.
There are reasons to wonder. Over 3 hours are lost between Uckfield and Newhaven. Time enough to have come and gone from London yet again.
By the time Ranson is at Lucan’s flat that night, he doesn’t tell us whether Lady Lucan has implicated her husband yet. Yet he writes as if he believed Lucan was guilty. In describing Lucan’s clothes laid out for dinner, and the usual contents of a pants pocket lying nearby, he declared that Lucan must have removed everything from his pockets to prevent anything from falling out during the murder and thus constituting a clue he had been there. He obviously immediately assumed guilt that very night.
Ranson admits to two great mysteries. The location from which Lucan made 2 phone calls in London, and over 3 hours of lost time. Yet there are others. How did Lucan get a mailbag? Why did it take over an hour for him to appear at Mrs. Florman’s doorstep nearby? How did Stoop truly get that final letter?
If Lucan had gotten an envelope somehow, he might have sent it from Newhaven. In an oblique way the postmark would have told his friend where his missing Ford was. Yet why not just say so in the letter?
In sum total this is all we know of the movements of Lord Lucan after-the-fact.
There was deep animosity between Lord and Lady Lucan over their separation and the welfare of the children. Lord Lucan was sure that his wife was completely mad. She was on drugs for her mental condition. Even Ranson notes it was bizarre that she showed more concern at the hospital just after being brought in for her brown jumper. Though covered with blood, she objected to it being cut off her because it was her best one. In this state she fingered her husband. In his farewell to Bill Shand-Kydd he asks him to explain the “dream of paranoia” to his children one day to explain all that has happened.
Lucky Lucan, despite being a gambler on the way down, deeply loved his children. There was no denying that. He doted on them and was at his best around them. He didn’t want them dragged through court, nor to see their father dragged through court. But was he capable of killing his wife in such a grotesque way just to get custody of his children? And was he dumb enough to think such a sloppy way was feasible and a canvas mailbag could handle a bloody body? Would he then go to Mrs. Florman’s covered in blood?
Rumors have smoldered to this day that some evidence was doctored. The second led pipe in the Ford wrapped in tape, for instance. Why would he need an extra copy? One doesn’t carry led pipes like they are six shooters, one strapped on each hip. Without that in the boot of the car one can only say that Lucan had blood on him when he drove off. Curiously, the blood on the floorboard revealed traces of Lady Lucan’s blood, but not Sandra Rivett’s. Curiously again, the led pipe found at the top of the stairs where Lady Lucan was attacked also revealed a strand of her hair, but none of Sandra Rivett’s, though they were supposedly both attacked by the same instrument.
The murder of Sandra Rivett was a press sensation, and so was Lord Lucan’s mysterious disappearance. He was immediately convicted in the popular forum. The coroner’s inquest, to which we must go to next, also convicted him. This would be the last jury allowed to convict anyone by name. The inquest would bring up many points that contradict as well, paving the way for Britain’s national obsession with looking for Lucan.
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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.