The Unsolved Mystery Of The British Aristocrat Who Murdered His Nanny And Vanished Into Thin Air

From the outside, anyone would have been forgiven for thinking that John Bingham, the Seventh Earl of Lucan, had it all. He drove around in expensive cars, jetted out of town on private planes and gambled the nights away, after all. But beneath the surface, the father of three’s life was not as it seemed – and his perfect façade was about to come crashing down in the most horrifying of ways.

You see, on a cold November night in 1974, the simmering tensions masked by Bingham’s pretense of a happy life came to a bloody climax. Lord Lucan – as he was widely known – emerged from the shadows of his ex-wife’s home, having bludgeoned her new nanny to death. And while, thankfully, Bingham’s former spouse managed to escape the attack alive, her estranged husband had disappeared into the night by the time that the police arrived.

Richard John Bingham entered the world in December 1934 as the son of the Sixth Earl of Lucan, George Bingham. And the young Bingham would inherit his father’s title one day, although first he would have to survive World War Two. During the conflict, he and his oldest sister, Jane, found refuge in Wales before moving to North America with their younger siblings, Sally and Hugh.

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And as the war ravaged the U.K., the Bingham children lived in the lap of luxury in the U.S. They spent half a decade residing with Marcia Brady Tucker, who was a multi-millionaire and provided the youngsters with opulent lifestyles. Naturally, then, when they returned to England, they were in for a shock. Post-war Britain was in ruins, you see, and everyday items were still strictly rationed.

In fact, according to his sisters, Bingham was never the same after his years in America. He began to act out in school in spite of his obvious intelligence, for example. And so his parents sent him to the elite Eton College in the hopes that his conduct would improve. He did indeed become happier during his time at Eton, too – but not in the way in which his parents had envisioned.

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Instead, Bingham found a hobby: illegal gambling. And not only did he sneak away from the campus to visit racetracks and bars near Eton, but he also served as his fellow pupils’ bookie. Bingham became the captain of his house as well, indicating that he was well liked by his peers.

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Seeing this change in Bingham’s attitude gave his parents pause, however. Given that they lived a relatively austere lifestyle, they started to worry about their son embracing the grandiose ways of Eton. They even considered withdrawing him from the school altogether, in fact. But nevertheless, Bingham stayed, and in doing so he became further embedded in the aristocratic lifestyle that he craved.

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Bingham’s next step after Eton would solidify his desire to lead a luxurious lifestyle. Specifically, he joined the Army and subsequently reported for duty in Germany, where gambling was legal. And in the midst of his post in the European country – and with free access to all of the betting opportunities that the country had to offer – Bingham had a realization: he wanted to supersede his family’s current status in both wealth and class.

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Then, two years later, Bingham made his return to London and took up a post at a bank. He realized, though, that his salary couldn’t provide him with the lifestyle that he so craved, and he considered his job to be a road to nowhere. Ultimately, however, he made a friend who showed him the ropes of professional gambling – just in time for the U.K. to loosen its betting regulations. And as a result, the future looked bright for Bingham.

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Bingham’s new career as a pro gambler began as a member of the Clermont Club – London’s first casino. Inside, an elite group of men, including dukes, earls and members of parliament, waged their bets under sparkling chandeliers. And Bingham joined them in raking in large sums of money – as well as losing them.

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It’s safe to say in fact that Bingham fully immersed himself in his new career. And he even quit his banking job after being passed up for promotion; he had just made an extraordinary win of £26,000, mind you. According to the 1994 book Looking for Lucan: The Final Verdict, Bingham once said, “Why should I work in a bank when I can earn a year’s money in one single night at the tables?”

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That said, Bingham’s life would soon take a more conventional turn. In 1963 the professional gambler had a break from the casino in order to attend a party at a golf club. There, he encountered a woman named Veronica Duncan, with whom he apparently found much in common, including their reserved personalities. And within eight months, the pair were married.

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After the wedding, Bingham and his new spouse then embarked on a European getaway – riding first class on the Orient Express, no less. But the cracks in Bingham’s extravagant lifestyle were starting to show. For instance, while his father had handed him a large sum of money as a wedding gift to help him buy a new house, he used some of the cash to pay down his casino debts.

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Not long afterwards, a family tragedy gave Bingham an even bigger financial boost. His father passed away as the result of a stroke in 1964, meaning he would become the Seventh Earl of Lucan – or, simply, Lord Lucan. And with the title came an inheritance: around $63,000 upfront and $15,000 annually after that. To put this into perspective, these amounts equate to approximately $1.3 million and $300,000, respectively, today.

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For Bingham, though, the inheritance would never be enough, especially since gambling had become his sole focus. In fact, even after the birth of his first child, Frances, in 1964, he continued to gamble. After breakfast and a jog, he’d apparently head to the Clermont Club for a meal and games. Then, he’d go home, put on his evening wear and go back to the casino for more – with or without his wife.

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The extravagance continued whenever Bingham took a break from the Clermont, too. He would be seen taking his friends to the racecourse in a private plane, for instance, or indulging in costly vodka from Russia and purchasing an Aston Martin. So suave was the picture of Bingham’s existence, in fact, that it reportedly caught the attention of producer Cubby Broccoli, who wanted him to audition to play James Bond.

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And when Bingham acquired the moniker “Lucky” Lucan, you would have been forgiven for believing that he had truly mastered his craft as a gambler. He did indeed have chops when it came to the pastime, after all, having won multiple tournaments. But behind the façade of success lay a much grimmer reality: Lord Lucan’s losses at the casino more than outweighed his wins.

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Things began to get even more dismal, though, as Lord Lucan’s personal life also started to decline. It’s been said that Veronica never liked his gambling habit and that the couple often fought about money. What’s more, after she gave birth to two more children, Camilla and George, she struggled with postpartum depression. And while Veronica’s husband paid close attention to her mental health, it was seemingly for the wrong reasons.

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In fact, Bingham reportedly tried to have Veronica committed to a mental health institution in 1971, although she refused to enter the facility. Instead, she opted to stay home, receive psychiatric checks and take medication. But nonetheless, her husband allegedly continued to accuse her of being unhinged, while she claimed in turn that he physically abused her.

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It all came to a head when, in December of 1972, Veronica decided to fire the family’s nanny, Lillian Jenkins, who’d been with them for years. Bingham had apparently instructed his wife not to go ahead with the decision, but she did so anyway. It’s said that the ensuing Christmas was a tense affair, culminating in a huge row between the couple. And on January 7, 1973, Lord Lucan finally packed his bags.

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Furthermore, as soon as the couple separated, Bingham only had one goal in mind: custody of their kids. To attain said wish, he decided to use Veronica’s mental health issues against her. But doctors confirmed in court that, while his wife indeed needed care, her mental health wasn’t cause for concern. In fact, the case ended up focusing more on Lucan’s outlandish conduct instead. And on that basis, the judge ultimately chose Veronica as the children’s guardian.

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From there, relations between Bingham and Veronica deteriorated even further. He apparently started to follow her, for instance, and began to record their phone conversations, which he would subsequently play to his friends. The bitter ex-banker also tried to exploit his wife’s responsibilities as the children’s primary caretaker by cutting off payment to the staffing agency that helped Veronica source nannies.

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Then Bingham started to take matters to even greater extremes by targeting the nannies themselves. He honed in on Elizabeth Murphy first, reportedly plying the nanny with alcohol in a bid to extract information from her about Veronica. Next, he employed a private detective to dig up evidence that was intended to prove Murphy hadn’t fulfilled her childcare responsibilities.

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Meanwhile, several nannies came and went; it’s said that Veronica employed no fewer than six different women to look after her children over the course of little more than a year. The stress caused by her situation took its toll, of course, and she believed that this was Bingham’s intention. Plus, one of the nannies, Christabel Martin, had expressed concerns over a bizarre series of phone calls in which a peculiar, unidentified male had kept calling her.

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But all Bingham’s efforts to make Veronica struggle backfired as his finances spiraled out of control, adding to his frustrations. Lucan was saddled with debts, in fact, with billings flying in from his private investigators and custody lawyers among other expenditures. Of course, his gambling addiction didn’t help, either, especially once he started to combine it with drinking. With the well running dry, then, he was forced to borrow from others.

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However, it seemed as though Bingham had a plan to get himself out of his financial hole. And after a few drinks, these plans subsequently became public knowledge. While intoxicated, he would apparently inform his friends of his fantasies about killing Veronica. One such pal, Greville Howard, later claimed that Lucan had pondered whether his estranged wife’s death would prevent him from going bankrupt.

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Eventually, though, Lord Lucan’s friends noticed that he seemed to cool off. He no longer discussed his family problems, for instance, and his mood appeared lighter. And so did Veronica’s: she was apparently getting along well with her new nanny, Sandra Rivett, who had taken up the position in June 1974.

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Meanwhile, on November 7 of that year, Rivett’s childcare duties were much like any other. It’s believed that she put the youngest of the infants to bed and proceeded downstairs just before 9:00 p.m. Then the nanny apparently offered Veronica a drink before making her way to the basement to prepare one for herself.

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Presumably to fetch a cup of tea, then, Rivett descended the stairs to the basement – but she never made it back up. Instead, once the nanny walked into the kitchen, someone beat her with a lead pipe, killing her. While the murderer wrapped the corpse in a canvas bag, however, Veronica, who was upstairs, reportedly started to wonder what had happened to her drink. And so she headed towards the lower floor herself.

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But as Veronica called out for Rivett, she was suddenly assaulted. She then shouted for help, it’s said, at which point the assailant allegedly told her to shut up. And chillingly, Veronica claimed to have recognized the voice: she was convinced that it belonged to her estranged husband. She apparently fought for her life, too, with Veronica later asserting that he had bit the man’s hands as he seemingly attempted to strangle her.

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Finally, Veronica managed to break free – but she had to think quickly to ensure her survival. The woman claimed that she had offered the assailant her help but that they’d first need to lay low for a while until her visible wounds had healed. The man apparently agreed and went to retrieve a damp towel to wash the blood off. Then, seizing her opportunity, Veronica reportedly escaped the house and fled to a bar.

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Little did Veronica know, however, that she would never again see Lord Lucan – the man whom she suspected had tried to take her life. And while many of the aristocrat’s final movements remain unconfirmed, it’s speculated that he may have visited a parent of one of his children’s friends; apparently, you see, he left behind a blood stain outside her front door. What we do know, though, is that Lucan phoned his mother to tell her to get the children. And during this conversation, he also alleged that he’d seen his estranged wife brawling with someone as he drove past their home.

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By the time that police barged into Veronica’s house and found Rivett’s body, though, Lucan was long gone. He traveled just over 40 miles from London to the village of Uckfield in Sussex, where a friend of his named Susan Maxwell-Scott lived. And since then, there have been no confirmed sightings of the earl. It’s almost as though he vanished into thin air.

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Indeed, while police waited to question Bingham, he never materialized. All they knew was that, according to Maxwell-Scott and her husband Ian, Lucan had arrived at their residence hours after the killing took place. The couple also revealed that he’d written correspondence to another of his friends while at their Uckfield home.

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In one letter, Lucan repeated his claim that he’d seen Veronica in a fight and acknowledged his intervention could well provide circumstantial evidence against him in court. Lucan added that he would hide out for some time and asked that his friend take custody of the children from his estranged wife.

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However, police made a major breakthrough when they located the vehicle that Bingham had been driving. Inside the trunk, they discovered a section of lead piping. What’s more, the car’s owner had also received correspondence that was apparently from Lucan. In this note, though, the earl seemed to convey a darker tone. In particular, he had written that all he’d wanted was his children, but “a crooked [lawyer] and a rotten psychiatrist [had] destroyed” him.

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This chilling admission led investigators to believe that Bingham may have wanted to commit suicide, so they conducted a search of the area surrounding the car. Tracker dogs ultimately uncovered a skeleton, but it turned out to belong to someone else, and neither harbor divers nor infrared photography could find the earl’s remains. But despite the absence of a body, Lucan’s friends and even his estranged wife remained convinced that he’d taken his own life.

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Over time, though, investigators changed their tune. They began to suspect that Lucan had somehow managed to evade detection and had fled from the U.K. And the general public have also latched onto this theory. In fact, many have reported seeing the alleged killer in such far-flung locales as Colombia, New Zealand and India.

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Bingham’s family, however, still believed him to be dead. So as a result, his son, George, took the necessary legal steps to acquire his father’s title as the Earl of Lucan. Yet George’s first request in the 1990s was denied, as the House of Lords couldn’t bestow the title upon him without a death certificate. And it would take until 2016 for a judge to rule that said certificate could be produced.

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In a way, this ruling wrote the ending of Lord Lucan’s mysterious story. No one knew what had happened to the infamous earl, and nobody had seen him for years, so the court ruled that he had died. But it’s possible that Lucan – who would now be 85 years old – is alive somewhere, Perhaps you’ve even crossed paths with the alleged murderer who managed to vanish without a trace.

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