Crime mys­tery:

The mys­tery of who blud­geoned San­dra Rivett, the 29-year-old nanny to Lord and Lady Lu­can's three chil­dren, and the sub­se­quent dis­ap­pear­ance of Bri­tish aris­to­crat Lord Lu­can has en­dured for more than four decades. Now Lady Lu­can is ready to re­veal all, wr

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - Wil­liam Langley.

Lady Lu­can – “My hus­band killed the nanny”

The Count­ess of Lu­can lives alone in a pretty London mews house, with Buck­ing­ham Palace nearby on one side and a non­de­script pub called The Plum­bers Arms on the other. Both places have some sig­nif­i­cance in a story of aris­to­cratic ruin that still fas­ci­nates, and may soon be defini­tively told.

On the night of Novem­ber 7, 1974, a hand­ful of drinkers were sit­ting in the pub when a dis­traught, blood­soaked woman burst through the door scream­ing: “Help me! He’s in the house! He’s mur­dered the nanny!” Some­one recog­nised her as Veron­ica Lu­can, so­ci­ety beauty and wife of the 7th Earl of Lu­can, but be­fore she could say any­thing more the 34-year-old Count­ess fell un­con­scious to the floor. She re­mem­bers noth­ing else be­fore wak­ing up in hospi­tal.

When the po­lice ar­rived at the Lu­cans’ grand, four-storey house nearby in the heart of Bel­gravia, a grisly scene awaited. The base­ment win­dows were splat­tered with blood, and by the dim light from the scullery they could see more blood on the walls and floor. Be­hind the door was a large linen mail sack, which was found to con­tain the blud­geoned body of the Lu­cans’ 29-year-old nanny, San­dra Rivett. A half-me­tre length of lead pipe, wrapped in blood­ied tape was ly­ing on the ground. The Lu­cans’ three young chil­dren, Frances, 10, Ge­orge, seven, and Camilla, four, were all in their beds, un­harmed.

Lord Lu­can was nowhere to be found – a sit­u­a­tion that hasn’t changed in the 43 years since. His dis­ap­pear­ance and the un­set­tling events that pre­ceded it have be­come one of the great high so­ci­ety mys­ter­ies of mod­ern times – the sub­ject of count­less in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the­o­ries and ar­gu­ments. The Lu­can af­fair has sparked dynastic rifts, shat­tered friend­ships, and turned some of the most prom­i­nent fig­ures in Bri­tish so­ci­ety against each other.

Now – af­ter re­ject­ing all pre­vi­ous en­treaties – Veron­ica, 79, has agreed to write her own ver­sion of the story.

An en­dur­ing mys­tery

“From the be­gin­ning, I never re­ally wanted to talk about it,” she tells me dur­ing her reg­u­lar morn­ing stroll around nearby St James’s Park, “but other peo­ple wouldn’t leave it alone, and they got so many things wrong. I tried cor­rect­ing them, but it just went on, and in some ways it has got worse over the years, so it may be bet­ter if I have my say.”

White-haired, slen­der and el­e­gantly dressed, Veron­ica still bears on her fore­head the faint, fil­i­gree scars from that Novem­ber night. “I sup­pose they help re­mind me that you can’t just lock those mem­o­ries in an old trunk,” she says. “So it’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to do this while I’m still here.” She adds, with a thin smile: “Af­ter all, isn’t the wife sup­posed to have the last word?”

While Veron­ica de­clines to give de­tails, it is un­der­stood that she is work­ing on a book and ac­com­pa­ny­ing tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary, sched­uled to ap­pear next year.

Last year a Bri­tish court de­clared the Earl – who would now be 82 – to be of­fi­cially dead. Yet he re­mains very much alive and kick­ing in the minds of those who be­lieve this en­dur­ing up­per-class who­dunit has never been prop­erly solved. Barely a year goes by with­out a sup­posed sight­ing of the van­ished noble­man some­where in the world – liv­ing among tribes­men in South Amer­ica, on a farm with a pet pos­sum in New Zealand, or sell­ing beach trin­klets in Goa – or the emer­gence of a new the­ory ar­gu­ing for ei­ther his in­no­cence or guilt.

Jour­nal­ist Wil­liam Coles, the au­thor of one of sev­eral books on the case, says: “Find­ing Lu­can would be the Moby Dick of world ex­clu­sives. What keeps the story alive in the pub­lic eye is not so much the mur­der as what hap­pened af­ter­wards. The ev­i­dence is so sparse, so scant, pretty much any sce­nario is fea­si­ble.”

Blue blood

Although Lord Lu­can cut a re­fined and raff­ish fig­ure in London’s club­land, where he spent much of his time play­ing roulette and black­jack, the mur­der in­quiry quickly un­cov­ered a trou­bled side to his life. He was heav­ily in debt, un­der siege from cred­i­tors and, hav­ing re­cently sep­a­rated from Veron­ica, was locked in a costly le­gal bat­tle over cus­tody of their chil­dren.

John Bing­ham had been born into one of Bri­tain’s most il­lus­tri­ous fam­i­lies, at­tend­ing Eton and serv­ing as a Lieu­tenant in the Cold­stream Guards, whose reg­u­lar du­ties at Buck­ing­ham Palace brought him into so­cial con­tact with roy­alty. He later used these con­nec­tions to ease his way into the louche world of high so­ci­ety gam­bling. Yet for all his blue-blooded pedi­gree, John had in­her­ited rel­a­tively lit­tle money upon the death of his fa­ther, Ge­orge Bing­ham, in 1964.>>

The Lu­cans’ ances­tral land­hold­ings had been largely sold off, and while there was enough for John to keep up the pre­tence of wealth and ease, his com­pul­sive gam­bling gnawed away at what was left.

Veron­ica Dun­can, raised in South Africa, was the daugh­ter of a distin­guished Bri­tish army of­fi­cer. Ex­pen­sively ed­u­cated, pretty, and pop­u­lar on the debu­tante cir­cuit, she had met John at a coun­try house party in Buck­ing­hamshire in the early 1960s, and af­ter a ro­man­tic hol­i­day at a friend’s villa on the French Riviera, he pro­posed.

“When we be­came en­gaged,” Lady Lu­can told me, “he said he could not change, and I ac­cepted that and did not try to in­flu­ence him. But his life did change. It be­came worse, although the changes did not seem ev­i­dent to him.”

The po­lice quickly de­duced that on the night of the mur­der, Lord Lu­can had gone to the fam­ily home in­tend­ing to kill Veron­ica, but in the dark­ness and con­fu­sion had mis­tak­enly mur­dered the nanny in­stead. Hav­ing re­alised his er­ror, he lay in wait un­til Veron­ica came down­stairs to in­ves­ti­gate the noise, then sprang from the gloom and at­tacked her, too.

Lord Lu­can, pow­er­fully built and tow­er­ing over his wife, swung the lead pipe with all the strength he could muster. In a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view, Veron­ica told me how she be­lieves she sur­vived: “The thing was that John had hit San­dra so hard that the pipe bent. And this ac­tu­ally saved my life be­cause when he at­tacked me he couldn’t land it with the same force. It was wrap­ping around my head rather than bash­ing through it. Also he hit me at the front where the bone is stronger. I don’t re­call, for a mo­ment, that it hurt, although I do re­mem­ber what a strange feel­ing it was to be watch­ing your own hus­band try­ing to kill you.”

Sud­denly the pum­melling stopped, and in a sur­real re­ver­sion to gen­tle­man-mode, Lu­can helped his wife to her feet, and sug­gested: “Per­haps we’d bet­ter go up­stairs and have a chat.” They went to the mar­i­tal bed­room, where Veron­ica lay groan­ing, while John, white-faced, paced the floor say­ing noth­ing. Even­tu­ally, she asked him for a wet flan­nel to wipe the blood from her face, and as soon as she heard the tap run­ning in the bath­room, fled down­stairs and into the street. Lu­can left the scene soon af­ter­wards, and it is at this point that the real mys­tery of the “Mur­der in Bel­gravia” be­gins.

An as­ton­ish­ing story

At around 11pm, John ar­rived at the Sus­sex home of his close friends Ian and Su­san Maxwell-Scott. In a state of high ag­i­ta­tion, he told them an as­ton­ish­ing story of how he had been walk­ing past the fam­ily home when he had seen an in­truder at­tack­ing his wife. He rushed in­side to help, but slipped on a pud­dle of blood, al­low­ing the as­sailant to es­cape. Veron­ica had then be­come hys­ter­i­cal, ac­cused him of try­ing to mur­der her, and fled.

What was he to do? The Maxwell Scotts urged him to call the po­lice im­me­di­ately, but he said it would be

bet­ter if he re­turned to London, and dis­ap­peared into the night. There have been no con­firmed sight­ings of him since.

Veron­ica has no doubt that he com­mit­ted sui­cide shortly af­ter­wards, most prob­a­bly by tak­ing a France-bound ferry from the nearby port of Ne­whaven, where his car was later found, and jump­ing over­board.

Oth­ers are less con­vinced. One pop­u­lar the­ory is that af­ter lay­ing a false trail and ly­ing low for a few days, the Earl was spir­ited out of Bri­tain aboard a pri­vate jet ar­ranged by his wealthy friends, who in­cluded ty­coon Sir James Goldsmith and landowner John Aspinall. “It wouldn’t have been very dif­fi­cult to ar­range,” says Wil­liam Coles, “and Lu­can’s pals were more than ca­pa­ble of do­ing it.”

What­ever hap­pened to him, Lu­can has left a tragic fam­ily legacy. Over the years, Veron­ica has fallen out with all three of her chil­dren, and no longer sees or speaks to them. “I couldn’t give a hoot about them, frankly,” she once told me. “They are dread­ful lit­tle peo­ple, nasty sneaks, the lot of them. Peo­ple say, ‘Oh, but you’re their mother’, as though that’s the only thing that mat­ters. Well, I won’t put up with them. They are my ge­netic spawn, if you want to put it that way, but I don’t even like to think about them as my chil­dren.”

Even so, the Lu­cans’ off­spring have pros­pered un­der the shadow of their fa­ther’s in­famy. Frances and Camilla are both suc­cess­ful bar­ris­ters, while Ge­orge, now the 8th Earl, a for­mer mer­chant banker, mar­ried a wealthy Dan­ish heiress, Anne-Sofie Foghs­gaard.

They have rarely spo­ken of the night that changed their priv­i­leged young lives, although in pub­lic the Lu­cans main­tain the united front that as their fa­ther was never brought to

trial he should not be deemed guilty. Last Fe­bru­ary, af­ter win­ning a long le­gal bat­tle to have his fa­ther de­clared of­fi­cially dead, Ge­orge said: “I am very re­lieved. It is a sen­si­ble verdict af­ter all this time. It doesn’t mean any­one has es­caped pros­e­cu­tion for the mur­der of San­dra Rivett, but a per­son must re­main in­no­cent un­til found guilty in a court of law.”

A poignant twist to the tale came with the rev­e­la­tion that San­dra

Rivett also had a child – a son, Neil Ber­ri­man, whom she had given up for adop­tion at birth. Now 49 – the same age as Ge­orge – he only dis­cov­ered his true iden­tity from old pa­pers left af­ter the death of his adop­tive mother. While Neil agrees that Lord Lu­can is prob­a­bly dead, he orig­i­nally op­posed Ge­orge’s ap­pli­ca­tion, com­plain­ing that San­dra, “the for­got­ten vic­tim of this whole story”, was be­ing de­nied jus­tice.

He with­drew his ob­jec­tion af­ter meet­ing with Ge­orge, and the two men agreed the case should re­main open. “I lost a fa­ther and Neil lost a mother,” said the new Lord Lu­can. “A beau­ti­ful young lady died, and we still do not know how it hap­pened.”

For Lady Lu­can, work­ing on her man­u­script be­hind the drawn lace curtains of her home, noth­ing is for­got­ten. There are re­ports of her be­ing short of money, and sell­ing off me­men­tos of her life with the Earl. Not all of them, though. Above the man­tel­piece hangs a slightly faded oil paint­ing of her van­ished hus­band, dressed in his cer­e­mo­nial er­mine robes, his lush mous­tache bristling, his aris­to­cratic jaw­line firm. Why keep such a prom­i­nent re­minder of a man who tried to kill her?

“Well, it’s only dec­o­ra­tion,” shrugs Veron­ica. “And it’s a rather good like­ness. If I took it down, I’d have to find some­thing to re­place it with.”

LORD AND LADY LU­CAN Lord Lu­can and Veron­ica in 1963, the day their en­gage­ment was an­nounced. They were sep­a­rated at the time of the mur­der.

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

RIVETT The nanny – SAN­DRA

Known as “Lucky” Lu­can, the Earl was a gam­bler, shown here play­ing cards in a London club. He was in debt and be­ing hounded by cred­i­tors when he van­ished.

Po­lice searches where Lu­can’s aban­doned car was dis­cov­ered weeks af­ter the mur­der turned up noth­ing, and al­leged sight­ings of the run­away lord con­tin­ued all over the world for decades.

Lady Lu­can with Camilla, Frances and Ge­orge. Eight years af­ter the mur­der, the chil­dren went to live with rel­a­tives.

Ge­orge Bing­ham (top) lost a fa­ther and Neil Ber­ri­man (above) lost his birth mother. LEFT: Veron­ica in London in 2014.

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