Lord Lucan’s troubled wife
Veronica, the Dowager Countess of Lucan, was a key player in one of the great mysteries of the 20th century: the fate of “Lucky” Lord Lucan. On the night of 7 November 1974, Lady Lucan ran into a pub near her house in Belgravia, covered in blood, screaming that her estranged husband had attacked her and killed her nanny. Back at the family home, 29-year-old Sandra Rivett was found bludgeoned to death. Lucan was presumed to have broken into the basement, and to have mistaken Rivett, who’d gone down to make a cup of tea, for his wife. Lady Lucan claimed that she’d met him on the stairs – and that he’d have killed her too had she not escaped. He drove to a friend’s house in Sussex; he left the next morning – and was not seen again. The car was later found abandoned, with a bandaged lead pipe in the boot.
From then on, Lord Lucan was “spotted” all over the world. In December 1974, police in Australia arrested an Englishman they presumed to be Lucan, only to find that he was John Stonehouse – the ex MP who’d faked his own death a few weeks earlier. In 2003, a Sunday paper published sensational evidence that Lucan had died in Goa in 1996. That lead went dry when readers identified the bearded man in the picture as “Jungle Barry”, a folk singer from Lancashire. There were rumours that Lucan’s children had been taken to see him in South Africa. Others insisted he was long dead: some speculated that his aristocratic friends had left him in a room with a gun, then fed his body to the tigers at John Aspinall’s zoo. (Aspinall pooh-poohed that idea, saying his tigers were used to the choicest cuts: they’d not have eaten “stringy old Lucky”.) Lady Lucan never wavered from her view that he’d jumped off a cross-channel ferry. “He was not the sort of Englishman to cope abroad,” she said.
Veronica May Duncan was born in Bournemouth in 1937. Two years later, her father – an army major – died, and she and her sister Christina went with their mother to live in South Africa. By her late teens, however, she was back in the UK, working as a model and secretary in London. Christina married the dashing, womanising wallpaper heir Bill Shand Kydd – and introduced Veronica to John Bingham, the future 7th Earl of Lucan. Tall and rakish, he’d served in the Coldstream Guards, and was now a professional gambler, playing games of skill. He acquired the name “Lucky” Lucan in 1964, when he won £50,000 at baccarat. The nickname stuck, said The New York Times, but his luck didn’t.
Though Lucan was well known as a member of a louche circle that gambled at the Clermont Club in Mayfair, Lady Lucan would recall that when they married in 1963, their wedding was not well attended “because neither of us was very popular”. They cut their honeymoon short because they ran out of things to talk about. Back in London, he went on gambling while she shopped. Money started to run out; she suffered from postnatal depression following the birth of their children. Later, she claimed he was a sadist who beat her before having sex with her. Yet even in old age, she kept mementoes and pictures of him on display. After nine years of marriage they separated, and he moved into a mews house around the corner. A bitter custody battle followed; Lucan lost, and was distraught. In November 1974, he apparently delivered a kitten to his children – only for it to be posted back through his door a few hours later, its throat cut. Friends say that at that point, he became frantically concerned that his wife was not fit to look after the children.
Six years after Sandra Rivett’s murder, Lady Lucan suffered a serious breakdown, and the children went to live with the Shand Kydds. She never saw them again – although her children tried to make contact with her. Earlier this year, she said: “Time has passed and my life has carried on in a quiet, untroubled manner. I cannot see any advantage in seeing them.”
Lord and Lady Lucan: bitter separation