It’s 9:30 PM on November 7th, 1974.
On Lower Belgrave Street in Central London, a young woman runs for her life.
Blood pours from a gash on her head, dripping down her face and into her eyes. She can barely see where she’s going. But she doesn’t dare stop running. She fears she’s being followed by the man who did this to her.
Moments ago, Lady Veronica Lucan was attacked by an assailant in her own home. Veronica believes the attacker murdered her children’s nanny, before setting his sights on her. But she managed to fight him off and escape through the front door.
Now Veronica is trying to find help.
Up ahead, Veronica spots a building with its windows illuminated, and people inside. She staggers across the street and bursts through the door… emerging inside the warm, crowded pub.
Veronica begins to hyperventilate. Between her shallow breaths, she manages to say: “I’ve escaped a murderer! He killed my nanny, and then attacked me!”
The customers look at each other with alarm. One man dashes off to call the police. Another calls out: “Give the poor woman a drink!” A moment later, Veronica feels a glass of brandy being thrust into her trembling hands.
Veronica winces as the alcohol burns her throat. But the drink calms her. Her breathing returns to normal and she feels more composed. Veronica focuses on the concerned face of the barman standing before her. He asks: “Did you see who did it? Did you get a look at his face?”
Veronica closes her eyes and nods. She can’t believe what she’s about to say. But she knows it’s true. She opens her eyes, fixes the barman with a determined stare, and says: “yes, it was my husband, Lord Lucan.”
Not long after running into the pub, Lady Veronica Lucan files a police report claiming that her husband murdered their nanny, Sandra Rivett, before attempting to kill her as well. But when the authorities try to bring Lord Lucan into custody, the aristocrat is nowhere to be found. He seems to have vanished into thin air. The murder of Sandra Rivett and the disappearance of Lord Lucan will spark a frenzy of press intrigue in Britain. The infamous case will raise questions about power, privilege, and the class system, fueling countless rumors about what really happened to Lord Lucan following his disappearance on November 8th, 1974.
From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.
History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.
Today is November 8th, 1974: The Disappearance of Lord Lucan.
Act One: Trouble in Paradise
It’s March 1963 in Buckinghamshire, England.
A golfing event is taking place in the grounds of a stately home. Guests drift around the manicured lawns, sipping champagne as they watch the golfers tee off. Sitting at a table by herself is 26-year-old Veronica Duncan.
Veronica has no interest in golf, and even less in making small talk with strangers. Today’s event is being hosted by Veronica’s younger sister, Christina, who recently married into a wealthy family. The guest list is a who’s who of English high society, and Veronica feels out of place. Her own upbringing was quite ordinary by comparison, and she’s jealous of Christina’s newfound lifestyle among this privileged set.
Deciding she’s had enough, Veronica stands to leave. She pulls aside her brother-in-law, Bill, and makes her excuses. Bill though looks crestfallen. He tells Veronica that there’s somebody he wants her to meet. Before Veronica can protest, Bill calls out: “John, old chap! This is the girl I was telling you about.”
Veronica looks up. The man striding across the lawn is tall and dashing, with a thick black mustache and twinkling eyes. Veronica thinks he’s the most handsome man she’s ever seen. Bill makes introduction, saying: “Veronica, please meet Richard John Bingham.” The man flashes a debonair smile and then says with an aristocratic drawl: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Veronica. And please, call me John.”
Veronica quickly forgets about her desire to leave the party. She talks with John all afternoon. She learns that he is the son of the Earl of Lucan, and when his father dies, John will inherit his titles. Veronica knows she belongs to a lower social class to John, but John doesn’t seem to mind. He tells Veronica it’s refreshing to meet somebody so humble and down to earth. And before leaving, they make plans to meet again soon.
As John saunters off, Veronica’s sister Christina takes her arm and whispers: “I see you’ve met John. Isn’t he charming?” Veronica agrees emphatically. But then Christina’s tone changes. She lowers her voice and says: “Shame about the gambling. He doesn’t even work, you know. He makes all his money at the cardtables.”
Veronica is shocked by the revelation. But she isn’t put off. In fact, John’s gambling habit only makes him more alluring. Veronica’s life has been so mundane. Boarding school. Art college. A dull job as a secretary. She feels she could use a little risk in her life.
After their first meeting, things move quickly between Veronica and John. Within a year, they get married and move into a house in Belgravia, an affluent area of central London. By 1970, the couple has three children: Frances, George, and Camilla. By now, John’s father has died, bestowing upon his son the title Lord Lucan. John also inherits a sizable fortune, and a generous annual allowance of £250,000, about 1.5 million today.
With a steady income, a beautiful home, and three healthy children, Lord and Lady Lucan appear to have it all. But soon, cracks will appear beneath the surface of their happy marriage.
It's the autumn of 1970 inside the Clermont Club, a private casino in London.
John Bingham, the Earl of Lucan, sits slumped at the baccarat table, watching the dealer rake in his chips. John throws down his cards in disgust. He’s been on this losing streak for months. He’s already gambled away his inheritance and now owes hundreds of thousands of pounds to various banks and private lenders. Soon, he could be forced to declare bankruptcy, and the thought makes John shudder. The humiliation would be unthinkable.
A familiar sound from across the casino makes John look up. It’s Veronica, his wife. She’s acting hysterical again – shouting at somebody at the bar. John flushes with anger and embarrassment. Veronica hasn’t been the same since the birth of their first child. Ever since, she suffered from depression, but rather than sympathize, John has become cold and distant. He spends more and more time here at the Clermont, treating his wife like she’s a problem he’d rather not have to deal with.
As Veronica continues to shout, John sighs. She is a drain on his finances and his energy. She distracts him from his one true love: the casino. He wants a divorce, but he’s afraid he might lose custody of the children.
Soon, John feels a hand on his shoulder. It’s Mr. John Aspinall, the owner of the Clermont. Aspinall wrinkles his nose in Veronica’s direction and says to John: “If you can’t control your wife, she’ll have to be removed.” John apologizes, but Aspinall isn’t finished. His voice turns cold as he says: “Enough’s enough, John. Divorce that ghastly woman and be done with it.”
John explains that he can’t divorce Veronica, because the judge would grant her custody. But Aspinall just smiles and says: “Don’t worry about the judge. There’s always a way. You just have to be clever about it.”
John considers Aspinall’s advice. And ultimately, he decides his friend is right. The only way the courts will grant John custody is if he can prove that Veronica is unfit to be a mother. He’s already tried unsuccessfully to have her institutionalized, but the psychiatrists declared her mentally stable – although, prone to bouts of depression. So if John is going to convince a judge that Veronica is psychotic, he will have to start fighting dirty.
Act Two: Murder in Belgravia
It’s July 20th, 1973, in London; just over a year before Lord Lucan’s disappearance.
John Bingham, the Earl of Lucan, sits beside his lawyer inside the Royal Courts of Justice. John can barely suppress his self-satisfied smirk.
Last year, John and Veronica finally began divorce proceedings. Today is the custody hearing when the judge will decide whether the children should live with their mother or father.
John is feeling optimistic. In preparation for today’s trial, he’s been employing underhanded tactics to help swing the verdict in his favor. Over the last few months, John has been deliberately playing mind games with Veronica. He moved out of their Belgravia home last year, but he still owns a set of keys. John often sneaks back inside the house when Veronica’s out and moves things around. He wants to trick Veronica into thinking she’s losing her sanity. He’s also been secretly recording their private phone calls, in which he provokes Veronica until she loses her temper. John brought those recordings to court today to play for the judge, hoping they will reflect poorly on Veronica’s character.
When the court session begins, John’s lawyer plays a carefully curated portion of their taped conversations. John grins as Veronica’s expletive-filled outburst echoes through the courtroom. Veronica hangs her head, mortified, things are going exactly according to plan.
But when Veronica gets her turn to plead her case, John is surprised when she calls an unexpected witness to testify on her behalf: a psychiatrist.
John sits and listens to the doctor's testimony, and learns that Veronica willingly submitted herself for a psychiatric examination. Before the courtroom, the doctor reads out the results of Veronica’s assessment. He says that despite John’s claims, Veronica is not schizophrenic. But the cocktail of antipsychotics that John has put her on may have had a negative impact on her mental health. The psychiatrist concludes that with the correct medication, Veronica’s condition can be easily managed. It’s his professional opinion that Veronica is a perfectly fit mother.
Ultimately, the judge agrees. He grants Veronica custody over the children, with only one caveat: she must have help in the form of a nanny that John will be required to pay for.
Hearing this, Veronica glances at John, who glowers at her from across the courtroom, his eyes burning with hatred. This verdict is too much for John to bear. He reflects on all the misery Veronica has caused him, the embarrassment, being forced from his home, the humiliation in court, and now she has the children. But that's not the worst of it. This divorce has been financially ruinous. John is now surviving off loans from friends and relatives, and he blames Veronica for everything.
It's one year later - November 7th, 1974 - on Lower Belgrave Street in London.
Veronica is at home watching television with the children and their new nanny, Sandra. Veronica has been feeling much better since Sandra arrived. She’s wonderful with the children and gets on Veronica like old friends. For the first time in many years, Veronica is starting to feel like herself again.
But despite this, Veronica still feels a nagging sense of unease. She knows her husband has been stalking her, watching the house from across the street. She suspects he’s trying to find evidence of her mental infirmity, something to show the judge he’s made a mistake and convince him to overturn the custody ruling. Veronica glances out of the window at the darkening evening sky. She shivers and pulls a blanket over her knees.
While Veronica relaxes upstairs, Sandra puts the children to bed, then heads downstairs to make Veronica a cup of tea. Veronica smiles, thinking how lucky she is to have somebody like Sandra in her life. But after fifteen minutes, Veronica starts to wonder what’s taking so long. She gets up from the sofa and heads downstairs.
Veronica calls out for Sandra, but there’s no answer. She checks all over the first floor but Sandra's nowhere to be found. Veronica is about to check in the basement when suddenly, she feels a hand clamped over her mouth. Then she feels several sharp blows to the back of her head. Somebody hisses: “Shut up!” and Veronica recognizes her husband’s voice immediately. She bites down hard on John’s fingers, then elbows him in the groin. When he staggers backward, Veronica spins around and confronts him.
John’s face is contorted in rage, and his clothes are covered in blood. Veronica demands to know where Sandra is, but she already suspects that John has killed her. Before John can attack Veronica again, she bolts out of the door and runs.
Soon, Veronica will alert the police. But when the authorities arrive at the house, John will be nowhere to be found. A nationwide search will begin, as police across the country mobilize determined to catch Lord Lucan and bring him to justice.
Act Three: The Disappearance
It’s November 7th, 1974 on Lower Belgrave Street, London.
John Bingham, the Earl of Lucan, stands at the bathroom sink of his wife’s house, frantically scrubbing blood from his hands. Moments ago, John bludgeoned Sandra Rivett to death with a lead pipe. Then he tried to kill his wife, but she fought him off and escaped – presumably to alert the police. John curses for bungling this endeavor so spectacularly. But what’s done is done. What matters now is the decisions he makes in the next few minutes.
John leaves the bathroom and heads for the stairs, but as he makes for the door, he hears a child’s voice. John turns to see his eldest daughter, Frances, standing on the landing with a look of confusion. John adores Frances, and he desperately wants to reassure her that everything’s okay. But he knows that’s far from the truth. Instead, he turns away from his daughter and hurries out of the house, knowing it will probably be the last time he sees her.
John climbs into the car he borrowed from a friend. He slams his foot down and screeches away from the curb. One hour later, John pulls up outside a large house in the Sussex countryside, about fifty miles from London. This is the home of John’s close friends, Susan and Ian. It’s somewhere he feels comfortable laying low for a while. Even though it’s nearly midnight, John hammers on the door. And a moment later, Susan appears in a dressing gown. Her eyes widen with alarm as she asks John: "Is that blood on your shirt?”
John looks down, realizing with a jolt that he forgot to change out of his blood-stained clothes. So, thinking on his feet, he makes up a story about what happened that night. He claims he was passing by Veronica’s house when he witnessed an intruder attacking the nanny. John tried to intervene, he says, but he slipped and fell in a puddle of blood. Now he’s afraid that Veronica will try to frame him for the murder.
It’s an improbable story, but amazingly, Susan believes every word. She hands John a glass of whiskey and offers words of sympathy. John asks for a pen and some paper. Then he writes a letter to his brother-in-law, Bill, expressing his wish for the children to live with Bill and his wife, and not Veronica.
As the morning of November 8th dawns, John gets back into the car and drives further south, to Newhaven, a seaside town. He sits behind the wheel, contemplating his next move. He knows the evidence against him is overwhelming. So John decides to pursue the only course of action he feels is available to him. Rather than confess to his crime and face the consequences, John decides to disappear.
By the time the police discover the abandoned car, John will have vanished. And despite an extensive search, he will never be found. To this day, sightings of Lord Lucan are reported all around the world. Some believe he is living in hiding. Others maintain that he committed suicide. Eventually, a court will find him guilty of Sandra Rivett’s murder. But no one can say with absolute certainty what happened to John Bingham, the Earl of Lucan. Still, there is no doubt his actions earned him a place of infamy in the history of the British Aristocracy, a notorious legacy that was sealed when he disappeared on November 8th, 1974.
Next onHistory Daily.November 9th, 1888. A London landlord finds the body of Jack the Ripper's final victim: the mysterious Mary Jane Kelly.
From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.
Audio editing by Mollie Baack.
Sound design by Mischa Stanton.
Music by Lindsay Graham.
This episode is written and researched by Joe Viner.
Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.