Song of the Day: Crime in Music (Day Five): “Lord Lucan is Missing”

Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, more commonly known as Lord Lucan was a British peer suspected of murder, who disappeared without a trace on the 8th November 1974.  Lucan was born into an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family in Marylebone.  His great-great-grandfather was the 3rd Earl of Lucan, who ordered the Charge of the Light Brigade.  He attended Eton and later served with the Coldstream Guards in West Germany between 1953 and 1955.  He developed a taste for gambling and, skilled at backgammon and bridge, became an early member of the Clermont Club.  Despite the fact his losses often exceeded his winnings, he left his job at a London-based merchant bank and became a professional gambler.  He was known by the title Lord Bingham between April 1949 and January 1964, when his father died and he became the 7th Earl of Lucan.

Lucan was a highly charismatic man who was once even considered for the role of James Bond.  He had expensive tastes, with his hobbies including power boats and driving his Aston Martin.  In 1963, he married Veronica Duncan, with whom he had three children.  When the marriage collapsed in late 1972, he moved out of the family home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street, in London’s Belgravia, to a property nearby.  A bitter battle for custody of his children ensued and Lucan lost.  He began to spy on his wife and record their telephone conversations, apparently obsessed with regaining custody of their children.  This fixation, combined with his gambling losses, had a dramatic effect on his life and personal finances.

The murder of Sandra Rivett, the children’s nanny took place on the evening of 7th November 1974.  On Thursday nights, Rivett usually went out with her boyfriend, John Hawkins but had tragically decided to change her night off and had seen him the previous day.  Rivett and Hawkins spoke on the telephone at about 8pm.  At about 8.55pm, she put the Lucans’ youngest child to bed and asked Lady Lucan if she would like a cup of tea.  She headed downstairs to the basement kitchen to make the cup of tea.  As she entered the room, she was bludgeoned to death with a piece of bandaged lead pipe.  Her body was then placed in a canvas mail sack.  Upon wondering what had delayed Rivett, Lady Lucan walked down the stairs into the basement kitchen and was also attacked.  She later identified Lord Lucan as her assailant.

When questioned by the police, Lady Lucan said that as she screamed for her life, her attacker had told her to “shut up”.  At this moment, said Lady Lucan, she recognised her husband’s voice.  The two had continued to fight.  In an attempt to get Lord Lucan to loosen his grip, she bit his fingers.  He threw her down on the carpet.  She managed to turn around and squeeze his testicles, causing him to give up the fight.  Lady Lucan asked where Sandra Rivett was.  Lord Lucan was evasive but eventually admitted to having killed her.  Lady Lucan told him that she could help him escape on the provision that he remained at the house for a few days to allow her injuries to heal.  Lucan walked upstairs and sent his daughter to bed before going into one of the bedrooms.  Lady Lucan followed him into the bedroom, placing towels down on the bed to avoid staining the bedding, on the instruction of Lord Lucan.  Lucan asked her if she had any barbiturates and went into the bathroom to get a wet towel, supposedly to clean Lady Lucan’s face.  Realising that her husband would not be able to hear her from the bathroom, she made her escape, running outside to a nearby public house, the Plumber’s Arms.

As the police began their murder investigation, Lucan telephoned his mother, asking her to collect the children, and then drove a borrowed Ford Corsair to the home of friend Susan Maxwell-Scott in Uckfield, East Sussex.  Hours later, he left the property and was never seen again.   The Ford Corsair was later found abandoned in Newhaven.  The interior of the car was stained with blood and its boot contained a piece of bandaged lead pipe similar to the one found at the crime scene.  A few days later, a warrant for Lucan’s arrest was issued and in his absence, the inquest into Rivett’s death named him as her murderer.  With the passage of the Criminal Law Act of 1977, the inquest into Rivett’s death marked the last occasion in Britain on which a coroner’s court was allowed to make such a determination.  The whereabouts of Lord Lucan and whether he is dead or alive remains a fascinating mystery for the British public.  Since the murder of Sandra Rivett, there have been hundreds of reported sightings of Lucan all over the world, although none have been substantiated.  Despite a police investigation and huge press interest, Lucan has never been found and has now been presumed dead.

In 1978, Brighton punk band The Dodgems released the single Lord Lucan is Missing on the appropriately titled Criminal Records.  Interestingly, the song was produced by Jonathan King, the self-confessed vile pervert who 22 years later would become as infamous as Lord Lucan when he was convicted of a string of sexual offences against young boys since the early 70s.  Originally part of the Vaultage 78 compilation album, Lord Lucan is Missing was championed by John Peel, who invited the band to record a session for his Radio 1 show.  The session became a Peel favourite and was repeated several times before the show ended with Peel’s death in 2004.  The Peel session helped the song to become an iconic song of the punk era.

The song takes its title from newspaper headlines at the time of Lord Lucan’s disappearance, hence the opening line of the song, “It seems like years ago that the headlines read, ‘Lord Lucan is Missing’”.  The song makes several references to Lord Lucan’s interests and ponders upon his potential whereabouts, with lines including “Is he in the Clermont Club or in the South of France, Playing on a roulette wheel in another game of chance, I don’t know …”