The Enduring Mystery About The Murder Of Sandra Rivett, London, 1974.
The short story is that Sandra Rivett was 29 years old when she went downstairs in the house she was working in. The address was 46 Lower Belgravia Square, London and she was employed as a nanny. Ms Rivett walked into a basement area to access the kitchen and she was bludgeoned to death.
That night she would have normally been off duty but she had asked to rearrange the day. The house was home to Lady Veronica Lucan and her three children
Her estranged husband, Lord Lucan, lived nearby. After a while Lady Lucan went to see where Ms Rivett had gone. She was attacked, she said, by Lord Lucan. As they struggled she grabbed his testicles. The pair seemed to pause and in those minutes Lord Lucan broke off the attack. He went upstairs with Lady Lucan and they talked. She played for time. She set a reassuring tone as if it could all be worked out. When she had a chance she got out of the house and ran to a nearby pub for help.
By the time the cops arrived and searched the house Lord Lucan was gone. Sandra Rivett was dead and the mystery of what happened still engages people to this day.
Richard John Bingham married Veronica Duncan in 1963. They had three children, but in 1972 they separated. By the time the attack took place Richard Bingham had inherited his father’s title. He had become the 7th Earl of Lucan. Known as Lord Lucan he was a professional gambler with a circle of friends who were placed very highly in British society. He had a taste for the good life and there are even rumours he had been considered for the role of James Bond in the 1960s.
However, things were not cool like a shaken Martini. His estranged wife was going to get full custody of the children, his money was running out and he had become something of a cliché. He had a playboy, devil may care, attitude while being plagued by many woes that affected him deeply. He may have had the accent of a gentleman but his behaviour was no better than any suspicious, prying ex partner to some. To others he was devoted to his children and very concerned about their welfare. Which ever view you take he was a man under pressure.
He began to spy on his wife and put pressure on her to give him custody of the kids. He employed a private detective to get evidence that another nanny was neglectful, strange telephone calls were made to the house and he pushed for Lady Veronica to be deemed mentally unstable. He talked a great deal to acquaintances and friends about his marital and financial concerns. Some said he even talked of killing his wife to resolve them.
His debts began to mount up especially after he failed in legal attempts to secure the children. The cost of that along with the obsession he had developed plunged him into debt. He had many friends and he owed many of them money. His bank accounts were overdrawn and people started to refuse him financial help.
Though a passable gambler his drinking helped him not at all. He would play cards at a gambling club until the early hours and sleep until noon.
Meanwhile his soon to be ex wife had her challenges. She was of delicate mental health and suffered from anxiety. A series of nannies were employed to take care of the children.
People say that Lucan would talk of getting rid of his wife and in so doing he would regain his financial feet. He placed pressure on his ex wife financially. He refused payment of some deliveries. Lady Veronica took some part time work to pay for these services.
By the 7th November, however, those close to him said he seemed to be passing the worst of this obsession. On the day of the murder he seemed in a good mood and though he missed an appointment for lunch he was in touch with people all day. The last person he had seen was a literary agent between 6.30 and 8 pm. He was discussing an article he was to write about gambling. At about 8.30 pm he called the Clermont Club to check on a reservation for dinner. All had seemed well.
Sandra Rivett had put the two younger children to bed and at about 8.55 pm asked Lady Lucan if she would like a cup of tea. I recall the timing being estimated because they were about to sit and watch the nine o’clock news.
To make the tea she had to go downstairs to the basement kitchen. Later police would find the light bulb for that area on a chair, someone had removed it.
Ms Rivett was struck with a piece of lead pipe. Her body was then placed in a mail sack. When Lady Lucan came down she was attacked in a similar way but survived it. She said she recognised her husband’s voice during this fight. After a struggle he told her what he had done to Sandra. She played along saying that she would help him escape.
Amazingly Lord Lucan went upstairs, told his oldest daughter to go to bed and Lady Lucan lay on the bed. Lord Lucan suggested putting a towel down to stop her blood ruining the bed linen. He then went to find a damp towel and pain killers for his wife. It was then that she escaped and summoned help.
It is believed Lucan used a borrowed car to call at the home of a friend of his daughter. It is believed he wanted to talk to the parents not the child. Blood was found on their porch that tied in with the scene and the woman in the house had heard a doorbell ring. Being alone she had not wanted to open the door.
He then telephoned his mother and asked her to collect the children as there had been an incident. The final sighting of him (that anyone is admitting to) was when he arrived at a friend’s home in Uckfield. This is 56 miles/90 km from the crime scene. At the house he talked to a lady called Susan Maxwell Scott.
She later said he wrote two letters for his brother-in-law. They concerned his finances and the children. He expressed a desire for the kids to live with him and Veronica’s sister rather than remain with his wife.
Maxwell Scott claimed later she did not understand the significance of Lucan being there. She had no knowledge of the events that had occurred in London. The letters were meant to have been posted by her but when her husband arrived home he called the police.
On 10th November the Ford Corsair that Lucan had been driving was found in Newhaven. This is a coastal town 16 miles/26km from Uckfield. In the car was another section of pipe. Blood in the vehicle matched the victims. There was no sign of Lucan and witnesses later came forward claiming the vehicle had been there since early morning on the 8th November.
So What Happened to Lucan?
That is the big question that shouldn’t have over shadowed the 29 year old mother of two that died that night. It kind of has though. Such is the nature of things when a rich family are at one end of a murder and an ordinary victim’s family are at the other.
Given the likely guilty of this man it did have relevance nonetheless. Lucan had said in the notes and in the account to Susan Maxwell Scott that he had been strolling by and saw his wife fighting off an assailant. He let himself into the house and she rounded on him because the killer of Sandra Rivett had run off.
There were many troublesome issues with this account. The house had no sign of forced entry, you could not see into the basement unless you were crouched on the street. In addition, a lightbulb had been removed so even if you could get the right angle the room was in darkness.
So he escapes from the house. Drives first to this friend of his daughter’s home and then on to Uckfield. Then the car ends up at Newhaven on the Channel Coast. I only have a passing knowledge of boats but even the one I am able to sail can cross to France from there in about 10 hours.
At first the cops thought he may have committed suicide but no trace of him could be found. Later theories placed him in South Africa and incorrect sightings put him anywhere there was land to stand on. The last alleged sighting of him was in 2020 in Australia. This was reported to the police and the last I heard one of Sandra’ Rivett’s sons was pressing for action.
Sandra Rivett was an attractive woman of only 29 years old. She had not been working at the house long but it is said she fitted in well and was liked. She had two boys. One lived with her parents and the other had been adopted. She had married and split up from her husband. He was checked out as was her boyfriend of the time.
She had had some challenges but she would have been young enough to have come through them. Someone took that time away. According to some accounts she and Lady Lucan were approximately the same height and build. Given that she would normally have been off duty that night and out, it is thought the attacker mistook Ms Rivett for Lady Lucan.
Lady Veronica was only 37 years old. She stumbled into the Plumbers Arms pub and it is said she was covered in blood. She was desperate for her safety and that of the children. I always got the impression of sadness every time I saw a picture of her from then and in the years later.
She committed suicide in 2017. It seems she had come to her own conclusion that she had developed Parkinson’s Disease, a degenerative disorder. She took drink and drugs and was described as having died peacefully.
When she had been in the hospital one of her husband’s friends had visited her. He was so shocked by the state of her he became critical of Lucan. Worse he gave an interview with the Sunday Times and painted his chums in a poor light. He was ostracised from the inner circle of the Clermont Club. Dominik Elwes committed suicide in 1975.
The Jet Set And The Escape Committee
Nothing was ever proven but the theory is a simple one. Lucan was of the class that should not be touched by the lower classes and their grubby policemen. He might be bad. He might have his faults even to the extent of being a killer but he was one of the elite. I have read interviews with Lucan’s friends and with only a few exceptions they think little of the rest of us and a lot about Lucan. He had ample time to speak to many more people that night as he drove south. He was in a position to have said way more to Maxwell Scott than she said he did.
Lucan might well have been broke, his friends were anything but. A plane from a small airfield or a faster boat than mine to Europe would have been no issue to them.
What would their motive be? Lucan was of a certain class. One that did not like its members being dragged in front of the courts. Also their gambling and other activities may have been brought into the full light of working class scrutiny.
The theory goes they helped him disappear and that is where the South Africa reference came in. They then set Lucan up in exile.
In fairness nothing has ever come to light that directly supports that. It is only balanced, if not popular, to point out that for every gram of distain we think the like of Lucan have for us we return it at least at the same measure. The class bias works both ways in the UK. I think it does everywhere.
My Own Theory
I do recall looking at this case in a lot of depth years ago. The close friends of Lucan genuinely did think he was innocent. If they had doubts they mostly felt he would not get a fair trial in any case. I go further, there were inconsistencies in the case against Lucan that indicated someone else may have been there.
I decided that another theory held water. Lucan wanted his wife dead and had hired someone to do it.
That day he was upbeat and busy. He set the tone for what he thought would be an investigation later. He was going to be seen as a man innocently going about his everyday when a terrible thing happened at the house. Ms Rivett should not have been there and there was a habit that Lady Veronica had tea with the nine o’clock news.
I think Lucan let in this other man and he did the deed and realised he had killed the wrong woman. He decided that was enough for him and left.
Why would Lucan have been there? I think he loved his kids and hated his wife. I think this killer was to do the deed and he or Lucan were to break a window. Lucan was watching that this man only killed his wife and then went, his children where there after all. Once the job was confirmed Lucan was to go to the club or a friends and then casually make a phone call. He would be showing no concern, he would be clean and dressed and the timing would have made it possible yet improbable he had just killed anyone.
When he got no reply he would express concern. His wife was after all ( according to him) unstable. He might mutter and call again. Then announce he was going around there. Result? Police scrutiny, a terrible burglary gone wrong. Suspicion would be aimed at Lucan sure, but proof he killed anyone? It would have been a massive gamble that he was not tried and convicted but he was a gambler. Also it should be said he moved in high circles and high circles are always a plus when dealing with the law.
Lucan has been linked via association to some pretty heavy criminals in the past. Criminals gamble too. Even his acquaintances talk of him being indebt to tough guys when they suggest that is one of the reasons he disappeared. So finding a willing person to kill his wife was not necessarily as unlikely as it may seem.
All I have said I recall having worked through. A telling issue for me was the fact that Lucan left his passport and money etc in his flat. He was on a mission that night but not one he thought would mean him having to go on the run. He didn’t want to drop anything while in the house. Was he to return quickly and collect his things then go somewhere to start raising the alarm? Was he going to return to his flat and ring from there?
If it was the latter he could have recorded a couple of calls, rang a friend, expressed concern and been back at the house to comfort his kids. Total walking time from the scene to his flat is estimated at eight minutes. Half that with a jog, quarter that if using a car. If his wife had been alone. If she had come down the stairs and been dead by nine, Lucan could have been back, made a couple of calls, and returned to the house within 20 minutes.
Is my theory clumsy? Yes. So, I would suggest, is the idea that a lone wolf Lucan having killed a woman he had nothing against would have been deterred by the tiny Lady Lucan who he hated. This was a big guy. If he was a determined cold blooded killer why would he not finish her off and still have a shot at getting away with his plan?
The tale is fascinating but tragically a real story of brutal murder and no justice. For all the world knows the 7th Earl got no further than some strong current running off the Channel Coast. All I do is what countless others have done, I speculate.
There is so much more detail surrounding this case. Some would support my ideas other aspects would counter them.
In the end I, along with Lucan, Lady Lucan and poor Sandra Rivett will be forgotten. For now though my thoughts are to the family of Lady Lucan and Ms Rivett’s sons. I hope one day all will be explained in a way that brings them some peace.
A last random thought is that I would be delighted if the culprit was not Lucan. If identified and by some overlooked possibility it was another person it would be the best result for both families. I would say it is unlikely, yet stranger things have happened.