Once considered for the role of James Bond in the cinematic adaptations of Ian Fleming's novels, Lucan was noted for his expensive tastes; he raced power boats and drove an Aston Martin. In 1963 he married Veronica Duncan, with whom he had three children. When the marriage collapsed late in 1972, he moved out of the family home at 46 Lower Belgrave Street, in London's Belgravia, to a property nearby. A bitter custody battle ensued, which Lucan lost. He began to spy on his wife and record their telephone conversations, apparently obsessed with regaining custody of the children. This fixation, combined with his gambling losses, had a dramatic effect on his life and personal finances.
On the evening of 7 November 1974, the children's nanny, Sandra Rivett, was bludgeoned to death in the basement of the Lucan family home. Lady Lucan was also attacked; she later identified Lucan as her assailant. 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 a friend's house in Uckfield, East Sussex. Hours later, he left the property and was never seen again. The car was found abandoned in Newhaven, its interior stained with blood and its boot containing a piece of bandaged lead pipe similar to one found at the crime scene. A warrant for Lucan's arrest was issued a few days later, and in his absence the inquest into Rivett's death named him as her murderer, the last occasion in Britain a coroner's court was allowed to do so.
Within Britain, there has been continuing interest in Lucan's fate. Since Rivett's murder, hundreds of reported sightings have been made in various countries around the world; none have been substantiated. Despite a police investigation and huge press interest, Lucan has not been found and is presumed dead; a death certificate was issued in 2016.
Richard John Bingham was born on 18 December 1934 at 19 Bentinck Street, Marylebone, London, the second child and elder son of George Bingham, 6th Earl of Lucan, an Anglo-Irish peer, and his wife Kaitlin Elizabeth Anne Dawson. A blood clot found in her lung forced his mother to remain in a nursing home, so John, as he became known, was initially cared for by the family's nurserymaid. Aged three years, he attended a pre-prep school in Tite Street with his elder sister Jane, but in 1939, with war approaching, the two were taken to the relative safety of Wales. The following year, joined by their younger siblings Sally and Hugh, the Lucan children travelled to Toronto, moving shortly thereafter to Mount Kisco, New York. They stayed for five years with multi-millionairess Marcia Brady Tucker; John was enrolled at The Harvey School and spent summer holidays away from his siblings at a summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains.
While in the U.S., John and his siblings lived in grandeur and wanted for nothing, but on their return to England in February 1945 they were faced with the stark realities of wartime Britain. Rationing was still in force, their former home at Cheyne Walk had been bombed, and the house at 22 Eaton Square had had its windows blown out. Despite the family's rich ancestry, the 6th Earl and his wife were agnostics and socialists and preferred a more austere existence than that offered by Tucker, an extremely wealthy Christian. For a time, John suffered nightmares and was taken to a psychotherapist. As an adult he remained an agnostic, but ensured that his children attended Sunday school, preferring to give them a traditional childhood.
At Eton College, John developed a taste for gambling. He supplemented his pocket money with income from bookmaking, placing his earnings into a "secret" bank account, and regularly left the school's grounds to attend horse races. According to his mother his academic record was "far from creditable", but he became Captain of Roe's House, before leaving in 1953 to undertake his National Service. He became a second lieutenant in his father's regiment, the Coldstream Guards, and was stationed mainly in Krefeld, West Germany. While there, he also became a keen poker player.
On leaving the army in 1955, Lucan joined a London-based merchant bank, William Brandt's Sons and Co., on an annual salary of £500 (equivalent to £11,830 in 2015). In 1960 he met Stephen Raphael, a rich stockbroker who was a skilled backgammon player. They holidayed together in the Bahamas, went water-skiing, and played golf, backgammon and poker. Lucan became a regular gambler and an early member of John Aspinall's Clermont gaming club, located in Berkeley Square. He often won at games of skill like bridge and backgammon, but he also accumulated huge losses. On one occasion he lost £8,000, or about two-thirds of the money he received annually from various family trusts. On another disastrous night at a casino he lost £10,000. That time his stockbroker uncle, John Bevan, helped him to pay the debt, and Lucan repaid his uncle two years later.
Lucan left Brandt's in about 1960, shortly after he had won £26,000 playing chemin de fer. A colleague had been promoted before him, and he protested and then gave up his job, saying "why should I work in a bank, when I can earn a year's money in one single night at the tables?" He travelled to the United States, where he played golf, raced powerboats, and drove his Aston Martin around the West Coast. He also visited his elder sister Jane, and his former guardian, Marcia Tucker. On his return to England he moved out of his parents' home in St John's Wood and into a flat in Park Crescent.
Lucan met his future wife, Veronica Duncan, early in 1963. She was born in 1937 to Major Charles Moorhouse Duncan and his wife Thelma. Her father had died in a car accident while she was still very young, following which the family had moved to South Africa. Her mother remarried, and when her new step-father became manager of a hotel in Guildford, the family returned to England. Along with her sister, Christina, she was educated at St Swithun's School, Winchester, and after displaying a talent for art she went on to study at an art college in Bournemouth. The two sisters later shared a flat in London, where Veronica worked as a model and later as a secretary. Christina's marriage to the rich William Shand-Kydd introduced her to London high society, and it was at a golf-club function in the country that Veronica and Lucan first met.
News of their engagement appeared in The Times and The Daily Telegraph newspapers on 14 October 1963, and the two were married at Holy Trinity Brompton Church on 20 November. After a high society ceremony attended by, amongst other dignitaries, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, the couple honeymooned in Europe, travelling first class on the Orient Express. Lucan's already embattled finances were given a welcome boost by his father, who provided him with a marriage settlement designed to finance a larger family home and any future additions to the Lucan family. Lucan repaid some of his creditors and leased number 46 Lower Belgrave Street, Westminster, redecorating it to suit Veronica's tastes. Two months after the wedding, on 21 January 1964, the 6th Earl of Lucan died of a stroke. In addition to a reputed £250,000 inheritance, Lucan acquired his father's titles: Earl of Lucan; Baron Lucan of Castlebar; Baron Lucan of Melcombe Lucan and Baronet Bingham of Castlebar. His wife became the Countess of Lucan. Their first child, Frances, was born on 24 October 1964, and early the next year they employed a nanny, Lillian Jenkins, to look after her. Lucan tried to teach Veronica about gambling and traditional pursuits like hunting, shooting, and fishing. He bought her golf lessons; she later gave up the sport.
Lucan's daily routine consisted of breakfast at 9:00 am, coffee, dealing with the morning's letters, reading the newspapers, and playing the piano. He sometimes jogged in the park and, while he owned him, took his Doberman Pinscher for walks. Lunch at the Clermont Club was followed by afternoon games of backgammon. Returning home to change into evening dress, the earl typically spent the remainder of the day at the Clermont, gambling into the early hours, watched sometimes by Veronica. In 1956, while still working at Brandt's, he had written of his desire to have "£2m in the bank", claiming that "motor-cars, yachts, expensive holidays and security for the future would give myself and a lot of other people a lot of pleasure". He was described by his friends as a shy and taciturn man, but with his tall stature, "luxuriant guardsman's moustache" and masculine pursuits, his exploits made him popular. His profligacy extended to hiring private aircraft to take his friends to the races, asking a car dealer he knew to source an Aston Martin drophead coupé, drinking expensive Russian vodka and racing powerboats. In September 1966 he unsuccessfully screen tested for a part in Woman Times Seven, prompting him to automatically decline a later offer from film producer Cubby Broccoli, to screen test him for the role of James Bond.
As a professional gambler he was undoubtedly a skilled player, once rated amongst the world's top ten backgammon competitors. He won the St James's Club tournament and was Champion of the West Coast of America. He gained the moniker "Lucky" Lucan, but his losses easily outweighed his winnings, and in reality he was anything but lucky. He had interests in thoroughbred horses; in 1968 he paid more in race entry fees than he received in winnings. Despite some arguments over money, his wife remained largely ignorant of his losses, retaining the use of accounts at Savile Row tailors and various Knightsbridge shops. Following the births of George (1967) and Camilla (1970), she suffered post-natal depression. Lucan became increasingly involved in her mental well-being, and in 1971 took her for treatment at a psychiatric clinic in Hampstead, where she refused to be admitted. Instead, she agreed to home visits from a psychiatrist and a course of anti-depressants. In July 1972 the family holidayed in Monte Carlo, but Veronica quickly returned to England, leaving Lucan with their two elder children. The combined pressures of maintaining their finances, paying for Lucan's gambling addiction and Veronica's weakened mental condition took their toll on the marriage; two weeks after a strained family Christmas in 1972, Lucan moved into a small property in Eaton Row.
Some months later Lucan moved again, to a larger rented flat in nearby Elizabeth Street. Despite an early attempt by his wife at reconciliation, by that point all Lucan wanted from the marriage was custody of his children. In an effort to demonstrate that Veronica was unfit to look after them, he began to spy on his family (his car was regularly seen parked in Lower Belgrave Street), later employing private investigators to perform the same task. Lucan also canvassed doctors, who explained that his wife had not "gone mad", but was suffering from depression and anxiety. Lucan told his friends that nobody would work for Veronica (she sacked the children's long-term nanny, Lillian Jenkins, in December 1972). Of the series of nannies employed in the house, one, 26-year-old Stefanja Sawicka, was told by Veronica that Lucan had hit her with a cane and had, on one occasion, pushed her down the stairs. The countess apparently feared for her safety and told Sawicka not to be surprised "if he kills me one day."
Sawicka's time at the Lucan household ended late in March 1973. While with two of the children near Grosvenor Place, she was confronted by Lucan and two private detectives. They told her that the children had been made wards of court and that she must release them into his custody, which she did. Frances was collected from school later in the day. Lady Lucan applied to the court to have the children returned, but concerned about the case's complexity, the judge set a date for the hearing three months ahead, for June 1973. To defend herself against Lucan's claims about her mental state, Veronica booked herself a four-day stay at the Priory Clinic in Roehampton. While it was acknowledged that she still required some psychiatric support, the doctors reported that there was no indication that she was mentally ill. Lucan's case depended upon Veronica being unable to care for the children, but at the hearing, he was instead forced to defend his own behaviour toward her. After several weeks of witnesses and protracted arguments in camera, on the advice of his lawyers he conceded the case. Unimpressed by Lucan's character, Mr Justice Rees awarded custody to Veronica. The earl was allowed access every other weekend.
Thus began a bitter dispute between the two, involving many of their friends and Veronica's own sister. Lucan again began to watch his wife's movements. He recorded some of their telephone conversations with a small Sony tape recorder and played excerpts to any friends prepared to listen; he also told them—and his bank manager—that Lady Lucan had been "spending money like water". He continued to pay her £40 a week and may have cancelled their regular food order with Harrods. He delayed payment to the milkman and—knowing that Veronica was required by the court to employ a live-in nanny—the childcare agency. With no income of her own, Veronica took a part-time job in a local hospital. A temporary nanny, Elizabeth Murphy, was befriended by Lucan, who bought her drinks and asked her for information on his wife. He instructed his detective agency to investigate Murphy, looking for evidence that she was failing in her duty of care to his children. This they found; he dispensed with the detective agency's services when they presented him with bills amounting to several hundred pounds. Murphy was later hospitalised with cancer. Another temporary nanny, Christabel Martin, reported strange telephone calls to the house, some with heavy breathing and some from a man asking for non-existent people. Following a series of temporary nannies, Sandra Rivett started work in late 1974.
Losing the court case proved devastating for Lucan. It had cost him an estimated £20,000, and by late 1974 his financial position was dire. As he drank more heavily and started chain-smoking, his friends began to worry. In drunken conversations with some of them, including Aspinall's mother, Lady Osborne, and her son, Lucan discussed murdering his wife. Greville Howard later gave a statement to the police describing how Lucan had talked of how killing his wife might save him from bankruptcy, how her body might be disposed of in the Solent and how he "would never be caught". Lucan borrowed £4,000 from his mother and asked Marcia Tucker for a loan of £100,000. Having no luck there, he wrote to Tucker's son, explaining how he wished to "buy" his children from Veronica; the money was not forthcoming. He turned to his friends and acquaintances, asking anyone plausible to loan him money to fund his gambling addiction. The financier James Goldsmith guaranteed a £5,000 overdraft for him, which for years remained unpaid. Lucan also applied to the discreet Edgware Trust. On request, he supplied details of his income, which was apparently around £12,000 a year from various family trusts. He was required to provide a surety and received only £3,000 of the £5,000 he asked for. Much to their managers' consternation, his four bank accounts were hugely overdrawn; Coutts, £2,841; Lloyds, £4,379; National Westminster, £1,290; Midland, £5,667. Even though by then he was playing for much lower stakes than had previously been the case, Lucan's gambling remained completely out of control. Ranson (1994) estimates that between September and October 1974 alone, the earl ran up debts of around £50,000.
Despite these problems, from late October 1974 his demeanour appeared to change for the better. His best man, John Wilbraham, remarked that Lucan's apparent obsession over regaining his children had diminished. While having dinner with his mother he cast aside talk of his family problems and turned instead to politics. On 6 November he met his uncle John, apparently in good spirits. Later that day he met 21-year-old Charlotte Andrina Colquhoun, who said that "he seemed very happy, just his usual self, and there was nothing to suggest that he was worried or depressed". He also dined at the Clermont with racing driver Graham Hill. At the time, casinos could open only between 2:00 pm and 4:00 am, so Lucan often gambled into the early hours of the morning. He took tablets to deal with his insomnia and therefore usually awoke around lunchtime. On 7 November though, he broke routine and called his solicitor early that morning, and at 10:30 am took a call from Colquhoun. They arranged to eat at the Clermont at about 3:00 pm, but Lucan failed to appear. Colquhoun drove past the Clermont and Ladbroke clubs, and past Elizabeth Street, but could not find his car anywhere. Lucan also failed to arrive for his 1:00 pm lunch appointment with artist Dominic Elwes and banker Daniel Meinertzhagen, again at the Clermont.
At 4:00 pm Lucan called at a chemist's on Lower Belgrave Street, close to Veronica's home, and asked the pharmacist there to identify a small capsule. It turned out to be Limbitrol 5, a drug for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Lucan had apparently made several similar visits since he separated from his wife; he never told the pharmacist where he got the drugs. At 4:45 pm he called a friend, literary agent Michael Hicks-Beach, and between 6:30 pm and 7:00 pm met with him at his flat on Elizabeth Street. Lucan wanted his help with an article on gambling he had been asked to write for an Oxford University magazine. He drove Hicks-Beach home for about 8:00 pm, not in his Mercedes-Benz, but in "an old, dark and scruffy Ford", possibly the Ford Corsair he borrowed from Michael Stoop several weeks earlier. At 8:30 pm he called the Clermont to check on a reservation for dinner with Greville Howard and friends. Howard had called him at 5:15 pm and asked if he wished to come to the theatre, but Lucan had declined and made the alternative suggestion to meet at the Clermont at 11:00 pm. He failed to arrive and did not answer his telephone when called.
Sandra Eleanor Rivett was born on 16 September 1945, the third child of Albert and Eunice Hensby. The family moved to Australia when she was two years old, but returned in 1955. Sandra was a popular child, described at school as "intelligent, although she does not excel academically". She worked for six months as an apprentice hairdresser before taking a job as a secretary in Croydon. Following a failed romance she became a voluntary patient at a mental hospital near Redhill, Surrey, where she was treated for depression. She became engaged to a builder named John and took a job as a children's nanny for a doctor in Croydon. On 13 March 1964, she gave birth to a boy named Stephen, but, as her relationship with John was failing, she returned home to live with her parents and considered giving the baby up for adoption. Her parents took on the responsibility and adopted him in May 1965. Sandra later worked at an old people's home, before moving to Portsmouth to stay with her elder sister. While there she met Roger Rivett; the two married on 10 June 1967 in Croydon. Roger was serving as a Royal Navy able seaman and later worked as a loader for British Road Services, while Sandra worked part-time at Reedham Orphanage in Purley. In summer 1973 he took a job on an Esso tanker, returning to their flat in Kenley a few months later by which time Sandra was employed by a cigarette company in Croydon. Their marriage collapsed in May 1974 when, suspicious of Sandra's movements while he was away, Roger went to live with his parents. She was by then listed on the books of a Belgravia domestic agency and had been caring for an elderly couple in that district. A few weeks later she began to work for the Lucans.
Sandra normally went out with her boyfriend, John Hankins, on Thursday nights, but had decided to change her night off and thus, had seen him the previous day. The two last spoke on the telephone at about 8:00 pm on 7 November. After putting the younger children to bed, at about 8:55 pm she asked Veronica if she would like a cup of tea, before heading downstairs to the basement kitchen to make one. As she entered the room, she was bludgeoned to death with a piece of bandaged lead pipe. Her killer then placed her body into a canvas mailsack. Meanwhile, wondering what had delayed her nanny, Lady Lucan descended from the first floor to see what had happened. She called to Rivett from the top of the basement stairs and was herself attacked. As she screamed for her life, her attacker told her to "shut up". Lady Lucan later claimed at that moment to have recognised her husband's voice. The two apparently continued to fight; she bit his fingers, and when he threw her face down to the carpet, managed to turn around and squeeze his testicles, causing him to release his grip on her throat and give up the fight. When she asked where Rivett was, Lucan was at first evasive, but eventually admitted to having killed her. Terrified, Lady Lucan told him she could help him escape if only he would remain at the house for a few days, to allow her injuries to heal. Lucan walked upstairs and sent his daughter to bed, then went into one of the bedrooms. When Veronica entered, to lie on the bed, he told her to put towels down first to avoid staining the bedding. Lucan asked her if she had any barbiturates and went to the bathroom to get a wet towel, supposedly to clean Veronica's face. Lady Lucan realised her husband would be unable to hear her from the bathroom, and made her escape, running outside to a nearby public house, the Plumbers Arms.
Lucan may have called at the Chester Square home of Madelaine Florman (mother of one of Frances's school friends) sometime between 10:00 pm and 10:30 pm. Alone in the house, Florman ignored the door, but shortly afterwards she received an incoherent telephone call and put the receiver down. Blood stains, which after forensic examination were found to be a mixture of blood groups A and B, were later discovered on her doorstep. Lucan certainly called his mother between 10:30 pm and 11:00 pm and asked her to collect the children from Lower Belgrave Street. According to the Dowager Countess, he spoke of a "terrible catastrophe" at his wife's home. He told her that he had been driving past the house when he saw Veronica fighting with a man, in the basement. He had entered the property and found his wife screaming. The location from which he made this, and possibly the call to Florman, remains unknown. The police forced their way into Lady Lucan's home and discovered Sandra Rivett's body before his wife was taken by ambulance to St George's Hospital. Lucan drove the Ford Corsair 42 miles (68 km) to Uckfield, in East Sussex, to visit his friends, the Maxwell-Scotts. Susan Maxwell-Scott's meeting with Lucan was his last confirmed sighting.
By the time Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Ranson arrived at Lower Belgrave Street early on Friday 8 November, the divisional surgeon had pronounced Sandra Rivett dead and forensic officers and photographers had been called to the property. Other than the front door, which the first two officers on the scene had kicked in, there was no sign of a forced entry. A bloodstained towel was found in Veronica's first-floor bedroom. The area around the top of the basement staircase was heavily bloodstained. A bloodstained lead pipe lay on the floor. Pictures hanging from the staircase walls were askew and a metal banister rail was damaged. At the foot of the stairs, two cups and saucers lay in a pool of blood. Rivett's arm protruded from the canvas sack, which lay in a slowly expanding pool of blood. The light fitting at the bottom of the stairs was missing its bulb; one was noted nearby, on a chair. Blood was also found on various leaves in the adjoining rear garden.
Officers also searched 5 Eaton Row, into which Lucan had moved early in 1973, and after interviewing his mother (who had called to take the children to her home in St John's Wood), his last address at 72a Elizabeth Street. Nothing untoward was found; on the bed, a suit and shirt lay alongside a book on Greek shipping millionaires, and Lucan's wallet, car keys, money, driving licence, handkerchief and spectacles were on a bedside table. His passport was in a drawer and his blue Mercedes-Benz parked outside, its engine cold and its battery flat. Ranson then visited Veronica Lucan at St George's Hospital. Although heavily sedated, she was able to describe what had happened to her. A police officer was left to guard her, should her assailant return. Rivett's body was taken to the mortuary, and a search was undertaken of all local basement areas and gardens, skips and open spaces.
After removing her corpse from the canvas sack and beginning the post mortem examination, pathologist Keith Simpson told Ranson he was certain that Rivett had been killed before her body was placed in the sack, and that in his opinion the lead pipe found at the scene could be the murder weapon. Her estranged husband, Roger, had an alibi for the night concerned, and was eliminated from police inquiries. Other male friends and boyfriends were questioned and discounted as suspects. Her parents confirmed that Sandra had a good working relationship with Lady Lucan, and was extremely fond of the children. Meanwhile, Lucan had yet to make an appearance, and so his description was circulated to police forces across the country. Newspapers and television stations were told only that Lucan was wanted by the police for questioning.
Hours earlier, Lucan had again called his mother, at about 12:30 am. He told her that he would be in touch later that day, but declined to speak with the police constable who had accompanied her to her flat; instead, he said he would call the police later that morning. Ranson discovered that Lucan had travelled to Uckfield when he was called by Ian Maxwell-Scott, who told him that Lucan had arrived at his home a few hours after the murder, and spoken with his wife, Susan. While there, the earl had written two letters to his brother-in-law, Bill Shand-Kydd, and posted them to his London address. Maxwell-Scott also called Shand-Kydd at his country house near Leighton Buzzard and told him about the letters, prompting the latter to immediately drive to London to collect them. After reading them, and noting that they were bloodstained, he took them to Ranson.
When asked why she did not immediately inform the police of Lucan's presence, Susan Maxwell-Scott said she had not seen any newspapers or television news, or listened to any radio broadcasts that might have warned her of the importance of his visit. Meanwhile, Lucan's children were taken by their aunt, Lady Sarah Gibbs, to her home in Guilsborough, Northamptonshire, where they would remain for several weeks. On the day Veronica Lucan was discharged from hospital, a High Court hearing confirmed that the children could return to live with her. Repeated press intrusions later forced the family to move to a friend's home in Plymouth.
The Ford Corsair that Lucan had been seen driving and whose details had the previous day been circulated across the country was found on Sunday in Norman Road, Newhaven, about 16 miles (26 km) from Uckfield. In its boot was a piece of lead pipe covered in surgical tape, and a full bottle of vodka. The car was removed for forensic examination. Later statements from two witnesses suggest that it was parked there sometime between 5:00 am and 8:00 am on the morning of Friday 8 November. Its owner, Michael Stoop, also received a letter from Lucan, delivered to his club, the St James's. However, Stoop threw the envelope away and it was therefore not possible to check its postmark to see where it had been sent from.
Ranson suspected a suicide, but a thorough search of Newhaven Downs was judged impossible. A partial search was made, using tracker dogs, but all that was found were the skeletal remains of a judge who had disappeared years earlier. Police divers searched the harbour, and a partial search using infra-red photography was undertaken the following year, to no avail. A warrant for Lucan's arrest, to answer charges of murdering Sandra Rivett, and attempting to murder his wife, was issued on Tuesday 12 November 1974. Descriptions of his appearance, already issued to police forces across the UK, were then issued to Interpol.
The forensic examination of the lead pipes found at the murder scene and in the Corsair's boot revealed traces of blood on the pipe from 46 Lower Belgrave Street. This proved to be a mixture of Lady Lucan's (blood group A) and Sandra Rivett's (B) blood. Hair belonging to Veronica Lucan was also found on that pipe, but none belonging to Sandra Rivett. The pipe found inside the car had neither blood nor hair on it. Home Office scientists were unable to prove conclusively that both pipes were cut from the same, longer, piece of piping, although they thought it likely. The tape wrapped around both was similar, but those too could not be conclusively linked. The letters written to Bill Shand-Kydd were stained with blood considered to be from both women. The letter to Michael Stoop had no blood on it, but it was later proven that the paper it was written on had been torn from a writing pad found in the Corsair's boot.
An examination of the blood stains found inside 46 Lower Belgrave Street demonstrated that Rivett had been attacked in the basement kitchen, while Lady Lucan had been attacked at the top of the basement stairs. The blood stains found inside the Ford Corsair were of the AB blood group; the report concluded that this might have been a mixture of blood from both women. Hair similar to Lady Lucan's was also found inside the car.
By the afternoon of Friday 8 November, the newspapers' early editions carried photographs of the Lucans across their front pages, accompanied by headlines like "Body in sack ... countess runs out screaming", and "Belgravia murder – earl sought". A meeting that day at the Clermont, between John Aspinall, Daniel Meinertzhagen, Charles Benson, Stephen Raphael, Bill Shand-Kydd and Dominic Elwes, became the cause of much press speculation. Meinertzhagen and Raphael later insisted that the gathering was just a rational discussion between concerned friends, keen to share anything they knew about what had happened, but the relationship between the police and Lucan's social circle was strained; some officers complained that an "Eton mafia" worked against them. Susan Maxwell-Scott refused to add to her statement, and when Aspinall's mother, Lady Osborne, was asked if she could help locate Lucan's body, she replied "The last I heard of him, he was being fed to the tigers at my son's zoo", prompting the police to search the house and the animal cages there. They searched fourteen country houses and estates, including Holkham Hall and Warwick Castle, to no avail. Amidst concerns expressed by the Labour MP Marcus Lipton that some people were "being a bit snooty" with the police, Benson wrote a letter to The Times asking him to either identify those people or "kindly withdraw his remarks". To their cost, Private Eye accused James Goldsmith of being at the Clermont meeting, when he was actually in Ireland. Dominic Elwes went to see Lady Lucan in hospital and was reportedly deeply shocked both by her appearance and her statement "Who's the mad one now?" Elwes was apparently unhappy at some of the negative press coverage of the countess, and was later ostracised by his friends for his part in an article critical of Lucan, which appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine. He committed suicide in September 1975.
Rivett's case made headlines around the world. Within days of the murder, newspapers reported on Veronica Lucan's statement to the police, with claims that she had pretended to collude with her husband to ensure her safety. In January 1975 Veronica gave an exclusive interview to the Daily Express. She also appeared in a murder reconstruction, in the same newspaper, complete with posed photographs taken inside the house.
The inquest into Sandra Rivett's death opened on 13 November 1974 and was led by the Coroner for Inner West London, Gavin Thurston. Two witnesses were called to the courtroom, which was packed with reporters; Roger Rivett, who confirmed that he had identified his wife's body, and the pathologist, Keith Simpson, who confirmed that Rivett had died from being hit on the head with a blunt instrument. At Ranson's request, the hearing was then adjourned. Further adjournments were made on 11 December 1974 and 10 March 1975, before a full inquest was scheduled for 16 June 1975.
The hearing began with the swearing-in of the jury and introductions from various legal representatives, including a lawyer hired for Lucan by his mother. Thurston introduced the jury to the case and explained their duties. He had selected 33 witnesses to be called over the following few days, including Veronica Lucan, who each day wore a dark coat and white headscarf. Thurston questioned her on her relationship with Lucan, her marriage, her financial affairs, her employment of Rivett and what had happened on the night of the attack. The Dowager Countess's Queen's Counsel attempted to ask Lady Lucan about the nature of their relationship, if she hated her husband, but Thurston ruled his line of questioning inadmissible. Woman Detective Constable Sally Blower, who had taken a statement from Frances on 20 November 1974, read the young girl's words to the court. Frances had heard a scream, and a few minutes later had watched as her mother (blood on her face) and father had entered the room. Her mother had then sent her to bed. She later heard her father calling for her mother, asking where she was, and watched as he left the bathroom and walked downstairs. She also described how Sandra Rivett did not normally work on Thursday nights.
The landlord of The Plumbers Arms described how Lady Lucan had entered his bar covered "head to toe in blood" before she fell into "a state of shock". He claimed that she shouted "Help me, help me, I've just escaped from being murdered" and "My children, my children, he's murdered my nanny". Pathologist Keith Simpson outlined his post-mortem examination, concluding that death was caused by "blunt head injuries" and "inhalation of blood". He confirmed that the lead pipe found at the scene was most likely responsible for Rivett's injuries; some, to the left eye and mouth, he thought more likely to have been caused by punches from a clenched fist. The last person to confirm seeing Lucan alive, Susan Maxwell-Scott, told the court that the earl looked "dishevelled", and his hair "a little ruffled". His trousers had a damp patch on the right hip. Lucan had told her that he was walking, or passing by the house when he saw Veronica being attacked by a man. He let himself in but slipped in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs. He told Maxwell-Scott that the attacker ran off, and that Veronica was "very hysterical" and accused him of having hired a hitman to kill her.
Once the hearing had ended, Thurston made a summary of the evidence presented and told the jury their options. At 11:45 am, their foreman announced "Murder by Lord Lucan". Lucan became the first member of the House of Lords to be named a murderer since 1760, when Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers, was hanged for killing his bailiff. He was also the last person to be committed by a coroner to a Crown Court for unlawful killing; the coroner's power to do so was removed by the Criminal Law Act 1977.
Rivett's body, which had been held for several weeks following the murder, was released to her family and cremated at Croydon crematorium on 18 December 1974. A police spokesman cited Lady Lucan's desire not to upset the family as a reason for her non-attendance at the cremation.
Lucan's friends and family were critical of the inquest, which they felt offered a one-sided view of events. His mother told reporters that it did not serve "any useful purpose at all". Veronica's sister, Christina, said that she felt "great sadness and sorrow" at the verdict. Susan Maxwell-Scott continued to press the earl's claims of innocence and claimed to feel "awfully sorry" for the countess. However, as Lucan remained absent, his description of "a traumatic night of unbelievable coincidence" came only from the letters he authored and the people he spoke with soon after Rivett's murder. While his fingerprints were not found at the scene, his assertions make no provision for the lead pipe discovered in the boot of the Ford Corsair, the claims by some that he discussed murdering his wife, or the lack of a viable suspect for the man he claimed to have seen fighting her. No sign of a forced entry was found, and officers attempting to demonstrate that Lucan could have seen into the basement kitchen, from the street, could only do so by stooping low to the pavement. The basement light was not working, making it even more difficult to see into the room; its lightbulb (which was tested and found to be in working order) was found removed from its holder and left lying on a chair. Furthermore, Lady Lucan claimed not to have entered the basement that night, contradicting the earl's version of events; his wife's account is supported by the forensic examination made of the blood splashes and stains around the property. Some traces of her blood were found in the basement, the rear garden and on the canvas sack used to store Rivett's body; this may have been due to contamination at the scene. The man Lucan claimed to have seen could not have left through the basement's front door as it was locked, and the rear door led to a walled garden through which no trace of an escape was found. No signs that the man left by the ground level front door were discovered, and no witnesses reported seeing any such person near 46 Lower Belgrave Street.
In contrast to his defenders, the national press were almost unanimous in their condemnation of Lucan. Their leader-writers ignored the threat of libel and identified him as Rivett's killer.
As Lucan's bankruptcy proceeded, in August 1975 his creditors were informed that the missing earl had unsecured debts of £45,000 and preferential liabilities for £1,326. His assets were estimated at £22,632. The family silver was sold in March 1976 for around £30,000. His remaining debts were repaid by the Lucan family trust in the years immediately following his disappearance. His family was granted probate over his estate in 1999, but no death certificate was issued, and his heir, George Bingham, Lord Bingham, was refused permission to take his father's title and seat in the House of Lords. Following the passage of the Presumption of Death Act 2013, Bingham began a new attempt to have his father declared dead, which proved successful in a High Court hearing at the Rolls Building on 3 February 2016. He therefore inherited his father's title, becoming the 8th Earl of Lucan.
The last confirmed sighting of Lucan was at about 1:15 am on 8 November 1974 as he exited the driveway of the Maxwell-Scott property, in his friend's Ford Corsair. Since then, his whereabouts and ultimate fate remain a mystery. Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Ranson initially claimed that Lucan had "done the honourable thing" and "fallen on his own sword", a view publicly repeated by many of Lucan's friends, including John Aspinall, who shortly before his death in 2000 said he believed the earl was guilty of Rivett's murder, and that his body lay "250 feet under the Channel". Veronica Lucan believes her husband killed himself "like the nobleman he was".
Ranson later changed his view, explaining that he considered it more likely that suicide was far from Lucan's thoughts, that a rumoured drowning at sea was implausible and that the earl had moved to southern Africa. Thirty years after the murder, the detective leading a new investigation into Lucan's disappearance told the Telegraph that "the evidence points towards the fact that Lord Lucan left the country and lived abroad for a number of years." Speaking to author John Pearson before she died, Susan Maxwell-Scott suggested that Lucan might have been helped out of the country by shadowy underground financiers, before being judged too great a risk and killed and buried in Switzerland. A similar theory was proposed by advertising executive Jeremy Scott, who was familiar with some of the Clermont Set.
Lucan's disappearance has captivated the public's imagination for decades, with thousands of sightings reported across the world. One of the earliest, shortly after the murder, turned out to be a British ex-politician, John Stonehouse, who had attempted to fake his own death. The police travelled to France in June the following year to hunt another lead, to no avail. A sighting in Colombia turned out to be an American businessman. John Miller, a bounty hunter who kidnapped the fugitive train robber Ronnie Biggs, claimed in 1982 to have captured the earl, but was later exposed by the News of the World as a hoaxer. In 2003 a former Scotland Yard detective thought he had tracked the earl to Goa, India; the man he traced was actually Barry Halpin, a folk singer from St Helens. In 2007, reporters in New Zealand interviewed a homeless British expatriate who neighbours claimed was the missing earl.
More recently, responding to claims that the two eldest Lucan children were sent to Gabon in the early 1980s so that their father might secretly watch them "from a distance", George Bingham denied ever visiting the country. Veronica Lucan dismissed the newspaper claims of sightings as "nonsense", reiterating that in her opinion her husband "was not the sort of Englishman to cope abroad".