Lord Lucan: wanted, dead or alive

Lord Lucan: wanted, dead or alive

Last week we ran a feature on new information which had surfaced as to the fate of Lord Lucan, the British aristocrat who disappeared in 1974 following the murder of his children’s nanny, after allegedly mistaking her for his wife in the dark. Since that time, the British tabloids have gone crazy over allegations that he is alive and well and living in Africa – so the Daily Maverick decided to turn detective. By REBECCA DAVIS.

As a quick recap, there are three dominant theories as to what happened to Lord Lucan, who has been missing since 1974. The first is that he killed himself the day after the murder, probably by scuttling his boat at sea. Lucan’s close friend John Aspinall always claimed to believe this is what happened, and Lucan’s widow Lady Lucan also subscribes to this view. Lady Lucan, now 74, has repeatedly said that he would have committed suicide because that would be the fitting thing for a “nobleman” to do, to spare his children the shame of his crime.

The second theory is that, aided by rich and powerful friends, he escaped from England and has since been living overseas, probably in Africa. His aristocratic buddies had access to private planes he could have been smuggled away on, and since then he has been sheltered in various remote locations. He would be 76 this year, which is young enough for him to plausibly still be alive, the theory runs.

The third theory is that he did indeed escape, and lived abroad in secrecy for a while, but has since died and been cremated or buried under an assumed name.

The problem is that there is not a shred of firm evidence to confirm or disprove any of the three theories. If he had committed suicide, his body should have washed ashore at some stage or been found by police divers, but it never was. At various stages in the intervening 38 years, there have been various “sightings” of Lucan to bolster the second and third theories, but none have been concrete. In 1980 a former army-mate of Lucan’s, David Hardy, died in a car accident, and a police officer discovered the following entry in his personal address book: “Lord Lucan, c/o Hotel Les Ambassadors, Beira, Mozambique”. Tabloid journalists travelled to the hotel immediately, where they reportedly got staff to confirm that someone matching Lucan’s appearance had once stayed there. This is just one among many rumoured sightings, and there have been a whole roll-call of characters accused of being Lord Lucan over the years who have proved not to be.     

Public interest in Lord Lucan in England is still high, even 38 years after the fact. While his story is not as well known in South Africa, it is arguably true to say that in the UK the truth about what happened to Lucan would be one of the biggest stories a newspaper could land. To quote The Daily Beast: “The seventh Earl of Lucan has been missing since 1974 after a botched murder – and in journalistic terms, the story of what actually happened to Lucan would be the scoop of all scoops, an absolute Leviathan of an exclusive”. There seems to be something about an aristocratic suspected murderer disappearing without trace that exerts a compelling grip on the public imagination.

Last week we told the full story of Lord Lucan and explained that a new piece of evidence has emerged to suggest that Lucan fled to Africa. A woman who worked for Lucan’s gambling buddy John Aspinall came forward to say that between 1979 and 1981, she had twice arranged trips for Lucan’s kids to travel to Africa for their father to see them – once in Kenya and once in Ghana. Explaining why she had kept this information to herself for so long, the woman – who declined to be named – told the BBC that she was taking stock of her life after a recent health scare and had realised that she was duty bound to come forward with this information. John Aspinall died in 2000, so she also would no longer face recriminations from him.

This revelation has stoked the British tabloids into a Lucan frenzy, because it seemed to provoke new hope that he might still be alive. It seems that, at a minimum, The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Mirror all currently have investigative teams working frantically on finding Lucan.

The Sun is rumoured to be leading the fray, desperate for a Lucan scoop. The Week reported that The Sun has dispatched a “large team” to Botswana, after an expat came forward last week to tell them that they saw Lord Lucan at a remote bar in the bush in 2000. Sun journalists allegedly pleaded with the source to accompany them immediately to Botswana to point out the bar, but the source demurred – partly out of fear of re-contracting malaria, and partly because they claimed “powerful people” were protecting Lucan.

Media insiders in England are saying that it was quite clear Rupert Murdoch hoped for last weekend’s launch edition of The Sun on Sunday, the replacement tabloid to News of the World, to feature a screaming We found Lord Lucan headline. Instead the paper ran with an extremely underwhelming front-page interview with actress Amanda Holden, which insiders say must have been intended as a “holding cover”, but had to step up when the Lucan scoop did not materialise.

The best The Sun could manage was to produce Lucan’s watch, described in typically hyperbolic terms by the tabloid as “sensational new evidence”. The watch, as pictured in The Sun, has the engraving: “Presented to Lord ‘Lucky’ Lucan – The Old Fossil – By his friends at the Clermont Club Mayfair”, and was accompanied by a picture, which purports to show Lucan wearing a similar-looking watch before his disappearance. The Sun said only that the watch was found for sale “at a pawn shop in Africa”, with the Daily Mail fleshing this out to claim that the watch was bought by a collector from “an antiques shop in a South African township”, which seems implausible.

The Sun was out-scooped, however, by the Mirror, which tracked down Lucan’s younger brother for his first ever interview last weekend. Hugh Bingham, it emerges, has been living in Johannesburg since six months after the murder, having left the UK to escape the notoriety attached to the family name. The scoop sounds impressive, but Hugh, 72, actually gave away very little. Judging by the photographs, journalists appear to have door-stopped him at his Melville flat, where he said: “There are rumours and lots of outcomes. There are all sorts of possibilities and lots of things puzzle me but I am not sure I want to share them with anyone”. When the Mirror asked him whether he thought his brother had fled to Africa, he allegedly said: “I am sure he did, yes”, which promptly spawned the headline: Lord Lucan sensation: He DID escape to Africa and could still be alive, his brother claims.

But the British tabloids aren’t the only ones considering the question of whether Lord Lucan might be alive and hiding out in Africa. In response to the feature we ran last week, the Daily Maverick received an email from a former reporter on a now-defunct South African newspaper. The individual explained that she had worked for weeks on the Lucan case in the 80s, and had interviewed people “in the most rarefied parts of the SA social set”. These informants, she wrote, “were extremely cagey with regards to what they would say. Just a tad too cagey, most of the time”.

Our source wrote that her investigations had left her convinced that Lucan had settled in sub-Saharan Africa, and the town that had repeatedly cropped up in her interviews was that of Kasane, in north-east Botswana.

We at the Daily Maverick are as keen on a global scoop as anyone, so we were sufficiently intrigued to do a bit more digging into the Lucan case – especially when we heard, two days later, that the Sun team was tearing up Botswana to find Lucan after their tip-off. Kasane, we discovered, would in many ways be the perfect place for a fugitive to settle, because of its proximity to no less than three African borders: Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. It is a short drive away from Victoria Falls, where a lonely aristocrat might find plenty of drinking buddies. Importantly, there are also a number of casinos within a reasonable distance – Lucan was a heavy gambler, and earned the nickname “Lucky” at the baccarat table.

We decided to seek out the woman at the heart of the case: Lady Lucan, now 74, who was lucky to escape with her life when her husband tried to kill her 38 years ago. Lady Lucan was reportedly ostracised by her husband’s social circle after the crime, has been estranged from her children for over 20 years, and now devotes much of her time to updating a website dedicated to setting right what she sees as misinformation about her husband, who she continues to claim must have committed suicide.

But might she know more about her missing husband than she lets on? There was a rumour shortly after Lord Lucan’s disappearance that a neighbour had overheard Lady Lucan having a phone conversation with him. We asked Lady Lucan if there was any truth to this. “Any rumour that I might have been talking to my late husband on the telephone is ridiculous,” she told the Daily Maverick.

What about the Sun’s alleged discovery of her husband’s watch in Africa? Doesn’t this suggest that he must have managed to escape? “I have no response to the appearance of the watch,” Lady Lucan answered. “My husband died 38 years ago on 8th November 1974.”

We decided to risk our luck with one further question: had she forgiven her husband for attempting to murder her? Lady Lucan’s response: “I have forgiven and forgotten a long time ago”.

It was clear Lady Lucan wasn’t going to open up to us any further, so we resolved to turn for help to the man who has been looking into the Lucan mystery for longer than anyone else: Ian Crosby, a Welsh private investigator who has been on the case for 37 years. When police reviewed their investigation in 2004, it was Crosby they went to see, because over the years he had built up important relationships with the key figures in the case. Crosby also conducted the last interview with the last person to see Lucan alive following the murder – Lucan’s friend Susan Maxwell-Scott, whose house Lucan fled to on the night of the crime.

Crosby first became interested in the Lucan case when he was 14 years old. He was intrigued by the police’s inability to find Lucan, he told the Daily Maverick, and entertained by the fact that “Lucan has an uncanny resemblance to my Uncle George – still living in Yorkshire”. Over years of research, Crosby became increasingly convinced that Lucan was in sub-Saharan Africa, at a time when police were still following up leads as far afield as Canada and New Zealand. Crosby felt it was most likely that Lucan would be in Mozambique or Namibia, as they were the two countries which lacked extradition treaties with the UK – surely an important criterion for a man on the run.

In 2004 Crosby received information that Lucan’s children had visited Namibia in 2000 on more than one occasion, always staying in the same Windhoek hotel. When he investigated, he discovered the intriguing fact that although the children had booked into the hotel, they had never actually stayed there: instead they were frequenting a remote guest farm and only occasionally setting foot in the hotel. Was it possible that, instead of having mysteriously developed a passion for Windhoek, they were visiting their father? In 2007 Crosby used a feature in The Namibian to advertise a reward of half a million Namibian dollars for anyone who could help him with information. He told the newspaper that he was particularly hopeful that bartenders, waiters, golf caddies or staff at gambling houses might have seen Lord Lucan.

No leads proved fruitful, though Crosby told the Daily Maverick that he was “convinced” that he himself caught a fleeting glimpse of Lucan in Namibia in October 2004. Last year Crosby published a book entitled Lord Lucan: Africa A New Beginning ( where he laid out his theory that Lucan had spent time in Mozambique and Namibia.

So what about Botswana? Is it plausible that Lucan could be there? “I remain convinced to avoid detection, Lucan has been forced to move about over the years,” Crosby said. That sounded hopeful, so we asked for his advice. Should the Daily Maverick drop everything and hurry off to scour the streets of Kasane? No, said Crosby. “I would wait a few days and see if the Sun comes up with anything worthy of printing”.

In the interim, we’re throwing the question out to you, dear readers. On travels within sub-Saharan Africa, have you encountered a man you thought could be the missing aristocrat? Police think it’s possible he may have had plastic surgery, so facial appearance may not be the best thing to go on. But Lucan was six foot four, a left-handed smoker, a heavy drinker and a gambling fan (baccarat and backgammon). Help us beat Rupert Murdoch to finally uncover the truth – we promise we’ll share the credit!

And if The Sun tracks Lord Lucan down to Kasane, north-east Botswana, don’t forget you read it here first. DM

Read more:

  • Lord Lucan sensation: He DID escape to Africa and could still be alive, his brother claims, in the Mirror
  • Lord Lucan watch found, in The Sun

Photo: The trail for Lord Lucan appears to be hot once again.


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