Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Disappearance of Lord Lucan

The Inquest

An inquest into the death of Sandra Rivett began after a delay of more than seven months on June 5, 1975, at Westminster Coroners Court. During the inquest, Coroner Dr. Gavin Thurston and the coroners jury listened to testimony and evidence surrounding both Rivetts death and Lady Lucans attack.

English law at the time restricted a wife from presenting evidence against her husband unless he was charged with assault against her. There was a great deal of debate on whether Lady Lucan should testify since her husband had not been officially charged and the testimony was during an inquest and not a trial. Nonetheless, the coroner made an exception, and Lady Lucan told the coroner and his jury her account of what occurred on November 7, 1974.

Following her testimony, a statement by the Lucans 10-year-old daughter Frances Bingham was read to the court. Frances said that at about 9 p.m. her mother went downstairs to see why Sandra was taking so long. She said that her mother left the door open and the hall light was not on. Shortly after her mother left, she said she heard her mother scream from what seemed to be far away. Frances was not afraid because she thought the cat had scratched her mother. When she called to her mother, there was no response.

Frances said that later her parents walked into the bedroom together. She said that her mothers face was bloody and that her father was wearing an overcoat. Frances was sent to bed, and shortly afterward she heard her father calling for her mother. She then saw her father looking for her mother before he went downstairs.

Dr. Keith Simpson, a pathologist who performed the postmortem on Sandra Rivetts body, testified at the inquest that she had suffocated to death by choking on her own blood. He told the court of her wounds and said that she likely died minutes after the attack. According to Patrick Marnham in Trail of Havoc, Dr. Simpsons testimony conflicted with Dr. Michael Smiths, the police surgeon who certified Sandras death. Dr. Smith stated that Sandra most likely died shortly before being discovered.

Kait Lucan, the Dowager Countess
Kait Lucan, the Dowager
Lord Lucans mother, Dowager Countess Lucan, testified that her son had called her twice that evening and was incoherent. She said he mentioned the words blood and mess, but did not go into detail after that. She said her son requested that she pick up the children, which she did at 10:45 p.m. She said he later called a second time to ask about the children and refrained from speaking with police at the house. Soon after her testimony, the court heard evidence given by Susan Maxwell-Scott, Bill Shand Kydd and Michael Stoop.

Michael Stoop was asked in detail about the Ford Corsair he loaned Lord Lucan and the letter he received from him after the attacks. Michael Stoop told the court that when he loaned his car to Lord Lucan several weeks before the attack there was no lead piping in the trunk. He also said that the paper on which the note was written was likely to have come from the notepaper he kept in his car. The envelope that held the letter was lost and never recovered.

Thirty-two witnesses testified at the inquest, the most compelling of whom were the police officers who delivered their forensic reports on the crime scene. The blood analyses were done before DNA techniques became a common forensic tool, but were quite revealing nonetheless.

Sandra Rivetts blood type B and Lady Lucans blood type A were found in two main areas of the house. Sandras blood type was concentrated mostly in the basement area, where police found her body. In contrast, Lady Lucans blood was concentrated mostly in the hallway at the top of the basement stairs on the ground floor. Moreover, there were hairs found in that blood that matched Lady Lucans, providing supporting evidence that she had been battered at the top of the stairs. However, there was no blood found in the area of the cloakroom.

Intriguingly, some of Lady Lucans blood type was found on the canvas mailbag containing Sandra Rivetts body. One explanation is that the attacker could have had the same blood type as Lady Lucan. Lady Lucans blood type was also found along with Sandra Rivetts blood type on the lead pipe and in the Ford Corsair found in Newhaven. The bent pipe, which was wrapped with tape and supposedly used to batter the womens heads, contained no hairs of the women. There were, however, hairs found in the Ford Corsair belonging to Lady Lucan.

On the envelopes which contained the letters written by Lord Lucan to Bill Shand Kydd type AB bloodstains were discovered. Forensic experts testified that a blood type of AB, can result from a mixing of two separate blood types, type A and type B. So the AB blood could have been a mixture of Lady Lucans blood and Sandra Rivetts blood. The blood type AB was also discovered in the Ford Corsair and in the hallway of the ground floor, where Lady Lucan said she was attacked.

More bloodstains matching Sandra Rivetts blood type were found in the garden behind Lady Lucans home. A bloody footprint was also found in the basement of the house, leading out to the garden. The police discovered it was made by a mans shoe, but they were unable to identify the person who left the print. The blood type in which the shoe impression was made matched that of Sandra Rivetts, type B.

Fibers found at the crime scene and in the Ford Corsair became one of the main focuses of the inquest. Grayish-blue-colored woolen fibers were found in the Ford Corsair, the basement, Lady Lucans bathroom sink, on a blood-stained bath towel and on the lead pipe supposedly used in the attack on Sandra and Lady Lucan. These fibers were believed to have come from the attacker. The fiber and bloodstain evidence presented during the inquest provided a critical link between the victims and their attacker. It became clear that whoever attacked the women had also been in the Ford Corsair, the car that Lord Lucan was seen driving the night of the murder.

According to the story Lord Lucan told to his friend Susan Maxwell-Scott, he saw his wife struggling with someone in the basement. He said that he ran down to help her and in doing so, slipped in blood. After the attacker ran away, he noticed that his wife was covered in blood. The forensic investigation conducted at the crime scene and blood analysis discounts this scenario.

There was no evidence pointing to Lady Lucan having been attacked in the basement. She testified that the attack occurred on the ground level of the house and not the basement. Blood splatter matching Lady Lucans blood type and hairs in the blood matching hers further confirmed her account of events. Moreover, there was a mans footprint in the basement, but no indication that he or anyone had slipped.

Investigators held several experiments trying to recreate what Lord Lucan claimed to have seen from the basement window. Results from the experiments showed that it was difficult to see anything, let alone a struggle, from a standing position outside the window. Visibility into the basement was almost nonexistent, unless one stooped low to the pavement while peering in. Even then, only the bottom four stairs into the basement were visible. With the light unscrewed as it was on the evening of the murder, visibility into the basement would have been even less.

The timing of the events the night of the murder became a critical issue during the inquest. Investigators testified that Lord Lucan had made reservations for four people at the Clermont Club for 8:30 that evening. At about 8:45, the Clermont doorman, Billy Edgson, said that Lord Lucan had pulled up in his Mercedes and asked if his friends had arrived. Sally Moore in Lucan not Guilty wrote that Edgson stated that Lord Lucan, was wearing casual clothes, the kind he wore when he went out golfing and that he didnt seem perturbed in any way. Edgson believed that Lord Lucan was on his way home to change his clothes. If the doormans account of the time had been correct, it would have made it difficult to place Lord Lucan at the scene of the murder, which occurred at about 9 p.m.

Lord Lucan would have had only 10 minutes to drive through two miles of city traffic to his apartment, park his Mercedes and make it to number 46 Lower Belgrave Street a half mile away. Moreover, he would have had to let himself into the house within that short period of time, walk into the basement and unscrew the light bulb before Sandra came down the stairs. However, if Edgsons timing had been off by just 10 minutes, it would have been possible for Lord Lucan to have made it to the basement of the house on Lower Belgrave Street at the time of the murder.

Coroner's courts exist to determine the cause of death. They are not criminal courts and do not determine the guilt or innocence of individuals. There is no mistaking that the testimony given at the inquest was slanted against Lord Lucan, but after four days of evidence the coroner decided that the hearing was complete and the jury was sent to deliberate. It took them only 31 minutes to return their verdict. The jury's verdict was that the cause of Sandra Rivett's death was murder by Lord Lucan, which is not the same as a criminal court verdict. It was the last time such a verdict would be made by a coroners court. One month following the decision, a bill was passed as a direct result of the hearing, which stopped the coroners courts from naming a murderer.



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