Authors: M.J. Trow
M. J. Trow
Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan
Murder by Mistake
Copyright © 2012 by M. J. Trow
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2012 by RosettaBooks, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Electronic edition published 2012 by RosettaBooks, LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795324512
For some reason, Hollywood missed the sensational 1974 story of the murder that drove the handsome 7th earl of Lucan from his luxurious homes and private clubs to some unknown but widely speculated offshore haunt where British justice would never find him. His warped, narcissistic sense of entitlement snuffed out the life of a lovely young woman and mother, seriously injured his wife, psychologically damaged his three children, and made life hell for his family and friends.
Crimescape is fortunate to have this uniquely British story told by the uniquely talented British author M.J. Trow. He is the creator of three highly acclaimed detective novel series: the 16-book Lestrade series, which is based on the police detective in the Sherlock Holmes stories; the 18-book Peter Maxwell series, which features “Mad Max,” a teacher in the flawed British educational system who pits himself against the bureaucracy to solve mysteries; and his newest, the Kit Marlowe series. The second Kit Marlowe novel,
, was published in 2011, and the third,
, will be published in the spring/fall of 2012.
is currently in production for publication at the end of 2012.
The Kit Marlowe book,
, is the first in an historical mystery series taking place in Cambridge in 1583. About to graduate from Corpus Christi, the young Christopher Marlowe spends his days studying and his nights carousing with old friends. When one of them is discovered lying dead in his King’s College room, mouth open in a silent scream, Marlowe refuses to accept the official verdict of suicide. Calling on the help of his mentor, Sir Roger Manwood, Justice of the Peace, and the queen’s magus, Dr. John Dee, a poison expert, Marlowe sets out to prove that his friend was murdered.
M.J. Trow has written 11 nonfiction books, many about historical figures, such as El Cid, Spartacus, Boudicca, and Jack the Ripper. Actress Angelina Jolie is a fan of his
Vlad the Impaler: In Search of the Real Dracula
Think of murders in London and you probably conjure up the scum-cobbled alleyways of Whitechapel, Jack London’s Abyss, where the greatest serial killer of all time, Jack the Ripper, plied his trade in 1888. At least five street women from the East End, called “Unfortunates” by the prim Victorian middle class of the day, fell victim to Jack’s knife.
But murderous London is full of victims. Only yards from the Ripper’s killing ground, gang member George Cornell was shot dead in the bar of the Blind Beggar pub in 1966—the bullet marks are still there. Go west and you won’t find—because it’s been demolished—10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill, where landlord John Christie raped and asphyxiated his targets before stashing their bodies in the garden, under the floorboards, in a kitchen cupboard. That was in the 1940s and 1950s. Go north to Hilldrop Crescent and look in vain for the house—it too has gone—where the “mild-mannered murderer,” American dentist Harvey Hawley Crippen, buried his wife in the cellar of Number 63 in 1910. Actually, he probably didn’t. Recent research indicates that the great pathologist Bernard Spilsbury got it wrong. The remains found in the basement were those of a man. Crippen was hanged anyway.
If you know where to look, London is full of murder—sudden, horrifying death that shatters the stillness of a summer’s afternoon or punctuates the music of the night. The last place you’d look for it is Belgravia, the eminently respectable part of London sandwiched between Chelsea to the west, Pimlico to the south and Buckingham Palace to the north. It is full of opulent houses in squares and broad streets, property that changes hands for millions. The buildings gleam white in the summer sun, with four or five stories, columns gracing the porticoes and pretty hanging baskets of flowers and window boxes providing splashes of color. These are the “town houses” of the fabulously rich, the success stories of the global market rubbing shoulders with English aristocracy and embedded in all the snobbery that old money can buy.
When I visited the place to research this book, I saw a young woman letting herself into one of those dazzling white houses. She had just rung the intercom and, while struggling with a stroller and small child, congratulated an older child who had just released the door, “Well, done, darling, for checking it was Mummy at the door and not some horrible monster.”
No one expects horrible monsters in Belgravia.
The area has its quiet watering holes, away from the rush and bustle of this fascinating city. One of these is the Plumbers Arms in Lower Belgrave St., built in a terrace in the 1820s for Lord Grosvenor, then as now head of one of the richest families in the world. On a sign outside, a plaque reads, “During the Victorian era, its customers included the servants of the aristocrats and merchant princes of Belgravia. Rigid class distinction was observed in those days, butlers and tradesmen patronised one bar, while grooms and footmen occupied the other.”
The Plumbers Arms, Belgravia 2011
Inside, the ceiling is wallpapered dark red and the walls are ochre with years of customers’ smoking, which is now illegal. There is a mix of high wooden bar stools and red mock-leather settees and the usual gleaming optics you’d find in any bar in the world. The two girls who served me my pint weren’t born when the story I’m about to tell you took place. In some ways, it was a story born of the snobbery of Belgravia, of class distinctions, of tradesmen’s entrances, of aristocrats and servants. This pub wasn’t always so quiet, so nondescript, and so missable.
I am looking more closely at the decor. I see three photographs in frames around the walls. They are of a tall, distinguished looking man with a carefully clipped moustache, a man who, for 37 years, has been hunted by London’s Metropolitan Police for murder. His name is Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan. And he brought bloody murder to Belgravia.
Nine people were sitting in the snug of the Plumbers Arms that Thursday. It was November 7, 1974, a cold night, drizzling rain. Far across the city, an IRA bomb went off at Woolwich along the Thames. One person died and 28 were injured, not the first nor the last victims of terrorism. In fact, bombs had been going off in and around the capital for weeks, and Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Labour government, serving with the smallest of parliamentary majorities, seemed powerless to prevent it.
The Plumbers Arms was calmness itself—the usual mid-week crowd keeping themselves warm out of the November cold. The landlord, Arthur Whitehouse, chatted to his customers and poured the drinks.
All that changed at just before 9:45 PM. The door burst open to Whitehouse’s right and a small, almost bird-like woman staggered across the threshold. It was difficult to tell what color her hair was because it was matted with blood that ran in grotesque rivulets down her face, onto her shoulders and trickled down to the floor. Blood spots appeared on Whitehouse’s floorboards before he had the presence of mind to dash round from behind the bar, catch the falling woman and ease her gently down onto an upholstered banquette seat near the door.
The woman wasn’t screaming, but she was hysterical, her eyes wild and disoriented, trying to marshal her thoughts, gasp for air, and get help. “I’ve just escaped from a murderer. He’s still in the house. My children, my children.”
Mrs. Whitehouse rang the police—the time-honored number of 999. “Hello. Emergency. What service do you require?” An ambulance was the answer—and the police.
They arrived at 10 PM: Two coppers on a routine sweep of quiet, respectable Belgravia on a routine, quiet night. Two coppers from C Division, its headquarters at Gerald Road just around the corner. At the wheel of his police van, Sergeant Donald Baker squealed to a halt outside the pub. His partner, Constable Philip Beddick, dashed in. The injured woman was covered in dish towels, and the Whitehouses and their customers crowded around. An ambulance was on its way, from St. George’s Hospital at nearby Hyde Park Corner, and the woman had enough presence of mind to tell the publican her name. She was Veronica Bingham, the Countess of Lucan, and she lived 30 yards away, at Number 46 Lower Belgrave St.
No need for the scream of tires or a blazing siren. It was quicker for the police to get there on foot. 46 was on the same side of the street as the pub, the last house before the addresses change to Eaton Square that runs along a T junction. The house was like all the others on the street, with four steps up to the front door and railings to each side. To the right, more steps led down to a half basement. The whole place was in darkness and the front door was locked. Baker tried the basement door—that was locked too.