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The Fugitive Lord Lucan Turns 80 This Week - But Is He Still Around to Celebrate?

17/12/2014 16:36 GMT | Updated 16/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Britain's most infamous fugitive, Lord Lucan, turns 80 this week - and the big question is whether the missing Earl is still around to celebrate his birthday.

Is the Seventh Earl of Lucan even now lolling in some small shack in Africa, tippling on a gin and tonic as he plays a few hands of bridge with his new-found cronies?

Or is Lucky Lord Lucan perhaps playing backgammon on some beach in Goa in India as he readies himself for his 80th birthday on Thursday, December 18.

The Earl has been missing for 40 years ever since he - apparently - botched the murder of his children's nanny, Sandra Rivett.

He has never been seen or heard of since.

In the last four decades, there has been so much speculation, so many books, as to what the hell happened to this millionaire blueblood.

Friends and family have always put it about that Lucan killed himself while somehow also managing to dispose of his body. They give any number of reasons why Lucan killed himself: couldn't take the shame; couldn't be parted from his children; couldn't live away from England.

And that - at least according to Lucan's nearest and dearest - should be the end of the story. The Earl's dead, nothing to see here folks, now please can we all just move on.

Except...

Since 1974, there have been very few clues - whatsoever - about what happened to Lord Lucan.

But the very few clues there have been all indicate that Lord Lucan did indeed manage to flee the country...

And started up a new life in Africa or perhaps India...

And could quite easily be celebrating his 80th birthday this week...

I wouldn't say it's probable that the Old Etonian Earl is still around to celebrate his ninth decade.

But it is certainly more than possible...

First though, I should perhaps address the matter of Sandra Rivett's murder. The whole thing is utterly horrible. The poor woman was bludgeoned to death in the basement of Lucan's house in Belgravia. The intended victim was almost certainly Lucan's estranged wife Veronica.

It was a horrendous mistake, and its shadow continues to stretch over the lives of Sandra's family as well as those of Veronica and Lucan's three children.

But today, the details of the murder have been all but forgotten.

What it is that fascinates us, and what it is that has kept Lord Lucan's name still so very much in the public domain is that eternal question: did he get away, and if so, what happened to him?

His name still has such huge resonance that only last month he was filling up the front page of The Mirror. Plenty of books too; the latest, also out last month, is A Different Class of Murder by Laura Thompson.

All the score of Lucan books tend towards the same style: having re-hashed the details of Sandra Rivett's murder, the authors present a couple of new clues, carefully polished, which indicate that Lucan managed to escape.

The clues include a cab driver who - perhaps - drove Lucan to a private airfield soon after the murder. Or Lucan's wristwatch which - perhaps - turned up at a pawnshop in South Africa. Or (flaky) evidence that he fled and died in Goa in India.

So many different stories, so many different ideas about what might have happened to the man, and they all of them have helped turn the Lord Lucan saga into one of the greatest and most enduring mysteries of the 20th Century.

The beauty of this mystery is that although the facts are very hard to come by, all the circumstantial evidence indicates that Lucan very much got away - and that once he'd got away, he had the money to look after himself.

First of all: Lucan was a gambler. One hell of a gambler. For the last decade of his life, Lucan spent practically every waking moment in the casino at the Clermont Club in London's Mayfair. We may not know much about Lucan's state of mind after the murder, but we do know that gamblers do not tend to throw in the towel just because they've been dealt a bum hand of cards. Meaning: he wasn't going to kill himself just because he'd botched his wife's murder.

Secondly - and most importantly - two of Lucan's closest friends were multi-millionaire scoundrels who had not just the means but the motive to help spirit Lucan out of the country. More than that: John Aspinall and Jimmy Goldsmith were such a pair of charlatans that they would have relished the chance of sticking two fingers up to the British police.

Some people might huff and puff at the way I have labelled those two titans, Aspinall and Goldsmith, as a couple of scoundrels. But since they're both dead, let's not mince our words.

Goldsmith was a multi-millionaire asset-stripper who may not have been convicted of any crimes, but who was a complete monster who detested the British establishment.

As for Aspinall, he made his entire fortune by ripping off British aristocrats at his casinos. As has been well documented since his death, Aspinall was in cahoots with the London mob. While he provided the rich clientele, the mobsters provided the card-sharps; together, they fleeced the bluebloods out of tens of millions.

I still find it beautifully ironic that both of Aspinall's wildlife parks, Howletts and Port Lympne, were funded from his ill-gotten casino winnings. What a perfect way to redistribute all those blueblood fortunes.

It is highly likely that Lord Lucan was one of Aspinall's many rich victims. When his father died, Lucan inherited a fortune that would now be worth about £7 Million. After ten years' hard gambling at the Clermont, he'd lost the lot. Lucan had then been cheekily kept on by Aspinall as a house-player - the better to sucker more peers of the realm into the Clermont.

Given what we know about Aspinall and Goldsmith, is it really too much of a stretch to think that they'd look after their old pal Lucan in his time of need?

Aspinall certainly had the low-life contacts to get Lucan out of the country.

But - here's the thing. Once they'd spirited Lucan away from Britain, they also had the money - tons of money - to set him up for life. There would have been no point whatsoever in just dumping Lucan in Africa. In fact, leaving Lucan with no money might have been an absolute disaster. The impoverished Earl might well have come back home to face the music, thereby fingering Aspinall and Goldsmith.

Of course this is all just speculation - quite informed speculation, but speculation nevertheless.

For journalists like me, the Lord Lucan mystery has always been seen as The Mother of all Scoops. Any journalist who truly, genuinely managed to track down Lucan's whereabouts - nay, managed to interview him - would secure both fame and fortune.

A few years back, I'd written a story about Lucan for the Daily Express. That evening, I was having a quiet pint with my publisher Tom Chalmers; I regaled him with the details of the Lucan scandal.

We mused about Lucan over our pints - and on a puckish whim, I said: "Hey Tom - wouldn't it be great if we could find Lord Lucan?"

And then the penny dropped.

I didn't have to find Lord Lucan.

Instead...

I could just make the whole damn thing up.

Which is exactly what I did - in Lord Lucan: My Story.

Though truth be told, what I've written is probably going to be one hell of a sight more satisfying than if we ever did find out the true whereabouts of Lucan. Because we don't just want to know where Lucan ended up. We also want to have the full spit-and-cough interview of how he got away and what he's been doing with himself these past 40 years.

That interview ain't going to be happening any time soon.

For myself, I hope that Lucan's bones will never be found, and that no diaries will ever discovered, so that this mystery will remain just exactly the exquisite mystery that it has always been.

A small part of me is also rather hoping that the old rogue may yet be sunning himself in some foreign clime, and will perhaps even be raising a lonely toast to himself on his 80th birthday. Well it's possible. But that, though, is the extraordinary fascination of the Lord Lucan mystery: just about anything is possible.