As of today, Britain's most notorious fugitive, Lucky Lord Lucan, has been officially confirmed as "dead".
At long last, a full four decades after the Lord Lucan scandal first erupted onto the front pages, Lord Lucan's son can officially become the Eighth Earl of Lucan, and, much more importantly, his family can finally find "closure".
It is perhaps unfortunate, however, that though Lord Lucan may be officially dead, he is still a long, long way from being Dead Dead.
In fact, despite all the claims and the fast-held beliefs of Lucan's family and friends, I would contend that there is more than a sporting chance that Lord Lucan is still alive; could easily still be alive, and though his family would obviously much prefer it if the old rogue were dead, buried and forgotten, the actual evidence would rather indicate otherwise.
First though - who am I to be positing such theories about Lord Lucan, which fly in the face of all the various utterances of his friends, his family and his three children?
I'm a journalist, and like most journalists over the age of 40, have long been fascinated by the Lord Lucan scandal. It's the greatest, most enduring mystery of the 20th Century, and discovering the truth of what occurred to Lord Lucan would be the Great White Whale of scoops. Somewhere lurking out there lies the answer to what really happened to Lord Lucan - though as yet, no-one's been able to crack it.
So I did the next best thing: I made it all up, penning Lord Lucan's woeful memoirs in Lord Lucan: My Story. (They are surprisingly plausible. A number of readers have thought they were the real deal.)
Along the way, I of course immersed myself in the whole Lord Lucan scandal, and have since unwittingly become the world's leading Lord Lucan expert as well as the go-to pundit of choice for the BBC.
What's struck me, over and over again, is that despite all the Lucan family's incantations to the contrary, there is no evidence whatsoever that Lucan is dead.
The evidence of Lucan's death can be roughly be summed up like this: Lord Lucan hasn't been seen since November 1974. Therefore he's dead.
In order for Lucan to be pronounced "officially" dead, under the Presumption of Death Act 2013, it's also been necessary for his nearest and dearest to say that they believe he's dead, which they do, so that's that then - case closed, the Earl's dead, nothing to see here folks, move on, get on with your lives. We've got a new Earl in town, this mystery is officially over!
Well do please forgive me for being a bloody-minded curmudgeon, but actually... Lord Lucan is quite a long way from being dead, and all that's happened this week is that another rich layer has been added to this mystery of mysteries.
Most people under the age of 40 haven't heard of the Lord Lucan scandal, so I'll just give a quick recap.
Lord Lucan was an Old Etonian gambler who managed to squander his entire family fortune (around £6million in today's money) at the Clermont Club in London. He was up to his eyeballs in debt and was also estranged from his wife Veronica, who was the mother of his three children George, Frances and Camilla.
We can't be certain of the events that occurred 41 years ago tomorrow, 7 November 1974, but the most likely scenario is that the 39-year-old Lucan planned to bludgeon his wife to death. We know for a fact that he borrowed a friend's Ford Corsair and most likely planned to dump Veronica's body in the Channel.
Veronica lived in a smart townhouse in Belgravia, West London, and had a nanny, Sandra Rivett, who helped look after the three children; unfortunately, tragically, Sandra looked quite similar to Veronica. They were both petite women with the same bobbed hair.
Lucan - as far as we can tell - planned to kill Veronica on Sandra's night off. He removed the light-bulbs from the basement kitchen and then when she came downstairs, attacked her with a piece of lead piping.
He got the wrong woman.
Sandra had spent the night in, and it was she who was bludgeoned to death in the basement.
A few minutes later, Lucan attacked Veronica on the main staircase, hitting her over the head with the same piece of lead piping. Veronica eventually got away and ran screaming down the street to the nearby Plumber's Arms.
Lucan had only a few minutes to escape. He drove out of London in the Ford Corsair, stopping briefly at a friend's house to write a few letters before dumping the car in Newhaven in East Sussex.
He has never been seen or heard of since.
Over the last 41 years, the story of his disappearance has taken on a mystique like no other. For any Briton over the age of forty, it beguiles and it fascinates: what on earth happened to this dissolute Earl? Did he kill himself? Or did his rich friends manage to spirit him out of the country?
Well - if you look at all of the evidence, and if you're not beguiled by wishful thinking, then more than likely you'll conclude that he got away. And if he got away, then it is more than possible that he might now still be alive. Who knows, who knows. He'd only be eighty, you know.
But right from the very first, Lord Lucan's family and friends have all been singing from the same hymn-sheet. He's dead, they say - killed himself because he couldn't take the shame; went down with his scuttled speed-boat because he couldn't face a life without his children; committed suicide because he couldn't bear to be away from England.
Over the last 30 or 40 years, there has been this litany of arguments as to how the Earl somehow managed to kill himself whilst at the same time managing to do away with his own body (no mean feat).
So, if I may, let me present the other side of the coin - because although there has been nothing concrete, there has also been a constant drip-drip of clues which would indicate, ever so slightly, that the fugitive earl was somehow spirited out to Africa.
There are witnesses, half-decent witnesses, who attest to Lucan being flown out of Britain from a remote airfield in Kent. Another source claims that Lucan used to watch his children from afar when they were on safari in Africa.
And then there have been the occasional sightings, most of them dubious, though three years ago, another delicious kernel of information turned up: Lord Lucan's wristwatch, given to him by his old pals at The Clermont Club, was found in a pawnshop in South Africa.
Let me add just one more fact into the mix: Lord Lucan was not just any old fugitive. He had some very rich, very unscrupulous friends who would have loved nothing more than whisking their old pal out of the country. The two rogues-in-chief were John Aspinall (father of the conservationist Damian) and Jimmy Goldsmith (father of London mayor candidate Zac and the socialite-turned-activist Jemima).
These two men were not just multi-millionaires but a pair of out-and-out scoundrels. Aspinall, as became apparent soon after his death, ran the most bent casinos in Britain, suckering in rich bluebloods so that they could then be fleeced by his pet card-sharps. (Incidentally - isn't it extraordinary to think that Aspinall's two great wildlife parks, Howletts and Port Lympne, were paid for in their entirety on his ill-gotten earnings?)
Anyway: the point is that Aspinall and Goldsmith would have stood by Lucan through thick and thin. They had the low-life mobster contacts to fly Lucan out of the country - and once they'd got him out, they had more than enough money to set him up with a new face and a new life.
It's not much - not much at all, certainly nothing that would amount to hard evidence, but for my money, it's a sight more convincing than the so-called gut feelings of his nearest and dearest. Not that I want to downplay the harrowing nature of this scandal that has dogged his family for 40 years, but let's face it: it's easier for all concerned if the Earl is dead.
Although there are myriad hypotheticals about the Lord Lucan mystery, I should perhaps take the time to correct one huge fallacy. Lucan's friends and family intermittently contend that the Earl was innocent of Sandra Rivett's murder.
This is utter baloney.
There's a very, very slim chance that Lord Lucan did not actually kill Sandra. But, without a shadow of a doubt, he was up to his aristocratic neck in the murder.
Lucan's murder weapon was - as already mentioned - a piece of 18-inch lead piping, around the end of which was stuck some white tape. This white tape was probably there to give a better grip.
This murder weapon, bent and covered in blood, was left at the scene of the crime in Belgravia.
However: when police discovered Lucan's Ford Corsair getaway car in Newhaven a few days later, they were to make a very surprising discovery.
The car was covered with Lucan's finger-prints and Sandra's blood. In the boot of the car was a back-up murder weapon, another piece of lead piping, complete with white tape on the handle.
Lucan's allies can - at a stretch - claim that he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he fled to Newhaven in order to let things cool down. But if he was genuinely innocent, then how on earth do you explain the second piece of lead piping in the boot of his getaway car?
There's a ton of circumstantial evidence which indicates that Lucan was the murderer, but the back-up murder weapon, that tell-tale piece of lead piping, proves it beyond doubt.
One last thought about Lord Lucan: over and over again, we hear Lucan's friends and family saying that he killed himself.
May I offer an alternative point of view?
Lucan was a gambler - a professional gambler. And gamblers, as we know, don't tend to throw in their hand until the turn of the very last card. Lucan would have seen it through right through to the very end - and could perhaps, maybe, still be seeing it all even now.
Well it's possible - more than possible. But that is the compelling fascination of the Lord Lucan mystery : anything's possible.
Lord Lucan may now be officially "dead", and his close relatives may think that he's "dead", but we're going to need just a little more hard evidence before the rest of us can believe that Lord Lucan is Dead Dead.Suggest a correction