In February of this year BBC’s Inside Out regional documentary series featured an interview with ‘Jill Findlay’, one time personal assistant to the late John Aspinal, a friend of Lucan’s. ‘Findlay’ – not her real name – claimed to have twice booked tickets for Lucan’s children to visit Africa so that ‘their father would observe them … just to see how they were growing up.’ False identities and passports were said to have been used by Lucan’s children to prevent suspicion.
The feature’s airing coincided with antiques dealer Cedrick Lincoln showing The Sun a watch inscribed with Lucan’s name, apparently presented to the Earl by fellow members of the Mayfair club he frequented. Lincoln claims the previous owner of the watch purchased it in a South African pawn shop. The Sun also presented the testimony of two men who claim to have seen Lucan in Botswana some twelve years ago. According to one of the men, ex-pat Ian Meyrick:
“there had been talk for weeks that Lucan was around — he had links to Botswana. He was with about six people and had a very noticeable military bearing. His accent was so upper-class English that it cut the air and turned everyone’s heads when he spoke.’
Tempting as it may be to speculate as to the authenticity of these stories, a more solid lack of evidence necessitates due caution. All we have is the word of an unidentified individual, an antiques dealer who may have been the victim of his own folly and two men with a hunch. By themselves, and as a total, there is nothing resembling solid proof of Lucan’s whereabouts.
The history of the Lucan rumour mill is littered with a series of false leads, each the result of little more than someone reaching a hasty conclusion.
In 2003 Duncan MacLaughlin’s book ‘Dead Lucky’ stated the Earl had been living in Goa, India, until his death from liver cirrhosis in 1996. It subsequently emerged that MacLaughlin had mistaken Lucan with Barry Halpin, a former busker and hippie from Lancashire. (MacLaughlin later complained a conspiracy had been launched to discredit his findings. In his defence, Halpin does bear a passing resemblance to Lucan.) During 2007 homeless ex-pat Roger Woodgate was misidentified as Lucan in New Zealand; gossip from a neighbour had reached local journalists eager for a story.
But this is nothing new. According to BBC News in 2007, there ‘have been more than 70 alleged sightings of Lord Lucan in countries across the world including South Africa, Australia, Ireland and the Netherlands.’ As far back as 1974 Australian police wrongly pulled in MP John Stonehouse on suspicion of being Lord Lucan. Ironically, Stonehouse was himself a fugitive who had faked his own death.
Everyone, it seems, has their own opinion on what happened to Lucan. John Aspinal – Lucan’s drinking friend – believed the peer had drowned himself in the English Channel; a view shared by Lady Lucan. Private investigator Ian Crosby claims he has uncovered telephone and hotel records which tie Lucan to Namibia, a country with whom Britain had no diplomatic relations at the time of his disappearance. Even Det Chief Supt Drummond Marvin who handled the Lucan case for a while has said:
‘I have no doubt that he got clean away with the help of his upper crust friends – the Sloane Square Mafia, who I believe still help him to this day … I believe he is in Africa. I have information that he is there and using his British contacts to pour badly needed investments and hard currency into their coffers.’
Quite what Marvin’s ‘information’ is, as well as its reliability, is very much open to question. At least the police, as a wider organisation, have been less hasty in their approach. Their case file remains open, despite Lucan having been declared dead in absentia during 1999.
What is certain is that, if still alive, Lucan is in his 77th year. He cannot enjoy his freedom for much longer. Maybe when his death occurs someone will finally come forward and reveal the truth as to what became of Britain’s most enigmatic fugitive.