The disappearing Johns

In November 1974, Richard John Bingham (the Earl of Lucan) and John Stonehouse (a British MP) both disappeared after committing serious crimes. One was soon found, but only because he was mistaken for the other.

John Stonehouse and others
André Cros, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

[Fair warning, this post contains references to murder and suicide. Caveat lector.]

1974 was a busy time for British politics / crime. Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, had separated from his wife two years earlier, lost a custody battle for their kids, and apparently was pretty pissed off at the whole situation. (A not uncommon story.) John Stonehouse, a Labour MP and former government minister, was also in trouble. He had been implicated as a spy for Czechoslovakia; although he fended off this accusation, it later turned out to be absolutely true. He was in financial trouble and his business dealings were coming under regulatory scrutiny. Both were about to go on two separate but connected wild rides.

Some time in the evening of November 7th, the earl’s children’s nanny was bludgeoned to death in the Lucan family house. The assailant also attacked Lucan’s wife, but she managed to flee to a nearby pub, where she identified Lucan as the culprit. Lucan drove to a friend’s place, and from there to… nobody knows. His car was found abandoned, with the murder weapon in the trunk, but the lord was never seen again.

On November 20th, less than two weeks after Lucan’s departure, Stonehouse also disappeared. His clothing was found on a beach in Miami. Had he gone for a swim and been eaten by some of Florida’s notorious wildlife? No-one knew. But now there were two famous Brits missing.

In early December, a bank teller in Melbourne, Australia, became suspicious of a British man depositing large sums of money in local banks. The teller informed the police, who began surveillance. Was it Lord Lucan, the notorious murderer? He was certainly very interested in British newspapers, and he was operating under at least a couple of fake names. On his arrest, they searched for Lucan’s distinguishing mark: a scar on the inside of his thigh.

There was no scar. Hunting for Lucan, they had found Stonehouse. The disgraced MP had faked his death in Miami and fled to Australia with his mistress. Stonehouse was sent back to the UK to stand trial for various financial crimes; he remained an MP while under arrest and didn’t officially resign until 1976.

As for Lord Lucan, he was never found. The most likely outcome was suicide, and he was officially declared dead in 2016, but conspiracy theorists continue to report sightings up to today.

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