31 March 2016
A series of bounced cheques that dramatically illustrate the scale of Lord Lucan’s gambling debts before he disappeared following the murder of Sandra Rivett, the family nanny, in 1974 is to be auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb, the international coins, paper money, medals and jewellery specialists, in London on 11 April 2016. Lucan signed the 11 cheques totalling almost £20,000 – just short of a quarter of a million pounds in today’s money – as he desperately tried to reverse his spiralling losses at a leading London casino. All bounced or were not even presented to the bank as it became obvious that Lucan had little money.
The last cheque is dated 1 September 1974 – two months before Lucan disappeared following the discovery of Rivett’s battered body in the basement of the family home in London. The Earl vanished and was never found despite a worldwide hunt over several decades by detectives and the media. In February this year the missing aristocrat was finally declared officially dead by a High Court judge, enabling his son George to inherit the title.
“These cheques are historic and poignant reminders of a family tragedy that turned into one of the greatest murder mysteries in British history,” says Christopher Webb, head of the coins and paper money department at Dix Noonan Webb. “They show us how a man from a privileged background and blessed with film star good looks was sinking ever deeper into debt because of his gambling addiction.”
The cheques are being sold by a UK-based private collector who bought them several years ago. “I have always been fascinated by the Lucan story with its very British blend of class and crime,” says the collector. “It has been a privilege to own these cheques which are so integral to this long-running saga but I am downsizing my paper money collection and so am passing them on.” The cheques are expected to fetch more than £2,000.
Five cheques for cash totalling £15,000 – in today’s money £177,000 – were signed by Lucan and dated from 13 to 15 November 1973. Three of them have consecutive cheque numbers and appear to have been signed in a single gambling session at the Ladbroke Club in Hill Street, Mayfair, which accepted them all so that its aristocratic client could continue to try to reverse his gambling losses. Interestingly the other two cheques bear the casino cashier’s date stamps for the evening of 16 October 1973. It is possible that Lucan asked for all five cheques to be post-dated so they would not reach his account until he was in funds. He reneged on this agreement and all the cheques were stopped and have ‘Orders Not to Pay’ written on them.
Early in 1974 Lucan was in serious debt and agreed a deal with the Ladbroke Club to pay monthly instalments to clear his losses. Six consecutively numbered cheques, each for £800 (£8,600 in today’s money) and made payable to Alex Alexander, the then Managing Director of Ladbroke’s London casinos, are among the collection being auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb. The first is dated 1 April 1974 and the last 1 September 1974. The practise of making cheques payable to a director or senior manager rather than to the casino itself was a ruse sometimes used by gamblers to try to fool their bank managers but this seldom worked. In fact the first of the series was stopped by Lucan telephoning his bank and has “payment countermanded by telephone, awaiting drawer’s confirmation” written on it. None of the others were ever presented as by then Lucan had little money.
By late 1974 Lucan’s life was spinning out of control. Left further in debt by losing a legal battle with his wife over custody of their children, there was no way that he could pay Ladbroke’s or anyone else back. He vanished in November that year after Rivett was found battered to death at the family home in Belgravia. It was widely assumed that she had been killed by Lucan, who had mistaken her for his wife, who was also attacked. His car was found abandoned and soaked in blood in Sussex but, despite many reported sightings around the world, no trace of the missing Earl has ever been discovered. While February’s High Court decision enabled his son to become the 8th Earl and newspapers to publish formal obituaries, the mystery remains unsolved.