BRITAIN: A Murder for Mayfair

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Prices were way up, and Britain's economic forecasts were way down. In the drawing rooms of Mayfair and Belgravia, however, the smart set was talking about something considerably more interesting—a mysterious, brutal murder involving a titled family that might have come from a West End thriller.

The killing had occurred in the hallowed precincts of Belgravia itself. At 10:30 one night, the estranged wife of Lord Lucan, the great-great-grandson of the misguided commander who ordered the charge of the Light Brigade, burst through the door of the Plumbers' Arms, a pub near her house. With blood spurting from several head wounds, she screamed: "Murder! Murder! I think my neck has been broken. He tried to kill me. I think I am dying." Actually Lady Lucan, 35, was not grievously wounded. When police searched her five-story town house, however, they found the body of the family's 29-year-old nanny stuffed into a canvas bag in the dining room; her head and body bore the marks of a fatal beating.

Lucky Lucan. With its usual discretion, Scotland Yard first announced that it was looking for Lord Lucan, 39, to inform him of the unhappy events that had taken place in his house. Since separating from his wife a year ago, he had been living in a flat close to the town house in order to be near his three children. When he failed to answer its inquiry, the Yard became somewhat more insistent and said that it was seeking him to "help with police inquiries." Finally police issued a worldwide alert and charged the Seventh Earl of Lucan with murder and attempted murder. At the same time, his many aristocratic friends were sternly warned that they would be charged as accessories if they attempted to hide him.

Handsome and visibly upper-crust —a film producer once sought him to play the part of James Bond—Lord Lucan was thought by his friends to be the quintessence of the civilized aristocrat, a man who would raise his voice only to protest a spoiled claret or bemoan a bad shot at a grouse on the moors. After serving in the Coldstream Guards and undertaking a short, unspectacular career in business, he had retired on his $250,000 inheritance to carry on more engrossing pursuits, notably golf, skiing, the hunt and chemin de fer at Mayfair gaming clubs. His success at the tables won him the name "Lucky Lucan."

His married life came unstrung last year, according to friends, when the stormy temper and uncertain moods of Lady Lucan, the former Veronica Duncan, drove him from the house. Some emotional scenes followed, and the judge in charge of the case made their children wards of the court, although they remained at home with their mother.

Some noted that the nanny bore a close resemblance to Lady Lucan, and there was speculation that the murderer, in the dark or in his anger, may have mistaken her for Lady Lucan, who then surprised him by suddenly appearing on the scene. Perhaps the only person who can clear matters up is Lord Lucan. At week's end he was still being sought, and there were rumors that he was either outside the country or had done "the honorable thing," as one of his friends phrased it, and had shot himself.