London's High Court issued a death certificate Wednesday for Lord Lucan, a British aristocrat who vanished without a trace 42 years ago after the murder of his children's nanny. The move allowed Lucan's son to inherit the title.
The dapper, mustachioed peer disappeared hours after Sandra Rivett was found bludgeoned to death in his house in central London in 1974. A car he was using was later found at Newhaven on the English coast with a length of lead pipe.
The fate of Richard Lucan, a gambler and socialite known as "Lucky," has intrigued Britons ever since, and there have been reported sightings around the world, including in Australia, India, the Netherlands and South Africa.
The High Court declared him dead in 1999 but the law at the time did not allow his son, George Bingham, to inherit his title. On Wednesday, Bingham used new legislation to successfully apply for a death certificate to be issued.
"My own personal view, and it was one I took I think as an 8-year-old boy, is he's unfortunately been dead since that time," Bingham, now Earl of Lucan, said outside court.
"In the circumstances," he added, "I think it's quite possible he saw his life at an end, regardless of guilt or otherwise. Being dragged through the courts and through the media would have destroyed his personal life, his career and the chances of getting custody of his children back.
"That may well have pushed a man to end his own life, but I have no idea."
One of numerous theories about what became of Lucan, who would now be 81, was that he shot himself and was then fed to tigers at the zoo of his friend John Aspinall. Aspinall himself said in 2000 that Lucan had weighted himself down with a stone and drowned himself in the English Channel.
Rivett's son Neil Berriman told reporters he bore no ill feeling toward Bingham but hoped the mystery would be explained with the help of new evidence in the next year.
"There is no getting away from the fact that whatever happened that night, Lucan is guilty of something in my eyes," he said, without giving details of the evidence he referred to.