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By Laura Thompson

On 7 November 1974, a nanny named Sandra Rivett was once bludgeoned to dying in a Belgravia basement. A moment lady, Veronica, Countess of Lucan, was once additionally attacked. the fellow named in court docket as culprit of those crimes, Richard John Bingham, seventh Earl of Lucan, disappeared within the early hours of the next morning. The case, solved within the eyes of the legislation, has retained its fascination ever since.

Laura Thompson, acclaimed biographer of Agatha Christie, narrates the tale that led as much as that cataclysmic occasion, and attracts on her huge forensic talents to reassess the potential truths in the back of one in all postwar Britain's such a lot infamous murders. a special type OF homicide is a portrait of an period, of a rare solid of characters, of a secret, of a contemporary delusion. half social heritage, half detective tale, it tells in masterly sort one of many nice stories of our collective residing memory.

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In 1922, for instance, the public was convinced that Ronald True, a former RAF officer, had dodged the gallows because he was the illegitimate son of an unnamed peeress. The thirty-one-year-old True had savagely murdered a prostitute in her London flat. His defence of insanity failed, and he was sentenced to death. However, when further medical evidence was presented to the Home Secretary, True was reprieved and sent to Broadmoor; and the public went berserk. The sense of outrage was class-based.

When Crippen’s mistress Ethel Le Neve was tried as an accessory to murder, she was in a position very similar to Edith Thompson with regard to the facts, but her air of poor-little-me vulnerability did her no end of good. What motivated these murders was an abundance of emotion. But what caused them was lack of money; and the need for it, to keep up a front. Money, in fact, is the key to domestic murder. Crippen could not afford to divorce his wife, so he disposed of her instead. Edith Thompson dreamed of leaving her husband, but did not dare because she feared the loss of respectability.

All were tried ‘by their peers’; meaning by other titled persons. This right continued until 1948, as did the tradition of the silken rope, with which aristocrats could be hanged more soothingly than with hemp. A further right was ‘privilege of peerage’, which could be pleaded by those found guilty of a first offence. It did not extend to murder, but it allowed a peer to walk free from a lesser charge. When, therefore, the 7th Earl of Pembroke was convicted of manslaughter in 1678, he got away with it.

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