To his neighbours in a beach commune in Goa, southern India, "Jungle Barry" was an affable, albeit eccentric, Irishman who was uncomfortable talking about his past.
The bearded hippie scraped a meagre living playing backgammon and leading jungle trips for Western tourists before finally drinking himself to death in 1996.
But this was not Barry Halpin, as he claimed after arriving on foot from Bombay in 1975, but Richard Bingham, aka the 7th Earl of Lucan, who vanished in November 1974, the day after the body of the murdered nanny Sandra Rivett was found at the Lucans' family home in London.
The "revelation" comes from the former Scotland Yard detective Duncan MacLaughlin, who claims in his book Dead Lucky, published this week, to reveal what happened to the peer. The trail leading to "Lord Lucan" began two years ago when MacLaughlin agreed to meet Mark Winch, a small-time drug dealer he had once pursued until Winch fled to India in 1991.
Winch, he said, lived in a commune in the shanty coastal town of Ximera with a man he later became convinced was Lucan. In common with the peer, his neighbour was an expert backgammon player, had a keen knowledge of culture and expensive cars, spoke German and hailed from Ireland although he spoke an aristocrat's English.
At the end of a card game and much honey brandy, Winch asked Halpin if, in common with many Westerners in Goa at the time, he was a fugitive. He recalled: "Barry stopped playing, paused, then replied, 'Isn't everyone?' I said, 'Well, to a certain degree'. The thought crossed my mind that he might be one of the Great Train Robbers. There was something not quite right."
He only became aware of the possibility of an alter ego after watching a television documentary on Lucan which prompted him to go to the detective with his tale - and several photographs taken in Goa.
The pictures were analysed by an expert in forensic medicine at Glasgow University and the results persuaded the detective to fly to Goa to interview the locals. A former landlady, Constanza Silveira, said the man said he had walked to Goa from Bombay, where he arrived by boat from Africa in the mid-1970s. After being shown a picture of Lord Lucan at the age of 39 she saw a similarity but became convinced he had been her lodger as neither man had ear lobes. "The one thing that upset Barry was the fact that he couldn't wear earrings like the rest of the hippies," she told MacLaughlin.
At Halpin's local bar, Bob's Inn, the proprietor Pradip Lawande recalled the scene when a British visitor brought in a newspaper cutting with a picture of Lord Lucan. He said: "I saw it over his shoulder and remarked, 'That looks like you!' And he nodded and said, 'That's right! I'm Lord Lucan!' Then he smiled. I never knew whether he was joking or serious and I didn't take much notice anyway."
The version of Lord Lucan's whereabouts told in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday follows reported sightings in Melbourne, the Netherlands, Dublin and Johannesburg.
But MacLaughlin and the book's co-author, William Hall, will struggle to win over sceptics in the absence of a body or DNA evidence. According to Vernon Rodriguez, a regular drinking partner of Halpin's at Bob's Inn, he died in January 1996 of "cirrhosis of the liver and a few other things". A dozen mourners attended a Viking-style funeral to watch his body, doused with his favourite Goan tipple, feni, go up in flames. The following day his ashes were scattered at a waterfall near by.
Lady Lucan, who remains convinced that her husband drowned himself in the English Channel after abandoning his car in Newhaven, East Sussex, said yesterday that the latest version of events was "nonsense".
His former best friend John Aspinall sought to deter Lucan-spotters three years ago when he said that the earl's bones probably lay "250ft under the Channel". A year earlier the High Court declared him officially dead, enabling executors to finalise details relating to the peer's estate, which was estimated at a mere £15,000. The earl, a notorious gambler, had resorted to selling the family silver to pay off huge debts.
MacLaughlin said: "To be sure it was him we needed DNA. No one will ever have that. It was a case of building up evidence slowly but surely. Lady Lucan has maintained for 29 years that her husband did the honourable thing. She is in her own little cocoon."
Hall said: "This book is about trying to establish beyond reasonable doubt that this was Lucan. We are claiming we have overwhelming evidence. We have not got proof because there is no body."
ON THE TRAIL
7 NOVEMBER 1974
Lord Lucan vanishes after the nanny to his three children, Sandra Rivett, was found murdered in the basement of his home in Belgravia, London.
10 NOVEMBER 1974
Ford Corsair lent to Lord Lucan by a friend found abandoned at the port of Newhaven, Sussex. In the car detectives found bloodstains matching his wife and nanny and a piece of bandaged lead piping.
An inquest jury takes just 31 minutes to deliver their verdict on the death of Miss Rivett as "Murder by Lord Lucan". It was the last time an inquest jury used its right to name a murderer.
27 OCTOBER 1999
High Court declares Lord Lucan officially dead so that executors can finalise details relating to his estate.
13 FEBRUARY 2000
John Aspinall, a close friend, says that Lord Lucan probably drowned himself in the English channel.
7 SEPTEMBER 2003
Duncan MacLaughlin, a former Scotland Yard detective, claims that Lord Lucan lived a hippie lifestyle in Goa, India, where he died in 1996.Reuse content