In 1927, Bill Lancaster left his wife and two daughters to fly from England to Australia. Accompanied by his lover, Jessie “Chubbie” Muller, he was determined to make a name for himself in the world of aviation – despite being overtaken en route by another aviator, Bert Hinkler.
But Lancaster’s story is noteworthy – if not notorious – for reasons other than this. It is the focus of an Australian documentary, directed by his great nephew, Andrew Lancaster, which made its world premiere yesterday, October 19th, at the London Film Festival.
According to Andrew, it seemingly has all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster:
“It’s an adventure story, a love story, it’s a love triangle gone wrong, and it’s about a man facing his own death in the Sahara Desert.”
The film focuses specifically on a 29-year-old mystery, which began with a tangled love affair, involving Miller’s new lover Hayden Clarke.
Clarke, a male American writer, developed a relationship with Miller after they began working together on her autobiography. Thus, when he was found dead on April 20th, all suspicions were naturally directed at Lancaster, who had the strongest motive and a questionable history of forging suicide notes.
Despite this, Lancaster denied all accusations and to many people’s surprise, he was eventually acquitted of all charges, narrowly escaping the electric chair.
In months after the trial (possibly to cope with a broken heart), Lancaster began to scrap together cash to buy a second-hand biplane, which allowed him to set out on another adventure – this time to break the speed record between England and South Africa. But while flying through a 750-mile stretch of the Sahara, his engine began to splutter, forcing him to land in the desert. The aircraft flipped, but Lancaster survived with only a few minor injuries.
Unfortunately, by the time a rescue effort was initiated, he had already flown 45 miles off course.
When Lancaster realized that he might not be found, he began pouring out his love for Miller in his diary, which was later uncovered by a French Foreign Legion patrol in 1962, alongside his mummified corpse and a photograph of Miller.
But amongst all the debris, there was still no confession.
On the verge of dying, some of his last words to Miller were of regret, not admission: “Chubbie my sweetheart…do not grieve. I have only myself to blame for everything.”
Perhaps, he was truly innocent. Or maybe, he wanted to protect Chubbie, who may have lied for him in court. With no definitive answer to this murder mystery, Andrew was forced to come up with his own opinions about the matter:
“I believe he could have fired the fatal shot in Miami. His love for Chubbie became obsessive. Bill was a kind and courageous man. When Chubbie fell out of love with him I think he felt betrayed.”