Will we ever know what really happened to Suzy Lamplugh?
Missing since 1986, declared dead but no body ever found... as police dig up a garden in Sutton Coldfield, crime writer Susi Holliday asks:
Iwas only 11 years old on 28 July 1986, when estate agent Suzy Lamplugh disappeared. It’s a case that lodged itself in my mind from the very start – and still puzzles me now.
On the day she went missing, the 25-year-old had made an appointment to show a man – named ‘Mr Kipper’ – around a house in Shorrolds Road, London. It’s not known if she met this man or not, but what we do know is that she never returned afterwards.
The police started an investigation, and found her white Ford Fiesta parked a mile away from the address of her meeting. Although the car key was missing, her purse was left behind – suggesting
that she’d not expected to be gone for long. Witnesses reported seeing her arguing with a Champagne and balloon-carrying man on Shorrolds Road, before getting into a black BMW.
There were no other sightings, no other witnesses.
One year later, police performed DNA testing on 800 unidentified bodies in an attempt to identify Suzy, but to no avail.
What happened to her?
There has only ever been one real suspect – convicted rapist and murderer John Cannan, who is currently imprisoned at HMP Full Sutton, where he still protests his innocence.
In 1989, he was found guilty of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Shirley Banks, as well as for three attempted abductions. He’d previously been placed on probation at age 14, for assaulting a woman. He’d then gone on to carry out several robberies, culminating with the rape of a shop assistant in 1981.
He was jailed at HMP Bristol and was known by other prisoners as ‘Kipper’ due to his love of wide ties. Chillingly, three days before Suzy’s disappearance, he’d been allowed to leave the pre-release hostel at Wormwood Scrubs where he’d been staying.
According to reports, Cannan also liked to visit wine bars in Fulham, London, close to where Suzy worked.
‘Inquiries showed that he went windowshopping for girls,’ former detective chief inspector Bryan Saunders said. ‘He would spot an attractive girl in an estate agent’s or building society and pursue her.’
Suzy had told friends she’d met someone ‘new and exciting’. She later suspected he was married, as he often seemed to be calling someone in Bristol. In the end, she described him as ‘scary’ and told her mum that she planned to dump him – on the day that she was last seen.
Cannan had Bristol connections. This is where he’d killed Shirley Banks in 1987.
‘As soon as I heard about Suzy, I knew it was John,’ said Cannan’s ex, Daphne Sargent. ‘It had all the hallmarks – right down to the Champagne.’
Cannan also matched a photofit of the man seen with Suzy, and a man interviewed at the hostel said he had let Cannan borrow his car.
Police believed that Cannan targeted Suzy. They thought, in the weeks before she went missing, he’d dress up in a suit and spend his days on prison release trying to charm her. They were convinced it was him, but the case was dropped due to lack of evidence.
Cannan’s own sister implored him to confess and give up the location of Suzy’s body. And another one of his exes, Gilly Paige, said he’d told her that Suzy’s body was buried at Norton Barracks. In 2000, this led to a five-day search by 30 officers, but nothing was found.
During a police interview at this time, Cannan was filmed saying, ‘I have done many things wrong in my life. One or two things I haven’t even been caught for.’
Later, it was proposed that the barracks may be Norton Manor Royal Marine barracks – eight miles from where he left the body of Sandra Banks. In 2010, they searched another site three miles away, after someone recalled seeing a mound of earth, but again nothing was recovered.
In 2008, there was a brief mention of another suspect – Steve Wright, who had murdered five prostitutes in Ipswich. Wright and Suzy had worked on the QE2 at the same time in the early 80s, but this was dismissed as nothing more than a coincidence.
The police announced in 2002 that John Cannan killed Suzy. They used this argument again in 2006 to ensure he was not released on parole.
Suzy’s parents, Paul and Diana, considered taking out a civil action against Cannan, but in the end they decided against it. Instead, they devoted themselves to helping others, by setting up The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which led to a clamping down on crimes related to stalking and harassment.
One of the biggest tragedies of this case is that both Paul and Diana died without finding out what happened to Suzy.
Serving three life sentences, with a recommendation that he is never released, there’s now nothing for Cannan to gain from confessing.
Last year, police dug up the back yard of a house in Sutton Coldfield, once owned by Cannan’s mother, but no evidence was recovered.
It makes us wonder, will we ever really know what happened to Suzy?
Although we may never learn the truth, one thing is certain – a monster is behind bars, and will remain there. l
‘As soon as I heard about Suzy, I knew it was John… It had all the hallmarks’
Estate agent Suzi Lamplugh went to an appointment and disappeared
John Cannan is the prime suspect in her murder Susi Holliday has always been fascinated by this unsolved case Paul and Diana never found out what happened to their daughter The investigation tried to piece together Suzy’s final movements