Will we ever find out what happened to Suzy?
As a dramatic new search for the body of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh begins 32 years after she vanished, there are fresh hopes the mystery may soon be solved
t’s one of the UK’S I most notorious missing person cases, which has gone unsolved for over three decades. Now, a dramatic new search to find the remains of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh has thrown the mystery back into the headlines. Last week, specialist officers began excavating the patio and a garage in the grounds of the house in Sutton Coldfield, where the mother of the prime suspect – convicted rapist John Cannan – used to live. They were acting on a tip-off claiming Suzy’s body could be encased in concrete in a vehicle inspection pit. As Closer went to press, police were on the fifth day of digging at the property, and were unable to comment on when it was likely to be concluded.
With the fresh hunt underway, a damning report into the original investigation emerged – which catalogued a host of blunders, and alleged that the senior investigating officer at the time, Det Supt Malcolm Hackett, resented Suzy’s distraught mother Diana’s demands that Cannan should be questioned.
It emerged that the officer had fallen out with Diana – who was adamant that Cannan was her daughter’s killer – and it’s alleged that Hackett failed to properly interview Cannan, put him on ID parades, debrief an important witness (Cannan’s ex-girlfriend Gilly Paige, who later claimed he’d joked he was Mr Kipper) and check his alibi for the day of Suzy’s disappearance. The report said, “This appears to have influenced Mr Hackett into never seriously considering Cannan as a person who could have abducted and murdered Suzy.”
Suzy disappeared aged 25 on 28 July 1986. The estate agent had been to visit a client, noted in her diary as Mr Kipper – whom police have never been able to identify – at a house in Fulham, south-west London. She was last seen having an argument with a man outside a property. A witness said they saw Cannan staring into the estate agents’ window where Suzy worked, shortly before her disappearance.
Three days before Suzy went missing, Cannan had been released from Wormwood Scrubs Prison – located in the Fulham area – where he had been serving a six-year sentence for rape, and according to reports was nicknamed “Kipper” by his inmates. The former car salesman had access to a BMW of the type thought to have been driven by “Mr Kipper” and bore a strong resemblance to an e-fit of Suzy’s abductor.
Shockingly, it was believed the pair may have previously dated as Suzy had enjoyed a brief relationship with a “mystery man”, and police unearthed evidence that it was Cannan – with a witness saying she had seen the pair lying in a local park together with a bottle of Champagne. Cannan was known for showering women with gifts of flowers and bubbly.
Over the years, ex public school boy Cannan has been the only suspect in Suzy’s disappearance. He had a host of previous convictions, including rape and attempted abduction, and was found guilty of the rape and murder of newlywed Shirley Banks, a 29-year-old textiles manager from Clifton in Bristol, in October 1989. In another twist, it was revealed that Ms Banks’ Mini had later been discovered in Cannan’s garage, resprayed and with a new number plate SLP 386S – which has led to speculation it contained Suzy’s initials and a reference to the year of her disappearance.
Cannan is currently serving life in prison, with a minimum tariff of 35 years – meaning he won’t be eligible for parole until 2024. In another twist, an unnamed relative last week told a newspaper that they believed Cannan would wait until his
mother, now aged 96, had died before he would consider revealing any information he might be withholding about Suzy’s disappearance.
However, Cannan’s solicitor later released a statement saying his client “hopes that the search of his mother’s former home will conclude swiftly so as to bring to an end speculation as to his involvement in this matter”.
Despite an intensive search, Suzy’s body was never found and she was officially declared dead, presumed murdered, in 1994, with the crime remaining unsolved. But now the search has renewed following “new evidence”. Officers are focusing on a former mechanic’s pit used by Cannan to tinker with cars, which was filled with concrete around the time of her murder. Tragically, if Suzy’s body is now found, it will be too late for her mother Diana, 75, who died in 2011, and her father Paul, 87, who died in June this year. The pair worked tirelessly to try to find out what had happened to their daughter. And just four months after she disappeared, they set up the Suzy Lamplugh Trust to promote personal safety for women. They both received OBES in 2004 for their work. Suzy’s siblings – sisters Tamsin, 56, and Lizzie, 47, and brother Richard, 58 – spoke out in light of this sixth new investigation. Lizzie said, “We hope Suzy’s body will be found and we can have the closure we really need.” Richard added, “I’d like to see Suzy given a proper burial in a nice place, where I can go to remember her. I don’t like to think of her lying under a driveway or wherever she is. My mum and dad spent all their time looking for her, so I think she should go in beside them. It would be good to reunite them.”
Despite their grief, Suzy’s parents had travelled the country giving talks and organising conferences about personal safety. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust campaigned for changes in the law, including measures to combat harassment and stalking, the registration of sex offenders and the registration of mini cabs.
The trust’s chief executive, Rachel Griffin, told Closer the trust has welcomed this latest development. She says, “The hope is that there’s a resolution and closure. Suzy’s story is remarkable – one moment she was an ordinary woman, going to work, and the next she disappeared. She’s someone we can all identify with. That’s why learning about personal safety is so important. It’s vital for you to check in and check out if you’re going out alone, and always trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, leave. Paul and Diana always wanted to talk about Suzy, to highlight the importance of staying safe. And if nothing else, this latest development has put that firmly back in the news.”
❛I’D LIKE TO SEE SUZY GIVEN A PROPER BURIAL IN A NICE PLACE, WHERE I CAN GO TO REMEMBER HER❜
Suzy disappeared 32 years ago
Cannan is serving life in prison
Her parents campaigned tirelessly
Suzy’s brother, Richard…
… and her sisters Tamsin and Lizzie