Is fake number plate proof Suzy Lamplugh was murdered by John Cannan?

Is this fake number plate proof that Suzy Lamplugh was the third young woman murdered by John Cannan in 1986? Now police face a race against time to nail him with DNA from a 37-year-old fingerprint – before he’s up for parole

  • Next week marks 30 years since Suzy was declared dead after going missing 
  •  John Cannan will appear before Parole Board in months to plead his case 

For all the mystery that still surrounds the disappearance of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh, police have only ever suspected one man of killing her.

When detectives questioned John Cannan, currently behind bars for crimes against other women including kidnap, rape and murder, the former public schoolboy bragged that there are ‘one or two things I haven’t been caught for’ while sidestepping questions about one of the most high-profile murders in British criminal history.

Next week marks 30 years since Suzy was officially declared dead by a coroner; seven years after the tragic 25-year-old vanished without trace after going to meet a ‘Mr Kipper’ at a property in Fulham in South West London in July 1986.

But despite being handed three life sentences for those other sickening crimes back in April 1989, 69-year-old Cannan may soon be free. He will appear before the Parole Board in a couple of months and try to convince them he is fit for release from Full Sutton Prison near York.

That forthcoming hearing, on September 20, has long been dreaded by those who have crossed paths with the smooth-talking former car salesman, among them his own brother.

Tony Cannan, 62, told the Mail this week that: ‘I certainly won’t be making any representations on his behalf. I don’t want anything to do with him.’

Victim Shirley Banks’ Mini with the false SLP plate at John Cannan’s home

Perversely, Cannan’s disturbing bid for freedom comes at the same time that Met Police are reinvestigating the Suzy Lamplugh case after announcing new ‘forensic opportunities’.

In what has come to feel like a terrible race against time, they’ve revealed evidence, including a greasy fingerprint found on the rearview mirror of Suzy’s abandoned car which was too smudged to be matched to any suspect. However, nearly 37 years on, scientists may now be able to extract DNA — and finally identify Suzy’s killer.

For retired Detective Superintendent Jim Dickie — who has interviewed Cannan twice and launched the Met Police’s last reinvestigation of the Suzy Lamplugh case in 2000 — the prospect of his release is almost unthinkable.

‘He should never be paroled. He is a serial sex offender and a murderer. I am convinced he will kill and rape again,’ he told me this week.

‘I don’t think any woman would be safe if he is allowed to walk the streets of the UK. He’s admitted on tape that he’s guilty of more than he’s been caught for and only a small percentage of serial sex offenders’ crimes are usually discovered. He’s egotistical, manipulative and a very dangerous man.’

Another who warns against freeing Cannan is criminologist and author Christopher Berry-Dee, who has written several books about the killer and received around 50 letters from him, including one in which he wrote: ‘I AM IN CONTROL because information is power.’

When detectives questioned John Cannan (pictured) the former public schoolboy bragged that there are ‘one or two things I haven’t been caught for’ while sidestepping questions about one of the most high-profile murders in British criminal history

READ MORE: Cold case detectives ‘launch forensic probe on new clue in Suzy Lamplugh case’ as prime suspect’s parole hearing date nears 

Suzy Lamplugh, 25, went missing in Fulham, West London, in July 1986 – and her body has never been found, even after three decades of searching

‘You can’t cure psychopathy,’ says Berry-Dee, who has written to the Parole Board to urge them to keep Cannan in jail. ‘He’s a manipulative sexual psychopath. That’s not ever going to change.’

Turn back the clock to the summer of 1986 and solicitor’s daughter Suzy was in the prime of life, working as a negotiator at Sturgis estate agents in Fulham and living in a two-bedroom flat across the river in Putney bought with money left to her by her grandmother.

She was popular and fun-loving, part of a group of young professionals who thronged the wine bars and restaurants of South-West London during Britain’s ‘yuppy’ heyday.

Her father, Paul Lamplugh, later recalled overhearing his wife chiding her in the kitchen for overdoing things and how Suzy’s reply brought him comfort in the agonising years that followed her disappearance: ‘Come on Mum, life’s for living. That’s what it’s all about.’

Not long before she went missing, Suzy confided in a family member that she’d met a businessman with ‘Bristol connections’ who kept asking her out. This, as we shall see, is highly significant. For while the story of Suzy’s appointment with the mysterious ‘Mr Kipper’ has been told many times over the past 37 years, what is less well known is that police believe she already knew the man who abducted her.

Cannan was out on licence from prison when Suzy disappeared. He’d previously been jailed for a total of eight years for raping a pregnant woman in front of her own mother and toddler, plus two robberies. In the months leading up to July 1986, he was living at a bail hostel next to Wormwood Scrubs prison in Shepherd’s Bush and allowed out on day release to work at a theatrical props company in nearby Acton. He was also able to travel to Bristol at weekends to visit his various lovers.

Away from the hostel, he dressed in sharp suits and posed as a successful businessman when in reality he funded his life via petty theft and chequebook fraud.

His associates at the bail hostel told police he cruised the bars of South-West London, drinking heavily, in search of sex. Cannan told them he liked ‘Hooray Henry types’ — well-dressed, well-educated, well-spoken women in business suits, particularly navy pleated skirts — and bragged of ‘one special girlfriend in Fulham’.

Cannan was released from the bail hostel on Friday, July 25, 1986 — just three days before Suzy went missing. That same evening, Suzy went to the Prince of Wales in Putney — a pub which was also one of Cannan’s haunts. Items from her handbag, including a diary, a chequebook and some cards, were later found by staff. It was the first of a host of strange incidents leading up to her disappearance that suggest, according to retired police officer Jim Dickie, that Suzy was being stalked by Cannan and was ‘possibly befriended by her’.

Next week marks 30 years since Suzy was officially declared dead by a coroner; seven years after the tragic 25-year-old vanished without trace after going to meet a ‘Mr Kipper’ at a property in Fulham in South West London in July 1986

Someone pretending to be a police officer called the estate agent where she worked claiming to have her chequebook. Red roses also arrived at the office from a mystery admirer. A man fitting Cannan’s description was seen looking through the estate agency window on Sunday, July 27.

‘Someone was monitoring Suzy’s movements and knew where she worked and lived,’ says Dickie.

Most bizarre of all was that prior to Suzy’s meeting with Mr Kipper at a house in Shorrolds Road in Fulham on Monday, a man fitting Cannan’s description turned up at another property for sale in the road without an appointment and asked the woman who answered the door if he could look around. He was scared away when he realised her husband was at home.

Monday, July 28, 1986 began like any other normal working day for Suzy, she had a cup of instant coffee in the kitchen of her top-floor flat in Disraeli Road while listening to the radio and spoke briefly to her lodger to check he’d left the ironing board up in the lounge. She dressed in a peach blouse, grey skirt and dark blazer and set off for work in her company car, a white Ford Fiesta, at around 8.30 am, crossing Putney Bridge and arriving at work soon after.

After a busy morning, Suzy left the office at 12.40 pm, taking her purse and car key with her but leaving her handbag behind. The only clue to where she had gone was a note in her work diary showing a 12.45 pm appointment with ‘Mr Kipper’.

An artist’s impression of a man calling himself Mr Kipper who is thought to have abducted estate agent Suzy Lamplugh

Kipper, police later discovered, was Cannan’s nickname at his bail hostel because of his habit of taking frequent naps.

Eyewitnesses saw Suzy standing outside the address in nearby Shorrolds Road, looking as if she was waiting for someone. Around ten minutes later, a next-door neighbour heard someone leaving the property and saw Suzy outside with a dark-haired man in a charcoal-coloured suit.

Yet another eyewitness passed Suzy and the man, noticing that he was holding a bottle of champagne tied with red, white and blue ribbons. By mid-afternoon, Suzy’s colleagues had become concerned about her whereabouts and by the end of the day had alerted police. At 10pm, her white Ford Fiesta was found, badly parked, a mile away from Shorrolds Road. The car was unlocked. The handbrake was off. Suzy’s purse was inside the car door. The driver’s seat had been pushed back, so far it would have been impossible for Suzy to drive it. Then there was the greasy fingerprint on the rearview mirror.

In the aftermath of Suzy’s abduction, Cannan returned to Bristol and joined a video-dating agency, giving the fake name ‘John Peterson’, pretending, once again, to be a successful businessman and describing himself as a ‘born romantic’.

On the video he made in September 1987, Cannan appears relaxed, flirtatious and charming. He claims the men he admires are Gandhi, the philosopher Bertrand Russell and Prince Charles because he is ‘socially aware’.

READ MORE: Could mystery DNA found in murdered Suzy Lamplugh’s car belong to her killer? Retired detective says new forensic techniques could now extract profile from smudged fingerprint on rear view mirror 

Suzy’s company car (pictured) was found after she went missing outside a property for sale in Stevenage Road. The doors were unlocked, the handbrake was off and her purse was found in a side door pocket

Despite Cannan’s comfortable middle-class upbringing as the son of a successful car salesroom-owner in Sutton Coldfield who sent him to private school, he was a complete failure.

Aged 14, he indecently assaulted a woman in a phone box and was placed on probation. He left school early and joined the Merchant Navy before working for his father.

During the late 1970s, a string of rapes occurred in homes for sale with estate agents in the West Midlands, where Cannan was living at the time. He married in 1978 but abandoned his wife and their daughter in 1980.

Back in September 1987, when he was asked by the dating agency what he was looking for in a woman, Cannon replied: ‘Well, I think apart from the physical side, again I think someone who’s pleasant, who’s natural, who’s relaxed. Somebody who’s calm.’ Physically, he said, ‘somebody like [actress] Stephanie Beacham’.

A month after recording that video, he killed 29-year-old textile factory manager Shirley Banks. After a failed attempt to abduct businesswoman Julia Holman using a fake gun from a Bristol car park on October 7, the following day he abducted newly-wed Shirley from a shopping centre car park in the same city.

He is thought to have kept her overnight at his rented flat before killing her and dumping her body in a stream in a remote area known as Dead Woman’s Ditch in Somerset’s Quantock Hills.

While police were still searching for Shirley — and her distinctive orange Mini — Cannan was arrested for another knife-point assault in late October. Police found a tax disc for Shirley’s car in the glove compartment of his car, then they found her Mini in the garage at his block of flats. He had repainted it blue and added false plates marked SLP 386S.

Criminologist Berry-Dee says that while Cannan told him the number plate was chosen at random in one of his letters from prison, he believes it’s a ‘strange subliminal reference’ to Suzy Lamplugh with the 386 possibly suggesting ‘third victim of 1986’.

Cannan has also been linked to the murder of Sandra Court — a 26-year-old insurance clerk, from Bournemouth, Dorset, who went missing after a night out in May that year, and whose body was found, strangled and dumped, in a stream.

He was ultimately found guilty of Shirley’s murder, the attempted abduction the night before and the abduction and rape of a woman in Reading, at Exeter Crown Court in 1989. Among the evidence that convicted him was a fingerprint, belonging to Shirley, left on a document in his flat.

As we now know, it is a single fingerprint, too, on which police are pinning their hopes for a breakthrough on the Suzy Lamplugh case.

According to Jim Dickie: ‘The fingerprint was the only outstanding line of inquiry left when I retired back in 2006. Back then, I was advised that they could try to get a DNA profile from it but, in trying, they would destroy it and there would be no second chances. It was stored away in the hope that advances in forensic science would work on our side. And that’s exactly what has happened.’

Dr Julio de Carvalho Ponce, a former crime scene specialist and lecturer in forensic science at the University of Winchester, says that fingerprints can contain microscopic epithelial cells which contain nuclear DNA.

Suzy went missing on a summers night in West London back when Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach was top of the UK charts

‘Analysing small quantities of DNA is always very challenging,’ he says, ‘but the technology has improved and we are now able to analyse as few as eight cells in order to get a complete DNA profile.

‘We can’t always tell just by looking at a sample if there will be enough to get a full profile and that’s probably what they had in mind when they decided to hold off because they would have been aware that there was very little biological material and they knew they would only get one shot at getting that extracted.’

After Cannan was interviewed about Suzy’s disappearance in 2000, a file was submitted to the CPS who decided there was insufficient evidence to support a prosecution.

A spokesman for the Met Police said this week: ‘We will continue to ensure that no stone is unturned as we know that one piece of information could provide the breakthrough for detectives. Today, we have the benefit of being able to utilise cutting-edge forensic science and other technology. Officers will continue to revisit forensic opportunities where viable.’

However, any breakthrough will come too late for Suzy’s parents, Diana and Paul, who died in 2011 and 2018 respectively, without knowing what happened to their eldest daughter. Their legacy is the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a charity they set up in their daughter’s honour which focuses on personal safety, stalking and harassment.

What the future holds for Cannan remains to be seen. Last year, he was said to be at death’s door after suffering a stroke. His parole bid suggests that his health has improved.

His brother Tony told the Mail this week that he doesn’t believe he will be freed from prison.

‘He’ll never get out. I’m certain of that. I haven’t seen him for 30 years and have always completely detached myself from him.’

Nor, he said, is anyone waiting for Cannan.

‘There’s no one left in the family. My sister died 30 years ago, my father died and last year my mother died. I used to take her to see him for about seven or eight years before that.’

Jim Dickie says that even 37 years on there is cause for hope. As well as a potential DNA breakthrough, he mentions a credible eyewitness account of a man fitting Cannan’s description dumping a suitcase in the Grand Union Canal in Brentford in West London, a claim he says which has yet to be fully investigated.

‘I’d like to see justice done in my lifetime,’ he says. ‘A young woman went to work and disappeared off the face of the earth. It could have been your daughter, your sister, your wife.

‘It shouldn’t happen. We just need to get that extra push and get him over the line to face a court.’

Additional reporting by Tim Stewart

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