Susannah or Suzy Lamplugh was twenty-five years old when she went missing on the 28th July 1986 and was never seen again. She was officially declared dead in 1994, and her disappearance and presumed murder is one of Britain's most high-profile unsolved cases.
Suzy Lamplugh was employed by Sturgis Estate Agents, and according to her office diary for the 28th July 1986 she had an appointment with a Mr. Kipper at 12.45 pm to show an empty property at 37 Shorrolds Road in Fulham, London. That was the last anyone saw of her. Her Ford Fiesta was later found unlocked about a mile away outside another property on the estate agent's books in Stevenage Road. Her purse was found in the car, although the car keys were nowhere to be seen.
It transpired that a 'Mr Kipper' had simply telephoned the agency to make an appointment to view the £130,000 property and had given a false address and thus could not be traced. One witness remembered seeing Miss Lamplugh leaving the house in Shorrolds Road accompanied by an "extremely smart" white male aged between 25 and 30, wearing a dark suit with dark, swept back, hair and between 5ft 7in and 5ft 9in tall. Another remembered seeing Suzy arguing with a man in Shorrolds Road, whilst one witness reported seeing Suzy being driven away in her Ford Fiesta, although another claimed to have seen her getting into a dark BMW with a man who was carrying a bottle of champagne decorated with ribbons.
The initial police investigation failed to establish Miss Lamplugh's whereabouts or her ultimate fate or indeed to identify the mysterious 'Mr Kipper'. Nevertheless the Metropolitan Police have persevered over the years, and at one point in 2001 took DNA samples from every unidentified body they'd come across since 1986 in order to exclude the possibility that one of them might be Suzy. As a result of all this investigative effort the Metropolitan Police have identified a 'prime suspect' in form of one John Cannan. Indeed the Metropolitan Police are so convinced that John Cannan was responsible that they went public with this belief in 2002. John Cannan naturally objected and issued a statement through his solicitor Matthew Claughton on the 15th November 2002 denying any involvement in the murder and complaining of trial by media. It was, of course, highly defamatory for the Met to accuse someone of committing a crime without actually charging them with the crime in question. But then by that time Cannan was already in prison serving a life sentence for the abduction, rape and murder of another woman.
The crime for which John Cannan was convicted related to the disappearance of Shirley Banks from a multi-storey car park in Bristol on the evening of the 8th October 1987. Cannan was later arrested on the 29th October 1987 when he tried to rob a petrol station. During a search of his car police came across the tax disc for Shirley's car in his glove compartment. A subsequent forensic examination of Cannan's home revealed fingerprint evidence of Shirley's presence there, and her body was later discovered by chance on Easter Day in 1988 in the Quantock Hills near Taunton in Somerset at a location known as Dead Woman's Ditch. Cannan was subsequently convicted of her murder in 1989, and given three life sentences for that murder as well as for three other attempted abductions.
Oddly enough it was also in October 1987 that the original Lamplugh inquiry was wound down, and although the Met had apparently considered Cannan as a suspect, by April 1989 they were responding to press enquiries with the statement that there was no evidence to link Cannan to the Lamplugh case. They appeared to have subsequently changed their mind after the inquiry was relaunched on the 12th May 2000 as the result of a "new witness" coming forward. The Met further announced that would be deploying "cutting edge technology" as they "revisited and re-examined every piece of forensic evidence" identified during the original enquiry.
It was reported that the Met had traced a black BMW that was being driven by Cannan at the time of Lamplugh's disappearance, and which might have been the same 'dark BMW' spotted near the scene of Lamplugh's presumed abduction. They made an appeal for further information on the BBC's Crimewatch programme which generated further 'leads', and by July were "confident" that they would "catch the killer of Suzy Lamplugh by the end of the year".
Cannan became a person of interest particularly as he been released from Wormwood Scrubs just three days before Suzy Lamplugh disappeared after serving five years of an eight-year sentence for rape, and that he had apparently been known by other inmates as 'Kipper' during his time at the Scrubs. His former girlfriend named Gilly Paige, had at one claimed that Cannan had confessed to raping and killing Suzy and burying her body at Norton Barracks. She later withdrew that claim, although the police nevertheless conducted a search of the countryside around Norton Barracks in Worcestershire just to make sure. In May 2001 the police also spent a week searching the Quantock Hills near to where Shirley Banks's body had been found, having by then realised that the Norton Manor Royal Marines Barracks were nearby. Neither search revealed any trace of a body, whilst in 2002 the News of the World published a claim that Cannan had buried Suzy's body underneath the patio of his mother's home. She wasn't there either.
Despite the fact that the Metropolitan Police had failed to find Suzy's body, they nevertheless felt that they had built a case against John Cannan, and on the 14th June 2002 they passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS however decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. The Lamplugh family expressed their 'distress' and 'considerable anger' at this failure to prosecute, which at least partially explained why the Metropolitan Police felt obliged to make their announcement in November 2002 to the effect that as far as they were concerned, John Cannan was responsible for the abduction and murder of Suzy Lamplugh. They were not alone as another of Cannan's former girlfriends a Daphne Sargent, was also convinced that it was, and told the press, "As soon as I heard about Suzy, I knew it was John. It had all the hallmarks - right down to the champagne."
However whilst the Metropolitan Police might have made their minds up, others are not so sure.
In 1995 a crime writer named Christopher Berry-Dee published his Unmasking Mr.Kipper: Who Really Killed Suzy Lamplugh: Mind and Methods of Michael Sams, which claimed that Michael Sams was responsible. (Sams abducted and raped another estate agent named Stephanie Slater in 1992, and also murdered a prostitute named Julie Dart.) Whereas Mr Berry-Dee, who is also the author of Ladykiller: Inside the Mind of John Cannan (True Crime, 1992) reissued in paperback as Ladykiller: Did This Man Kill Suzy Lamplugh? (True Crime, 1993) and most recently Prime Suspect: The true story of John Cannan, the only man the police the police want to investigate for the murder of Suzy Lamplugh (John Blake, 2007), might be said to know something about the topic at hand, the police appear to have discounted this idea.
Steve Wright, the serial killer responsible for The Ipswich Red Light Murders actually knew Suzy Lamplugh, having worked with her on the QE2. Wright was indeed interviewed in connection with the Lamplugh case, but no further action was taken. In any case, since Wright knew Lamplugh there would have been no need for him to have used the 'Mr Kipper' ruse to have arranged a meeting with her.
Suzy Lamplugh's disappearance also bears similarities to the case of Melanie Hall, who went missing from a Bath nightclub on the 9th June 1996 and whose body was subsequently discovered on the 5th October 2009 hidden in the undergrowth at junction 14 of the M5 near Thornbury, just north of Bristol. Of course, Cannan could not possibly have killed Melanie Hall since he was in prison at the time, but the Daily Mail (amongst others) has claimed that Cannan nevertheless "orchestrated" her abduction and murder in order to "taunt police", and even named the perpetrator as one Christopher Clark. He was a former cellmate of Cannan's who was briefly at large at the time of Hall's disappearance, before being jailed for life for attacking another woman in Bath in July 1996.
- Gareth Parry, London estate agent Susannah Lamplugh feared abducted, The Guardian, 31 July 1986
- On this Day 30 July 1986 BBC News
- Deborah Orr, False hopes that prey on every woman's fear, The Independent, 7 December 1999
- Lamplugh police confident of arrest, BBC News, 26 July, 2000
- Lamplugh police dig for body, BBC News, 11 December 2000
- Andrew Alderson, Police switch search to barracks in West Country, Daily Telegraph, 29 Apr 2001
- Jason Bennetto, Lamplugh police to re-examine unknown bodies, The Independent, 27 July 2001
- Suzy police push for murder charge, BBC News, 14 June, 2002
- Family angry as Lamplugh case stalls, BBC News, 5 November, 2002
- Helen Carter, Lamplugh suspect denies playing games with police, The Guardian, 16 November 2002
- Police study Lamplugh claims, BBC News, 1 December, 2002
- Andrew Alderson, Lamplugh suspect linked to 'killer's car' 20 years on, Daily Telegraph, 09 Jul 2006
- Mark Townsend, We're sure of Suzy Lamplugh's killer: keep him in jail, police urge, The Observer, Sunday 30 July 2006
- Stephen Wright, Did Suzy Lamplugh suspect plot Melanie Hill's murder from his prison cell?, Daily Mail, 24th October 2009