Special Case File
The Mr. Kipper Suspect
"He should never be released"
On July 28, 1986 a young estate agent named Suzy Lamplugh kept an appointment to meet with a mysterious prospective tenant named Mr. Kipper, and subsequently went missing. Despite a lengthy police investigation, the attractive young woman was never seen again. There were several crimes committed against young women around the same time as Suzy’s disappearance, one of whom was murdered just two months before Suzy went missing, whilst another suffered a horrific rape some three months later. The next year in October 1987, a man attempted to kidnap Julia Holman, the day before Shirley Banks went missing. Her decomposed body was eventually found in April 1988. It is believed these crimes were perpetrated by a charming, handsome, yet violent rapist who was stalking, kidnapping and murdering young women. This man was John Cannan, and he is the only person considered as the prime suspect in these unsolved murders.
At 7:00pm on the evening of May 3, 1986, the body of a young woman was found in a water-filled ditch by the Avon Causeway near Hurn, she had been strangled. The murder victim was identified as 27-year-old Sandra Court, who had the previous evening been attending a farewell party at Steppes nightclub. Court had been working for the Abbey Life Insurance Company in Bournemouth, where she had left at the beginning of May 1986, and was planning on taking up a post as a nanny in Spain. That night she was last seen alive at around 2:45am on the Saturday morning, walking barefoot in Lansdowne, a suburb of Bournemouth. Investigators believed that neither robbery or sexual assault was the motive. There were no semen stains found on the body, however these might have been washed away by the water in the ditch. Some of her belongings were found strewn about at several spots near-by.
One of her shoes was found alongside the A31 near Picket Post, and police suspected it could have been thrown from a passing car heading towards Southampton. This would indicate she had been given a ride in someone’s car. Ten days after her body was discovered, a letter was sent to Detective Chief Inspector Rose of Dorset CID, who was leading the murder inquiry. The letter had been posted in Bournemouth, and the contents suggested the death of Sandra Court was an accident, and that the killer felt remorse. Upon examination of the note, police found that the writer, although right-handed, had written the note using their left hand in an effort to disguise their authorship. One of the men questioned in connection with the death of Ms. Court was one John Cannan. After questioning, police declared they were satisfied he was not involved, and was released without charge. The murder case would remain unsolved.
Almost three months after the Sandra Court murder, a young woman mysteriously disappeared. On July 28, 1986, a young female estate agent left her office in Fulham Road, West London, to meet with a prospective client. Suzy Lamplugh was a beautiful 25-year-old blonde, who was described as a “smashing girl”, and who had worked for Sturgis estate agency for some 16 months. She was regarded as responsible and ambitious by her colleagues and employer. That Monday afternoon when she left the office, Suzy took with her the keys to 37 Shorrolds Road, a property near-by. She had recorded the essential details for the appointment in her office diary, which read; ’12:45 Mr Kipper – 37 Shorrolds Road o/s’. The annotation o/s indicated that she had planned to meet the client outside the property. Suzy was expected to be back soon at her desk by her office manager, but as the hours ticked by and she had still not returned, her employer began to grow anxious.
Suzy was not one to be abscent without making a telephone call to explain why, and by 5:00pm, her manager telephoned her mother, Diana, and explained the situation. He had already checked if she was still at Shorrolds Road, but there was no sign of her. One of the occupants of a neighbouring house would recall seeing a young couple at no. 37, and thought they were prospective tenants. He described the man as handsome, aged between 25 and 30 years, of medium height, clean shaven with dark hair and wearing a dark suit. Suzy’s manager at Sturgis did not know of a client by the name of Mr. Kipper, but it was not usual given the fact that many unknown prospective cilents called the busy estate agents. A check of the local hospital to ask if any accidents had been reported also drew a blank. Concern for her safety mounted when he spoke with the occupant of no. 35, who recalled seeing the couple arguing and he thought that man bundled the woman into a car.
The police investigation began immediately, and the details of Suzy’s car, a white Ford Fiesta, registration number B396 GAN, were widely circulated. Meanwhile two detectives were dispatched to Shorrolds Road, but a search of the house produced nothing of significance. The detectives were then accompanied by Paul Lamplugh, Suzy’s father, during a search of her two-bedroom flat in Putney. Again, there was nothing found that helped with the search. The first break-through, but also a disturbing one, was the discovery that night of Suzy’s car, apparently abandoned, in Stevenage Road near Fulham football ground. This area was around a mile from Shorrolds Road, and it appeared the vehicle had been left by someone in a hurry. It was badly parked, the handbrake was left off, and the driver’s side door was unlocked. Suzy’s straw hat was left on the parcel shelf behind the rear seats, and her purse was found nestled in the driver’s door pocket. Police questioned her 27-year-old boyfriend who worked as an insurance broker, as well as her male flatmate, who both gave corroborated accounts of their whereabouts on the night Suzy went missing and they were soon eliminated from the enquiry.
Detective Chief Superintendent Nicolas Carter was placed in charge of the case, and the area around Shorrolds Road and Stevenage Road were searched by police dogs and their handlers. An artist’s impression was made of the man seen with Suzy outside the unoccupied house, in an effort to identify the mysterious Mr. Kipper. The white Ford Fiesta was search by forensic officers for any microscopic evidence. While fingerprint impressions and trace evidence were being examined, detectives conducting house-to-house enquires had made more immediate information. Mrs. Wendy Jones, who lived in a house on Stevenage Road opposite where Suzy’s car was found, told officers she saw the vehicle there on Monday at about 12:45pm. Suzy left her office at 12:40pm, and so this meant the car was driven straight to where it was later found.
This presented a problematic paradox, in that she would not have had enough time to drive to Shorrolds Road, and then to Stevenage Road where the car was left. Another witness added to the confusion. Barbara Whitfield was a friend of Suzy’s, having known her for some five months, and claimed she had seen the missing girl on Monday afternoon. Ms. Whitfield had been cycling along Fulham Place Road towards Putney, when she saw Suzy driving in the opposite direction. She said Suzy had not noticed her, and that she was sitting next to a man. The time was 12:45pm. “I was absolutely certain it was her,” said Whitfield. These unexplained contradictions in witness statements have never been resolved. Yet more evidence was revealed. Suzy’s manager told investigators that a bunch of red roses had been delivered to her at the office by a mystery man just days before she disappeared. The owner at 35 Shorrolds Road also remembered that the man seen outside with Suzy was holding a bottle of champagne.
Police staged a reconstruction of the events on August 4, which detailed Suzy’s last known movements. Despite national newspapers publishing photographs of the staged meeting, it garnered a disappointing response. The investigation continued, and some two hundred police officers were involved in searching for the missing estate agent. They searched open land and every vacant property within a mile-wide radius of Shorrolds Road. The sketch of Mr. Kipper was published in newspapers and aired on television, while Mr and Mrs Lamplugh made an appeal to the man they believed was holding their daughter to let her go. Police received calls from all over the UK from people who claimed they had seen Mr. Kipper. It was during this same time, in the Summer of 1986, that several other women went missing, and Merseyside people were searching for the killer of three women in what became known as the ‘Railway Murders’.
At 7:30am, Richard Banks awoke and still worried, decided to contact his wife’s boss, who told him Shirley had telephoned just a short while before, saying she wouldn’t be in due to sickness. She had not talked directly with her manager, but with someone in the wages department. Jennifer Watkins worked as a clerk in Alexandra Workwear’s wages office and was the one who took the call, and remembered that she immediately recognised the caller as Shirley Banks who said “Jenny?”. “Hello Shirley,” replied Watkins. “The lines to the division are engaged,” Shirley explained. “Can you give them a message? I’ve been up all night with an upset tummy. I won’t be in today.” Watkins replied, “Fine Shirley, I’ll let them know.” Jennifer Watkins later told police that she didn’t suspect anything strange in Shirley’s manner or speech. Richard Banks and Paul Wilcox, Shirley’s employer were not extremely worried about Shirley’s safety.
Her disappearance was still not reported to the police however, and Mr Banks first contacted several of her friends to see if anyone knew of her whereabouts. Eventually, after exhausting all their options, and when she had been gone for just about 24 hours, Richard Banks and a friend of Shirley’s drove to Redland police station and reported her as missing. During the police investigation, detectives took statements from her friends and contacts, looking for any possibly reason why the young, recently married young woman might want to abscond from her home life and work. All of her friends agreed that this type of behaviour was completely out of character. Her boss said she was happy in her work, and no-one could think of any reason why she would disappear from what appeared to be a happy marriage. Some three weeks after Shirley vanished, an incident occurred that would shed light on what happened to the vivacious young woman.
On October 29, 1987, a man entered a boutique called Ginger in Leamington Spa, at around 3:55pm. As the owner rearranged some clothes, and the manageress sat at a desk at the front of the shop, the man came in wearing a grey zip-up bomber jacket, black trousers and a grey crash helmet with the visor raised. It appeared he had something bulky bulging from his jacket pocket, and as he stood by the clothes rails he spoke with the 40-year-old owner, asking about clothes. As the women grew uneasy, the man produced an orange-handled knife with a serrated blade and threatened the owner. The man said, “Turn out the lights, lock the door and, if you scream, I’ll knife her.” As the owner picked up the keys to lock the door, and the manageress went to turn off the lights, the intruder became agitated. The owner then took that opportunity to dash across to the front door of the shop and into the street where she began screaming, “Help! Help! There’s a man in the shop with a knife!”
This brought the attention of a passing builder, who gave chase along with another passer-by when the man rushed out of Ginger’s and ran down Portland Street. The two men gave chase as the knifeman wearing the crash helmet raced into Bedford Street. Momentarily losing sight of the man, the pursuers spotted someone wearing similar clothing but minus the crash helmet. A police unit arrived on the scene, and a man was seen walking towards the entrance to St. Peter’s Church carrying a blue plastic bag, with a bright orange “stick” protruding from his waistband. As they lost sight of the man again, a search of the area uncovered the blue plastic bag, which contained the bomber jacket and crash helmet, as well as the orange-handled knife. Soon after the officers noticed a man walking, who appeared to be hiding his left hand in his pocket. The man was stopped and found to have a cut to his hand. When questioned the man refused to answer questions without speaking to his lawyer. Back at Leamington police station the man was identified as John David Guise Cannan, and was arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery.
A subsequent search of a nearby garage in Dorner Place revealed some clothesline hidden in one of the cisterns, as well as blood from Cannan’s hand wound. A black BMW in the area was found to be registered to Cannan, and found to contain handcuffs, an imitation firearm and a tax disc for a different vehicle, that was found to belong to the car owned by Shirley Banks. During questioning, he denied having taken part in the incident at the Ginger boutique or knowing anything about Banks disappearance. Looking into Cannan’s criminal history, detectives found that a similar crime had been committed at Sutton Coldfield in 1981, during which a suspected robbery occurred. It was this crime that led to Cannan receiving a prison sentence, and investigators now decided to delve into the history John Cannan’s life, a man who is suspected of involvement in numerous unsolved crimes.
John Cannan was born on February 20, 1954, in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire. He was doted on as a child, despite having an older sister and young brother. His father had been a flight-leiutenant in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, and served as an instructor on aero engines. Cyril Cannon was widely respected in Sutton Coldfield, and had become well known within the motor trade throughout the Midlands. He was however, considered by some to be an overbearing individual with a quick temper. His mother kept a well-ordered house, and provided the family with a comfortable, stable home environment for their three children. As a child, John had dark hair and piercing blue eyes beneath dark eyebrows that would converge atop his nose as he grew older. He was very much like his father, and enjoyed getting his own way in everything. His father would always find fault with ‘Little Johnnie’, and Mrs Cannan was often the peacemaker between her ill-tempered husband and disobedient son.
His education began at the age of four, and his parents sent him to attend a private school for boys at Keyse. His academic work prospered, as did his athletic pursuits with the rule of the sports field being ‘Keyse boy’s don’t cry.’ Although his time at private school was one of happy times, despite the tough discipline, one incident stood out that had a lasting effect on him. When he was seven or eight-years-old, a teacher took him to a vacant classroom and told him to drop his trousers. He touched the young boy, and wanted John to feel him as well. He did as he was told, and this abuse went on for several months. He would later say that “it was something I couldn’t share with anyone. It was dirty and horrid and I felt ashamed.” Afterwards, John took every opportunity to dodge school, and would often skip class. As a result, he became nervous and developed a bad stammer. At the age of nine, he was taken away from Keyse and the trauma ended.
As he grew older, he began to understand what had happened to him at Keyse. As a result he came to be emotionally distant and estranged from people. At the age of 14, he committed an indecent assault. He accosted a young women in a telephone kiosk, putting his hand up her skirt. When his parents found out, they were horrified, and John was given 12 months probation. He continued with his education, but often played truant, while his home life was an unhappy one due to his overbearing father. At 17, he left school and joined the Merchant Navy, perhaps in an effort to escape his father, but this only lasted three months. A fondness for cars was one thing he did share with his father, who worked as general manager at Reeve & Stedford, who’s prestigious showrooms often contained the latest British motorcars. The young John became enchanted by his regular visits. He eventually became a car salesman at his father’s firm, during a particularly difficult time for British manufacturers, when foreign imports from Japan were dominating the market.
He was described during this time as a loner with a strong sense of power, regarding himself as hard working and talented. He despised weakness and characterized himself as a ‘Big head/big mouth’, while his colleagues referred to him as ‘Billy liar’. As he matured, he considered himself knowledgeable, competetitive and with a taste for the finer things in life. He was handsome, self-confident and self-assured, and a self-confessed ladies man who would later claim to have had one hundred night stands. These times he considered the happiest would soon come to an end when in May 1978, he married June Vale, a pretty home-loving young woman who worked in a florists shop near the garage. She would be his first steady girlfriend and they were engaged for seven years.
They were married at Four Oaks Methodist Church, and his younger brother Anthony served as his best man. His stag-do was attended mostly by his brother’s friends, and none of his colleagues were present during his wedding ceremony. Despite their seven year engagement, John would later state they had rushed into marriage at the behest of June’s parents. The couple went to live with John’s parents, and he came under increasing pressure to start a family. By his account, his wife became pregnant against his wishes, and he claimed it was not accidental after she forgot to take the pill during a two week period. During this time the couple began looking for a flat, and John attempted to establish himself in the motor trade. He found married life stressful and would often drive to Birmingham after work rather than going home to his family. His drinking increased and by 1980, at the age of 26, John Cannan was practically an alcoholic.
By the end of 1979, John had effectively deserted his wife and child, and was working six days a week, as well as extra time during the evenings at the showroom. In February 1980, he met another woman and they soon developed a relationship. By April 1980, he went live with his new girlfriend and her children, taking on the role of step-father. John told her many lies about his life, and fabricated what he thought would make him more appealing. When he took a vehicle without asking he lost his position at the car firm, and encountered financial difficulties. He would also spend time at his mother’s in order to see his wife and child. Despite a healthy sex-life, which was characterized as ‘normal’ by his partner, cracks started to appear in the relationship, and the couple would argue regularly. When her husband planned to spend time at the home during Christmas, John took exception to the idea.
On December 30, John turned up at her home and attempted to reconcile their relationship. What happened that evening would abruptly end their affair. During intercourse, John placed his hands around her neck, and she had trouble breathing. When she told him to stop, saying “Don’t, you’ll kill me doing that”, he replied coldly, “I mean to kill you. I’m going to kill you.” In an attempt to free herself she began to scream and punch him about the head, pleading with him to stop and think of her children. At that point he emptied the contents of a plastic bag he had brought with him onto the bed, which contained a vibrator, gun, and a pair of black rubber pants with a false male penis attached to it. He picked up the gun pointed it to her face and said “this is loaded!”. Thinking she was going to die, they struggled over the weapon and it fired a pellet into the wall.
She managed to wrestle control of the gun and throw it onto the floor. John then tried a different tactic, and shouted “I’m going to screw your backside.” After he failed in his attempts because she struggled furiously, he did succeed in penetrating her vagina with a vibrator. He then had extremely violent sex with her using the false penis. Although her screams were heard by neighbours, they turned up their record player and chose to ignore it. Bleeding internally, as well as from her nose and mouth where he had struck her in the face, the young woman attempted to escape, and grabbed his testicles, which only made him more violent. “John was so evil,” she would later say to police. At one point she lost consciousness and came to with John slapping her face and telling her “I haven’t finished with you yet.” She tried to escape again on the pretext of getting Vaseline from the bathroom, but he grabbed her arm and frogmarched her back towards the bedroom.
Looking for another chance to escape, she decided she would be better off dead than going back into the bedroom to be further abused or possibly killed. She pushed John causing him to lose balance and they both fell down the stairs. She would recall that at that point John was his old caring self again, apologising and telling her “Oh my God, what have I done? I’m sorry.” She blacked out and woke up in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. She asked him, “You really did mean to kill me didn’t you?,” to which John replied “Yes, I did.” While she was being treated at the hospital, he removed all his possessions from the house and left the keys behind. She had suffered a brutal attack, that left her with a bruised and swollen face, two black eyes, required dental treatment for her front teeth, and she had lost so much hair that a wig could have been made with what John had pulled out.
She did not report the incident to the police because as she said, she had no faith in the legal system. She also feared what John might do if she reported him to the police, worried that he might only get a short sentence and then track her down and finish what he had started. She would only tell her account of what happened some seven years later, when Cannan was in prison on murder charges. During questioning by investigators, John’s recollection of the incident differed greatly from that of his ex-girlfriend, who described the horrific attack she suffered at the hands of someone she trusted. John would claim it was merely a lover’s tiff that had escalated, but denied any sexual assault had occurred. She would write to John during his time in prison, and in a letter dated February 26, 1981, she described his conduct at “Evil, wicked, brutal, and depraved.”
On Friday, March 6, 1981, 37-year-old Jean Bradford was working at the ladies knitwear shop she ran in Sutton Coldfield. She had left around lunch-time with her husband and 17-month-old son, returning at about 2:00pm, and Mr Bradford waited outside, leaving his wife and toddler in the shop. At 2:15pm, a woman from the shop next door came in and chatted for a bit before leaving Jean on her own again. Half an hour later, a man entered the shop, holding a handkerchief over his face as if he was blowing his nose. At that moment the telephone rang, and she went to answer it, making her apologies before returning to the call. With her son by her side, she apologised again, but saw that the man was now holding a knife. He pointed it at her, threatening to cut her up unless she kept quiet. He also threatened to harm the baby, and placed his finger on the telephone rest to disconnect the call. The man ordered Jean Bradford to move into the corner of the office, and holding her son, she did as she was told.
He asked her where the cash was kept, and the young boy began to scream. Locating the cash box he emptied the contents and then asked where more money was kept. At that moment, Jean Bradford’s mother, who was also her business partner, entered the shop. “Tell them you’re closed,” the man instructed. He was told it was her mother, and as the two women stood together, the older woman said “Let my daughter go with the baby” When her mother persisted with her request, Jean could see the man was becoming increasingly nervous. When the telephone rang, Jean suspected it might be her husband, who was becoming concerned about his wife’s absence. The man then slashed the telephone wire, ordered Jean’s mother into another corner in the office, and tied her hands behind her back and secured her feet with the severed cord. He then turned his attention towards Jean, threatening her baby if she did not comply with his demands.
The man ordered Jean to perform oral sex upon him, and after some hesitation and minimal compliance, he ordered her to take off her clothes. At that moment she told him she was pregnant, and Jean’s mother confirmed her plea. Despite this he ordered her to strip, and when she was naked he told her to lie on the floor. When her son started crying, the man ordered her back onto her feet and proceeded to rape her where she stood. Then someone in the street attempted to gain the attention of those inside, because the rapist had turned the lights off and locked the door. The person outside was Jean’s husband, who was frantically banging on the door. The man then asked Jean if there was a way to exit from the rear of the shop, which she confirmed. The man then lingered before telling Jean, “You might want to know about this, you’ll realise later because I’ll be dead within a fortnight!” Asking if she really was pregnant, he asked her for her home address, which she gave to him as he had already looked inside her purse.
As he left, the man told Jean not to contact the police for at least two weeks, threatening that something would happen to her young son because he knew where they lived. He then vaulted the fence and vanished. After that, Jean rejoined her mother and together with her husband they contacted 999 to report the terrifying ordeal. She would describe her attacker as between 25 and 30, about 5ft 10in tall and of medium build, with thick dark hair which she believed was naturally curly. He appeared unshaven, had a pale complexion and was wearing a white-and-blue checked shirt, open at the collar with black cord trousers, black shoes and black gloves. Jean noticed he had a slight Birmingham accent, and believed the knife he had used to threaten them looked like a Boy Scouts knife, with a small sheath about six inches long. One of the most distinctive features she noticed about him was his dark eyebrows, that met across the bridge of his nose.
It was only a week before the suspected rapist was arrested. In response to a police photofit picture of the attacker, John Cannan’s name was volunteered to detectives. Questioned by police at Sutton Coldfield police station, Cannan did not object to officers searching his first-floor rented flat in Ley Hill Road. There officers found on the top shelf of a fitted wardrobe, a bullwhip, four lengths of rope, and the letter sent by his ex-girlfriend after he viciously assaulted her back in December 1980. He admitted to being in the area at the time of the attack, and resembled the photofit of the rapist. When asked, he refused to provide blood, saliva and samples of pubic hair, arguing it was an invasion of his privacy. After further questioning, John admitted to entering Jean Bradford’s shop with the intention to steal money and that the rape came as an afterthought. “I’m not a violent person,” he said.
Asked if he said anything unusual to the victim, John said he told her he would be dead within a fortnight, but said he didn’t have the guts to end his life. He also confided to detectives where he had dumped the knife he had used during the assault, which they retrieved from a pond known as Blackroot Pool. On June 26, 1981, Cannan appeared at Sutton Coldfield magistrates court and was sentenced to a total of eight years, five years for the rape, and consecutive sentences totalling three years for taking a car and stealing money. His appeal was rejected, and he admitted he had committed an ‘appalling offence.’ In February 1982, he was transferred to Horfield Prison, Bristol, and housed in ‘B’ Wing, which was reserved for prisoners serving five years or more. In prison he earned a trustee position, and was attacked by other lags on more than one occasion.
It was during this time that he met Annabel Rose, a solicitor who would play a role in his life when he came out of prison. During his imprisonment, John successfully kicked his alcohol dependency, but received the news his father Cyril had passed away at his home in February 1985. Cannan was sent to Wormwood Scrubs prison on January 25, 1986, on a pre-release scheme. This would last six months. While he was technically still in custody, he resided in a hostel close-by which gave him a sense of freedom and the opportunity to adjust to life outside prison. Around this time, Cannan befriended ice-skater Gilly Paige, with whom he began a relationship. They visited Poole together, which is close to Bournemouth, and Cannan also made numerous trips there alone. But his behaviour and attitude caused her concern. She would later say he spoke about Suzy Lamplugh, indicating that her killer had buried her under concrete. One night when they were out during a drive, John placed his hands around her neck and said “Maybe this is the way Suzy died.” In May 1986, Sandra Court went missing from Lansdowne, a suburb of Bournemouth. John Cannan was released from prison and the hostel on July 25, 1986, just three days before Suzy Lamplugh vanished from Shorrold’s Road.
Throughout August 1986, Cannan continued to have an affair with solicitor, Annabel Rose. On October 6, 1986, a rape occurred against a young woman in Whiteladies Road, Bristol. Although the photofit released by police looked remarkably similar in appearance to him, a suspect was arrested and later released who was not Cannan. He is also suspected in the rape of a 30-year-old woman that occurred later that same day, in which the victim was kidnapped and raped by a man wielding a knife, a similar modus operandi to Cannan’s method of accosting his victims. After his arrest on October 29, 1987, for the attack at the Ginger boutique, Cannan was questioned at length over his past criminal activities and those in which investigators, led by Detective Chief Inspector Brian Saunders, suspected his involvement. The evidence linking Cannan to the disappearance of Shirley Banks was significant. Her tax disc had been found inside a locked briefcase in his BWM, along with an imitation firearm and a set of handcuffs.
A search of a lock-up garage at his block of flats uncovered further evidence, where officers found a Mini Clubman, the same vehicle as Banks orange car. It had been painted blue and had the fake numberplate SLP 386S, but when searched, it was found to be the exact same vehicle belonging to Banks. Cannan had no alibi for the night she went missing, and his claim that he purchased her car at auction did not hold up to scrutiny. Investigators had in their custody a man who had a previous conviction for rape, was a suspect in the rape at the Ginger boutique, and had been picked out of a line-up by Julia Holman as the man who attempted to abduct her on the same night that Shirley Bank went missing. During intense questioning, he denied any and all knowledge of the whereabouts of Shirley Banks. He was bailed from the station in Warwick, where he was questioned over the attempted robbery, and then rearrested by police from Bristol in connection with the Banks case. He was held in custody at Filton police station for a total of 17 days, and became aware that his name was being volunteered as a suspect in the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh.
Hoping that Banks was still alive, police released his photograph to the press. Witnesses came forward with evidence that further incriminated him. A taxi driver reported that a woman had called a taxi to Cannan’s flat at 2:00pm on the day after Bank’s disappearance, but Cannan told him nobody there had called one. A neighbour came forward to say Cannan had borrowed a vacuum cleaner and was seen cleaning his car at about 2:30pm. His movements between 3:00pm and 7:00pm could not be accounted for. A further witness came forward, a 69-year-old woman who had been sat in traffic near Cannan’s flat on October 9, said she saw smoke coming from a small fire in a copse. She recalled how she overheard a struggle in the woods, punching, and then a woman saying “No, no,” then a man telling her “I warned you what I would do.” She then heard what sounding like a choking noise. At that moment she shouted towards the man who had “dark curly hair”, who saw her and ran in her direction and reportedly lunged at her. Investigators were sceptical about this report, but believed the witness might have seen something connected to the case.
When police searched his flat, they came across a cleaning ticket for a shop located in Sutton Coldfield, where in late October Cannan had taken a raincoat with red marks on it. He claimed these were red mud from where he had made love in a park, however forensic experts determined these were bloodstains, which could have been from the same blood group at Shirley Banks. During questioning, Cannan was asked if a document found in his flat belonged to him. When he confirmed that it did, he was told that they had found the imprint of a left thumbprint on it, which was matched to a set of fingerprints taken from Banks’ parents home. With this evidence, John Cannan was charged on December 23, 1987, with the kidnaping and murder of Shirley Banks. During his time in custody, the naked and decomposed body of a young woman identified as Shirley Banks was found on April 3, 1988, in the Quantock Hills, at a site known as “Dead Woman’s Ditch”, which was part of an Iron Age camp at Dowsborough. Jewellery was found at the site, along with buttons from a dress she had bought. According to the pathologist, Shirley had been repeatedly hit over the head with a rock.
During sometime in 1987, when Cannan was in jail, detectives from West Midlands Police interviewed him about a cold case they had. In Birmingham on July 25, 1978, the body of 13-year-old Candice Williams was found on the 12th-storey landing of a block of flats at Erdington. She had been raped and strangled. Her murder would begin one of the largest manhunts ever undertaken in Birmingham, but despite extensive door-to-door enquiries, the killer was never caught. Following Cannan’s arrest, West Midlands Police reported they had reopened the investigation into William’s death. Cannan had been in the general area on the day she was murdered, and had been with his wife June walking their dog in the park adjacent to the block of flats at Erdington where the young girl was killed. Like many other men in the area, John Cannan was questioned during the course of the initial murder inquiry, and although he gave two accounts for his movements that day which contradicted each other, he was not asked to give a blood sample. He was now re-interviewed in 1987, but denied any involvement and said categorically “I did not kill Candice Williams,” and complained that police were “trying to use me as a dumping ground to offload offences.” Cannan’s involvement in the death of Candice Williams has never been proven, but investigators deem it unlikely that two similar offenders would be operating at the same time in the same area.
Cannan’s trial for the murder of Shirley Banks lasted three weeks during April 1989 at Exeter Crown Court. He was initially charged with sixteen offences, including sexual assault and theft, and when it came to trial, the indictment totalled eight charges, including rape, kidnap, attempted abduction, indecent assault, buggery and abduction for sex. The proceedings were presided over by Mr. Justice Drake, while Cannan was defended by Anthony Palmer QC, with the prosecution was headed by Paul Chadd QC. The jury was composed of eight women and four men. He was accused of raping a woman in Reading in October 1986, to which he had been linked via DNA evidence. One year later he is believed to be the man who attempted to abduct Julia Holman at gunpoint, and the third incident was the abduction and murder of Shirley Banks. The prosecution presented evidence that connected Cannan to Banks’ murder, such as several item found in his possession that belonged to her, namely her tax disc and her car as well as the discovery of her thumbprint on a document found in his flat.
It was the theory of the prosecution that Cannan had abducted Shirley on the night she went missing, held her overnight in his flat, and then persuaded or forced her to phone in sick at her workplace, promising, but really pretending, that he was going to release her. Mr. Chadd presented a picture of Cannan as a sexual predator, saying “This man, has committed the gravest sexual offences and the murder of Mrs Banks.” The young female victim of the rape that occurred in Whiteladies Road, Bristol, on October 6, 1986, was present in court as a witness for the prosecution. She gave a terrifying account of her ordeal, in which she said “I felt he would have killed me with the knife if I had not done what he wanted.” Semen stains found on the victim’s clothing positively identified John Cannan as her attacker. Julia Holman also gave evidence about her horrific ordeal when she was confronted by a gunman who attempted to abduct her. She testified how she had picked Cannan out of a police line-up as the man who accosted her that night.
The solicitor Annabel Rose took the stand and was cross-examined about her affair with Cannan, which lasted some 11 months, ending in August 1987. She said that when the sexual relationship had ended, Cannan began to threaten her in ‘the most unpleasant way’, even suggesting that he knew where he parents lived, and told her that if she did not do what he wanted they, and her husband, would be harmed. Rose had been subjected to considerable publicity over he affair with Cannan, but was not accused of any criminal offences. 69-year-old Amelia Hart told the court of the incident she had witnessed in Leigh Woods, close to where Cannan lived on October 9, 1987. The defence however, attempted to insinuate that she had a vivid imagination, and what she saw did not constitute a prelude to murder. Mrs Hart insisted she was telling the truth, but the defence argued that she had seen photographs of both Mrs. Banks and John Cannan in the newspapers, presenting her as an un-credible witness. Mr Hart, who was partly deaf, admitted only to seeing a figure in the woods.
During the course of the trial, the 500-page transcript of the tape recorded interviews with Cannan in police custody were read out by Detective Chief Inspector Brian Saunders. The court was also shown a Lonely Hearts dating video which the smooth-talking Cannan had recorded just six weeks prior to the abduction and murder of Shirley Banks. In the tape Cannan is asked, “What do you look for in a person? What attracts you?”, to which he replied “I think apart from the physical side, again I think somebody who’s pleasant, who’s natural, who’s relaxed, somebody who’s calm – just pleasant, someone nice.” Later he’s asked if he has any ambitions, and he replies, “I’ve achieved them. Basic, financially I’ve achieved them.” During that time, Cannan was unemployed and robbing shops in order to buy things.
After hearing the evidence against him for nearly four weeks, John Cannan had opted for the right to remain silent, and decided not to give evidence. The defence explained to the jury that the defendants right not to give evidence should not be viewed as an admission of guilt. His defence counsel had little to work with, given the mounting evidence that implicated his guilt. The prosecution contended John Cannan was a cold-blooded murderer, who had kidnapped Shirley Banks, held her captive in his flat and then battered her to death. The defence had been unable to explain how Banks thumbprint, preserved by the ice-cold stream, had matched the one found on a document in Cannan’s home and which belonged to him. Paul Chadd said there was overwhelming evidence that John Cannan had subjected others to terrifying ordeals of rape and assault. The jury deliberated for ten hours before returning their verdict on April 28, 1989. Standing in the dock, Cannan betrayed no emotion as the jury foreman read out to the court that unanimous verdicts had been reached on all charges. He was found guilty of abducting and murdering Shirley Banks, as well as the six other charges of rape, buggery, abduction and attempted kidnapping.
Sentencing Cannan, Mr. Justice Drake said “I have to bear in mind mercy, but I also have to deter others who might be minded to have the inclination to attack and violate women. Above all, my duty is to protect others from you and the possibility that you may ever have the opportunity to commit such offences.” He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Shirley Banks, and the Judge said “You should never again be allowed liberty outside prison walls.” A that moment, John Cannan showed emotion as he staggered at the top of the septs leading down to the holding cells. With Cannan now safely behind bars, investigators in the Suzy Lamplugh case were preparing to question him in relation to her unsolved disappearance. Many national newspapers ran with this, publishing headlines such as “NOW CANNAN TO FACE MR KIPPER QUIZ”. Cannan’s own family, including his sister, have called for him admit his involvement in Suzy’s murder, and to tell police where he had hidden her body.
Cannan was questioned by police regarding the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh in 1989 and 1990. He had been released from the hostel on July 25, 1986, just three days before Suzy was abducted, and had frequented two local wine bars that Suzy herself had also visited, one of which was the Crocodile Tears, just across the road from where she worked. Cannan was a known opportunist, and he liked to enjoy the finer things in life, that included fast cars, expensive suits and attractive women. He knew the kind of girls he liked could be found in Fulham, and this could be why he targeted that area. Cannan had managed to impress his police interrogators with his exceptional ability to remember dates and events, but when asked to account for his movements from July 25 to 28, 1986, he had suffered an inconvenient loss of memory. When approaching women, he would often pretend to be a businessman, something investigators suspect he used to engage Suzy Lamplugh and Sandra Court into gaining their trust.
His previous girlfriends had spoken of his easy charm and ability to come across as a smooth-talking ladies man. One these ex-girlfriends, Gilly Paige, came forward in 1990 with information on her former partner. She claimed that John had told her Suzy’s body was buried at Norton Barracks. Acting on this information, detectives visited him again at HMP Full Sutton, York, where he once again denied having anything to do with the crime. Paige would later retract the claim. At the time Suzy went missing, Cannan was close to the area she had vanished from, and was using a borrowed car. Police suspected he had spotted Suzy in the street and then followed her to the office where she worked, and introduced himself as Mr. Kipper, the potential house buyer. During his time in prison, Cannan had been known by the nickname “Mr. Kipper” by other inmates. In August 1991, Cannan then wrote a letter to a local Sutton newspaper denying any involvement in her disappearance.
It was reported that an astrologist allegedly visited Cannan in jail, and was told by the convicted killer that a “Bristol Businessman” was responsible for the murder of Suzy, with Cannan commenting that, “I know who killed Shirley, Suzy and another girl.” The Independent wrote an article in July 1993, in which the newspaper argued that Cannan’s life sentenced imposed by the Judge removed any incentive to confess to further crimes. In 1994, Suzy was declared legally dead, presumed murdered. Norton Barracks would resurface again in December 1999, when Suzy’s mother received a letter claiming her daughter was buried on the site. A new cold case squad was set-up in early 2000 under Senior Investigating Officer Jim Dickie, who focused the search for the elusive Mr. Kipper.
He had his team computerise the card index which led to the discovery that other estate agents in Fulham had been contacted by a “Mr. Kipper”. Another of Cannan’s ex-girlfriend’s came forward with information. Daphne Sargent told detectives that when she first heard about the case, she believed John Cannan was responsible. She commented, “As soon as I heard about Suzy, I knew it was John. It had all the hallmarks… right down to the champagne.” It was believed by many investigating officers that Cannan resembled the composite sketch of Mr. Kipper, and Sargent recalled how he had a strong interest in the case. There was speculation that Cannan may have been in a brief relationship with Suzy, and when she attempted to end their fling, she was abducted and murdered. This type of behaviour was indicative of Cannan, who could not accept rejection from his lovers, often threatening them when they attempted to end the relationship.
A year after Diana Lamplugh received the annonymous letter, investigators conducted a five-day search in December 2000, with over 30 officers combing the area in and around the site of the former Norton barracks. A further search was made around an area between Pershore and Drakes Broughton, in a field off the B4084, which was about three miles from the Norton Barracks in Worcestershire. That same month John Cannan was arrested for Suzy’s murder and questioned at length by officers, but was not charged due to a lack of evidence. The following year in April 2001, a cellmate of Cannan told detectives that the convicted murderer had told him Suzy was buried under the patio at his mother’s house in Sutton Coldfield. It was also suspected that the fake number plate Cannan had placed on Shirley Banks Mini had significance to the case. The plate, SLP 386S was believed to represent Suzy’s initials and as well as 386 representing a grid reference to where Banks body was found, near Northing Line 386. Norton Barracks is also located near 3° 08′ 06″ West.
Detectives interviewed Cannan about this, and although he admitted the initials might stand for Suzy, he reiterated his previous statement, that a “Bristol Businessman” was involved. He said this man had bought the car for £100, and was responsible for the deaths of Banks, Lamplugh and another woman, presumably Sandra Court. When detectives pressed if this man was Cannan, he replied “yes”, but then immediately recanted his statement. A further search was conducted at the field off the B4084 in Worcestershire, but there were no findings. The property on Shipton Road, in the West Midlands was then searched in 2002, although nothing of significance was found. Later that year in November 2002, police made the decision to publicly name John Cannan as a potential prime suspect in the disappearance and murder of Suzy Lamplugh.
Officers confessed they should have followed up on information provided by Lamplugh’s parents about a suspect from Bristol, and that John Cannan should have been the prime suspect much earlier in the investigation, while checks should have been made on all recently released sex offenders in the London area. Investigators confirmed publicly it was their belief that Cannan murdered Suzy Lamplugh. From his prison cell, Cannan once again denied being involved in Suzy’s disappearance and complained through his solicitors that lublicly naming him had caused him to be “devastated and distressed”. There was however, insufficient evidence to charge Cannan over the death of Suzy, and in response her parents considered bringing a private prosecution and civil action again him. With little evidence to charge Cannan, police began looking at other potential suspects by 2008, and found a connection between Lamplugh and convicted serial killer Steve Wright. Wright had been arrested on December 19, 2006 for his suspected involvement in the murders of five sex workers.
After his conviction in February 2008, officers involved in the Lamplugh investigation discovered that Wright had worked as a steward on the QE2 in the 1980’s, the same time as Suzy. A senior Metropolitan Officer would, however, later describe the link as “speculative” and claimed it was not a strong line of enquiry. Police began another search of the field off the B4084 near Pershore and Drakes Broughton in Worcestershire in August 2010, without success. By late October 2018 another search was made of the property previously owned by Cannan’s mother at Shipton Road in Sutton Coldfield. A team of investigators spent two-weeks at the house and dug up the garage and garden of the semi-detached home, now owned by another West Midlands family. An excavation was conducted of the grounds of the property by 15 officers of the Metropolitan police under the direction of an archaeologist. Nothing was found to connect Cannan with the murder of Suzy Lamplugh, and the investigation remains unsolved.
Detectives have never been able to link him with the crime, but is highly likely that John Cannan is responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Suzy Lamplugh. He was in the same area at the time she went missing, and he has been linked to other crimes, including unsolved murders of young women. He is considered a strong suspect in the murder of Sandra Court, and although he was questioned and discounted by detectives, he was known for his ability to evade the truth and provide convincing alibi’s for his whereabouts. He visited Bournemouth on several occasions around the time of the Court murder, and his handwriting is considered similar to that on the note sent to police by her killer. Cannan preyed on young, beautiful, successful women, and his involvement in other cases is strongly suspected. He is a lady killer, in the same mould as American serial killer Ted Bundy, and if released from prison, Cannan would present a considerable danger to women.