Who was Suzy Lamplugh? Police begin new excavations in effort to solve 1986 murder case

Disappearance of 25-year-old estate agent in July 1986 remains one of UK’s most famous unsolved cases

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 30 October 2018 23:01
Police search Sutton Coldfield property in Suzy Lamplugh murder probe

Fifteen years after naming John Cannan as the “only suspect” connected to the disappearance of 25-year-old Suzy Lamplugh in July 1986, police are digging up the concrete floor of a garage at a house in the Midlands which used to belong to his mother.

The estate agent was never seen again after going to Fulham to show a man identified as “Mr Kipper” a property.

Although the case has been reopened several times, Lamplugh’s body has never been found and the case remains one the UK’s most infamous unsolved cases.

The current search of the house in Sutton Coldfield follows a smaller excavation by police in 2002, when they examined a patio area following a tip-off from one of Cannan’s fellow prisoners, who told the police he had heard she was buried there.

London's Metropolitan Police have not said what has prompted this search, but confirmed it was leading the investigation supported by officers from West Midlands Police.

Investigators had returned to the house earlier this year, asking for access to an area at the bottom of the garden where there is a small garage.

One line of enquiry is believed to be whether Cannan put Lamplugh’s body in a car-inspection pit, and then filled it with concrete.

No one has ever been convicted in connection with Lamplugh’s death and she was presumed dead in 1994.

Cannan is already in prison, serving 35 years for the rape and murder of 30-year-old Shirley Banks in Bristol in 1987.

Suzy Lamplugh, who disappeared in 1986 aged 25

Suzy Lamplugh, who disappeared in 1986 aged 25 (supplied)

At the time of Lamplugh’s disappearance a year earlier, he was on day release from Wormwood Scrubs prison following a conviction for rape. He had reportedly been nicknamed “Kipper” while in prison.

Cannan’s mother’s house in Sutton Coldfield was bought in 1992 by Philip Carey, who was aware of the backstory.

He told journalists this week the structure of the garage had now been dismantled and police were interested in what was beneath the floor.

Jim Dickie, the detective superintendent leading the investigation between 2000 and 2006, confirmed his officers did not dig or perform an “extensive” search of the home at the time.

“We had no evidence or intelligence to lead us to believe that John Cannan may have secreted Suzy’s body there,” he told the BBC.

The Sutton Coldfield property is not the first site to be dug in the search for her remains. Police twice excavated sites in Worcestershire, first near Norton Barracks in 2000 and then a meadow several miles away in 2010.

Cannan, now 64, has been questioned several times over the murder and has denied the allegation.

Suspect John Cannan’s mother’s former house in Sutton Coldfield

Lamplugh, one of four, was born in Cheltenham before the family moved to East Sheen in southwest London.

She had worked as a beautician on the QE2 cruise ship before becoming an estate agent in London.

This later linked her to another suspect in the case, Steve Wright, who murdered five prostitutes in Ipswich in 2007, as he had worked as a steward on the boat at the same time. His ex-wife checked her diaries and found he had been on shore leave at the time of Lamplugh’s disappearance. All details were passed on to police.

After working on the QE2, Lamplugh she moved to Putney in southwest London, and got a job at the Sturgis estate agents.

On the day of her disappearance on 28 July 1986 she had written an appointment in her diary reading: “12.45 Mr Kipper, 37 Shorrolds O/S”. Shorrolds Road is in Fulham, with O/S apparently meaning “outside”.

She took her keys, a purse containing £15 and was wearing a grey skirt, low stiletto heels, a peach-coloured shirt and a dark jacket to the appointment, which was when she was last seen, police said.

Witnesses said shortly after 1pm she had been seen arguing with the man outside the property. When she failed to attend another appointment and had not contacted her office by 7pm, her employer called the police.

John Cannan was jailed for life in 1989 for the rape and murder of Shirley Banks

That evening her white Ford Fiesta was found a mile and a half away, outside another house, in Stevenage Road in Fulham, also for sale with Sturgis.

The car’s handbrake was off and ignition key was missing. Lamplugh’s purse was found in the door pocket.

In the days after her disappearance police divers searched the Thames near Stevenage Road, and helicopters flew over parks and cemeteries.

By the next year the police had carried out DNA tests on 800 unidentified bodies in an effort to identify Lamplugh’s body, but found no positive matches.

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She was declared dead by police in 1994.

In the months after her disappearance, her parents, Diane and Paul Lamplugh set up the Suzy Lamplugh Trust to “campaign, educate and support people to help reduce the risk of violence and aggression for everyone.” Both her parents have since died.

The current owner of the suspect’s mother’s house, Mr Carey, described the renewed investigation at his home as “surreal”.

He said: “Either [the property] is eliminated from it entirely, or if there is something found, it’s closure for the family, and this tragic story can come to an end.”