At lunchtime on Monday, July 28, 1986, Suzy Lamplugh left the Fulham office of the Sturgis estate agency in her white company Ford Fiesta.
Her desk diary said she had an appointment at 12.45pm to show a house in Shorrolds Road. The prospective buyer had a quirky name: Mr Kipper. He had also left his address.
A woman resembling Miss Lamplugh, a vivacious 25-year-old with blonde hair and blue eyes, was seen coming out of the property at 1pm in the company of an ‘extremely smart’ man with dark, swept-back hair and a dark suit.
A witness thought they were arguing before they got into a car. That was possibly the last time Miss Lamplugh was seen, alive or dead, except by her killer.
Her disappearance and presumed murder – she was officially declared dead in 1994 – has an iconic place in the canon of modern British crime.
Estate agent Miss Lamplugh, 25, (pictured) disappeared in 1986, having left her West London offices to meet a mystery client known only as Mr Kipper, whom police believe is convicted killer John Cannan (right)
It caught the public imagination in a way we have seen only rarely since, such as with the Madeleine McCann case or the 1990s murders of Jill Dando and Rachel Nickell.
The interest came not only because of the circumstances – how could a young woman just vanish off the face of the earth while at work in the middle of the day in a leafy neighbourhood in central London? – but the tireless manner in which Suzy’s heartbroken parents campaigned for both a resolution to the case and to prevent such tragedies overtaking other young women.
Paul and Diana Lamplugh received OBEs for their charitable work with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. But they did not live to see what they wanted above all else: their daughter to be laid to rest.
Now, 32 years after her disappearance, police are again digging for Suzy Lamplugh. The question this week is not only whether they will find her at last, but why it has taken them so long to properly excavate the site they are searching.
A concrete-filled former inspection pit in a domestic garage at the end of a garden in suburban Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham – more than 120 miles from Fulham – could yield the answer to the Lamplugh mystery.
The property is the former home of the mother of the man whom police named in 2002 as the ‘sole suspect’ in Suzy’s disappearance; John Cannan, 64, currently serving three life sentences for the killing of a young woman the year after Suzy vanished, the attempted kidnap of another woman the day before the murder and a knifepoint rape in the autumn of 1986.
Police have been searching the old iron corrugated garage at John Cannan’s mother Sheila’s former home in Sutton Coldfield
Diane and Paul Lamplugh, parents of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh, died before finding out who murdered their daughter
Cannan’s mother Sheila lived at the house until 1992. Fifteen years ago, following a tip-off from a prisoner serving time with Cannan, officers searched the garden of the property.
They concentrated on the patio by the back door and found nothing. The concrete floor of the garage went untouched.
This week, following another tip, the police have returned to Sutton Coldfield.
Suzy Lamplugh was one of four children who grew up in middle-class East Sheen, which lies a few miles across the Thames from Fulham.
By the summer of 1986 she was enjoying life as part of the ‘Putney Set’ – the young professionals who congregated in the wine bars and restaurants in riverside south-west London. She was happy and had no shortage of admirers. Then she vanished.
Her car was found abandoned outside another house on the Sturgis books, in Stevenage Road, Fulham.
A forensics tent has been put up in the back garden today amid claims Suzy may have been covered in concrete
The ignition key was missing and her purse was in the glove box. Police frogmen combed the nearby Thames. No trace was found.
Mr Kipper’s name and address proved to be false. A photo-fit of the man seen at the Shorrolds Road address with the woman thought to be Suzy was released. No progress was made.
Cannan was a ‘credible’ suspect. Handsome, charming and one of the most dangerous men in Britain, until a few days before Suzy’s disappearance he was living at the Wormwood Scrubs hostel on the Prison Release Scheme.
He had served five years of an eight-year sentence for a knifepoint rape and theft.
The extent to which he posed a threat to women was made clear with the rape and murder in Bristol of 29-year-old newly-wed Shirley Banks, a pretty blonde like Suzy.
She and her orange Mini went missing on October 8, 1987, from a Bristol multi-storey car park, after an evening’s shopping in Debenhams.
Three weeks later, Cannan was arrested for an attempted robbery in Leamington Spa. Mrs Banks’s tax disc was found in a briefcase in the glove box of his black BMW.
Specialist officers are scanning the concrete for any signs of Suzy’s remains and hopefully solve the notorious crimes
Her car was later found in a garage owned by Cannan. It had been repainted blue. When her body was found on Easter Sunday 1988, having been bludgeoned about the head and dumped in a ditch, police were able to obtain a thumbprint that matched a print found in Cannan’s house.
He was charged with murder, a number of sexual offences against two other women and attempting to abduct a woman at gunpoint in Bristol the night before the Banks killing.
In April 1989, Cannan was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum tariff of 35 years. His appeal against conviction was rejected in 1991.
In the three years after the Banks murder, Cannan was twice interviewed by police about the Lamplugh case and denied any involvement. He was arrested and questioned again during the subsequent reinvestigation which began in 2000.
Convinced of his guilt, detectives built a detailed picture of Cannan’s modus operandi.
Through interviews with his former lovers, fellow prisoners and Suzy’s circle of friends, they also assembled persuasive circumstantial evidence which contradicted the original theory that the estate agent had been lured to her death by a stranger.
Police are pulling up paving slabs and smashing through two different types of concrete as they hunt for human remains
Not only was Cannan Suzy’s killer, they believed, but murderer and victim had been in a romantic relationship shortly before her death. The violently jealous Cannan had killed Suzy when she rejected him.
Suzy had told her family there was an ‘exciting new man’ in her life. Was that man ‘Mr Kipper’?
Fellow prisoners at his bail hostel recalled Cannan being nicknamed ‘Kipper’ because he loved kippers for breakfast and had an ability to fall asleep – kip – easily.
While serving the remainder of his original sentence on licence, Cannan worked on day release at a prop hire company in nearby Acton.
He was also allowed at weekends to visit his family in Bristol, where he had a married lover. Colleagues told police he cruised the bars and clubs of south-west London, drinking and breaking his hostel curfew 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.
In short, women just like Suzy Lamplugh.
Officers including experts who helped search for Madeleine McCann in Portugal are using specialist equipment to scan and dig up concrete at Cannan’s mother Sheila’s former home
Indeed, he had spoken of ‘one special girlfriend in Fulham’. For her part, Suzy told her family that her mystery man was a businessman with ‘Bristol connections’.
But she grew disillusioned with his dedication to this other separate part of his life.
She told her mother a man kept asking her to go out but she planned to have lunch with him and tell him their relationship was over. Was this Cannan?
How Suzy Lamplugh vanished after going to meet a man named ‘Mr Kipper’ 32 years ago
Estate agent Suzy Lamplugh disappeared after showing Mr Kipper around a house in 1986
July 28, 1986
Suzy Lamplugh, 25, disappears after leaving her office to show a man known only as ‘Mr Kipper’ around a house in Fulham, west London.
Her white Ford Fiesta is found parked outside a home for sale in Stevenage Road, which is a couple of miles from her appointment in Shorrolds Road.
Three days before Suzy vanished Cannan was given day release from Wormwood Scrubs after serving five years for rape.
The missing woman’s parents Paul and Diana Lamplugh set up a charity in their daughter’s name, called The Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
Officers carry out DNA testing on 800 unidentified bodies in a bid to identify that of Suzy, but no matches come back.
The police inquiry is officially closed due to a lack of evidence or leads. The file remains open, however.
Police conduct their first interview with John Cannan, who is serving three life sentences for murder and a series of sex attacks.
His prison nickname is revealed to be Kipper. However police are unable to link any evidence to him, despite his girlfriend’s suspicions that he is involved.
A young woman’s body is found in Mendip Hills, Somerset, but it is quickly discounted as being that of Suzy.
Suzy Lamplugh is officially declared dead by the police.
The Protection from Harassment Act is passed in the Houses of Parliament, thanks in part to the work of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
Police spectacularly announce the case is to be reopened due to the tracing of a car that may be linked to the case.
Later in the year, officers arrest John Cannan and interview him once again, but he is not charged.
In an unusual move, police reveal Cannan to be their ‘only suspect’ in the case, but it is said that there is not enough evidence to charge him.
Prisoner comes forward to claim Cannan told him he had killed Suzy Lamplugh and buried her under a patio at his mother’s house. Police visited the house but failed to find any trace of her.
Steve Wright, who murdered five prostitutes, is linked to the case, but no evidence links him to the crime expect that he worked with Suzy in the 1980s aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship.
October 2018: Police start digging in the garden that once belonged to his mother Sheila
Suzy was also receiving bouquets around this time, one of the predator’s favoured approaches.
Three days before Suzy disappeared, a young woman working in an optician’s near Cannan’s workplace was approached by a man, whom police believe to have been Cannan, who said he had seen her through the window before asking her out for dinner.
When she declined politely, he left, only to return later with several bouquets.
The day before Suzy disappeared, a witness was so struck by a man she saw staring intently through the windows of Suzy’s estate agency window that she made a mental note of his appearance. She later identified the man as Cannan.
Was Suzy about to dump Cannan or tell him to leave her alone? Did she know the ‘Mr Kipper’ she recorded as a client was in fact her sometime boyfriend?
Watching a TV report of the search for Suzy, Cannan allegedly told a fellow prisoner: ‘They won’t find her there.’
According to another inmate, Cannan confessed to Suzy’s killing, saying: ‘Yes, I’ve done it, but they’ll never find the body’, and ‘Look, there’s no body, no crime, they can’t prove a thing.’
Such potentially self-serving claims had to be treated with scepticism.
But a prison officer who knew Cannan between 1987 and 1991 said the killer eventually stopped denying his involvement in Suzy’s disappearance, saying: ‘It’s up to them to prove it. They’ll never prove it.’
In November 2002, after the CPS ruled there was still insufficient evidence to charge anyone, the police took the unusual step of naming Cannan as the prime suspect.
The following month came the tip from the prisoner about the patio, yards from where they are digging now.
Former Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Jim Dickie led the re-investigation of the Lamplugh case.
Last night he told the Mail: ‘During my investigation we did two interviews with Cannan. One at Hammersmith police station in 2001 or 2002, which was recorded on a video, and another one at a police station near his jail, Full Sutton, where he is on the sex offenders’ wing, later in 2002.
‘We had done quite a lot of research on interview strategy, liaising with officers on the Shirley Banks case, and were told he would be evasive.
‘And that was exactly how he was. If faced with a difficult question, he would go off on a tangent and ask my officers questions, instead of answering the questions we asked him.
‘He likes to think he is intellectually superior to police. It suited us to let him think that he was.
‘He was in complete denial about ever committing any sexual offence, with anyone. He denied murdering Suzy, denied murdering Shirley Banks. He even suggested he had been fitted up and there was a conspiracy against him.
‘He is a psychopath and one of the most dangerous men in the country.
‘His victims are all young, blonde, attractive women. He stalks his victims.
‘He has a prolific background of sexual offences, rape, indecent assault, abduction and attempted abduction.
‘He is very, very controlling. He was very violent when he didn’t get his way.’
Mr Dickie said he was ‘very frustrated’ he could not gather sufficient evidence for Cannan to be charged after his inquiry. The CPS reviewed a file on the case and blocked charges.
‘We tried everything we could,’ he said. ‘We asked him if he would reveal all when his mother died, and he denied that. Maybe he will confess on his deathbed.’
Will Cannan take the riddle of Suzy’s disappearance to his grave? Or will police find her remains in a back garden in Sutton Coldfield?
Should her remains be found there, murder charges would certainly follow for Cannan.
Mr Dickie is sceptical about a dramatic discovery: ‘My heart says yes. My head says no.’ Time will tell.