Suzy Lamplugh vanishing – theories behind estate agent’s unsolved disappearance

Nearly 35 years ago, Suzy Lamplugh left her office and never came back.

The estate agent had an appointment to show a house to a potential buyer in Shorrolds Road, Fulham at 12.45pm on July 1986.

When she didn’t return to work her anxious colleagues got nervous and after a few hours they contacted Suzy’s family in a bid to find her whereabouts.

The police searched the property she was supposed to be showing round then her own address, initially holding her father back as they feared they may make a gruesome discovery.

Looking through Suzy’s diary, they discovered she was supposed to be meeting a ‘Mr Kipper’.

Later that night her white Ford Fiesta was found that night a mile away outside a different property that was also up for sale – with worrying signs.

The car keys were missing, her purse had been left in the side door, the drivers door was unlocked but the passengers was locked and bizarrely the handbrake was down.

However, most concerning of all was that the driver’s seat had been pushed back to a distance that would have been impossible for Suzy to drive from.

“I think the circumstances surrounding her disappearance were becoming more sinister, says DC Mick Jones, who was investigating the case, on Channel 5 documentary The Vanishing of Suzy Lamplugh.

That night the police decided to deal with Suzy’s disappearance as a murder inquiry and appealed for witnesses.

An eye witness said he spotted a woman matching Suzy’s appearance talking with a man in Shorrolds Road before getting into a car, which was used to create a photo fit of ‘Mr Kipper’.

There were a lot of theories and speculation surrounding Mr Kipper.

“Some people latched onto the fact that if you added ‘DNA’ to ‘the word ‘Kipper’ you got ‘Kidnapper’.,” said Detective Sergeant and Inspector Mick Barley, who worked on the case from 1986 to 1999.

He added: “Or ‘Kipper’ rhyming slang for Jack The Ripper.”

Six months later a member of the public found the very thing the police had been searching for, a BMW registered to a Mr Kipper.

Unfortunately it leaked out to the press and there was a race to Belgium to speak to the Dutch national with that name, but he had an alibi and was fully eliminated from the inquiry.

In the January the year after Suzy vanished, John Cannan, who had raped a woman at knifepoint in Reading was highlighted as a possible suspect by Reading CID, but the lead was not pursued at that stage.

In October 1987, clothes designer Shirley Banks went missing after going shopping in a strikingly similar case.

Cannan was arrested three weeks later on suspicion of Banks’ abduction, but he was still not considered a suspect in the Lamplugh case despite pleas from Suzy’s parents.

In April 1989, Cannan was convicted of the murder of Banks, attempted kidnapping of Julia Holman and rape of a woman in Reading and given three life sentences with the recommendation he never be released.

Author Joan Smith said: “In the Suzy Lamplugh case, what they should have been looking at is men with a record of attacking women. Sexual predators who might have been in the area when she was abducted. And that certainly applies to John Cannan.”

Cannan has always denied murdering Lamplugh.

Detective Superintendent Malcolm Hackett did interview Cannan in July 1989 but said the primary objective was to “eliminate” Cannan from the inquiry and he was not charged at that time.

Cannan’s ex-girlfriend, Gilly Paige, told police that he said Suzy’s body had been buried at Norton Barracks, although she later retracted the assertion.

In 1994, Suzy was officially declared dead, presumed murdered.

DCI Barry Webb, Head of Met Police Murder Review Group, decided the case needed reinvestigating from the grass roots in May 2001.

Webb believes a false license plate – SLP386S – on a car recovered in 2000 that was once used by Cannan related to Suzy.

He explained: “I believe the SLP stood for Suzy Lamplugh and the 386 stood for the third victim in 1986. And that’s the sort of thing that would really appeal to Cannan in terms of showing he is more superior than everybody else.

The first thing Senior Investigating Officer Jim Dickie, who took over the case, did was to computerise the 26,000 index cards to make sure nothing would be missed.

In December 2000, Cannan was arrested for Lamplugh’s murder and questioned but he was not charged.

In 2002, Dickie sent a recommendation to the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute Cannan for the murder and abduction on Lamplugh, but the CPS decided there was no realistic prospect of conviction without a body or direct evidence linking Cannan to Suzy.

The Met Police were so sure of their evidence they took the unprecedented step of calling a press conference to name Cannan as their prime suspect and apologised for previous errors.

The family were resigned to the fact the Cannan was never going to be prosecuted but felt relieved he was in prison and not able to target any more women.

Her parents, Paul and Diana, set up The Suzy Lamplugh Trust in December 1986 as a charitable foundation.

Its aim was to raise awareness of personal safety, help people avoid becoming victims of aggression and to offer counselling and support to relatives and friends of missing people.

The Trust runs the UK’s The national Stalking Helpline and organises the annual even National Person Safety Day.

Sadly, Diana died in August 2011 aged 75 and Paul passed away at the age of 87 in June 2018.

They both died without finding out what happened to their daughter or being able to bury her body.