Who is John Cannan?

John Cannan is born in the Midlands to a middle-class family. Aged fourteen he’s convicted of a sex attack in a phone box. In 1980 he sexually assaults and brutally attacks his girlfriend after she leaves him. He then goes on to rob a petrol station at knifepoint in 1981. That same year he robs a knitwear shop, tying up one shop assistant and raping the other. For his crimes he’s eventually jailed for eight years. Significantly as he approaches the end of his prison term he’s moved to a day-release hostel at Wormwood Scrubs where he works at a prop-hire company. On 25th July 1986 he’s released. Three days later Suzy disappears. Cannan later moves to the Bristol area.


“What is significant is he was released from prison the Friday before she went missing. Now ok people will say ‘what a coincidence’, I don’t believe in too many coincidences not when they all mount up.” Jim Dickie, Detective Chief Inspector

Now aged forty-six, Cannan is once again in prison, but this time serving a full-life tariff, until he reaches 65 years old or possibly longer (if he is still deemed a danger to the public). He’s been convicted of a number of crimes but importantly the abduction of Julia Holman at gunpoint and the murder of Shirley Banks in Bristol on 8th October 1987. Shirley Banks is 29 years old and only recently married. She’s out alone when she disappears from a Bristol car-park following a shopping trip. Shirley’s body is found in the Quantock Hills the following Easter. Sometime after the murder Cannan is arrested in Leamington Spa for attempting to rob and rape two women at a clothes store. It’s while gathering evidence to prosecute him, the police search his car and discover a tax-disc belonging to Shirley Banks. It’s hidden within his briefcase which has been stashed in the glove-box. They also uncover Shirley’s fingerprint in Cannan’s Bristol flat.

The police try to link the Shirley Banks murder in 1987 with the Suzy Lamplugh disappearance in 1986. The police discover Shirley’s orange Mini Clubman in the lock-up garage at his block of flats. He’s crudely painted it blue to avoid detection. Significantly he’s changed Shirley’s number plate to read ‘SLP386S’. “You could interpret that as Suzy Lamplugh 86, the year being ‘86’. It could also be a grid reference on a map because it corresponds very close to the area of Norton Barracks in Somerset. It’s the sort of thing Cannan would do. He would throw in a sweetener to either draw you off completely or to give you a big clue and see if you were clever enough.” Jim Dickie, Detective Chief Inspector

Unfortunately for the police investigating Suzy’s disappearance, Cannan is by now very used to their interviewing techniques. He plays games and enjoys taking control in an interview situation. Because he can do this, he strongly believes he’s much cleverer than they are.

“Cannan was interviewed by us twice. You might find this strange but John Cannan was in the prison in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, yet he denies ever having been to Fulham. He knew where Kensington was, knew where Notting Hill was, he knew where Hammersmith was. But strangely said he’d never been to Fulham. We could prove that he had.” Jim Dickie, Detective Chief Inspector

The Lamplugh family also remember that in the weeks leading up to Suzy’s disappearance she had a boyfriend with a West Country accent and they believe he was from the Bristol area. Having moved to Bristol after Suzy’s disappearance, it locates him in the right place to go onto murder Shirley Banks.

Suzy also revealed to a member of her family that she was scared of a new boyfriend. Was he John Cannan? His previous girlfriends recall that he enjoyed telling people he was a businessman from the Bristol area. They also remember him being an old romantic, always with a bottle of champagne.

They may have a suspect, but there is insufficient evidence linking him to the crime. The police need to find a body and fast. They turn their attention to Norton Barracks. It’s here where former girlfriend of Cannan, remembers a conversation she had with him. It’s enough for the police to take seriously. They search the area, but due to the intervening years the land has been redeveloped, and a housing development built. Nothing is found. Convinced Suzy is there, they revisit the site of the barracks in 2010, but to no avail. Searches are also carried out at Dead Woman’s Ditch in the Quantock Hills, where Shirley Banks’ body was found; and in the Somerset Levels. They are both unsuccessful.