John David Guise Cannan (born 20 February 1954)[1][2][failed verification] is a British murderer, serial rapist, serial abductor and suspected serial killer.[3] Cannan, a former car salesman,[4] was convicted in July 1988 of murder and multiple sexual offences, abductions and attempted abductions. He was given three life sentences for the murder of Shirley Banks in Bristol in October 1987, the attempted kidnapping of Julia Holman on the previous night, the rape of a woman in Reading, Berkshire in 1986, the rape of his girlfriend in December 1980 and several other abductions, attempted abductions and sexual offences.[5]

John Cannan
John David Guise Cannan

(1954-02-20)20 February 1954
CountryUnited Kingdom

Cannan is the only suspect in the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh, who vanished in July 1986 after going to meet a man calling himself 'Mr Kipper'. In November 2002 the Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge him.[6] That month, however, Scotland Yard held a press conference at which, in a rare move, officers named him as the man they believe murdered Lamplugh.[7]

Cannan will be eligible for release in 2022. Cannan has previously indicated that he may only confess to the murder of Lamplugh when his mother dies, to avoid causing her further grief.

Early lifeEdit

Born in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, Cannan was sent by his parents to a private school for boys at age 4.[3] During this time, Cannan later disclosed, he had a female teacher who always used to eat biscuits at break time and whom he said he learned to charm into giving him biscuits as well.[3] When he was aged around 7 or 8, a teacher indecently assaulted Cannan, forcing him to drop his trousers and touch the assaulter while being indecently assaulted himself.[3] Cannan continued to be indecently assaulted by the teacher for months.[3] These events had a lasting effect on Cannan, who felt deeply ashamed by them, and the young boy became afraid of school and developed a stammer from being nervous often in school.[3] At age 9, Cannan's parents took him to the doctor over his anxiety and he did not return to the school.[3] Cannan later claimed that the abuse he experienced at school left him feeling that he often had to deal with humiliation and shame which in turn led him to express much anger and resentment.[3] Cannan was also beaten by his father as a child and suffered psychological abuse.[3]

Sexual offences and robberiesEdit

In 1968, at age 14, John Cannan indecently assaulted a woman in a phone box in Erdington[8] and was placed on probation.[9][10] He married his first wife, June Vale, in May 1978; 7 years after they had originally become engaged.[3] She would prove to be his one and only steady girlfriend, although he claimed that he was hassled into marrying her.[3] Vale soon gave birth to a child, a child that Cannan did not want.[3] By 1980, Cannan had slipped into alcoholism, and spent much of his time frequenting bars and nightclubs in order to avoid going home to his family after work.[3]

Cannan left his wife in 1980 for Sharon Major, whom he assaulted and attempted to kill when she tried to leave him.[8][3] After turning up to her house on New Years Eve with a bottle of wine, he strangled her during sex while telling her he was going to kill her, and also brought a gun to the house.[3] Major was able to fight Cannan off and was taken to hospital in an ambulance.[3] Cannan told her on the way to the hospital that he had meant to kill her.[3]

In March 1981 Cannan met Jean Bradford, who ran a ladies knitwear shop. After meeting her he entered her shop and attempted to rob her at knifepoint; he tied up Bradford's mother with tights and raped her daughter in front of her, after threatening to stab her 17-month old baby.[9][3] This was soon after he had also robbed a petrol station.[9] He served five years of an eight-year sentence for rape after being convicted in June 1981.[2] He was also questioned about the attacks on his girlfriend Sharon Major in December 1980.[3] Cannan served his sentence at HM Prison Bristol before being transferred to Portland, Dorset and then to London.[8] From 25 January 1986 until the end of his sentence in July, he was serving his sentence in open prison conditions in a prison hostel at Wormwood Scrubs, meaning he was on day release at the time of the murder of Sandra Court in Bournemouth in May and in the lead up to the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh in July of that year.[11] He attempted suicide in September by taking 68 paracetamol tablets.[3]

Police say that Cannan's modus operandi was to pretend to be a West Country businessman. He would ply women with chocolates and flowers and then attack when the women rejected him.[12] In September 1986, he began a relationship with his solicitor; he threatened her and her family.[3][13]

Only ten weeks after his release from prison,[9] Cannan raped a woman at knifepoint in Reading, Berkshire, in October 1986, an attack he was linked to by DNA from semen.[4] Cannan had come up to the woman's car asking for directions, then brandished a knife and raped her, and also buggered her.[3] Cannan had been arrested for this offence earlier but he denied everything[3] and gave an alibi that he was in Sutton Coldfield at the time of the attack, and the forensic evidence was not strong enough to charge him. An early DNA profile was inconclusive, but the Home Office and ICI[why?] both ran the test again in 1988 and demonstrated a match. Police also used evidence from Cannan's cashpoint card to prove that he had travelled from London to Bristol that day. Reading is on the railway line between these cities.[14]

Footage of Cannan's September 1987 video-dating advert, released by police: Video on YouTube

In September 1987, Cannan signed up for a video-dating agency, giving the fake name of John Peterson.[3] The owners of the agency felt there was something not quite right about him and did not release his video to be viewed by other daters.[3][better source needed]

During the next month, October 1987, Cannan tried to abduct 30-year-old Bristol businesswoman Julia Holman from a car park at around 6.50 pm at gunpoint, but she fought him off and later identified him as her attacker.[4][14] The next night he abducted Shirley Banks.[4]

Murder of Shirley BanksEdit


Banks, who was a newly married 29-year-old textiles factory manager from Clifton,[15] was abducted on the evening of 8 October 1987 some time after 7.40 pm[10] while out on a shopping trip to the Broadmead centre. Her husband Richard, then 30, searched for her in bars when she failed to return home, as they had agreed to meet for a drink; when he rang her work the next morning, he was told she had just phoned in sick with an upset stomach 15 minutes earlier. When she again failed to return home, he called the police.[10][14] Police believe that Banks was held overnight in Cannan's flat and that he then persuaded her to phone in sick to her work, after pretending he was going to release her.[9]


150 officers from five police forces spent around 140,000 man-hours on the case. The police put out television appeals and searched Bristol Docks for Banks' car. They considered that the telephone call to her work could mean she had left voluntarily and also considered whether her husband Richard could be a suspect; he was quickly eliminated. The police had first planned to link the attempted abduction of Julia Holman the previous night on a Crimewatch reconstruction in November, before Cannan's further crimes led to his arrest.[14]

Regent Street in Leamington Spa

Arrest of CannanEdit

Cannan, then living at Foye House, Leigh Woods, Bristol,[16] was arrested on 29 October 1987 in Leamington Spa for an assault at knife-point on an assistant, at a Regent Street dress shop, Ginger.[14][16] Two passers-by had chased him and called the police. He evaded them briefly and they found a knife and bag with blood on it. The police spotted him and saw his hand was bleeding, then arrested him. They found his black BMW car near the shop, which contained rope and an imitation handgun and they also found rope hidden in a toilet cistern in a garage.[14]

Link to BanksEdit

A Mini Clubman similar to Banks's

The police searched his car three weeks after Banks had gone missing, where they found a tax disc for her car, inside a briefcase in the glove compartment.[10][14][17] Her orange Mini Clubman was found, painted blue, in the lock-up garage at his block of flats.[4][14][16] The police bailed him from the station in Warwick, where he was being interviewed for the attempted robbery and police from Bristol immediately rearrested him regarding Banks's disappearance.

News media immediately linked Banks's disappearance to that of Suzy Lamplugh and published Cannan's prior criminal record. Cannan claimed he had bought the Mini from a man at an auction. The police charged him with assault on 2 November and he had no alibi for the night of Banks's disappearance.[14] Cannan had behaved uncooperatively with the police and police believed he felt that he was maintaining control over them by withholding information.[3]


A taxi driver came forward to say that a woman had called a taxi to Cannan's flat at about 2 pm, on the day after Banks disappeared but Cannan told him nobody had called one. At about 2.30 pm, he borrowed a vacuum cleaner from a neighbour and was seen cleaning his car. Cannan's movements could not be accounted for between 3 pm and 7 pm. Police brought in Julia Holman, whom he had attempted to abduct and she immediately identified him in the line up.[14]

Hoping that Banks was still alive, the police released Cannan's picture to the press.[14] A 69-year-old woman came forward to say she was in traffic near Cannan's flat on 9 October 1987 and saw smoke from a small fire in a copse. In the woods she heard a struggle, punching, a woman saying "No, no" and the man saying "I warned you what I would do". There was also a choking sound.

She shouted towards the man with "dark, curly hair" who saw her, ran towards her and lunged at her.[14][18][19] The police were sceptical but believed that it was possible she had heard and seen something in the woods.[14]


Police found a cleaning ticket for a shop in Sutton Coldfield and found that Cannan had dropped off a raincoat with red marks on it in late October. He claimed the marks were due to red mud from making love in a park; police found the marks were bloodstains, that could have been from the same blood group as Banks.[14]

The police built up a composite set of Banks's fingerprints from her parents' house, her home and her work. The left thumbprint matched a document in Cannan's flat. He acknowledged that the document came from his flat, before he knew about the thumbprint.[14] He was charged with her kidnap and murder on 23 December 1987.[14][20]

View towards the Dowsborough Hill Fort where Banks's body was found

Discovery of her bodyEdit

Banks's naked, decomposed body was found in a stream by a woman, collecting moss, six months after her disappearance, on Easter Sunday (3 April 1988) in the Quantock hills, at a site named "Dead Woman's Ditch", part of an Iron Age camp at Dowsborough.[10][15][21]

The police found dark red mud at the site her body was left, gold jewellery and buttons from a dress she had bought.[14] According to pathologist Bernhard Knight, she was killed by being hit repeatedly in the head with a rock.[22] Banks's thumbprint, preserved by the ice-cold stream, also matched the thumbprint on the document.[4]


In July 1988, Cannan was charged with:[3]

  • Raping Sharon Major in December 1980
  • Attempting to commit buggery on Major on the same date
  • Making an indecent assault on Major on the same date
  • Causing grievous bodily harm to Major on the same date
  • Raping Donna Tucker on 6 October 1986
  • Committing buggery on Tucker on the same date
  • Indecently assaulting Tucker on the same date
  • Abducting Tucker on the same date with the intention of raping her
  • Attempting to abduct Julia Holman on 7 October 1987 with the intention of raping her
  • Stealing a car that belonged to Shirley Banks in October 1987
  • Abducting Shirley Banks on 8 October 1987 with the intent of raping her
  • Murdering Shirley Banks in October 1987
  • Assaulting Carmel Clearly with the intention to rob on 29 October 1987
  • Detaining Clearly against her will on the same date with the intention of raping her


"You are extremely attractive to some women. But under that there lies a most evil violence and horrible side to your character."

—Mr Justice Drake at sentencing, 1989.[9]

The trial lasted three weeks. The jury reached a guilty verdict on the charges, after ten hours on 28 April 1989.[14] He was jailed for life by Mr Justice Drake at Exeter Crown Court.[9][17][3] Drake praised the investigation led by Detective Chief Inspector Brian Saunders.[9]

Suspected casesEdit

""He has gone down as an 'emerging' serial killer, but I have no doubt that he killed more than the three women whose deaths he is officially linked to".

—Christopher Berry-Dee, 2010[23]

John Cannan was a person of interest in the disappearance of 25-year-old estate agent Suzy Lamplugh in July 1986 and the murder of 27-year-old insurance clerk Sandra Court by strangulation, in Bournemouth, May 1986 but he has never been charged in either case.[17][24]

Murder of Sandra CourtEdit

In November 2001, Police interviewed Cannan at a police station in York over the murder of Sandra Court in May 1986. Court had been dropped off by a taxi driver in Throop, Dorset near her sister's house after a night out, but her sister was not at home.[25][24] She was last seen walking barefoot, appearing slightly drunk, at around 2:45 am.[26] Court's body was found the next day in a water-filled ditch several miles away.[24][26] A pay-and-display ticket proves that Cannan was in Bournemouth the day she was killed.[23]

Court had been killed by strangulation.[3] Cannan had previously attempted to strangle his wife to death in 1980.[3] 10 days after the discovery of Court's body, an anonymous letter was sent to police from Southampton which appeared to be disguised as someone left-handed writing with their right hand.[3] This was notable as Cannan was left-handed.[3] The letter said the death was "an accident" and that the killer was "truly sorry".[26] Although an attempt had been made to disguise it, the handwriting style bore clear similarities with the handwriting of John Cannan.[27] In 2007, crime writers Christopher Berry-Dee and Robin Odell, while writing a book on John Cannan, handed police letters they had received from Cannan from prison, which gave them a means of comparison to the original letter they had received.[27] The police found them so useful that they refused to return them to the authors when requested.[27] When interviewed, Cannan denied having ever been to Bournemouth on the day in question, but Cannan could be proved to be lying through the parking tickets discovered by police.[28]

In April 2008, an anonymous letter posted to police from Southampton claimed Court's death "was a complete and utter accident".[25] It further said that "the person concerned is deeply unhappy, hurt and in total shock" and that "the only reason the person has not come forward is the fact of being afraid that their explanation will not be believed".[25]

Disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh Edit

"Cannan will reoffend. He should never be released. If you look at his profile, I have no doubt he will strike again. He has been released from prison before and committed crimes. He is a danger to the female population, particularly the blonde, twenty-something professionals like Suzy. Even if he wasn't released until he was 60 he would go on to abduct, rape and murder women."

—Detective Superintendent Jim Dickie, 2006[29]

Cannan was questioned by police regarding the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh in 1989 and 1990. He wrote a letter to the local paper, Sutton News, in August 1991 denying any part in her disappearance.[5] She was officially declared dead in absentia in July 1993. In December 2000 John Cannan was arrested for Lamplugh's murder and questioned, but he was not charged.[30] In November 2002, detectives said publicly that they believed he had killed Lamplugh[31] and confirmed this in 2006 when arguing against any reduction in his tariff.[29]

In November 2002, Cannan complained via his solicitors about the police publicly naming him, saying he was "devastated and distressed". He again denied killing Lamplugh.[6] His solicitor complained about a lack of presumption of innocence and that the prison service had withheld letters Cannan had tried to send to national newspapers regarding the allegations.[32]

In November 2002, Mark Dennis, a senior Treasury counsel, decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge Cannan over Ms Lamplugh's death.[29][33] Lamplugh's parents considered, but decided against, bringing a private prosecution and civil action against Cannan.[5] In July 1993, The Independent argued that the judge's sentencing statement, that Cannan should remain in jail for the rest of his natural life, removed any incentive for him to confess post-conviction.[34]


In November 2002, the police said that Cannan should have been a suspect much earlier in the investigation: they should have checked for recently released sex offenders and they should have followed up information given by her parents about a man from Bristol.[33]

Cannan was released from his prison hostel three days before Lamplugh disappeared.[35] His colleagues said he often went to wine bars in Fulham, where Lamplugh worked.[8] Lamplugh was supposed to meet a "Mr Kipper" when she disappeared and Cannan was said to have used the name "Kipper" in prison.[21][29] In 2000, a new investigating team, led by Jim Dickie, computerised the card index of the case and found that several estate agents in Fulham had been visited by a Mr Kipper.[8] Cannan may have had access to a black BMW and a dark BMW was linked to Ms Lamplugh's kidnap;[31] Lamplugh was last seen getting into a BMW with a man holding champagne, which led an ex-girlfriend of Cannan, Daphne Sargent, to say that "As soon as I heard about Suzy, I knew it was John. It had all the hallmarks – right down to the champagne."[36] Cannan resembles a photofit of a man seen with Lamplugh the day she disappeared.[31] A girlfriend of Cannan said he had "a strong interest" in the case,[37] and police believe Lamplugh may have been in a relationship with Cannan.[8]

In August 2010, a criminologist who had corresponded with Cannan said that DNA evidence linked Lamplugh to a Ford Sierra, once used by Cannan, that was recovered during 2000. It had the false number plate SLP 386, which might relate to her initials and year of disappearance.[23] The car was recovered from a second-hand dealership in North London where it had been parked for years.[38]

In April 2001, police said that the number plate SLP 386S had been placed on Banks' Mini by Cannan and that 386 might be a grid reference, as the site Banks' body was found is near Northing Line 386 and Norton Manor Barracks is near 3° 08' 06" West.[39] When the police interviewed Cannan about the significance of the number plate on the Mini, he acknowledged that the initials could stand for Suzy Lamplugh but said a "Bristol businessman" from whom he bought the car for £100 was responsible for the deaths of Lamplugh, Banks and another woman. Asked if that businessman was him, he replied "Yes", but then immediately recanted.[8] Cannan allegedly told an astrologer who visited him in jail that "a Bristol businessman" murdered Lamplugh and that "I know who killed Shirley, Suzy and another girl".[39]

Possible burial sitesEdit

Cannan's ex-girlfriend Gilly Paige told police as early as 1990,[40] that he had said Lamplugh's body was buried at Norton Barracks, although she later retracted the assertion.[29][35] In December 1999, after a letter was sent to Lamplugh's mother, Diana, claiming Suzy was buried there, a five-day search by more than 30 officers in and around the former site of the barracks, in December 2000, failed to find her body.[41]

In February 2001, the Metropolitan Police searched the barracks site again.[42] In April 2001, the police realised that it was possible the barracks named were actually Norton Manor Royal Marines barracks in Somerset, 8 miles from where Banks' body was found.[39]

In August 2010, they searched a field three miles from the site in Worcestershire after a witness remembered seeing a mound of earth there in 1986, when he was a teenager. The police used ground-penetrating radar,[42] and trenches were dug by the side of the road between Pershore and Drakes Broughton, Worcestershire. At the same time they also searched woodland in the Quantock Hills, where Shirley Banks' body was found.[12]

In April 2001 a cellmate of Cannan said that Lamplugh was buried under the patio of Cannan's mother's house in Sutton Coldfield.[43] In October 2018 police officers returned to the house and dug up the garden.[44][45]

Melanie Hall linkEdit

A possible involvement in the murder of Melanie Hall, who disappeared in 1996, was suggested by police in October 2009, following the discovery of her remains. Cannan discussed the "perfect abduction" with fellow prisoner Christopher Clark, a rapist who was jailed for life for attacking another woman, a month after being interviewed over Hall's disappearance.[21]

Prison lifeEdit

Cannan is a Category A offender in HMP Full Sutton, York.[17] He still protests his innocence.[17] He has studied for an Open University degree while in prison.[5] His minimum tariff is 35 years, meaning he will not become eligible for parole until October 2022, and he will only be released if the Parole Board rules that he is no longer a serious danger to the public.[46] Cannan himself has previously suggested that he may only confess to the murder of Lamplugh when his mother dies, to avoid causing her further grief.[47] A relative of Cannan has also stated that they also believe he will confess when his mother dies.[48] Cannan and his mother remained close after his conviction and she continued to visit him every week.[48]

Legal actionEdit

In July 1989, he failed to persuade the High Court to stop the BBC broadcasting a Crimewatch UK documentary on the investigation into the murder of Banks.[49] A case he took to the High Court in January 2003, claiming that his right to "free and unimpeded" legal advice was being restricted failed.[50]

In June 2009, he lodged another case at the High Court for alleged human rights breaches; he claimed that his ineligibility for a sexual offences treatment programme, due to his continued claim of innocence, was illegal.[17]

He appealed for his 35-year minimum tariff to be reduced, but the judge Mr Justice Coulson ruled against this in June 2008 because his crimes involved "a significant degree of planning and premeditation" and there were "no real mitigating factors at all".[2][46]

Personal lifeEdit

Cannan came from a middle-class family, the son of an engineer, and attended public school until the age of 15.[1] He was originally from Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands.[4] He was in the merchant navy for three months aged 17 then began working as a car salesman in his father's company.[51] When he was on day release from Wormwood Scrubs, he worked as a porter for a prop hire company.[8]

He claimed to have had 100 one-night stands and was said to be charming.[9] He was married in May 1978 to June Vale and had a daughter, but he left them in 1980.[52][8]


  1. ^ a b Berry-Dee & Odell 2007, p. 1.
  2. ^ a b c "High Court setting of minimum terms for mandatory life sentences under the Criminal Justice Act 2003". Her Majesty's Court Services. 2 June 2008. Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af Radford University; Erin Waddell; Breeane Berlin; Ryan Mank. "John Cannan: "The Lady Killer"" (PDF). Radford University. Department of Psychology. Retrieved 5 June 2021.
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Further readingEdit