He is the only suspect in the murder of Suzy Lamplugh, who vanished in July 1986 after going to meet a man calling himself 'Mr Kipper'. In November 2002, however, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge him. That month, Scotland Yard held a press conference at which, in a rare move, officers named him as the man they believe murdered Lamplugh.
Cannan indecently assaulted a woman in a phone box in Erdington in 1968, when he was 14, and was placed on probation. He left his wife in 1980 for Daphne Sargent, who he assaulted when she tried to leave him. He robbed a petrol station at knifepoint in February 1981, and that March, he robbed a knitwear shop at knifepoint, tied up the assistant's mother with tights, and raped the shop assistant after threatening to stab her baby. He served five years of an eight-year sentence for rape after being convicted in June 1981. He served his sentence at HM Prison Bristol and was then transferred to London. He was on day release from a hostel at Wormwood Scrubs in 1986 when Suzy Lamplugh went missing.
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 the attacks often followed rejection. While living in Bristol, he had an affair with a solicitor, which ended in August 1986; he threatened her and her family.
Only ten weeks after he had been finally released from prison, he raped a woman at knife-point in Reading in October 1986, an attack he was linked to by DNA from semen. He had been arrested for this offence earlier but he gave an alibi that he was in Sutton Coldfield at the time and the forensic evidence was not strong enough to charge him. An early DNA profile was inconclusive but the Home Office and ICI both ran the test again in 1988, and demonstrated a match.
Police also used evidence from his cashpoint card to prove that he had travelled from London to Bristol that day. Reading is on the train journey between these cities. In October 1987, he 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. The next night he abducted Shirley Banks.
Banks, who was a newly married 29-year-old textiles factory manager from Clifton, was abducted on the evening of 8 October 1987 sometime after 7.40 pm 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 and 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. Police believe that she 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.
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 her 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 him to be arrested.
Cannan, then living at Foye House, Leigh Woods, Bristol, 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. Two passers-by had chased him and called the police. He avoided 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 near the shop, which contained rope and an imitation handgun and they also found rope hidden in a toilet cistern in a garage.
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. Her orange Mini Clubman was found, painted blue, in the lock-up garage at his block of flats. 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.
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.
Hoping that Banks was still alive, the police released Cannan's picture to the press. 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. The police were sceptical but believed that it was possible she had heard and seen something in the woods.
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, 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.
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. He was charged with her kidnap and murder on 23 December 1987.
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.
The police found dark red mud at the site her body was left, gold jewellery and buttons from a dress she had bought. According to pathologist Prof. Bernhard Knight, she was killed by being hit repeatedly in the head with a rock. Banks's thumbprint, preserved by the ice-cold stream, also matched the thumbprint on the document.
The trial lasted three weeks. The jury reached a guilty verdict on the charges, after ten hours on 28 April 1989. In April 1989, Cannan was jailed for life by Mr Justice Drake at Exeter Crown Court, for the murder of Banks and the attacks on two other women. Drake praised the investigation led by Detective Chief Inspector Brian Saunders.
He 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 clark Sandra Court by strangulation, in Bournemouth, May 1986 but he has never been charged in either case.
In November 2001, Police interviewed Cannan at a police station in York over the murder of Sandra Court during May 1986. Court was last seen by a taxi driver who dropped her in Throop, Dorset at her sister's house. Court's body was found in a water-filled ditch. A pay-and-display ticket proves that Cannan was in Bournemouth the day she was killed.
In April 2008, an anonymous letter posted to police from Southampton claimed Court's death "was a complete and utter accident".
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. She was declared officially dead in 1994. In December 2000, he was arrested for her murder and questioned, but he was not charged. In November 2002, detectives said publicly that they believe he killed Lamplugh and confirmed this in 2006 when arguing against any reduction in his tariff.
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. 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.
In November 2002, Mark Dennis, a senior Treasury counsel, decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge Cannan over her death. Lamplugh's parents considered but decided against bringing a private prosecution and civil action against Cannan. 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.
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.
Cannan was released from his jail hostel three days before Lamplugh disappeared. His work colleagues said he often went to wine bars in Fulham, where Lamplugh worked. Lamplugh was supposed to meet a "Mr. Kipper" when she disappeared and Cannan was said to have used the name "Kipper" in prison. In 2000, a new investigating team lead by Jim Dickey computerised the card index and found that several estates agents in Fulham had been visited by a Mr. Kipper. Cannan may have had access to a black BMW and a dark BMW was linked to her kidnap; 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." Cannan resembles a photofit of a man seen with Lamplugh the day she disappeared. A girlfriend of Cannan said he had "a strong interest" in the case, and police believe Lamplugh may have been in a relationship with Cannan.
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. The car was recovered from a second-hand dealership in North London where it had been parked for years. In April 2001, police said that the number plate SLP 386S had been placed on Banks's Mini by Cannan and that 386 might be a grid reference, as the site Banks's body was found is near Northing Line 386 and Norton Manor Barracks is near 3° 08' 06" West. 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" who he bought the car from for £100 was responsible for the deaths of Lamplugh, Banks and another girl. Asked if that businessman was him, he replied "Yes", but then immediately recanted. Cannan allegedly told an astrologist who visited him in jail that "a Bristol businessman" murdered Lamplugh and that "I know who killed Shirley, Suzy and another girl."
Cannan's ex-girlfriend Gilly Paige told police as early as 1990, that he had said Lamplugh's body was buried at Norton Barracks, though she later retracted the claim. In December 1999, after a letter was sent to Lamplugh's mother Diane, 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.
In February 2001, the Metropolitan Police searched the barracks site again. 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's body was found.
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 an teenager. The police used ground-penetrating radar, 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's body was found. In April 2001, a cellmate of Cannan said she was buried under the patio of Cannan's mother's house in Sutton Coldfield.
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.
Cannan is a Category A offender in HMP Full Sutton, York. He still protests his innocence. He has studied for an Open University degree while in jail. His minimum tariff is 35 years, meaning he will not become eligible for parole until 2023, and he will only be released if the Parole Board rules that he is no longer a serious danger to the public.
In July 1989, he failed to get the High Court to stop the BBC broadcasting a Crimewatch UK documentary on the investigation into the murder of Banks. 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.
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.
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".
Cannan came from a middle class family, the son of an engineer, and attended public school until the age of 15. He was originally from Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands. He was in the merchant navy for three months aged 17 then began working as a car salesman in his father's company. When he was on day release from Wormwood Scrubs, he worked as a porter for a prop hire company.
He claimed to have had 100 one-night stands and was said to be charming. He was married in May 1978 to June Vale and had a daughter, but he left them in 1980. In 1987, he recorded a dating video, which was released by police.