Monday, 9 October 2017

What really happened to Claudia Lawrence?

9th November 2017: I x-posted this case to Reddit /unresolvedmysteries for discussion. You can read people comments HERE it's pretty interesting. 


Hello everyone. I'm back with yet another unsolved case.
I've badly sprained my right ankle so I'm stuck on bed rest, which means I have some free time to regularly post again.
Also, it's October, so we might have to do several creepy posts in the run up to Halloween!
If you want me to write about anything in particular, just drop a comment. If you want to receive email alerts when I make a new post just submit your email address in the box on the right (desktop view) 


It’s been over eight years since anyone has seen Claudia Lawrence.

(Claudia. Source)

Lawrence was 35 years old and working as a chef at Goodricke College in the University of York at the time she went missing. She disappeared from the small town of Heworth in York, England, on the 18th of March 2009.

The last contact she had with her family was via two phone calls with her mother on the evening of March 18th. The conversation revolved around what they would do together to celebrate the coming mother’s day. 

In a documentary about the case, “Donald McIntyre’s unsolved”, Claudia’s mother talks in detail about the last phone call. Apparently Claudia was in her bedroom, it was between 8pm – 8.30pm and the two of them were watching the same TV show. She states that she could hear the show in the background of the call.
The following day, however, Claudia neglected to show up for work.

A missing persons report was filed by her father on the 20th of March and an investigation was underway.
When investigators entered her house they discovered her bank cards and passport were left behind, indicating that if she had disappeared of her own accord, it would have been difficult to get very far or survive for an extended time without cash or the documents to do so.
There was no sign of a disturbance or struggle and nothing of value had been taken. In fact, Lawrence’s bed had been made and there were unwashed dishes in the sink that suggested she had eaten breakfast that morning. It was also evident that she had brushed her teeth.
Her work bag, which was a rucksack containing her uniform for work, was missing.

(The brand of bag she used. Source)

 Her hair irons were also missing- could she have usually taken these to work generally as its hot working in a kitchen and flat ironed hair tends to lose its straightness in humid atmospheres.
Could the absence of her work gear suggest that she had left for work and met foul play on her early morning walk there?

Police found a home hair dye kit in the house and at first entertained the idea that Claudia had dyed someone’s hair, as she was a known to be a blonde. However Claudia’s mother informed them that her daughter had recently became a brunette and the hair dye kit was most likely hers. The brand and colour was “Clairol herbal essences fearless” in the colour “62” which is a good match for the last hair colour Lawrence was seen sporting. Dying over blonde hair with a brown box dye will often result in fading so it’s not suspicious (to me at least) that she would have to dye it again in order to make the pigment hold. 


Strangely, from this image, it seems as though she also bleached her hair. Maybe she had naturally darker roots and wanted to lift them? Maybe she was doing some late 2000’s highlights? Who knows?

Hair colour became an issue in the case when misleading missing posters went to print. Claudia’s mother claims that she did not provide the photograph for the poster, which was an older picture portraying the missing woman as a blonde. She fears this may have negatively impacted the search.
Apparently Claudia she left for work around 5am. She started at 6am, and would usually drive there, which would take around 6 minutes. However on the day she went missing, her Vauxhall Corsa was in a local garage, so she went by foot, which would take about half an hour via “Melrosegate”.


It was probably quite dark that early in the morning in March and there is one strip of shady area she had to pass by, which includes a small bridge and a road. As you can see on the map it’s around “Hull road”.


This is a picture of it from around 10 years ago that I found here<<
The website even pins down the exact location for us: “Ton the edge of SE6151, where Melrosegate crosses the Sustrans route 66


Someone who knew her would most likely know her plans so it would be easy to lay in wait. Could she have been abducted or met foul play at the hands of a passing opportunistic criminal? Could they have seen her walking alone in an isolated area at such an early hour and taken advantage of the situation?

The CCTV around Lawrence’s home was checked for any suspicious looking individuals on the night or morning of the woman’s disappearance. Around 7:15pm that night a surveillance camera captured footage of a man clad in dark clothes entering the alley way behind Claudia’s house. He disappears out of frame for around 1 minute and re-emerges with what looks like a rucksack or another type of bag over his shoulder. Suddenly another man passes by. The man with the bag stops in his tracks and is seen looking in the direction of the passer-by.

(Side note: I feel as though the “bag” was there when he walked into the alley, only it was over his right shoulder and so was obscured by his body. When he walks out again his right side is facing the camera so it’s easy to see. I also feel like maybe it’s not a bag at all, perhaps what we’re seeing is his elbows and he has his hands in his pockets so his elbows are protruding out of his silhouette.
Also if he had no bag, then 1 minute and 8 seconds later he suddenly does, maybe it was dropped in the alley for him to pick up which makes me think it would contain something illegal, most likely drugs and that’s why he gets sketched out when the older guy walks past, paranoid that he might be a cop or whatever. Could Claudia Lawrence have been involved in something drug related that got her mixed up with the wrong people?
Maybe the man in dark clothes was innocently relieving himself and has nothing to do with the case?
Do you agree or disagree? Let me know your opinion in the comments)

(Source: York police)

Then, around 5am Thursday morning we see a man clad in dark clothes again. He repeats the same action and walks into the alleyway only to re-emerge a minute or so later.
Although the men on the separate clips have never officially been confirmed to be the same individual, I personally believe that they are. They look similar in build and height and repeat the same action. What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Investigators later checked her phone records and found out that the final text message sent to her phone was from a male acquaintance on the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where Lawrence had holidayed several times and knew local bar and restaurant owners well. The text went unanswered and the content of the message was never revealed.

This lead was later followed up, when despite large rewards and media coverage, no tipsters or witnesses came forward. The police branched out their search to the holiday destination and interviewed the several individuals connected to Lawrence who denied any part in her disappearance. One man stated since he considered her a good friend, he would do whatever he could to aid authorities in the search. Some did not want to talk to authorities for one reason or another.

One of the men, all of whom were British, was on record as being in the UK on the day of Claudia’s disappearance. Coincidence?

The investigation then returned to the UK.
The more investigators interviewed the people who knew Claudia Lawrence, the more they began to realise that each set of people had a completely different description of her as a person. Work colleagues described her in a very different way than her close friend did, and her father, a local solicitor, claimed that he barely recognised the character his daughter was being portrayed as in the media.

Newspapers described the missing woman in a negative light, publicly writing about the secret affairs she’d had with older, married men. They printed photographs from her enjoying herself at parties and presented her as a wild and reckless seductress.
Although it was true that Lawrence had been in relationships with older married men and enjoyed an active social life that included drinking with friends at her local pub “The nags head”, she was still a victim. The negative attitude towards her in the newspapers that lined the shelves of supermarkets and newsagents while the case was ongoing likely made readers feel less sympathetic towards her.
Friends and family remembered her as a warm and friendly girl, a hard worker who had a lot of friends and liked to have fun and enjoy her days off.
Claudia’s landlord described her as a warm and friendly vegetarian who “wouldn’t say boo to a goose.”

None of the men she’d had secret relationships with came forward with information, and were not prepared to even admit they knew Claudia Lawrence for fear of being exposed for their extramarital affairs.

According to the “unsolved” documentary, Lawrence was involved with some pretty shady characters that were known to the police. They are unnamed in the show but described as “a rogue gallery”, hinting that they are probably locally known criminals- what level of activity they may have been involved in is not implied. This was a piece of information investigating authorities were apprehensive to put out publically, as they thought it would further hurt the case and deter interest from members of the public who could possibly help solve it.

In 2013 the case was looked at again, this time with the benefit of modern forensic science.
The 2013 findings following the full forensic review of the residence and vehicle include:
-DNA on an “Embassy Regal” cigarette butt recovered from Lawrence’s car. The DNA is thought to belong to a left handed male smoker. A set of partial finger prints (to this day unidentified) were found in the house but nothing came of it.
-Cell phone activity not previously known, including evidence that she had been in or around the area of Acomb, York, a month or so before she went missing. (Another secret boyfriend unknown to friends and family perhaps?)
-Confirmation that her phone was powered off deliberately at 12:10 the day after she went missing. According to those who knew her, when Claudia was not at work she was glued to her phone (a Samsung D900) and rarely if ever let it run out of battery.

CCTV footage from that night was also reviewed and surveillance from a public bus that passed Claudia’s residence showed a white Astra Van parked opposite her street on the last night she was heard from.



Another vehicle of interest is a light coloured hatchback thought to be a Ford Focus. It drives past Claudia’s property at around 5:42am. The brake lights illuminate indicating a sudden halt.
Police want to know why the car suddenly hit the brakes. Did they pick up Claudia; possibly offer her a ride to work?
Did she know the people / person in the car? Were they a stranger?
Or again is the vehicle completely unconnected to the case?
Could they be a potential witness?



You can watch the footage here << on the crime stoppers episode from 2014 featuring Claudia Lawrence’s case (which is where I took these stills from.)

Now how about Witness accounts?
-This news report mentions a witness that saw a woman talking to a man wearing a dark hoody and black combat trousers at around 5:35am. He was smoking with his left hand. This was apparently at the Melrose Bridge, which was along Claudia’s normal route to work.

-Apparently (as mentioned in the same news segment) another witness saw a couple arguing near a vehicle with an open door near the university. The man was wearing a dark hooded sweater. (I’m guessing that’s an implication he’s possibly the same man mentioned above?)
When police relayed the information to Claudia’s father, he did not connect the description of his daughters physical attributes to that of the woman in the witness’ account.

-The third witness account I found was regarding the sighting of a 55 – 65 year old male with mid length grey hair, dressed in a three quarter length sand coloured mac.

-Another sketchy individual worth mentioning is a man several people saw hanging around the area a few days before Claudia went missing. Apparently a man in “Rusty white van” was loitering around attempting to talk with women. Could this be the same van as the white Astra I mentioned earlier?

-“co-op man” is an unidentified male who, on April 1st 2009, told staff at the Co-op in Tang hall that he knew / was an ex-colleague of Lawrence. Although there is a still of him from the stores CCTV footage, he has never been identified or questioned.

(Mr. Co-op. Source)

Search
This case is probably one of, if not the, most expensive investigation in York police history. The surrounding area was searched extensively, including the university and the land surrounding it and rural areas around Heworth. Statements were taken down from hundreds of people and every witness and phone call tip was followed up.

Arrests
The first arrest made in the case was that of a 59 year old man in May 2014. He was outed locally as a man named Michael Snelling. Snelling was arrested by local authorities under the suspicion of murder. He had previously worked in the biology department at the York University, but at the time of his arrest was working for a York branch of the “mind” mental health charity.
He too was a regular at Claudia’s usual haunt “The nags head” pub, her local drinking spot. The two had been seen there hugging before.
He was out on bail not long after.

Another man, also in his 50’s, was arrested two years later in 2016 following a forensic search of the alleyway behind Lawrence’s house. However 4 men in total were released due to lack of evidence supporting the claims made against them.

Lack of cooperation from those who knew the missing woman are responsible in the eyes of the head of the investigation.

Every Christmas even for several consecutive years an unknown person hung a wreath decorated with white feathers on the door of Claudia’s home. When her parents publicly displayed emotional distress at the gesture and asked the anonymous person to stop, they did. This person was never identified.

EDIT: Thanks to u/popejohn2 on R/Unresolvedmysteries where I x-posted this for discussion, I now know that the man's name was Rodney Ballard. u/NeilJung5 also added that this man believed he was a psychic and was recieving messages from Claudia. His Twitter profile is still active and was last updated in 2014.


(source)


2017
So there’s been some new buzz surrounding the case this year.
Recently articles in UK newspapers have been posing the question “Was ‘killer Cabbie’ Christopher Halliwell involved in the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence?”
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll recall we actually discussed Christopher Halliwell (who is currently serving life in prison) several months ago and even asked ourselves if we believed he was responsible for the deaths of other women? (Click HERE << to read the post.)
This article states that Halliwell’s father lived just an hour away from York. Not too far to go to pick off a victim.

The mother of a victim of Halliwell’s (Sian O’Callaghan) encouraged the public to look at the description of the killer “a left-handed smoker, 5ft 8-10in, with slightly receding hair and a skinny build.” Remember how the suspicious man witnesses saw talking to a woman on the morning of Lawrence’s disappearance was described as a “left handed smoker”? Quite a specific detail.
Now remember the police officer (Steven Fulcher, now retired) who believed he was in a race against time to save a young girl from Halliwell and actually got the murderer to lead him to two bodies by having an ‘unofficial chat’ with him?

Well Fulcher pointed out that the date on which Halliwell killed Sian O’ Callaghan (19th March 2011) was relevant to the date Halliwell was ditched by an ex-lover. Apparently that date was significant to Christopher Halliwell as it was the date his girlfriend broke up with him while he was serving time in prison in the eighties.

Is it just a coincidence that Claudia Lawrence went missing (technically as they believe she left for work) on that same anniversary of March 19th? Or does this fit into Halliwell’s pattern perfectly?
I know sometimes with these type of cases we so badly want to make connections when there isn’t any, but that was an eerie detail that is.  

2 comments:

  1. This seems like a very complex case, I wonder if it will ever get solved. Anyway, this is a great blog, I'm surprised I haven't found it earlier. I'll definitely visit more often

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I too hope it gets solved. As with every other case on this blog.
      Thank you so much for the kind words, that means alot :)

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