The disappearance of chef Claudia Lawrence in 2009 has been one of the UK’s most mysterious missing persons cases.
Lawrence vanished on 18 March 2009 from her home near York. Police have treated her case as that of a murder - but her fate remains unclear despite people being arrested - and later released.
There has been speculation around Ms Lawrence’s disappearance, with possibilities varying from leaving with her new partner and taking up a job to being the victim of a chance encounter with a serial killer or a person known to her.
And with the disappearance of mum-of-two Nicola Bulley, who vanished while walking her dog by the River Wyre in Lancashire, there has been a renewed interest in Ms Lawrence’s case.
But who is Claudia Lawrence, and what happened to her? Here’s what you need to know.
Who is Claudia Lawrence?
Ms Lawrence was born in Malton, North Yorkshire in 1974, and attended a private school at the York College for Girls. She went to a local catering college and became a chef, where she worked at several hotels and restaurants around York and had a very active social life.
In 2006, she became a chef in the canteen at the University of York’s Goodricke College and was considered punctual and reliable by her employer. In 2007, she bought a terraced cottage in Heworth which is located three miles from her work.
According to a Guardian article in 2009, published seven months after she went missing, Det Supt Ray Galloway said they had found gaps in Ms Lawrence’s "relationship chart". Allegedly, Ms Lawrence had a "number of covert sexual relationships with men, some of whom were married or had girlfriends, before she disappeared on 18 March".
Ms Lawrence is described as white, around 5ft 6in tall, slim build, with brown hair and brown eyes and she was last seen wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans and trainers.
What happened to Claudia Lawrence?
Ms Lawrence, then 35, was last seen on Wednesday 18 March 2009. At 6am she began her shift at Goodricke College’s Roger Kirk Centre and finished at 2pm. She was recorded on CCTV leaving the college, and caught on CCTV again at around 3pm, passing a shop. She was also noticed by her neighbour.
In the evening, she spoke to her parents on the phone, with her mother describing her mood as "normal" and "relaxed". She, reportedly, told her mother she was at home and planned to retire early as she would have to rise before 5 am the next day to walk to work, her car being under repair.
Ms Lawrence was an avid texter and she replied to a message at 8.27pm on 18 March but failed to respond to one received at 9.12pm. Analysis of her phone showed it was deliberately turned off at 12.10 the next day within an eight-mile radius of York.
The following day, 19 March 2009, Ms Lawrence did not show up for work, and after trying her phone - her manager took no further action.
Ms Lawrence was also due to meet a friend, Suzy Cooper, that evening in her local pub called The Nag’s Head, but she did not show up. After her friend attempted to contact her again the following morning, 20 March 2009, Ms Cooper became alarmed and contacted mutual acquaintances.
Ms Cooper also contacted Ms Lawrence’s father, Peter, and he could not reach Ms Lawrence either. Later, Peter, and one of their mutual acquaintances, George Forman, entered Ms Lawrence’s home using Peter’s key. The house was in an orderly state - with the bed made and unwashed dishes in the sink suggesting she had breakfast.
Ms Lawrence’s handbag was in the house and contained her purse, bank cards and passport. The only significant items missing were her mobile phone, a set of hair straighteners and a rucksack which she normally used to carry her chef’s whites to and from work. According to the BBC, these were indications Ms Lawrence had left the house normally to go to work at around 5am on the morning of Thursday 19 March but had never arrived.
The North Yorkshire Police were contacted at around 2pm on 20 March, and they were initially slow to act as Ms Lawrence was not a vulnerable person and there was no obvious evidence of violence however, after five weeks, the NYP upgraded the case from a missing person to suspected murder.
A timeline of events
The original investigation looked into a few possibilities such as:
- Ms Lawrence had left with a new lover or to take up a new job or merely to take a break. However, as time went on Ms Lawrence’s family became increasingly insistent that she would have contacted them had she been able to do so. This possibility was eventually dismissed.
- She had suffered an accident or medical emergency on her way into work. The route from her home to place of work was checked at an early stage and no trace of her was found. This possibility was quickly dismissed.
- That she had been the victim of a chance encounter with a serial killer or other "crazed" individual. Reports were made of various people behaving strangely in the Heworth area in the days leading up to Ms Lawrence’s disappearance. These reports were investigated but without a conclusive result. Cases of known serial killers who might have been active in the area were also considered but discounted.
- Ms Lawrence had been the victim of a person known to her. Detectives soon began to favour this explanation.
In June 2013, NYP announced the £300,000 creation of a new Major Crime Unit (MCU) which led to an arrest. On 13 May 2014, a 59-year-old man was arrested by NYP on suspicion of Ms Lawrence’s murder. He lived close to her home and had been a colleague of hers at the University of York. The two were reported to have been on friendly terms and he had often given her lifts in his car to and from work but he was later released on bail.
In 2015, North Yorkshire Police submitted a file to the Crown Prosecution Service concerning four men arrested on suspicion of the murder of missing chef Claudia Lawrence.
The four men were arrested and later released on bail - and in 2016 it was decided that the four men will not be charged.
On 21 September 2021, a search into the Sand Hutton Gravel Pits concerning the disappearance and suspected murder of Claudia Lawrence was completed.
Detective Superintendent Wayne Fox, Head of the Major Investigation Team, confirmed nothing of obvious significance was located during searches of part of the wooded area and in the smaller of the two lakes.
What have Claudia Lawrence’s parents said?
On 18 March 2022, in an interview to mark the 13th anniversary of Ms Lawrence’s disappearance, her mother, Joan Lawrence told BBC Radio York: “I can’t believe it’s 13 years. I shouldn’t be. We should really have had answers before now.”
“I have had hope so many times and it’s been dashed. I never give up on hope. If you give up on hope, you might as well give up altogether.
“It’s the not knowing. Despite the fact she was 35, she is my child. You can’t say goodbye, you don’t know whether she’s dead, you don’t know if she’s alive, you don’t know where she is, you don’t know what’s happened to her, there’s no grave … It’s still pretty awful, it really is.”
Ms Lawrence’s father, Peter, died in 2021 and had campaigned to get answers for her disappearance. He had spent years arguing for what became the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 – also known as Claudia’s law – which allows relatives to take control of their missing loved ones’ financial matters.
Joan said she would continue to try to solve the mystery herself and was reviewing the details “with a fine-toothed comb” for “simple things that have been missed”.
What happened to Nicola Bulley?
Lancashire Police are investigating the disappearance of mother-of-two Nicola Bulley. The 45 -year- old went missing on Friday 27 January, as she was walking her dog, and was last seen walking along a towpath by the River Wyre off Garstang Road in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire.
The police say its “main working hypothesis” is that Ms Bulley fell into the River Wyre while she was walking her dog and that “this is not suspicious but a tragic case of a missing person”.
They believe this happened between 9.10am and 9.20am on Friday 27 January - a timeframe in which they cannot account for her movements.
Lancashire Police Superintendent Sally Riley told a press conference in the village of St Michael’s on Wyre that the last confirmed sighting of Ms Bulley took place at 9.10am that day, where she was seen on Upper Field walking her dog, Willow.
By 9.20am, police believe her phone was on a bench by the river, while still connected to a work conference call, which ended 10 minutes later. Ms Riley said: “We only have a 10-minute window in which we cannot account for Nicola’s movements.”
Her heartbroken sister, Louise Cunningham, told Sky News: “Something has got to have been missed. Somebody must know something. People don’t just vanish into thin air.”