Claudia Elizabeth Lawrence (27 February 1974 – disappeared 18 March 2009) was an English chef at the University of York who disappeared on 18 March 2009. Although the police have treated her disappearance as a case of murder, with various people arrested (but later released), her fate is unclear.
Lawrence was last seen near her home in Melrosegate, Heworth, York, on the afternoon of 18 March, as she returned from her work as a chef at the University of York's Goodricke College at the Roger Kirk Centre. That evening she spoke to her parents by telephone, making plans with her mother to spend Mother's Day together. Lawrence later sent a text message to a friend and has not been heard from since. The last text message from her was sent at 8:23 p.m., and her last received message, from a bar worker in Cyprus, was at 9:12 p.m. Lawrence's passport and bank cards were left at her home when she went missing.
Lawrence was reported missing to North Yorkshire Police (NYP) after she failed to arrive at work for her early morning shift the following day. NYP later reported that they were now treating her disappearance as a suspected murder.
Speaking on the BBC's Today programme on 4 June 2009, Lawrence's father Peter said he doubted NYP claims that she had a secret life. He queried the comments made by Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway on the BBC's Crimewatch programme, specifically that parts of Claudia's life "remain a mystery" and that police believe she had "complicated relationships" that her family and friends knew nothing about. He later said that he "did not recognise" his daughter after the claims that had been made about her personal life.
Six weeks after Lawrence went missing, the investigation into her disappearance was reclassified from a missing person's case to a suspected murder enquiry, although NYP have acknowledged they have no evidence that Lawrence is dead.
The independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers offered a reward of £10,000 to anyone providing information which leads to the arrest and conviction of any person linked to the disappearance, but this has since been withdrawn. NYP have said that any past personal acquaintances of Lawrence have a limited time to come forward "in confidence". NYP have received over 1,200 calls offering information, and an appeal for help was made by Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. In early June 2009, a reconstruction of Lawrence's last known movements was featured in a Crimewatch appeal. Also in June, 100 days after his daughter went missing, Peter Lawrence launched a appeal for information. In the appeal, he stated his belief that the internet was vital in the search. In late August 2009, NYP and the Lawrence family used the annual Whitby Regatta in North Yorkshire to publicise the campaign.
In September 2009, NYP revealed that the search for Lawrence had been extended to Cyprus. Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway stated that Lawrence "knew several people who live on the island" and that she may have "received job offers" while there. Galloway also stated that some people who had been interviewed had been "reluctant and less than candid" when spoken to, and that a team of officers had been sent to Cyprus to interview people whom Lawrence met there. It was reported that the last text message received by Lawrence was from a man who was on the island.
Later in September, detectives investigating the Lawrence case made a search of an area of the university where Lawrence worked. In October 2009, NYP revealed they were looking for the driver of a "rusty white van" who was seen trying to talk to women on Lawrence's route to work in the days before she disappeared.
On 24 March 2010, NYP began searching areas of Heslington in York, based on new information received "in the last few days". On 24 March, land near to a children's play area, near a muddy farm track, was searched, and on 25 March the search was relocated to a field near to the university, an area of land which is bordered by a playing field and student accommodation. It was later stated that NYP had not found any new leads from these searches and nothing of significance had been discovered.
In late December 2011, the Lawrence family asked that the unknown person who had placed a wreath on the front door of Claudia's home each Christmas from 2009 onwards to stop placing them, as it was bringing further grief.
In 2014, The charity Missing People formed The Missing People Choir of which Claudia's father Peter is a member.
In June 2013, NYP announced the £300,000 creation of a new Major Crime Unit (MCU), set up to ease the burden on day-to-day policing. Based in Harrogate, the MCU was to be tasked from October 2013 to handle crimes including rape and kidnap, and review cold cases. In July 2013, the force said the unit would assess several "stalled" cases when it opened in October, including the disappearance of a Harrogate woman in 1997 and that of Claudia Lawrence.
The MCU subsequently assessed the case, and carried out new forensic searches at her home on Heworth Road. Using what were described as "advanced techniques not available in 2009", the MCU found additional fingerprints and a man's DNA on a cigarette end in her car. Work surrounding her Samsung D900 mobile phone showed from cell site activity that she was in the Acomb area of York in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, and that the phone was deliberately turned off by someone at about 12:10 GMT on Thursday, 19 March 2009.
On the fifth anniversary of her disappearance, a new appeal was made on the BBC's Crimewatch, which aired on 19 March 2014. CCTV footage, recovered in 2009, showed a silver Ford Focus hatchback car, manufactured between 1998 and 2004, driving along Heworth Road. The car's brake lights come on, as it approaches level with Claudia's house.
On 13 May 2014, a 59-year-old man was arrested by NYP at a house in Burnholme Grove on suspicion of Claudia's murder. The man has been named locally as Michael Snelling, believed to be a project co-ordinator for the mental health charity, York Mind, who until 2013 worked for the Biology department at the University of York. NYP, who also assisted Northumbria Police in a search of his deceased mother's house at North Shields, Tyneside, said that further arrests could not be ruled out. Snelling was released on police bail the following day and the forensic search of his York property ended on 21 May 2014. Snelling was re-bailed on 12 June 2014.
On 23 March 2015 police announced that a local man in his 50s had been arrested on suspicion of murder, following a fresh search of an alleyway near Lawrence's home.
However, on 8 March 2016, the Crown Prosecution Service abandoned proceedings against the four men who had been arrested on suspicion of murder, citing lack of evidence. The NYP blamed a lack of co-operation from witnesses.
Police authorities admitted there were similarities with the cases of Melanie Hall and Joanna Yeates, two other young, blonde British women who disappeared in 1996 and 2010 respectively, but said that they have not yet found direct evidence to link them. When a young woman's body was discovered at Christmas 2010, Lawrence's father wondered whether his daughter had been found, but that victim was later identified as Yeates.