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Son's desperate hope to find murdered mum's body 30 years after his dad killed her

NewsSon's desperate hope to find murdered mum's body 30 years after his dad killed her

Laura May

Laura May’s body has never been found (Image: Family handout )

Rasheed Vaughan was just seven-years-old when police took him into his kitchen and told him they believed his mother was dead.

Laura May had been reported missing, with her disappearance sparking a murder investigation that shocked the nation.

His father, Jordan-born doctor Hassan Al Shatanawi, would be found guilty of murdering his wife and sentenced to life in prison in October 1994. 

However, almost 30 years on, Shatanawi has still never come clean about his crime.

Now in his 70s, he has also never revealed what happened to the 35-year-old woman’s remains – causing her family anguish to this day.

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Rasheed Vaughan

Rasheed said he will never stop searching for his mother (Image: TeesideLive )

It is now three decades since the murder investigation and her son Rasheed has chosen to tell his story for the first time.

Speaking to TeesideLive the 37-year-old father-of-one said: “I love my mum so much and I will never stop trying to find her.

“My mum would love to have met my son and see me grow up. We wish it wasn’t the case but we’d want nothing more than to be able to put my mum to rest.

“I remember going on holidays with her, we went to Rhodes – me and my mum, aunty and uncle – I remember going on trips to Scarborough. I have so many lovely memories. I’ve been told she lived life to the full.”

There were 16 months between his mum’s disappearance and his father being jailed, but Rasheed remembers snippets of chaos.

He said: “I remember being picked up from school by my mum’s best friend and it was just after then the police were coming. I was having blood tests. I remember the police taking me into the kitchen and telling me that they think my mum is dead and I just burst into tears.”

Laura May murder probe

Police at an allotment during the murder investigation (Image: Evening Gazette)

Hassan and Laura May had married in Egypt and moved to England in 1985. She had been studying tourism at Hartlepool College of Further Education and had just sat an exam before she disappeared. 

Shatanawi had asked around after Laura May and told friends and family that the trainee-travel agent may have taken a last-minute holiday to Turkey or was working in Hungary.

He continued to lie before reporting his wife missing after three weeks. Suspicions grew and a week later he was arrested.

Detectives discovered how Shatanawi had rented an allotment a few miles from his home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool and ordered a new garden shed to be put up immediately.

Shortly afterwards witnesses reported seeing black smoke on the allotment, with Shatanawi paying a workman £10 to dismantle and burn the shed.

Instead the man sold the shed to a friend and then recognised Shatanawi when he appealed through the media to help find Laura. The workman contacted police and forensic officers found Laura May’s blood and hair on the shed’s partly gouged away floor.

Hassan Al Shatanawi

Killer Hassan Al Shatanawi (Image: Evening Gazette)

The jury at Shatanawi’s trial at Newcastle Crown Court heard the then-46-year-old murdered his wife in order to set up home with his mistress and their five-year-old son.

Rasheed said: “We know nothing for definite. We don’t know the ins and outs. There’s only two people who know what happened – my mum is dead and my dad, I don’t know where he is now.

“I visited him at Holme House Prison in the months before the trial but after he was sentenced, I’ve never seen him since. There were a few letters backwards and forwards – I was at the age where I still didn’t really know what to do.

“One minute I hated him, didn’t want to see him and wanted to kill him – the next I thought about reaching out. There was a lot of anger and confusion. Looking back now I sort of regret, if I went to at least see him it might have been different – would he have told me?

“Since he has been deported I am trying to locate him because if he’s going to tell anybody where my mum’s body is it would be me. I always think where could she be. We’ve never been able to give her a resting place.”

Speaking of life before his mum’s murder, Rasheed admits it was hard at times and he could be frightened of his father.

Shatanawi was released after just over 18 years in prison and deported to Jordan, despite warnings from the parole board that he was still a danger. 

These days, Helen’s Law means criminals who do not disclose the location of their victim’s remains cannot be granted parole, but this legislation came in too late for Laura-May’s family. 

Rasheed, who now works at Durham County Council, added:  “I didn’t have much contact after the sentencing and, from what I can gather, he did reach out first. I was confused and upset. It took me a couple of years to engage with him and I went through a phase of engaging with him but it died off.

“I struggled with it a lot. Towards the end of his first parole hearing, we met with the probation service. We had to put a family impact statement together and he was turned down. It was looking like it would be turned down and knocked back again but it was then within days that he was out and deported.

“The second time he was up for parole he did send me a letter and the visiting order – but he had spelt my name wrong. By the time the probation officer and I got it sorted all this had happened and he was gone, on a plane to Jordan.

“I know everybody can throw the word ‘murderer’ around but at the end of the day he’s still my dad. Growing up he was my dad and we had some good times. It was difficult, really difficult to deal with and come to terms with.”

Rasheed has not heard from his father since he was deported.  

He said: “For all we know he could be dead. He could be in prison.

“I’d like to hear from him. I know I had my chances to really get going and communicate with him. I know I’m not to blame – I think my emotions got in the way.

“I was too young and I was in turmoil like everyone else. I would like to speak to him. Things are different now, I’m older and wiser. There’s no barriers like what there once was.”

Rasheed added that he wants to make sure his mother’s memory lives on.

He said: “That’s so important to me. “My uncle Donald, who was my mum’s brother, never let her memory die, but sadly he passed away last year. I also want to spark people’s memory about the case in case they have any information that could help us find her.”

In 2005, forensic specialists excavated part of Seaton Carew Golf Course after a man came forward as having seen someone struggling to carry and bury something in the area around the time of Laura May’s disappearance. 

Rasheed said: “He was right, there was someone struggling to carry something and when they dug it up it was the remains of a dog. People do see stuff, take notice and remember even when years have gone by.

“Whenever I hear of anything on the news of badly decomposed bodies, I always ring up in case it could be mum. One time after I rang one police force it was months and months before I heard back and I was sat thinking ‘this is it’.

“A week later they called up and said they’d identified her and it wasn’t mum. I thought at least somebody is getting their loved one back.”

Rasheed added: “There’s so many families that are in a similar boat to us – different stories but we all have a loved one that we can’t find. My dad was brought to justice and served his time so we have some element of closure there but for a lot of others they don’t have that.”

“I think if we get my mum’s body back and give her a resting place we’ll have that element of closure that we’ve been without for so long.

“I do hold out hope that we’ll find her. Life works in mysterious ways, things happen when you least expect it – even maybe after all this time. It never goes out of my mind.”

Rasheed was taken in by Laura May’s aunt Shirli Traynor after the murder, and she did all she could to protect him from the media frenzy. 

She told TeesideLive: “It is 30 years since Rasheed lost his mum. On his eighth birthday I brought him to live with me. He had lost everything – everything he was used to: parents, his home, friends, school and neighbours.

“It was a terrible and difficult time for us trying to come to terms with what had happened.

“We were so confused and struggled that such a dreadful predicament could happen to our family. But over the years we did get on with our lives, thanks to our lovely family and friends. Rasheed has turned out to be a good, hardworking man, much-liked in the community with a lovely supporting partner and a beautiful son of his own.

“We have never stopped grieving the loss of Laura May and we have never forgotten her. I know she would be so proud of her devoted Rasheed and his family.”

Acting Detective Superintendent Peter Carr, from Cleveland Police’s historic investigation unit and homicide and major enquiry team: “Laura’s family have endured unimaginable distress over so many years and our thoughts remain with them.

“They need – and deserve – to know the location of her body so that they can gain some kind of closure. We’d therefore urge anyone with information to come forward, anonymously if they prefer. They can contact Cleveland Police on the 101 number, online via the website or pass information anonymously to www.crimestoppers-uk.org (phone 0800 555 111).”

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