It was a mystery that gripped a town - a murder case without a body. Crime correspondent Neil Hunter looks back at the missing person inquiry that quickly became one of the region's most talked-about court cases

HE gave the impression of a desperately worried husband when Hassan Shatanawi was interviewed on his doorstep of his Hartlepool home in July 1993.

Hidden behind the air of concern, was the mind of a cold and calculating killer - a man prepared to go to any lengths to achieve what he wanted.

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He had waited almost a month before reporting his wife Laura May missing - enough time, he believed, to cover his tracks and get away with murder.

It emerged a year later during his trial at Newcastle Crown Court that the arrogant love-cheat's carefully-hatched plan came very close to working.

Had it not been for an eagle-eyed workman who had been paid £10 to get rid of Shatanawi's allotment shed, he may never have been brought to justice.

The jury accepted the prosecution case that Shatanawi, then aged 47, had killed his wife in a garden shed that he had bought only days earlier.

Shortly after the murder, he asked the worker to remove the hut from his allotment in nearby Seaton Carew, and burn it.

The flaw in his almost-perfect plan was that the joiner realised the shed was barely used and instead of destroying it, sold it to a friend in Middlesbrough.

And when, a month later, Shatanawi appeared in newspapers and on television pleading for his "missing" wife to come home, the tradesman recognised him.

He called the police, the shed was traced and detectives discovered evidence which would eventually uncover cheating Shatanawi's grisly secret.

The floor had been partly gouged and covered in creosote, but forensic experts were able to find four hairs from Laura May's scalp and several spots of blood.

Still protesting his innocence as he was led from the dock, evil Shatanawi was jailed for life. He is yet to accept responsibility for the killing.

Laura May Al Shatanawi was 36, the mother of a seven-year-old boy and studying travel and tourism when she was killed by her Jordanian-born husband.

Police and Laura May's family can only guess why she was murdered and what became of her body.

But it is thought Shatanawi - a trained doctor in his homeland, and a property developer after marrying and moving to England in the 1980s - killed her to hide his affair.

The lives of the Vaughan family were torn apart in June 1993 when Laura May vanished after sitting an exam at Hartlepool College of Further Education.

Her brother Don was immediately suspicious about her disappearance, but Laura May's husband explained her absence by saying he thought she had taken a last-minute holiday.

As time passed, former security worker Don grew ever more concerned, and eventually Shatanawi gave in to family pressure and reported her missing.

But by that time, he had bought himself time to carefully cover his tracks and make the Cleveland Police investigation one of the most difficult in its history.

Detectives mounted round-the-clock surveillance and watched from the shadows every move Shatanawi - who had worked as a GP in Iraq, Egypt and Jordan - made.

They followed him to meetings with friends he claimed he did not know, and they sat behind him on buses as he regularly went past the allotment.

He was concerned that the site might give up his secret and wanted to see what police activity was going on there - unaware he was being followed.

After his arrest, detectives had to start carefully building the case against him, and discovered he had been having an affair and had another son.

But the biggest breakthrough in the investigation came when they received a phone call from the joiner who led them to the shed and vital DNA evidence.

Police believe he used his medical experience and his knowledge from working in an abattoir to kill his blonde-haired wife and dismember he body.

He was a post-graduate student in clinical bio-chemistry in Egypt when he put an advert in a lonely hearts column saying "doctor would like to meet English princess".

Divorcee Laura May, who had visited Egypt for a holiday in 1983 and developed an interest in the country, excitedly responded to the invitation.

After a long-distance romance, the couple wed in Cairo and had a son before moving to the North-East where Shatanawi began studying clinical microbiology.

When he was jailed, Shatanawi was told by Mr Justice Jowitt that he had been responsible for a "cold-blooded, premeditated and calculated murder".