The loss of a child is a parent's worse nightmare but for their beloved to disappear into thin air without a trace is a living hell.
This was the situation the parents of Kyle Vaughan found themselves in when they received a knock in the early hours of the morning from police to tell them their son had been involved in a car crash.
But all that remained was a smashed-up Peugeot 306 with no clue as to what happened to the driver.
Almost 10 years later, and after one of the biggest police searches Wales has seen, what happened to Kyle is still a mystery.
For his brokenhearted mother it was a burden too much to bear but her death has left Kyle's father even more determined to unite them in the cemetery.
This is the full story of Kyle Vaughan's disappearance, the decade-long search to find him, and the family left in limbo.
Kyle Vaughan was described as a "family-orientated, larger than life, fun-loving young man" from Newbridge in Caerphilly.
Nicknamed 'Jabbers', he was described as 5ft 8ins tall and with short dark hair and brown eyes. He had a distinctive barcode and flaming dice tattoos on his left forearm as well as tattoos on his right leg.
The 24-year-old former Cwmcarn High School pupil was a keen rock music fan and had a vast network of friends. He regularly attend legendary Newport venue TJs where he would put on gigs and booked bands from as far a field as Germany.
He also had diabetes and required regular insulin injections.
At the time of his disappearance Kyle was working for Unilever in production technology and was well thought of in the company.
Speaking about his son Alan Lucas, who lives in Croesyceiliog, Cwmbran, said: "When it came to work Kyle always tried to give 110% all the time and if he was stuck he would give me a call and I would tell him what to do. If Kyle was still here he would be going round the world now.
"Kyle was a party animal and he loved astonishing us. He did a lot of charity work for cancer charities because of his mum and he was very brainy with computers. He also taught himself to play drums.
"He had a charisma about him with all his friends and he was like a magnet. We had a party for his 21st birthday and 91 friends of his turned up so me and Mary were sat outside on the kerb.
"He loved his music and he would go to see bands like Green Day with his mates.
"He used to wind us up as well. I bought him a music centre for his birthday and he would put it up on full blast. I would turn it off so he would turn the internet off until I put it back on."
Kyle was last seen on the A467 between Risca and Crosskeys, in Caerphilly, between 11pm and 11.45pm on December 30, 2012.
At around 11.45pm that night police discovered Kyle's Peugeot 306 and it was evident it had been involved in a crash.
Describing the moment he learnt of his son's disappearance Alan said: "The police woke me up at three in the morning saying I was arrested for drink-driving and for leaving the scene of a collision.
"They had found a silver Peugeot smashed up on the carriageway and I didn't own a Peugeot but then the penny dropped. It was Kyle's car.
"I went down and saw the car and thought: 'How did he walk away from that?' I have seen accidents like that before where people have died.
"How the hell I kept on going I don't know. We didn't sleep for four days with worry and we went out searching for him."
Kyle was last seen wearing a dark-coloured beanie hat, a dark-coloured T-shirt, three-quarter-length denim shorts, white trainers, and a gold chain.
A statement from Alan and Kyle's mother Mary Lucas released at the time of his disappearance said: “We, the parents of Kyle ‘Jabbers’ Vaughan, would like to appeal for information about the disappearance of our son.
“Our lives have been on hold since December 30 and every day since then we have lived in hope that he will walk through the door. It’s been a painstaking time for us while we wait on news that our boy is safe.
“For Kyle to go missing is totally out of character. He would always be in contact with his mother every day and now we are heartbroken.
“We feel there are people out there who could hold information that is vital to this inquiry. It’s also possible that there are people who know what’s happened to Kyle but are too scared to come forward.
"We would ask those people to please help us to find our son who is a family-orientated, larger than life, fun-loving young man who is deeply missed by his large family and loyal friends."
Specialist officers from the Gwent Police major incident team, the neighbourhood policing team, and forensic experts conducted a major search with the operation focusing on several areas with a nationwide appeal made for information.
Within the month after Kyle's disappearance officers had taken 600 "operational actions", including analysis of 200 hours CCTV footage from 100 sites, and taken more than 230 statements along with interviews of relevant individuals.
The police helicopter and dog teams were also part of the operation and searches were made of several wooded areas in the aftermath of Kyle's disappearance with scores of family and friends taking part.
But the situation looked extremely desperate and on January 11, 2013, the investigation was upgraded from a missing person inquiry to a murder investigation.
Friends said they had not slept due to being "sick with worry" and wanted to welcome him home with a "massive Welsh cwtch".
Kyle's brother Karl Shaehan said: "We feel numb and are sick with worry about what might have happened to him. We were in total shock when we were told that our son and brother was feared dead.
“It’s been an unbearable strain on us as a family and we would urge anyone who can end this nightmare to come forward.”
A cousin of the missing young man said his disappearance had "totally shaken up" the community. He added: "He has many endearing friends who are stuck for words to describe how they feel. They are not sleeping and are sick with worry as are the family. We are all in a state of shock. We would like to think that the efforts made by all will finally lead us to the truth."
Another of Kyle's friends said: "He is one of those rare people you meet and it’s like you have known each other for years. His personality is addictive and so uplifting. We all just want to give Kyle a massive Welsh cwtch and to have him back where he is loved and where he belongs. My message to everyone who knows and loves Kyle is don’t give up hope."
In the wake of Kyle's disappearance Gwent Police arrested a number of people in connection with the murder investigation.
All defendants were released on police bail pending further investigation.
The investigation continues
Six months after Kyle's disappearance a further appeal was issued by Crimestoppers with a reward of £5,000 for information about his suspected murder.
A spokesman for Crimestoppers said at the time: “Kyle has been missing for a number of months now and police suspect he has been the victim of murder, which is why we are offering this reward."
Speaking at the time Kyle's cousin Beckie Imm said the family felt they had been "robbed".
She said: "It’s been tough watching the suffering that my auntie and uncle are going through. They are living a nightmare every day.
“It seems we have been robbed of a beautiful man and he has been robbed of his life, a future, a wife and children no doubt.
“It’s hard to believe this is all happening. It feels like we are actors in some kind of sick and twisted film sometimes.
“It’s a very harsh reality but we will continue to find out the truth – the family and community are united.”
The effort by the community continued at full pace with leaflets drops and poster campaigns in Newport, Caerphilly, and Torfaen. Police also placed a large poster at Cardiff Central station on the day of a Six Nations match between Wales and England.
The first birthday and anniversary without Kyle
On August 3, 2013, Mary and Alan should have been celebrating their son's 25th birthday but instead they were faced with another day of pain and turmoil.
The couple couldn't bear to stay in Newbridge for the day and left the town.
Speaking in 2013 Alan said: "It’s been seven long months since we last saw our son. Every day is like another day of pain and turmoil. We’re not resting, we’re not sleeping.
“All we’re doing is going through the motions right now and we won’t rest until we know what’s happened to him.
“Someone out there knows something. All we want is our son back so we can grieve properly.”
By November 2013 police had analysed more than 1,800 separate pieces of property since the inquiry was launched, including more than 180 mobile phone sim cards.
Around 4,800 mobile phone contacts were investigated and more than 10,000 lines of telecoms data, such as text messages, were analysed.
But the first blow in the investigation came when it was decided no further action would be taken against five people arrested in connection with Kyle's disappearance.
However two men from Blackwood arrested on suspicion of Kyle's murder remained under investigation and had their bail extended until April 2014. A teenager from Abercarn arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender also remained under investigation.
Despite the setback Kyle's family and friends took part in a sponsored walk and balloon release at Rodney Parade in Newport with those attending asked to wear red clothing.
On December 30, 2013, Gwent Police were still no closer to finding out what happened to Kyle but the force were confident they would find Kyle's body. While it was apparent the Peugeot 306 had been involved in a collision on the road it was believed Kyle would have been able to walk away from the vehicle.
Detective chief superintendent Peter Jones said at that stage: "This is one of the most extensive investigations I have worked on and being a year on without finding Kyle is obviously extremely difficult and upsetting for his friends and family.
“This is very much still a live investigation and we remain fully committed to establishing exactly what happened to Kyle a year ago today.
“Someone out there will know what happened that night and I would urge them to come forward with any information they may have."
Kyle's mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer
In February 2014 Mary announced the devastating news that she had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer just two years after recovering from throat cancer.
This made the search for Kyle even more poignant with her last wish to see her son buried before she died.
In an open letter to the public in 2014 Alan said: "Mary has terminal cancer and does not know how long she has left. All she wants is to bury her son before she dies.
“The pain we are going through is beyond comprehension. We sit here every day waiting for word our son’s body has been found. But it never happens.
“Every day is a living nightmare and our hearts are broken. It's killing us.
“For closure we need to bury our son. What hurts the most is that there are people out there, reading this right now, who could put us out of our misery. But they are choosing not to. We wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone.
“If you know anything, no matter how small and even if you think it’s not relevant, please pick up the phone and do the right thing so we can finally out our boy to rest before it’s too late."
Murder suspects released without charge
More than two years after Kyle's disappearance and with an extensive murder investigation carried out by Gwent Police the two men arrested on suspicion of his murder were released without charge in February 2015.
The suspects had been on bail and under investigation since January 2013 but were told they would face no further action.
The teenage suspect who had been arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender was also released without charge.
At the time spokesman for Gwent Police said: "The case remains open and enquiries will continue. Any new information that comes to light will be investigated. Officers once again appeal for anyone who may have information relating to this, irrespective of how small or insignificant they may think it is, to call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”
In October 2016, almost four years after his disappearance, Kyle was officially presumed legally dead by the High Court and his parents received a presumption of death certificate.
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Kyle's mother Mary Lucas dies
Almost five years years to the day after her son's disappearance Mary died on New Year's Day 2018 due to complications arising form liver cancer. She was 56.
Every week Alan visits her grave at St Mary's Church in Newport where there is a plot with a headstone bearing bearing her name and photo along with Kyle's.
Speaking in 2019 following his wife's death the mechanical engineer said: "We were just going through the phases and not talking about [her illness] but in December 2015 we went to see a specialist and unfortunately there was nothing more they could do. They told us to go and enjoy ourselves and that's what we did.
"We went on holiday for six months around the country and to see her smile was priceless. We went on a couple of speedboat trips and she loved her two-pence arcade machines.
"We started off in Bournemouth and we finished in Llandudno. She really enjoyed it. Her face was the best ever."
The couple had been together for 31 years and Alan had always said he should be the one to die first.
"I previously had a few heart attacks and I said to her: 'I'm winning'," he said. "Mary had a really good sense of humour. Kyle and his mum used to fight like cat and dog but he would always say: 'Mam I love you'. The two of them idolised each other and it's a shame Mary didn't find out where he is. That hurt her more than anything and it's hurt me, knowing you can't do anything."
Alan believes that Kyle's disappearance contributed to Mary's ill health. He said: "I always said Mary didn't die from liver cancer – she died of a broken heart. With Kyle I could call him 20 times a day and he wouldn't answer me but he would answer his mum straightaway.
"The bond between the two of them was unreal and so strong. He was her only son.
"Mary never complained about the pain of the cancer. The Sunday before she died it was Kyle's anniversary and she held on but two days later she passed away.
"The hardest part for me was to walk out of the hospital knowing I had to leave Mary there. That was the hardest thing I have had to do.
"I sat there every day watching Mary dying and I couldn't do anything. When you watch your partner dying you feel useless but I tried to make her happy and that was the best I could do.
"I just tell Kyle to look after his mother but he doesn't need telling. At Mary's funeral my other son saw me looking round the churchyard. When he asked me what I was looking at. I told him that Kyle was there and he was watching."
Alan described how hard it was not to have Mary by his side and said the burden of his son's disappearance was even greater.
"I don't show my emotions to anyone and I put a brave face on. Every morning I give her picture a kiss and talk to her. I tell her what has been happening when I go to put flowers on her grave. It's going to be her birthday on Saturday and all she's going to get this year is a bunch of flowers.
"Some days I think I'd rather be with Mary than alive. Six years ago we were a family and six years later I'm single. People say: 'Why don't you find another lady friend?' but I don't want anyone else because I've got Mary."
'Finding his body would be better than winning the lottery'
Speaking in 2021 Alan said the pain of not knowing what had happened to his son and his determination to find him has not diminished. He also wished to get Kyle's killers convicted and for them to "spend the rest of their lives in prison".
Alan said: "It's never been about me – it's about Mary and Kyle. People don't understand – Mary passed away without knowing where her son's body was and that's a bitter pill. I promised her on that day I would do everything in my power to find Kyle's body.
"The campaigns have cost a lot of money, I have used my pension pot to do things and now I've run out of money so I'm totally skint. My health is deteriorating, this year especially, compared to how I was when Mary died. I've lost 50 kilos this year alone from one thing or another and the doctors don't know what's wrong with me. It's all the stress.
"Every day I keep searching for information about our son and as soon as I get information in I pass it on to the police and leave them to deal with it. I'm doing everything – it's called on-the-job training and I am learning every day. I am just battling and battling to try and find Kyle's body and lay him to rest with his mother. I am hoping it will happen this year but it depends on what the police are doing.
"When people die in car accidents or from natural causes, unfortunately it happens, but their family get to bury them and I didn't get that privilege and Mary's in limbo because she doesn't know where her son's body is. Every day I feel so demoralised because there's got to be at least 50 people who know what happened and won't say. I just want whoever did this to be put away for the rest of their lives.
"I am still pushing and still trying... I will do everything in my power to keep on pushing to get things moving in the right direction to lay Kyle to rest with his mother. That would mean more to be than convicting the murderers who killed Kyle. It's not going to be easy but finding his body would be better than winning the lottery."
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