Teacher who visited Cuba due to 'low crime rate' strangled in hotel room
A young British teacher, who travelled to Cuba after being advised it was a haven for female tourists, was ambushed and murdered in her hotel room in an apparently motiveless attack.
Martin Evans, Crime Correspondent, The Telegraph
Lara Jones, 26, who was a highly experienced and cautious traveller, was attracted to the Caribbean island, by its boasts of enjoying the lowest crime rate in the Western Hemisphere.
But the linguistics graduate was strangled and smothered by a security guard who crept into her room at the former convent where she was staying in the Cuban capital Havana.
Her body was discovered by a maid and a hostel worker who became concern when she failed to turn up for an organised trip the following day.
The guard was arrested and later admitted the murder but has refused to give an explanation for the attack.
There was no sign of any sexual assault and nothing was missing from the room.
Details of Laura’s death, which occurred in March last year, emerged for the first time at an inquest, which heard how she “loved life and lived it to the full”.
Miss Jones, from Preston in Lancashire, had been educated at the privately run Westholme School for girls in Blackburn before graduating in linguistics at University College London then working as a teacher at EC London English Language School.
She was an accomplished skier and experienced traveller and in 2011 had spent several months in South America teaching English to local students.
She spoke Spanish and Portuguese fluently and had travelled extensively through Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Chile.
On January 4 last year she travelled to Mexico, before flying on to Cuba for a six day visit before she was due to return home.
Her family said she had planned her trip carefully with safety and security very much at the forefront of her mind.
Miss Jones had researched Cuba using the UK government website and various travel guides and was encouraged by reports of low crime.
After carefully researching her choice of accommodation, Miss Jones booked for three nights at the Santa Clara Hostel which was owned by the Cuban ministry of culture and boasted 24 hour security.
The inquest heard she had hoped to stay in a dormitory for safety reasons but was given her own room as there were no other guests.
In a statement read to the Preston hearing, her mother Carolyn Jones, 58, who runs a car dealership with Lara's father Graham, 64, said: "Lara was an experienced and careful traveller.
"She would always send me details of her location and destination. She would make contact with home daily either by phone, Skype or email.
"I always knew where she was and where she was going. Lara spoke excellent Spanish and was always sensitive to the social norms of the countries she visited always dressing in accordance with them.”
"She was mindful not to draw undue attention to herself and never carried expensive equipment or large sums of money with her when she was out in public."
Mrs Jones added: “Lara did everything possible to secure her own personal safety. She had researched the country on the UK government website and in the travel guides which had advised variously that 'Cuba has the lowest crime rate in the Western Hemisphere, no crime, a haven for female travellers', and she had researched her accommodation as being 'good location, friendly staff and security guards'.
"She did everything right and she was in what should have been the safest place. What happened to Lara was totally random, unforeseeable and neither she nor anyone else could have done anything to prevent it.
A statement from the Cuban ministry of foreign affairs said there was no explanation why Miss Jones had been attacked.
The statement said: “It is unlikely she could have screamed without being heard and the absence of defence injuries indicate she had been taken by surprise."
Recording a verdict of unlawful killing, deputy coroner of Preston Mr Simon Jones told Mrs Jones and her family: "I'm now at a loss as to what to say. There's nothing I can say that can offer you any comfort to you. I recognise that this is the most awful thing that can happen to anybody. Please accept my sympathies."
In a statement given after the inquest the Jones family said: "Lara loved life and lived it to the full with unfaltering positivity and seemingly boundless energy.
"She was cherished and loved by her family. The loyalty and support Lara showed to her friends left them and her family bewildered and confused by her sudden death.
"As a daughter and youngest sister we all cherish Lara. Our family is incomplete without her."
Since her death her family have set up Lara's Foundation and are building a Lara's Foundation School and Community Centre, in Ndala, North Tanzania.
IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE
FOR PEOPLE WHO READ IN ENGLISH: ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS IN ENGLISH OR TRANSLATED. PUBLICATION DOES NOT MEAN WE ENDORSE OR REJECT CONCLUSIONS OR STATEMENTS OF AUTHORS