Female deaths may be linked to serial killers

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The Independent Online
A national police inquiry, set up in an attempt to track down serial killers, will examine possible links between the murders of up to 220 women who have died since 1986.

Detectives hope to identify common traits in the murders and produce new police guidelines which can be used in future investigations. Senior officers, representing the 43 forces in England and Wales, will meet at the West Mercia police headquarters in Worcester today to discuss the inquiry, called Operation Enigma.

Agents from the FBI, who are expert in hunting serial killers in the US, will assist the project.

The operational team will not undertake murder investigations, but will offer support to on-going inquiries. The initiative follows concerns about the number of unsolved murders of women and fears that serial killers could be operating undetected because of the lack of a central investigation unit in the United Kingdom.

The potential for mass killers was highlighted last year by the disclosure that nine women had been murdered under similar circumstances over the seven years to 1994. Most of the victims were prostitutes and all had been strangled. They all had some of their clothes removed and the killer made no attempt to hide their bodies.

Senior police officers met in December last year to discuss the unsolved murders, but after an investigation concluded that they were not linked. However, the operation prompted the Association of Chief Police Officers' Crime Committee to set up Operation Enigma.

Taking part in the inquiry are officers from the newly formed National Crime Faculty, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Forensic Science Service, and the Home Office's Police Research Group. They are expected to examine thousands of witness statements, post-mortem reports, victim profiles, DNA samples, clothing and scene of crime photographs from some of the 220 female murders.

The inquiry will be headed by James Dickenson, the Assistant Chief Constable of Essex, who said: "Operation Enigma will collate and analyse relevant information regarding the victim, the crime and any suspects from a limited number of detected and undetected murders where the victim is female.

"The research will determine whether and how the service provided to officers investigating such crimes can be improved." He added: "For some years there have been arrangements to assist senior investigating officers in conducting comparative case analysis of major crimes.

"Work is currently being undertaken with a view to enhancing existing arrangements. This will take account of experiences within the UK and advances in other countries."

Members of the Operation Enigma team have already been helped by the FBI, who are experienced in running complex computer programmes and investigations into serial killings, with briefings at the bureau's training centre in Quantico, Virginia.

It is also understood that they have been to Vancouver and Toronto to tap into the expertise of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who have also been involved in a number of serial killings.

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