Murders of women may be linked

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A NATIONAL police inquiry into the murders of 207 women who died between 1986 and 1996 is understood to have identified links between scores of unsolved murders.

The inquiry, called Operation Enigma, has concluded that 135 of the murders were random, but that the remaining 72 merit further investigation, according to an exclusive report on News at Ten. The 72 murders can be grouped into 21 clusters showing similar characteristics.

The results, which raise the possibility that a number of multiple, undetected murderers may be at work, will be sent to police chiefs in the next two weeks. Chris Mullin, Labour MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said last night: "If these findings are true, then the implications for the way in which police forces are organised are serious and we will have to think whether dividing the country into 43 police forces is the best way."

The National Crime Faculty is understood to be recruiting a new team of scientists, psychologists and police to work together. One of their main tasks will be to go into prisons to interview convicted murderers to try to find out what motivates a serial killer in Britain.

Operation Enigma was set up in 1996 following 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 UK.

The importance of having more cross-references and liaison between forces was illustrated in the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry, in which Peter Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times before he was identified as the key suspect. In the case of Frederick and Rosemary West, although they were repeatedly questioned, they abducted and murdered a number of women before being caught.

Officers from the National Crime Faculty, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Forensic Science Service, and the Home Office's Police Research Group have all worked on Operation Enigma, which is headed by James Dickenson, the Assistant Chief Constable of Essex.

Members of the Operation Enigma team have also 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.

Operation Enigma examined different aspects of cases, such as the cause of death and injuries, the victim's background, DNA samples, suspects, and the location of attacks, to try to identify common traits in the murders and produce new police guidelines which could be used in future investigations.