Police forced to reconsider 'Midland Ripper' theory

Murder investigation: Discovery of strangled French student leads detectives to rethink links between series of killings
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In November, senior officers from four police forces met to discuss whether a serial killer, who has already been dubbed the "Midland Ripper", is operating in parts of the Midlands and northern England.

It was not the first such meeting, another took place in August 1994, because although many detectives are sceptical about the serial killer theory they are also haunted by the possibility that they might have another "Yorkshire Ripper" on their hands.

After their last meeting, which discussed five murders of young women in the Midlands and the North, detectives admitted that there were similarities between the killings, but dismissed the possibility that one man was responsible.

Yesterday, the possibility that they might have been wrong surfaced once again with the suggestion that Celine Figard, 19, the French student whose body was found near Worcester on Friday, may have been murdered by a serial killer.

Chief Superintendent John McCammont, of West Mercia Police, said police were linking her killing with the murder of Tracy Turner, one of the five discussed at the meetings.

"In November this year, police chiefs from Leicestershire, West Midlands, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire discussed the possibility that the serial killer was responsible for five deaths around the country," he said.

Miss Turner, 32, from Stafford, was last seen alive at a service station on the M6 in Staffordshire in March 1994. She was a prostitute who plied her trade from motorway service stations in the Midlands. Her naked body was found in a ditch near Bitteswell in Leicestershire, just four miles from Swinford, where Samo Paull was found dead three months earlier.

Miss Paull, 20, from Rowley Regis, West Midlands, was also a prostitute and worked in the red light area of Balsall Heath in Birmingham. She had been strangled and her body was half naked and like the other victims there was no evidence of a sexual assault.

The third victim discussed by detectives at the meetings was Dawn Shields, 19, a prostitute whose body was found in a shallow grave covered by stones at Mam Tor in the Peak District in Derbyshire in May 1994. She too had been strangled

In August 1994, the naked body of Julie Finley, 23, was found dumped in a field by a lovers' lane near Skelmersdale, Lancashire. Like the other victims, Miss Finley, a suspected drug addict who is thought to have mixed with prostitutes, had been strangled. Miss Finley, who was 5ft 3ins tall and weighed just six-and-a-half stone, was discovered with injuries to her upper body and arms which suggested a fight or scuffle.

Police also discussed the murder of Julie Clayton, an Australian hitch- hiker, but her killer, Denzil Walker, was sentenced to life imprisonment a month ago. They are keeping an open mind about the murder of Sharon Harper, 21, a barmaid, from Grantham, Lincolnshire, whose body was discovered on a building site on 3 July 1994.