Riddle of three flatmates in US suicide

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in Phoenix, Arizona

Police in the United States are investigating a bizarre triple suicide involving two British women and a man who formerly lived together in Hampshire.

Stefan Bateman, 22, from Lancaster, and Ruth Fleming, 22, from County Durham, were found dead in separate stalls on Wednesday after renting guns at the range at Mesa, east of Phoenix, Arizona.

Hours after the couple died, their friend Jane Greenhow, 23, killed herself near the town of Redding, in Northern California, about 1,000 miles away.

Ms Greenhow is also from the north of England but the last known address of all three was a flat in Andover, Hampshire.

Sergeant Duane Van Norman, a spokesman for the Mesa police department said Mr Bateman and Ms Fleming walked into the Caswell Shooting Range in Mesa, rented a .38 and a .357 Magnum revolver, and after firing some shots at the targets 25 yards away from adjacent stalls then fired the fatal shots. The couple had been in the area for several weeks and had been coming regularly to the range, locals said. No one else was hurt.

"Whatever happened was real fast," Randy Farabee, a gunsmith at the range, told the Arizona Republic. "There couldn't have been an argument. They [the range employees] would have stopped it."

About 15 people were at the range and adjoining gun shop. In a similar incident last year, a local man walked into Shooter's World in Phoenix, rented a pistol and fired 29 shots before killing himself with the 30th.

Sgt Van Norman said the pair had been travelling in the north-west since they arrived in the United States on 6 January. They showed their British passports at the range as ID, a common practice for foreigners who often go to American ranges. "We don't know why they shot themselves, or why they came to Mesa," he said. "They rented went to the shooting range, rented some weapons and committed suicide."

Ms Greenhow's death was disclosed by police in Andover who spoke of how the trio "disappeared" just after Christmas. Sergeant David Rouse said: "Jane Greenhow hadn't been seen by her employer since Christmas. The three of them just took off and no one knows why. It's a total mystery - they didn't tell anyone they were going away. We believe Jane was found soon after Ruth and Stefan. It is still not clear how she died."

Sgt Rouse added that the three shared a flat in Andover but it was not known how long they had lived in the town.

The fact that Ms Greenhow was found dead in northern California may tie in with information from the police at Mesa, that Ms Fleming and Mr Bateman had been travelling in the north-west of the country.

Ms Fleming was the youngest of the three daughters of Stan and Joan Fleming, who lives in Bowburn, near Durham. Mr and Mrs Fleming, whose older daughters are Christine and Barbara, were too upset to comment about the tragedy last night.

A neighbour spoke of how Mrs Fleming became "hysterical" when police broke the news of her daughter's death. Ms Fleming's father is secretary of the Bowburn Community Association.

Ms Fleming was a pupil at Durham Johnston School. She was very bright and achieved good A-level passes.

She went on to study astro-physics at Leicester University and was understood to have recently joined a company in Andover, according to friends of the family at Bowburn.