Serial rapist brings terror to genteel Bath

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A serial rapist who may have struck up to 12 times and could be responsible for the abduction of one woman and the murder of two others, is believed to be at large in Bath, the city more normally associated with Georgian grandeur and Jane Austen gentility.

Police are investigating links between sex assaults in Bath and Bristol since 1991 amid fears that the attacker could soon strike again.

So far they have identified connections between six known incidents - three rapes and two attempted attacks in Bath and one rape in Bristol. It is understood that six further possible cases have been found, although police have not disclosed details. A team of 60 detectives is also examining the suspected abduction of a 26-year-old woman from a Bath night club earlier this year and the murders of two women from outside clubs in Bristol and Plymouth.

The series of attacks - the latest involved the rape of a 16-year-old last month - have caused fear and anxiety in the city. An offer by the city's newspaper of 200 cut-price rape alarms was sold out in two days.

The police have identified three factors that link many of the cases. Women are often assaulted as they get into a car and the attacker has a mask or stocking and uses a knife.

But the biggest worry facing detectives is that the attacker may also be a murderer.

In June this year Melanie Hall, 26, a hospital clerical worker, disappeared after a night out at Cadillac's nightclub in Bath. She has not been seen since: no money has been taken from her bank account and her black Mini has remained in the car park at the Royal United Hospital. It is strongly suspected that she was abducted by the attacker.

Police are also looking at possible links with the case of Louise Smith, 18, who was murdered after vanishing outside a nightclub in Yate, near Bristol, on Christmas Day last year. Her naked body was later found in a quarry. Detectives have also been in contact with Devon and Cornwall police about the murder of Nicola Parsons, 18, who was last seen at a nightclub in Plymouth. Her body was found nearby. She had been raped and strangled.

At this stage the links between the sex attacks is far more concrete than the murder cases and abduction, although there are similarities.

Detective Superintendent Bill Davies, who is heading the investigation, said: "There are potential links with six cases and there are a number of others we are looking at. Part of the modus operandi is similar, which is causing us concern."