Discovery of clothes may provide vital clues

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The Independent Online

Police were hoping last night that the discovery of clothing found in a river near Ipswich may be the breakthrough they have been looking for in the search for the Suffolk serial killer who is feared to have murdered at least five prostitutes.

A jacket found in the River Orwell, close to Nacton and Orwell, where three of the bodies were found, and a discarded handbag recovered in the centre of Ipswich, have been handed in to police. Forensic experts are already examining a training shoe ­ found in Ipswich last week ­ to see whether it belonged to Gemma Adams, whose body was the first of the sex workers to be discovered.

A police spokesperson said that until the jacket and handbag had been examined by the inquiry team, they "are not treating them as significant ­ however, the situation may change."

The possible development came amid reports that all five victims had been strangled or suffocated, stripped naked, but left with their jewellery as a "trademark" of the attacks.

The identities of three of the women have been confirmed. Gemma Adams, 25, was last seen on 15 November in the red light district of Ipswich. Her body was the first to be discovered, on 2 December. Tania Nicol, 19, was last seen on 30 October when she was caught on CCTV a few streets from where Ms Adams was last sighted. Her body was found on 8 December in a pool at Codpock Mill, the same stream where Ms Adams' body was discovered. Two days later, on 10 December, the body of Anneli Alderton, a 25-year-old mother of five, was found in woods at Nacton. Police found two further bodies in Levington on Tuesday. They are believed to be Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29. Late last night, one of the bodies was removed and a post-mortem will be conducted today in order to confirm the identity; the other remained where it was found, covered by a white police tent.

Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull, leading the inquiry, said the lack of contact from the two women suggested that their worst fears would be realised. He said senior officers had been "emotionally overwhelmed" when news of the discovery of the two further bodies was delivered to a meeting of commanders. He said: "These tragic events have clearly overwhelmed us ... emotionally. When we heard this breaking news, there was stunned silence. Tragic, desperate news. I now fear the worst."

Although Det Ch Supt Gull has said all the killings were believed to have occurred elsewhere, the manner of death of only one of the victims ­ Ms Alderton ­ has been officially confirmed.

As the murder investigation continued, criminal psychologists warned that, since the streets of Ipswich were now largely deserted of prostitutes, the attacker may be forced to seek out other women in order to satisfy what may have become a compulsion to kill.

Police and local civic leaders are still appealing for all women in the town to take great care.

Experts said the killer might turn to other women because he was " running out of victims". The consultant forensic psychologist Dr Ian Stephen, who has worked on previous serial killer cases, said: "What may be an issue is that when he starts running out of prostitutes, he will see any woman who's out on the street at night on their own as a prostitute and will target them as a possible victim."

Dr Glen Wilson, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, also speculated that the killer might be "running out of victims" and had become so "arrogant" that he believed he could carry on killing despite the police investigation.

One woman still working on the almost deserted streets said yesterday that she saw the killer's third victim, Ms Alderton, getting into a blue BMW. Lou, 28, said she was waiting with Ms Alderton when the car drove into the car park. "Anneli went up to it and got in it and it drove out," she said. "The driver was chubby with glasses and dark hair. I told police about it. I think that was the last time she was seen."

Meanwhile, the mother of Natalie Pearman, a 16-year-old prostitute who was found strangled in 1992, said a police liaison officer had contacted her over the Ipswich murders. She said she hoped her daughter's death would be linked with the killings. Last night, police were unable to confirm if they were investigating links between the 1992 murder and the Ipswich killings.

Hundreds of different lines of inquiry are now being pursued by Suffolk police in the hunt for the man who is believed to have killed five women, all prostitutes, in just a few weeks. They have been boosted by officers from adjacent forces, criminal profilers, behavioural analysts and experts on policing techniques from the National Centre for Policing Excellence.

In the Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said the police would get all the resources they required. More than 200 officers are already involved and about 2,000 calls have so far been made to the police incident room.

Police said the News of the World had offered a £250,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer.

The 1992 murder 'linked' to latest killings

Police are believed to be investigating a possible link between the murder of the prostitute Natalie Pearman, right, who was strangled in 1992, and the Ipswich murders. Pearman, whose body was found in woodland at Ringland Hills, Norfolk, had been abducted while working on the streets of Norwich. Forensic tests showed she had had sex with three men on the night she died. Two of the men were identified and cleared of involvement in her death. The third, police believe, was her killer.

Ms Pearman's mother, Lin, said she had been contacted by police and told that there were similarities between the condition of her daughter's body and that of one of the recent victims. 'For 14 years I've been waiting for that phonecall,' she said. 'But ,at the moment my heart goes out to the parents who have gone through what I have gone through.' Four other unsolved cases may be of interest to the police. Mandy Duncan, 26, a prostitute from Ipswich, went missing in 1993. Her body has never been found. The body of Vicky Hall, 17, a sixth-form student, was found in a ditch near Stowmarket in 1999. She had been asphyxiated. The body of Kellie Pratt, 29, who disappeared from the red-light district of Norwich in 2000, has never been found. Michelle Bettles, 22, who disappeared from the same area in 2002, was found strangled.