Ipswich murders: A red light district paralysed by fear

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The Independent Online

Ipswich’s red light district is a handful of banal streets, dark and largely deserted at night beneath the silhouette of empty office blocks and a football stadium.

But in October 2006, a couple of dozen women plied their trade there. Painfully thin, shambolic drug addicts, they would haggle through car windows beneath fluorescent street lighting, offering sex for one crumpled ten-pound note; or two or three, if they were lucky.

Nightly they would meander past 79 London Road unaware that through its bay windows a new tenant was watching, a serial killer who would pick them off one by one, leaving naked bodies in a crucifix shape in isolated spots a few miles away.

Quickly, women and girls remained behind closed doors as the town talked nervously of the Suffolk Strangler - a modern day Jack the Ripper.

Wright moved into the Edwardian terraced house with its red front door on 1 October 2006 with his partner Pam, whose maiden name matched his surname. They gave every appearance of being an unexceptional middle aged couple. He was known to dress tidily, enjoy a game of golf and clean his Ford Mondeo fastidiously.

The son of an RAF corporal, Wight had lived an itinerant lifestyle. He had gone through two short marriages and fathered two children while working as a QE2 steward, a merchant seaman and pub manager. His life had been turbulent, marred by problems with gambling and depression which led to several suicide attempts. Yet the only time he had come to the attention of the law was four years earlier when he had been convicted of stealing £84 from a till in a pub where he worked. It was a minor offence but it would eventually become of dramatic significance as it meant his DNA was on police record.

As a steward and during a spell travelling in Thailand in the 1990s he had developed a penchant for prostitutes and his new address placed him right in the middle of the town’s red light district. The fact that, in his words, he and his partner became “like two ships passing in the night”, working different hours, afforded ample opportunity to indulge.

After completing his shift as a forklift truck driver, he would drop Ms Wright off at the call centre where she worked before cruising around looking for women.

He would then take them to dark, secluded areas in his car or back to his flat for sex on the brown and mustard coloured carpet of his bedroom or the bed covered in his girlfriend’s teddy bears and Mickey Mouse soft toys. Wright insisted in court he then returned them alive to the streets. But the evidence told another story.

Tania Nicol had been working as a prostitute to fuel a heroin habit she had developed at the age of 16. On 30 October she was spotted on CCTV walking through the red light district. By 11.42pm that night, police believe she was in the company of her killer. Two hours and 40 minutes later Wright’s car was caught on camera driving out towards Belstead Brook.

A fortnight later Gemma Adams collected her methadone prescription for the last time. A 25-year-old, who had grown up in a happy middle class home enjoying riding and piano lessons, her habit had cost her a job at an insurance company. She turned to prostitution. In the early hours of 16 November she had met her killer.

When a police officer pulled Wright over in his Ford Mondeo on December 1, he simply explained that he had insomnia and was unaware that he was circling an infamous corner of town. He went home.

The following day volunteer fisheries warden Trevor Saunders was clearing blockages at Belstead Brook in Hintlesham when he came across Miss Adams’ body.

On 3 December Anneli Alderton visited her mother’s home in Harwich. Her parting shot as she walked out of the house was “Goodbye Mum. I love you.” It was the last time they were together.

That night Wright’s car, with its distinctive Christmas Tree air freshener, was seen kerb crawling around the Ipswich red light district then later driving out of town.

Five days later divers searching the area where Miss Adams’s body had been found came across Miss Nicol’s body in the same brook. Publicity surrounding the case took on a more urgent tone.

That afternoon Annette Nicholls, a 29-year-old with a young child, was last seen alive.

On December 11, a dog walker spotted Miss Alderton’s body in woodland. Better preserved than the first two, it offered more clues to the killer’s identity. And it had been posed in a crucifix shape.

By then Paula Clennell – who had spoken on a television news bulletin of her fears – was carrying a large pair of scissors for protection.

Two days later a member of the public reported seeing a body near Levington. It turned out to be Miss Clennell. A force helicopter discovered Miss Nicholls just 150 metres away – once again posed in a crucifix shape.

But the net was closing. Wright was put under surveillance and arrested after his DNA, kept following the bar theft in 2001, was found on three of the bodies.

At 4.45am on December 19, police knocked on the door of Steve and Pam Wright’s home. The killing was over.