Murdered prostitutes' bodies were left in shape of crucifix, court told

Steve Wright would often drive his partner to her night shift at a call centre. Then, when she was safely out of the way, the apparently respectable, middle-aged man cruised Ipswich's red-light district, searching for victims, a court was told yesterday.

Over a six-week period, it was argued, he picked off his five victims, strangling or suffocating them before dumping their bodies in isolated spots – two laid out as if they were on a crucifix. Later, he would head off to work as forklift truck driver.

More than a year after the Suffolk town was terrorised by the killings, the prosecution outlined the case against a man accused of being one of the most brazen murderers of recent times. Even as a major police investigation was launched after the discovery of the first bodies, Mr Wright, 49, had continued undaunted until the day officers turned up at his door.

"For a period of some six- and-a-half weeks, he had preyed upon women working as prostitutes in and around Ipswich, killing five before his campaign was brought to an end by his arrest," said Peter Wright, QC, as he opened the case for the prosecution yesterday.

The defendant sat impassively in the dock, listening intently as the QC claimed that – either alone or with the help of an accomplice – Mr Wright had "engaged on a quite deliberate campaign of murder directed at the working prostitutes of Ipswich".

The barrister outlined the lives of the five women who had died. They were driven to sell themselves to feed drug habits or simply to survive. The day before Anneli Alderton disappeared, she told a police inspector she was working as a prostitute to buy Christmas presents for her little boy.

Tests indicated that all five died within hours of their disappearance. In just 10 days – from 2 December to 12 December, 2006 – their naked corpses were all found.

The barrister said: "Each of these women had a drug problem. Each of them had resorted to prostitution to fund their addiction and, in each of their cases, this decision was ultimately to prove fatal." Their habit made them "vulnerable to the predatory conduct of a killer or killers", he went on to tell the court.

The similarities between their deaths were "striking", the court was told. All were naked. None had any major injuries or signs of sexual assault but all had significant amounts of drugs in their systems and had hyper-inflated lungs or minor wounds that would indicate they died by "smothering, manual compression to the neck or a combination of both", possibly by the use of an armlock.

They had all fought for their lives but, slightly built and intoxicated on drugs, the women were no match for their killer. Crucially, the prosecution said, three of them had DNA and fibres on their bodies matching Wright's. The chances of it being anyone else's DNA were one in a billion, the jury was told.

The defendant had moved to the red-light district months before the killings began. He had the local knowledge to find the remote but accessible spots to dispose of the bodies and the opportunity while his partner, Pamela Wright, was at work, the court was told.

He was no stranger to the local prostitutes and they would not have suspected his motives even at a time of heightened awareness as the first bodies were discovered, the prosecutor said.

On the nights when several of the women went missing, Mr Wright's car, or one very similar, was spotted on CCTV cameras circling the area. On two occasions, number-plate recognition cameras spotted his vehicle leaving town in the early hours. On 1 December he was stopped by police in the area but insisted he was driving around because he could not sleep.

"He chose to go home and bide his time. He did not have to wait long. It was only two days later that another woman went missing," the prosecution alleged.

Mr Wright denies murdering Tania Nicol between 29 October and 9 December 2006, Gemma Adams between 13 November and 3 December, Anneli Alderton between 2 and 11 December, Annette Nicholls between 7 and 13 December and Paula Clennell, between 9 and 13 December.

With some of the victims' families sitting in the public gallery, pictures of the five women were flashed up on screens throughout the court. Minutes later the jury of nine men and three women saw images of their final resting places, their bodies dumped amid dense undergrowth or in water.

In the case of Ms Nicholls and Ms Alderton, their arms were outstretched, their hair arranged on the ground. CCTV images of what may have been among Ms Nicol's last moments alive were played.

Ms Nicol, 19, the youngest of the victims, was the first to disappear, on the night of 30 October. At 11.42pm, her mobile stopped being detected by the phone network and she never made, answered or responded to another call or text.

"On the evidence you hear you may conclude that Tania Nicol was by then either in the company of her killer or dead," said Mr Wright for the prosecution. On 8 December, her corpse was found in Belstead Brook near Copdock Mill. Five-and-a-half weeks earlier it had been placed in, or near, the water at a time of flooding and most probably swept to its final resting place. A post-mortem examination concluded it was unlikely she drowned but was probably dead when she entered the water.

She had been found by police divers who had started searching the area six days earlier when the body of Ms Adams, 25, was discovered in the brook. Ms Adams had disappeared on 14 November and failed to turn up the following day to collect her methadone prescription.

Ms Alderton, 24, who was pregnant, went missing on 3 December. Seven days later, her body was found on the outskirts of Nacton, posed in a cruciform. DNA matching the defendant was on one of her breasts. Fibres were found on her bodyidentical to his clothing, home and vehicle were on her body, it was claimed.

Annette Nicholls, 29, was last seen alive on 8 December. Her naked body was discovered in woodland four days later a short distance from where Ms Alderton had been left. She too was in a cruciform pose. DNA matching the defendant's as well as fibres said to be from his car and clothes were found.

Her body was spotted by a police helicopter sent up after the corpse of Ms Clennell, 24, was found just a few hundred yards away. She had last been seen alive two days earlier, on 10 December. Unlike the others, her body had been hurriedly dumped. Her killer, it was claimed yesterday, may have been disturbed by approaching police officers.

The trial continues.

The Victims

Paula Clennell, 24 Found dead in Old Felixstowe Road area on 12 December, near Ms Nicholls

Annette Nicholls, 29 Found posed in crucifix position near Old Felixstowe Road on 12 December

Anneli Alderton, 24 Found dead, posed in crucifix position, off the A14 on 10 December

Gemma Adams, 25 Found in Belstead Brook, near Copdock Mill on 2 December

Tania Nicol, 19 Found on 8 December, downstream from discovery of Ms Adams

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