Search for two missing women as canal murderer is found guilty

Police have launched an appeal to trace three women missing since the 1990s after a man was found guilty of the murder of two women yesterday.

John Sweeney, a carpenter, is already serving four life sentences for attacking another girlfriend with an axe in 1994. Now detectives want to know what happened to an English woman and two South American former girlfriends of Sweeney.

The first woman police would like to find is a trainee nurse from the Derbyshire area called Sue, who was thought to be in her late twenties or early thirties when she moved to Switzerland in the late 70s or early 80s. She had lived and worked in the Holloway Road and Seven Sisters area of north London before possibly attending a nursing college.

Less is known about the other two women, except that one was a Brazilian known as Leani and that the other is a Colombian called Maria. Yesterday Mr Sweeney was convicted of the murders of Melissa Halstead and Paula Fields. Sentencing was postponed until today after Sweeney refused to leave the cells. He is likely to receive a further two life sentences, and be told he is too dangerous to be released from prison.

Former model Miss Halstead, 33, from the US, was killed in 1990. Her dismembered body was thrown into a canal in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She was only identified 18 years later by DNA, although her head and hands have never been found.

The body parts of Paula Fields, 31, were found in six holdalls floating in the Regent's Canal in Camden, north London, in February 2001. Her head, hands and feet are still missing.

Liverpool-born Sweeney was arrested in March 2001, having evaded police since his 1994 attack on Delia Balmer, who was in her forties.

Police found several weapons and 300 pieces of violent artwork and poems at the north London house where he had been living. One showed a bloody axe and was entitled "Scalp Hunter". There was also a wooden carving of a pair of feet and hands. Miss Balmer, who was too traumatised to attend court, said Sweeney told her he had killed a previous girlfriend called Melissa. But it was not until last year that police had enough evidence to arrest him for the murders.

Miss Balmer said he kept her prisoner in her flat and left her scarred for life after receiving life-threatening injuries.