Prostitutes were warned to stay off the streets of Ipswich last night as fears grew that a serial killer may have murdered five sex workers in East Anglia.
So far three young prostitutes have been found dead and two others are missing. As evidence grew that a serial killer was responsible for the three murders - all the women were found naked in similar circumstances - police and sex workers have become increasingly alarmed that further attacks could take place.
Jacqui Cheer, assistant chief constable of Suffolk Police, last night issued a warning to sex workers. "My message to you is simple - stay off the streets," she said. "If you are out alone at night, you are putting yourself in danger."
But sex worker groups yesterday rejected the appeal as unworkable. Niki Adams, of the English Collective of Prostitutes, dismissed the idea that street prostitutes would no longer work in the open. "The women are very scared but they do not have the option to leave prostitution," Ms Adams said. "Most are incensed by the police approach to stay home or that they have brought it upon themselves saying they have made themselves vulnerable because of their work."
One prostitute said that she was "terrified", but added: " I've got a rape alarm. I've got a brick in my bag so if anybody starts on me I can smack them."
Gemma Adams, 25, of Ipswich, disappeared in the early hours of 15 November. Her naked body was found in a stream at nearby Hintlesham 17 days later. Tania Nicol, 19, also of Ipswich, disappeared on 30 October. Her naked body was found in a pond at nearby Copdock four days ago. The naked body of a third Ipswich prostitute - a 24-year-old woman who has not yet been named - was found in a wood at nearby Nacton yesterday.
Detectives said neither Miss Adams nor Miss Nicol had been sexually assaulted. They have not revealed how the women died but said they were waiting for the results of post mortem tests.
But detectives said that they were not linking the death of a fourth woman found in a river near Crowland, Lincolnshire, at the weekend to their inquiry.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull, who is heading the inquiry, admitted that police might be looking for a serial killer. He said: " While we can't formally link the discovery of the body at Nacton with the other two murders, the facts speak for themselves. At this stage we don't know how long the body may have been at that location."
He added: "Clearly there are some distinct similarities. We have already linked the death of Tania and Gemma - there are significant similarities in the finding of this latest woman."
Police said they were also concerned about two other prostitutes, Paula Clennell, 24, who has not been seen since late on Saturday, and Annette Nicholls, 29, who has not been seen since 4 December. Det Chief Supt Gull said Miss Clennell had spoken to a friend late on Sunday but had not been seen since or made contact with police. "We are concerned for their welfare," he said.
More than 100 officers are involved in the murder investigation and detectives are frantically tracing former offenders with sex and violence-related criminal records and searching through CCTV coverage of Ipswich to try and identify the killer.
Meanwhile, forensic specialists are looking for clues on the bodies of the victims that could help identify the killer. They are not, at this stage, linking the current murders with other unsolved cases in the area.
Last night a businessman offered a £25,000 reward to catch the killer. Graeme Kalbraier, 52, has offered the five-figure sum for information which leads to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
Mr Kalbraier, managing director of Call Connection, a call centre operating in the insurance industry, based in Ipswich, said: "I have a daughter aged 17, I also have an Ipswich workforce of 300, many of whom are girls in their teens and early 20s. I want this killer off the streets."
Police have appealed for sex workers to contact them - on 07764 210 572 - with information about the killings, and have said that they will ignore offences relating to prostitution.
Victims and missing women
Gemma Adams, 25, was last seen on 15 November in Ipswich's red light district and was reported missing by her boyfriend when she failed to return home that night. Her naked body, bearing no signs of a sexual assualt, was found in a stream at Hintlesham on 2 December. She had grown up on the outskirts of Ipswich but had lost contact with her family after becoming a heroin addict. They did not know that she was working as a prostitute.
Tania Nicol, 19, vanished on 30 October. She had left her home on Woolverstone Close, Ipswich, where she lived with her family, to head for the red light district. Her body was found in a pond at Copdock Mill on 8 December. The stream where Gemma Adams was found runs into the pond. Tania was naked but there was no evidence that she had been sexually assaulted.
The naked body of a woman in her twenties was found in woods at Nacton, a village south-east of Ipswich, on Sunday morning [10 December]. Police said that she was working as a prostitute in Ipswich but have not yet named her. It is belived that she did not live at a fixed address.
Yesterday police revealed that a fourth prostitute, Paula Clennel, had gone missing. The 24-year-old was last seen on Saturday [9 December] in Ipswich's red light district. She spoke to a friend on Sunday night but her not been seen since and police are concerned about her wherebabouts. Police said that she lived at a number of addresses in Ipswich.
Annette Nicholls, 29, who works as a prostitute in Ipswich, was reported missing by her family yesterday. They last saw her on 4 December and became concerned after press reports about the deaths of the three other women.
Other missing/murdered women
Natalie Pearman, 16, a prostitute from Norwich, was found strangled in 1992. Her killer was never found.
Mandy Duncan, 26, a prostitute from Ipswich, went missing in 1993. Her body was never found.
Sixth-form student Vicky Hall, 17, was murdered in 1999 in Felixstowe, Suffolk. A man was tried and acquitted for her murder. She was asphyxiated and her body found in a water filled ditch.
Kellie Pratt, 29, disappeared from the red light area of Norwich in 2000. Her body was never found.
Michelle Bettles, 22, was found strangled three days after disappearing from the red light district of Norwich in 2002.