Victim 5: Annette Nicholls: 'Overnight, she got into heroin and it changed her'

Four years ago, Annette Nicholls seemed to be heading for a career of which she could feel justifiably proud.

She had completed a four-year beautician's course at Suffolk College in Ipswich and, as her many friends in the town attested yesterday, was set on a path towards her own business.

Annette was often to be found in her friends' homes, helping with make-up, offering advice and providing treatments to women who wanted a complexion and long brown hair like hers. It was some achievement for a young woman, then 25, who was bringing up a young son, Farron, single-handedly.

Then, virtually overnight, heroin had her in its grip. No one is quite sure how it started - some say that boyfriends were an influence - but her habit left her in dire need of money to maintain her supply. Within a few months she was plying her trade in Ipswich's red-light district.

Last night, it seemed that Annette had paid for this decision with her life, when police officers found two bodies in the Levington district in Ipswich.

If, as seems likely, she was attacked by the town's serial killer, she is unlikely to have stood a chance: the slight 29-year-old was just 5ft 3in. Though the body has not been formally identified detectives say they "fear the worst" for Annette.

Her cousin Tanya Nicholls, 37, is haunted by the thought that she did not do more to make Netty, as Annette was known, give up her risky work.

"She used to be such an absolutely outstanding person with the most lovely personality," Tanya said yesterday. "She was stunningly beautiful inside and out. I was so proud of her when she passed her course.

"But then almost overnight she got into heroin and it changed her. It was a bit like flicking a light switch."

Many friends say that it was not in Annette's character to take risks with her personal safety. She was regarded as someone who was extremely organised. Her house was immaculate, and her car was always taxed and insured.

Some chart her life's descent into chaos from the day after she left her small, semi-detached council house on Ipswich's Greenwich estate, where she raised Farron - who is now eight - during his pre-school years.

Annette had evidently been encouraged by the council to move into a bigger, housing association home on the smart new Ravenwood estate nearby. The move coincided with Annette asking her mother, Rosemary (who is known locally as Kim), to play a more substantial role in caring for Farron. Her mother, with whom friends say Annette was once extremely close, readily agreed.

Her cousin saw her about three weeks ago, touting for business for kerb-crawlers in West End Road on the edge of the red-light area - yards from the place where one murder victim, Gemma Adams, was last seen alive on 15 November.

"She saw me riding past on a bike at around midnight and called me over to say, 'Hello'," Tanya said. "I was really worried for her because it was after the two other girls, Gemma and Tania, had been reported missing.

"But she didn't want to stop working. She just told me she was OK. The only other thing she said was, 'Don't tell anyone that you saw me here'. Now I just wish that I had picked her up and dragged her home."

Annette was understood to have been staying with a man in Ipswich when she failed to return to his house after going out to sell sex. Detectives say she was last seen at 9.50pm on Tuesday last week in Norwich Road, Ipswich, near the town's red-light area. She was reported missing by her family on Monday after they became worried about the murders.

After last night's discovery, Annette's mother was being comforted at her home in Ipswich and was too upset to comment.

Tanya said: "I don't know if she knew about Annette's prostitution. The pair of them used to be ever so close before she went off the rails, but she would never have approved of her being a prostitute."

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