The nocturnal habits of Alun Kyte, an inconspicuous, short, balding mechanic with a faint Midlands accent, were a puzzle to the many guest-house owners whose establishments he frequented.
He would check in, be shown to his room, not surface for more than an hour, then disappear in one of his various vans and cars, returning only after nightfall. During these absences, police now know, Kyte was roaming the motorway network, travelling 80 or 100 miles from his temporary accommodation in search of prostitutes to kill.
This week, Kyte, 35, was sent to prison for life for the murders of Samo Paull, a 20-year-old single mother whose body was found in a water-filled ditch in Swinford, Leicestershire, in December 1993, and Tracey Turner, 32, whose body was found in similar circumstances nine weeks later.
His conviction attracted little attention - a fact detectives attribute to his choice of victims - yet Kyte may be one of Britain's most prolific killers who, by virtue of an extraordinarily propensity for travel, could have struck within every police force area in Britain. Leicestershire Police have already taken the unusual step of issuing every British force with his details and distributing a tape recording of his voice in the hope that women he has raped may recognise him.
Kyte claims to have killed 12 women, a boast which "could be true", said Detective Superintendent Mick Creedon, of Leicestershire Police, who has led the investigation into his crimes. "He craves notoriety.He wants to be elevated to Ripper status," Det Supt Creedon said.
In the mid-Nineties, Ms Paull and Ms Turner were two of the three women whose deaths the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) concluded were typical of the work of a "Midlands Ripper". They and a third woman, 22-year-old Janine Downes, of Wolverhampton, had all been strangled miles from the place where they were dumped, none appeared to have been sexually assaulted and items of jewellery had been removed in what one officer described at the time as "trophy-taking".
The deaths of another six women fitted this picture, said the NCIS, which investigated a theory that a serial killer could be at large.
For a time it was thought that Celine Figard, a 19-year-old French student found left naked at a roadside near Worcester in 1995, was a victim of the same killer, although a lorry driver, Stuart Morgan, was eventually convicted for her murder. But the timing of Kyte's known attacks on women add weight to the theory that he could be a serial killer. As well as murdering in December 1993 and March 1994, he is known to have attacked a prostitute in April 1994 and was serving a seven-year jail term for the rape of a woman in Weston-super-Mare in December 1997 when he was tried for murder.
"Why three [attacks] in a short period then nothing until 1997?" asked Det Supt Creedon. "There are three missing years to fill in and he is capable of absolutely anything."
Detectives are wary of naming other possible victims for fear of prejudicing future trials but police sources say that the murder of Julie Finlay, 23, whose body was found in a lay-by near Skelmersdale, Lancashire, in August 1994, must now be examined. Her death has been linked to Ms Paull's and Ms Turner's since 1995 because she, too, might have been working as a prostitute and was strangled and dumped by a killer who made no attempt to hide her body.
Police sources also agree that the death of Carol Clark, 32, offers compelling similarities. She was strangled before her half-naked body was thrown into the Sharpness Canal, Bristol, in March 1993. At the time, Kyte, a lorry driver, was living in Weston-super-Mare, less than 20 miles from Ms Clark's home in Montpelier. The murder of Dawn Shields, a 19-year-old, whose body was found at the Mam Tor landmark in the Peak District in 1994, also fits the time frame, as does that of a barmaid, Sharon Harper, 21, of Grantham, Lincolnshire, who was found strangled in a pub car park in 1994. Other victims might be prostitutes who have vanished. The disappearance of Barbara Finn, 32, a prostitute of Coventry, is also considered suspicious.
Police have named 21 British locations where Kyte spent time and detailed seven cars he drove. Forces are being asked to check his movement against missing persons inquiries.
Several of Kyte's methods of getting money have left traces. In 1997, it was his practice to steal goods from a leading do-it-yourself chain and then take the goods back to procure money. On one occasion he even used the store's club card to collect points.
Kyte also ran a mobile car tuning service and would delay returning cars to unwitting customers for up to three weeks before handing them over - by which time they had up to 1,000 extra miles on the clock and no improvements. An asthmatic, Kyte could be known to countless hospitals and surgeries where he frequently sought medication.
"The file on Kyte we have delivered to all British police forces is already thick," said Det Supt Creedon. "Such was his mobility, his name can be discounted from nothing unless it can be shown he was in some other place on the day of an attack."Reuse content