Pick-up truck provides clue in hunt for sniper

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Police in West Virginia believe they may be dealing with a serial killer after three people died in shootings that echoed last year's sniper killings in the Washington area.

Officers were increasing patrols and making door-to-door inquiries yesterday after the three apparently random attacks. Police, who are being assisted by detectives from the Washington sniper case, said that in each of the killings the gunman used a small-calibre weapon fired at close range to the head or neck.

Their efforts concentrated on tracing a black pick-up truck with gold trim, which was spotted near the scene of one of the shootings. They were all in or near the state capital, Charleston. The only other description that police have been able to offer is that the killer may be a "large white male". Phil Morris, Kanawha County Chief Deputy, said: "It's not the best ID in the world, but it's the best we have. We're working on getting additional information regarding the description of the vehicle."

The first person to be killed was Gary Carrier, 44, who was shot at 11pm on 10 August while using a pay-phone outside a Go-Mart store in Charleston.

Four days later Jeannie Paton, 31, and Okey Meadows, 26, were shot within an hour of each other in the Charleston suburb of Campbells Creek.

Tests on the bullets that killed Mr Carrier and Ms Paton showed them to be similar and the bullet used in the third shooting also appeared similar.

Police have found nothing to link the victims, despite "chasing a lot of rumours" and have concluded they were selected at random. They will be aware that none of the 10 people killed, or the three people who were injured, during the shootings in Washington was linked.

Officers from the Washington shootings have joined the investigation team. "We have the agents that worked on that particular case," said Kanawha County Sheriff Dave Tucker. "They're on board with us and giving us some good advice."

Pat O'Connor, a Charleston resident, said: "It makes you leery of being outside." He added that the killings had disrupted his efforts to organise the funeral of his new-born daughter, who died the night that Ms Paton and Mr Meadows were shot. He said relatives were expected to arrive from Florida and he had been warning them not to stop for fuel. "I told them to make sure to gas up before they get here. And when they do to make sure they don't see a black truck in the parking lot," he said.