'Playing card killer' shoots two more as hunt steps up

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The Independent Online

Spanish police mobilised a massive hunt yesterday for the "playing-card assassin" after a couple became the third and fourth victims of a serial killer who left playing cards at the bloodstained scene in a south-eastern suburb of Madrid.

Spanish police mobilised a massive hunt yesterday for the "playing-card assassin" after a couple became the third and fourth victims of a serial killer who left playing cards at the bloodstained scene in a south-eastern suburb of Madrid.

Police say they are looking for a "psychopath ... a strong, dark and agile young man".

In the latest attack, in the early hours of yesterday in Arganda del Rey, a town 18 miles east of the capital, a man was killed with a gunshot wound to the head and his female companion was fighting for her life after receiving shots to the head and arm.

The couple, said to be Romanian, were attacked as they walked down a dark passage behind a sports hall. The assailant, who had been lurking in nearby olive groves, shot the man from behind. The victim died instantly, with his left hand still in his pocket and his rucksack over his shoulder.

The attacker then shot the woman and left her for dead, casting behind him the three and four of cups – a suit in Spanish playing cards – as a macabre signature to the crime.

Neighbours said they thought the three shots were firecrackers in celebration of the closing moments of a Champions League football match, in which Real Madrid defeated Lokomotiv of Moscow. They said they went on to their balcony to investigate, only to see the two bodies lying bleeding profusely in the street.

The first victim of the card killer was Juan Carlos Estacio, who worked at Madrid's Barajas airport and was found dead in the nearby Osuna park on 5 February. The ace of cups was left by his body.

A month later Eduardo Salas, an Ecuadorian business student, was badly injured after he was shot in the face while sitting at a bus stop in the prosperous northern dormitory town of Tres Cantos – an attack marked with the two of cups.

Yesterday's double assault seemed to confirmed the authorities' worst fears that a dangerous killer was on the loose.

Francisco Jose Ansuategui, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Madrid, said yesterday: "We're dealing with a mad man, a person who wants to challenge and fool police, a psychopath." He said that some 150 police officers had been assigned to the case.

Police have issued a photofit description of the suspect, whom witnesses have described as a dark, well-built man, aged 25 or 30, of Spanish appearance, but otherwise they admit they have few leads. Police still do not know for sure if they are searching for more than one attacker.

The attacks have coincided with a wave of violent crime sweeping Madrid that has been blamed on foreign mafia gangs armed with weapons sold on from the Balkans.

So far this year there have been 26 violent deaths in the region, compared with two for the same period last year. On 5 February, four murders occurred within 24 hours, at least one of which was the cardkiller's first blow.

The only common element in the four assaults is that they all took place at night in secluded spots, and were marked by the playing cards. The question is already rippling round the Spanish capital: who will be the five of cups?

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