British police step up hunt for 'Ipswich Ripper'

British police admitted on Wednesday they “fear the worst” after the latest grisly findings in a probable serial-killer probe, as they race against time to prevent the death toll of five rising further.

Extra officers are being drafted in from around the country to hunt for a killer already dubbed the “Ipswich Ripper”, presumed to be behind a spree of prostitute murders in the quiet English port town.

Prime Minister Tony Blair voiced his shock at the mounting scale of the scare, which has seen five naked women’s bodies found within the space of 10 days in farmland and streams around Ipswich.

“We support the police fully in dealing with this horror,” said Blair as the affair dominated the start of his weekly quizzing in the House of Commons in London. Opposition Tory leader David Cameron called the killer a “monster”.

In Ipswich itself, the detective in charge of the inquiry said he feared that the latest two bodies found on Tuesday “may well be” those of two missing prostitutes, Paula Clennell (24) and Annette Nicholls (29).

Their deaths would add to those of three other sex workers already confirmed as murdered: Gemma Adams (25), Tania Nicol (19) and Anneli Alderton (24).

“I now fear the worst,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull, giving an update on the latest developments.

Police have so far refused to confirm categorically that they are dealing with a serial killer—but Gull admitted again that signs increasingly point that way. “Clearly there are some striking similarities between these five” killings, he said.

Another Ripper?

The case has evoked thoughts of one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, east London’s elusive Jack the Ripper, who murdered five prostitutes in 1888 and was linked to several other killings.

They have also revived more recent memories of Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper”, who preyed on prostitutes and murdered 13 women and attacked seven others between 1975 and 1980.

All the corpses have been found in the countryside around Ipswich, about 130km north-east of London, prompting one of Britain’s biggest murder inquiries yet.

“This is a most unprecedented inquiry.
Nothing like this has ever happened,” said Alastair McWhirter, head of Suffolk police, noting that the Yorkshire Ripper murders took place over a longer period of time.

The streets of Ipswich were virtually deserted overnight—the 30 or so prostitutes who usually work the red-light district seemed to heed police advice to stay indoors, while the streets were all but empty of revellers during the normally busy Christmas party season.

Pairs of police officers carried out patrols to reassure local people for the second night running, while motorists were being stopped and questioned.

Suffolk police, a rural force more used to dealing with illegal dance parties than fast-moving murder cases, has faced questions from the media about whether it is equipped to cope.

But senior officers insist they are handling it well and have requested assistance from forces around Britain, as well as enlisting a behavioural analyst to help them understand who might have committed the crimes.

Gull, who has described the case as “almost a crime in action”, confirmed that an extra 70 officers would be drafted in on Wednesday to help the 100 police officers already working on the case.

No other prostitutes are currently reported missing.

As the probe continued, one newspaper offered a record £250 000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer. “We hope this historic reward will help in solving the series of brutal murders which has shocked the nation,” said the weekly News of the World, which is published on Sundays.—Sapa-AFP

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