UK: Prostitutes' Slaying casts shadow over town of Ipswich

British tabloid News of the World offers 250,000-pound reward for information leading to the killer's arrest.

uk policewoman 88 (photo credit: AP)
uk policewoman 88
(photo credit: AP)
The slaying of five prostitutes has cast a shadow over the provincial English town of Ipswich, as police hunted for a suspected serial killer and the town's women feared they could be next. British Prime Minister Tony Blair extended condolences to the victims' families in Parliament. For Britons, the attacks recalled the 1970s, when the so-called Yorkshire Ripper killed 13 women, most of whom were sex workers. The five bodies were found in just 10 days. "We support the police fully in dealing with the horror of this situation and also with the entirely understandable fear there is in the community," Blair said Wednesday during an address in the House of Commons that prompted a debate over changing policies on prostitution. Some legislators suggested legalizing brothels to make work safer for prostitutes. Town authorities organized shuttle services to get women home from the local council offices, and the council's monthly newsletter was publishing a safety message: "Stick Together" _ advising all women in the city to stay off the streets alone. Local businesses also started offering special shuttles to transport female workers. Some offered hand-held alarms. "How is that going to stop someone trying to kill you?" asked Sally Townsend, 55, who works at the local Marks & Spencer store and walks to work each morning in the winter darkness. Once inside the store, she calls her husband to tell him she's safe. "We live in total fear," she told The Associated Press. Although all five naked bodies recovered have been prostitutes, townspeople see a general menace threatening the town. A local newspaper ran a headline late Wednesday that read, "Where next?" On Tuesday, one said, "Suffolk Strangler," referring to one of the victims who was strangled in the county. The victims included a trainee beautician, a mother of three daughters and an insurance worker. Some fell into prostitution to feed drug habits. Two bodies have yet to be identified but one was thought to be that of 24-year-old Paula Clennell, who was interviewed on television last week saying she was scared but determined to get back on the street because she needed money for heroin. Days later she vanished. Another was thought to be that of Annette Nicholls, another prostitute who was recently reported missing, according to Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull. "It's all we can think about," said Malcolm Moses, a taxi driver who used to drive prostitutes in the 1970s from the town's red light district to sailors in the river port. "It doesn't matter to us if they're prostitutes. It's still somebody's daughter, somebody's sister, somebody's mother." Ipswich used to be a bustling River Orwell port in the 19th century. There were nearly 40 brothels in the red light district at the time, but these days the prostitutes ply their trade on a quiet road lined by red-brick houses in the shadow of the town's main soccer stadium. One of the bodies was removed from the scene Wednesday, but another one was left for more forensics, Gull said. An autopsy and official identification was expected Thursday. Police were investigating the deaths of three other women, all of whom had worked in Ipswich, a small city about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northeast of London. All five corpses were found within a few miles (kilometers) of each other. Police were working their way through a list of potential suspects and investigating more than 2,000 calls made to a police hotline. British tabloid News of the World offered a 250,000-pound (US$495,000; €370,000) reward for information leading to the killer's arrest. Before the murders, there were about 40 prostitutes working the street, said Hannah Besley, a town official who works with the city's prostitutes. Police have urged them to seek shelter. Police have only been able to determine the cause of death in one of the five cases. Anneli Alderton, a 24-year-old whose body was discovered in a wooded area on Sunday, had been strangled, Gull said. The cause of death of 25-year-old Gemma Adams and 19-year-old Tania Nicol was still unclear. Forensics on their bodies had been hampered because both corpses were found in water.