English town fearful as police hunt for leads in prostitute murders

Police hunting frantically for clues to the murder of five young prostitutes bagged a shoe and other clothing found on a riverbank Thursday in the English provincial town of Ipswich.

In a growing atmosphere of fear, with all women around Ipswich warned to be careful, townspeople planned a church service Thursday afternoon to mourn the dead.

The causes of most of the deaths have not been determined, but police announced Thursday that one woman, whom they have not identified, died from "compression to the neck," but they did not elaborate. Police had said one other victim was strangled.

"It's absolutely horrific," said Elaine Welham, 43, who lives in a house not from the red light district, where police now outnumbered prostitutes.

A bouquet of five pink roses was taped overnight to a lightpole in the heart of the red light district. A note attached to the flowers was signed by a man called Tom. The note read, "Tania, Jemma, Netty, Paula, Anni I knew some of you better than others, but I miss you all."

In the town center, a decorated Christmas tree blinked in a deserted square overnight.

"It's been unusually quiet," said John Summons, a policeman standing guard outside the town hall.

The suspected serial killer reminded Britons of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper who killed 13 women over five years in the 1970s.

This time, police found the naked bodies of five prostitutes in just 10 days.

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.

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 body was thought to be that of Annette Nicholls, 29, another prostitute who was recently reported missing, according to Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull.

Police have only been able to determine the cause of death in two of the five cases. In addition to the woman who died of "compression of the neck," Anneli Alderton, a 24-year-old whose body was discovered in a wooded area on Sunday, had been strangled.

Gull said all five women were drug addicts.

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.

The three other women all worked in Ipswich, a large town about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northeast of London. All five corpses were found within a few miles (kilometers) of each other.

"We live in total fear," said 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.

Headlines read "Where next?" Another earlier headline read "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.

"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."

Police are working their way through a list of potential suspects and investigating more than 2,000 calls made to a police hotline, reports AP.

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.

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