LONDON – Dread mounted that the peaceful east coast of England had given birth to a new “Ripper” as police hunted Tuesday for the killer of five women whose bodies were discovered in the past two weeks.
In recent days, police reported that three bodies had been found naked and abandoned around the city of Ipswich in Suffolk County. Tuesday afternoon, Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull, head of the Suffolk police crime-management team, told journalists that officers had found two more bodies.
Gull said the women were believed to be prostitutes, although the bodies found Tuesday had yet to be identified. Formal identification and cause of death are expected to be determined today when government pathologists arrive on the scene, BBC reports said.
The discoveries revived memories of the reign of “Yorkshire Ripper” Peter Sutcliffe, who killed 13 women, many of them prostitutes, in northern England in the late 1970s. Nearly a century earlier, Jack the Ripper slit the throats of five prostitutes in London’s East End; his identity is still a mystery.
Helicopters and divers were hard at work Tuesday in fields, rivers and woods dotted around a countryside known for pastoral tranquility. Police were in a race against time to track down a criminal they refrained from calling a serial killer.
“We have to keep an open mind. … It’s such a fast-moving inquiry, I would almost describe it as a crime in action,” Gull told the BBC.
Police acknowledged they faced a formidable task.
“To have this number of murders in such a short time is unprecedented,” Suffolk Chief Constable Alistair McWhirter told the BBC.
Reports from police and media show that all five bodies have been found near a major road, the A14, leading from the nearby port of Felixstowe inland to central England. Officials are minutely examining computer records for suspects. They are tracking port traffic and truckers plying the road.
Psychologists have worked on a message calling on the killer to give himself up; even botanists have been called to examine the grass and weeds around the bodies.
Along with other community leaders, McWhirter urged women to look out for each other.
“I can’t assure people they can be safe. … To the working girls and to anybody going out for a pleasant evening in Ipswich tonight,” the chief constable said Tuesday, “I would say, ‘Look after yourselves, take care of each other.’ “
Reporters working in central Ipswich at night said prostitutes were still out plying their trade.
Assistant Police Constable Jacqui Cheer repeatedly has appealed to women in the area on TV and radio since the murders began: “Please stay off the streets. If you are out alone at night, you are putting yourself in danger.”