London, Dec. 18: Police today arrested a 37-year-old man in connection with the serial killings that have shaken Britain — the murders of five young women who were regulars in the red light area of Ipswich.
The “Suffolk Strangler” or the “Ipswich Ripper”, as the alleged serial killer has been nicknamed by Britain’s tabloid press, has spread untold fear and terror among women in Suffolk and beyond at a time when most go out to late night Christmas parties. The tone of the official announcement at a media conference at Suffolk police headquarters, near Ipswich, from detective chief superintendent Stewart Gull, the officer heading the hunt for the killer, suggests that a breakthrough may have been made.
“Detectives investigating the murder of five women in the Ipswich area have today arrested a man,” said Gull. “The 37-year-old man was arrested at his home address in Trimley, near Felixstowe, at approximately 7.20am this morning.”
Significantly, he added: “He has been arrested on suspicion of murdering all five women, Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls. The man is currently in custody at a police station in Suffolk where he will be questioned about the deaths later today. We will not be naming the police station where the man is being held.” Gull, who has been a familiar figure on television since the naked bodies of the women started turning up in streams or in woodland, emphasised: “As legal proceedings are now active, Suffolk Police will not be issuing further comments or appeals at this stage.”
However, unless the arrested man is charged, the more responsible British media will be careful not to assume the killer has been caught. Once a charge is laid, the shutters have to come down under exceedingly tough British law on what can be reported. Which usually is very little.
One of the interesting features of this series of murders is that there has been a groundswell of opinion in Britain that the women should not be “defined” as prostitutes but as young women — “somebody’s daughter, girlfriend, sister, mother”. Although the honourable intention is not to dehumanise the women, one problem is that prostitution is what linked the five victims. It has also been claimed that the five were among the “best looking prostitutes” in Ipswich. Their distraught families describe the victims as “nice girls who were lost to drugs”.
The sequence of events is that police launched a major inquiry after Tania Nicol, 19, disappeared on October 30. On November 15 a second woman, Gemma Adams, 25, also disappeared. Her body was found in a stream at Hintlesham on December 2. Then the body of Nicol was found in the same stream at Copdock on December 8. On December 10 the body of another missing woman, Anneli Alderton, 24, was found in woods at Nacton and on December 12, the bodies of a fourth and fifth missing women, Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29, were found, close to each other, in woods at Levington. All were naked although their jewellery had not been taken. Alderton had been strangled and Clennell died as a result of “compression to the neck”. It is still unclear how Adams, Nicol and Nicholls died.
Britain has had many serial killings in the past, rather too many, in fact. But never have there been so many murders in so short a space of time. More than 500 officers from more than 30 police forces have been working on the investigation. Thanks to the huge publicity, police have received more than 10,000 calls from the public offering information and are analysing around 10,000 hours of CCTV footage seized in and around Ipswich during the past week. Last week police released CCTV footage of Nicol and Alderton as they attempted to establish the women’s movements before their disappearance.
Police today requested the media not to dwell too much on yesterday’s lead story in the Sunday Mirror which interviewed a 37-year-old Tesco supermarket worker, Tom Stephens, who said he had been interviewed four times by the police and was named by the paper as the prime suspect.
He lives alone on a new estate two miles from where the bodies of Clennell and Nicholls were found and has been suspended from his Tesco job.
He strenuously denied any involvement in the murders but a weeping Stephens admitted that he did not have an alibi and said: “I’m a friend of all the girls. I was closest to Tania. And Gemma as well. I was close to the others as well.” He reportedly turned to prostitutes in Ipswich 18 months ago after his eight-year marriage collapsed.
Stephens told the Sunday Mirror: “From the police profiling it does look like me — white male, between 25 and 40, knows the area, works strange hours. The bodies have got close to my house. If new information, coincidental information, crops up, I could get arrested.” Today, he was. His home has been sealed off and is being turned over by forensic detectives.