Hintlesham is a village to the west of the town of Ipswich in Suffolk, which is where at around 11.45am on Saturday, 2nd December 2006 that a fish warden named Trevor Saunders employed by Hintlesham Fisheries was doing his usual round of inspection. As Mr Saunders himself described his day, "I was doing my normal patrol along Burstall Brook to check on any blockages when I noticed two round, smooth surfaces sticking out of the water, which I later found was the woman's bottom. Initially, I thought it was a dummy. I went into the brook to make sure and, on further investigation, found it was a body. It was face down, under water. I had to move a little bit of debris to make sure it was a body. Then I phoned the police."
On the following day Suffolk Police confirmed that the body was that of one Gemma Adams of Blenheim Road in Ipswich. Gemma Adams had earlier been reported missing to police by her partner at 2.55am on Wednesday, 15th November when she failed to return home, having gone into Ipswich on the previous evening to work as a prostitute. The last confirmed sighting of Gemma was close to the BMW garage on West End Road, near to the junction of Handford Road, at around 1.15am on that Wednesday morning. A Suffolk police spokeswoman confirmed that they were treating the death as "suspicious" and also confirmed that the post mortem examination had established no definitive cause of death.
Detective chief inspector David Skevington appeared to make the usual appeal for information, explaining that since her body had been stripped naked prior to being placed in the water, the police regarded it as "a matter of urgency" that they trace her clothing and other effects. He further confirmed that when last seen she was wearing a "black waterproof waist length jacket with a hood and a zip up the front, light blue jeans with studs on the pockets, a red top and white and chrome Nike trainers" and was "carrying a black handbag". He also noted that "Further enquires need to be carried out to try to ascertain how long Gemma had been in the water but our appeals are to anyone who had been in the area of Thorpes Hill in Hintlesham in the past two and a half weeks since Gemma went missing on November 14." Although the police soon found Gemma's handbag nearby (contents, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a spare pair of knickers), on the 5th December the police made a further appeal for information and warned Gemma Adams's clients to get in touch.
The story made little impact on the national media although it made the front page of the local Ipswich Evening Star under the headline 'Somebody's Daughter'. Concerns were raised that there might be a connection between the discovery of Gemma Adams's body and the case of Tania Nicol, another Ipswich prostitute and a friend of Ms Adams, who had also disappeared on the 30th October, although at the time the police were insistent that there was no reason to link the two cases.
At 11.30am on Friday the 8th December police divers were searching a pond near the premises of HG Gladwell and Sons at Copdock Mill, a mile and a half south of Hintlesham when they discovered another woman's body. On the following day it was confirmed that this was indeed the body of the missing Tania Nicol.
Tania had left her home at Woolverstone Close in the Pinewood suburb of Ipswich about 10.30pm on Monday, 30th October and headed into town to work as a prostitute. She was last seen at around 11.00pm that evening, close to the exit of the Sainsbury's garage on London Road. Her mother subsequently reported her missing after she had not heard from her for forty-eight hours. On the 7th November Suffolk Police were said to be "extremely concerned" about her disappearance whilst her mother came forward to appeal for information on her whereabouts and said it was unusual for her to be out of contact for so long. This same exercise was later repeated on the 15th November when the police made a further appeal for information, this time regarding the whereabouts of Gemma Adams.
Since both Gemma Adams and Tania Nicol were prostitutes working in Ipswich who had gone missing and whose naked bodies had later turned up floating in the same stream there were, as Detective Superintendent Andy Henwood put it, "obvious similarities" between the two deaths. Henwood explained that inquiries were continuing to "try to ascertain where and when Tania's and Gemma's bodies were placed in the water and the circumstances of their deaths".
Then on Sunday the 10th December Suffolk Police announced the discovery of yet another body. This time round the body was found in an area of woodland near Amberfield School at Nacton, a village which lies some seven miles to the south-east of Ipswich near the estuary of the river Orwell. At around 3.20pm that day a passing motorist spotted what appeared to be a naked body lying in the undergrowth short distance from the roadside and alerted the police. It subsequently became apparent that the body might have been there for some days, as another motorist came forward to say that he'd earlier seen the body at about 10.30am on Thursday 7th December, but did not report it to the police as he thought it to be an abandoned mannequin.
Suffolk Police appeared eager to play down any suggestion that this latest discovery might be connected to the previous deaths; Chief Constable Alistair McWhirter remarked there were "significant differences" between the latest discovery and the two previous killings but as Detective Chief Inspector Stewart Gull pointed out "Although we can't formally link the discovery of the body at Nacton with the two murders the facts speak for themselves." He was not however prepared to confirm that they were all the work of one individual; "It may be one perpetrator and it may be more than one person responsible."
On the following Monday Assistant Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer made an appeal to the town's prostitutes to "Please stay off the streets". The BBC duly sent out a reporter on to the streets of the Ipswich Red Light district on the evening of the 11th, they could only find one prostitute named 'Tanya' plying her trade, compared to the thirty or so that had previously been seen.
Later that evening the police finally named the Nacton wood victim as being Anneli Alderton from Colchester in Essex, who had last been seen catching the 5.53pm train from Harwich to Colchester on the 3rd December. They apparently regarded the discovery of this third body as "a deeply disturbing development" if only because she had not previously been reported missing. A post mortem examination conducted at Ipswich Hospital by Home Office pathologist Nat Carey confirmed that Anneli Alderton had been asphyxiated. The police were however keen to point out that they had not yet determined how the first two victims had died, as there were no obvious signs of injury, and that they were awaiting the results of toxicology tests. None of the women's clothing has been found, apart from a pair of trainers found on a tyre company's forecourt near the Portman Road football ground, which might have belonged to Ms Adams. Thus they had not yet established any link between the three deaths, and did their best to dissuade anyone else from doing so.
That same day Suffolk Police also announced that they were now looking for fourth prostitute named Paula Clennell, who had last been seen late on Saturday 9th December and by the evening they named yet another missing prostitute named Annette Nicholls, who had not been since the 4th December.
It was at this point that the national news media really began to take notice. One or two dead prostitutes are neither here nor there, whereas three dead prostitutes with another two possible victims indicated the existence of a major serial killer on the loose. Any doubts that anyone might have had on the matter were soon dispelled by the events of Tuesday 12th December.
At 3.05pm that day the police received a call from a member of the
public walking along a lay-by formed by a derelict strip of the old
Ipswich to Felixstowe A45 road near to the village of Levington, a
mile or so to the south-east of Nacton. The call reported the presence of
the naked body of a woman some twenty feet away from the road. A police
helicopter was despatched to the scene, and at 3.48pm a member of the
helicopter crew spotted what turned out to be a second body only a few
hundred yards away from the first. As Stewart Gull put it at the time,
"The natural assumption is that these are the two missing women."
If nothing else, the double event of the 12th December was sufficient to persuade the British media to forget all about Mr Litivenko, and concentrate on the far more exciting story of a new home grown serial killer, and on Wednesday 13th December the story made the front page of virtually every national newspaper with the notable exceptions of The Daily Star who went with 'SeX With Simon' and the Financial Times which ran with a story about the sharing of US jet data. The Sun ran with 'Suffolk Ripper's Rampage: He Kills them, stores them, and dumps them in the dark'; The Daily Mirror had THE IPSWICH RIPPER: FIVE bodies.. TEN days.. ONE man playing a sick and violent game', a sentiment echoed by The Daily Telegraph with its headline 'Five bodies in just ten days' whilst The Guardian led with 'Snatched, Killed and Discarded'.
The police were yet again at pains to point out that they had not yet found sufficient evidence to enable them to link all five deaths. As Stewart Gull explained, "We've formally linked the murders of Tania and Gemma because of significant similarities, and they continue with Anneli, Paula and Annette. Clearly they were all prostitutes from Ipswich, they were found naked and in an open rural environment." However he cautioned people that "This is so fast-moving, we need to take stock and maximise opportunities to recover forensic evidence from the scene before formally establishing whether they are linked or not."
The fact that Levington appeared to be a fresh dump site meant that police were keen to ensure that they gathered all the potential forensic evidence available before removing the bodies. Late on Wednesday 13th December one of the bodies was removed from the site, and at the post mortem examination carried out later that night Home Office pathologist Nat Carey was able to confirm that she had died from "compression to the neck". The body was formally identified as being that of Paula Clennell, who had last been seen alive at 12.20am on the morning of Sunday 10th December on the Handford Road in Ipswich, near to the junction with Burlington Road. According to the police she had last been seen wearing a "navy blue anorak with a horizontal light blue band across the chest and one sleeve, a grey hoody top, light coloured jeans with a pattern on the pockets and Reebok classics trainers with a navy blue and light blue-grey flash". Strangely enough Paula Clennell had earlier given an interview to ITV on the 5th December in which she had spoken of her intention to return to the streets despite the murder of Gemma Adams. Her explanation for her decision was simply that "I need the money".
The second body was not removed until the following day when once again Nat Carey carried out the post mortem examination, although this time he was unable to confirm how she had died. Her identity was however confirmed as being that of Annette Nicholls, last seen at 9.50pm on Norwich Road in Ipswich on Tuesday 5th December wearing dark "grey patterned leggings, calf-length boots, a black top and a dark bomber jacket".
The discovery of five bodies in ten days was something quite unprecedented in British criminal history. There had been serial killers before, but not one who had killed so many in such an apparently short length of time.
A local Ipswich businessman and managing director of the Call Connection call centre named Graeme Kalbraier, initially put up a reward of £25,000 for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the killer explaining that, "I have a teenage daughter aged 17. I also have an Ipswich workforce of 300, many of whom are girls in their teens and early 20s. I want this killer off the streets." On the 11th December he doubled the reward to £50,000, whilst the News of the World offered their own reward of £250,000. No doubt the prospect of financial reward spurred the public's response to the police appeals for information, with over 12,000 calls being received over the course of the investigation, whilst five dead bodies and a deluge of potential clues quite overwhelmed the limited resources of the Suffolk Police, and calls for help were sent to other police forces across the country and some three hundred and fifty additional officers were drafted in to help sift through the evidence.
As many wondered where it would all end, some papers eagerly reported on the discovery of blood-covered paper towels by a member of the public at Bucklesham Road, Foxhall in Ipswich, whilst there were stories circulating of a fat man in a BMW who had been seen kerb-crawling in town's red light district over recent weeks. Other reports drew attention to the presence of a barn, or rather a small 18ft by 10ft steel outbuilding, placed in a field near to the village of Washbrook, less than a mile away in each direction from both Hintlesham and Copdock Mill. According to Paul Easton, the owner of Washbrook Service Station, there had been some "odd goings-on" over the past few months, which coupled with talk of the Washbrook Barn being used by local prostitutes led to the suggestion that this might be the missing killing ground.
It was on Friday 15th December that Stewart Gull formally confirmed that the police were now treating all five murders as the work of a serial killer. It was reported that Suffolk Police had now succeeded in drawing up a list of around fifty suspects based on the names of known sex offenders, others who were known to travel into Ipswich to pick up prostitutes and various individuals associated with the drugs trade. Interviewed by the BBC Stewart Gull insisted that the police were "making good progress". As he explained the situation; "We are looking at a number of interesting people, pursuing a number of interesting lines of inquiry. We have got a range of individuals who have been suggested to us. Some are local but some are not. Some are not punters." Although according to the Evening Star the glass was half empty, reporting that Stewart Gull had admitted that the police currently have "no suspects" and they have not interviewed anyone under caution, seized any vehicles or made any searches, and still could not be certain about how or when all the women had died.
The Bishop and the Soldier
On the Saturday 16th December the Daily Telegraph claimed that there were "Six prime suspects in Ipswich killings" although The Times ran the story "Manhunt targets five key suspects" and revealed that "one man in particular has come to the fore" whilst quoting a "senior police source" who described said suspect as being "very interesting".
More information was provided by the Sunday Mirror on the 17th December. Under the headline EXCLUSIVE: RIPPER IS BONDAGE BEAST, it claimed that the police were hunting a Scotsman in his 50s who had a fetish for "violent kinky sex" and who had regularly paid Paula Clennell up to £350 a time for the privilege of thrashing her with a cane. The paper also identified a property developer named Andrew Purdy who was apparently on a mission to get the girls off the streets and who had befriended all the victims; he was later to give an interview to the Evening Star in which he denied any wrongdoing and specifically denied being the 'fat man in the BMW' on the understandable grounds that "I drive a Land Rover Freelander". Other names mentioned included that of the punter known only as 'Uncle', who apparently had no interest in sex, but rather paid women for the opportunity to lecture them on the benefits of religion (he was reportedly has been interviewed by police and denied any involvement); and "vice boss" Danny Burrows who owned a building firm and garage in Ipswich as well as the Angels massage parlour where a number of the murdered women had worked at one time or another.
The Sunday Mirror also printed an interview with a Tesco supermarket worker and former part-time taxi driver and special constable named Tom Stephens from Trimley St Martin near Felixstowe, whom they described as being the "prime suspect". Stephens admitted that he had been a client of all five victims, claimed that he was "a friend of all the girls" and asserted that "I know I am innocent and I am completely confident it won't go as far as me being charged". The following day Suffolk Police arrived at his home at 7.20am and arrested him on suspicion of murder.
Naturally the police would not formally confirm or deny his identity, although it was patently obvious that it was indeed Mr Stephens, This being the Internet Age, Tom Stephens naturally had his own MySpace page (www.myspace.com/85784962) where he had adopted the pseudonym of 'The Bishop' and revealed that his hero was Hong Kong Phooey. Many remarked on the odd coincidence that he had last logged in to MySpace on the 27th October, just three days before the disappearance of the first victim.
Then on Tuesday 19th December came the news of a second arrest, with the announcement that a forty-eight year old man had been arrested at his home in the London Road area of Ipswich at 5am that morning. Although once again the Suffolk Police would not identify the individual concerned, by the evening the media had established that the man in question was a former fork-lift truck driver and QE2 steward named Stephen Wright.
These arrests helped fuel the media frenzy which had been building over the past week. On the 18th December the Evening Star was already reporting a doubling in size of the media presence in the town with a "dozen white broadcast vans, with aerials and satellite dishes stacked on their roofs pointing skywards". The BBC had apparently despatched packs of journalists who "swept in to Martlesham, Hintlesham, Copdock and Levington", while Sky News sent in a 25-strong team armed with their own helicopter. They were joined by media crews from every national British media organisation together with others from Germany, Canada and Australia. Every hotel in Ipswich was fully booked, whilst a Tracey Rose from PR Catering in Ipswich had been called in by police to cater for the throng of journalists that had descended on the town.
Whilst the police were busy interrogating their suspects and steadfastly refused to comment, the press filled their vacant column inches by calling on various experts on criminology and psychology who were prepared to produce endless speculations as to the killer's motivations, whoever they might be. Initially the focus of attention was on Tom Stephens with the BBC being criticised for broadcasting an interview with Stephens, despite the fact that it had only obtained Stephens's consent to the interview by promising him that it was only for 'background' and that it would not be shown on television. That subject was soon exhausted and attention soon began to focus on Stephen Wright. By the 21st December The Sun was claiming that Wright had known Suzy Lamplaugh, whilst most of the tabloids were reporting that he was known as 'The Soldier' due to his habit of wearing camouflage trousers. The Daily Star made much of reports that he was "a secret cross-dresser" who "prowled the streets for sex" wearing "high heels, a PVC mini-skirt and a lady’s wig", claimed that Wright had been arrested as a result of DNA found on the corpses of Alderton, Clennell, and Nicholls, and suggested that there might have been contact between Wright and Stephens. The Daily Mail got into trouble when it printed a photograph of a Gareth Roberts from Pwllheli which they mistakenly identified as being that of Stephen Wright. Meanwhile Wright's girlfriend Pamela Goodman came forward to assert that "Steve is innocent and I am confident the police now know none of this is true" whilst further claiming that "I can provide alibis for him when he is supposed to have killed those women."
However whatever the detail of the alibis provided by Ms Goodman they were clearly inadequate as Suffolk police were concerned, as on the evening of Thursday 21st December Stewart Gull appeared at the daily press conference to confirm that the Soldier was being charged with the murder of all five women, whilst the Bishop was being released on police bail. Michael Crimp, Senior Prosecutor for the Suffolk Crown Prosecution Service, also appeared to explain that, "We've made the decision that there is sufficient evidence and authorised that Stephen Wright, born on 24 April 1958, of London Road, Ipswich, should be charged with the murders of Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Annette Nicholls, and Paula Clennell." Crimp further cautioned the media of the "need to take care in reporting the events surrounding this case" and reminded them "that there should be responsible media reporting which should not prejudice the due process of law."
"Stephen Wright, from Ipswich, has been charged."
On Friday, 22nd December Wright made a brief appearance at South East Suffolk Magistrates' Court in Ipswich. Some sixty journalists crowded into court number three, as Wright spoke only to confirm his name, address and date of birth before being remanded in custody to appear before Ipswich Crown Court in the new year. At 10.30am on the 2nd January 2007, Wright duly appeared before Judge Devaux wearing the exact same black suit, white shirt and striped tie as he'd worn at his previous court appearance. After an eight minute long preliminary hearing, he was again remanded in custody until the plea and case management hearing scheduled for Ipswich Crown Court on the 1st May.
The Red Light Murder Trial
At 9.10 am on the 14th January 2008 Steve Wright arrived at Ipswich Crown Court in a prison van flanked by police vehicles, to face five charges of murder. Wearing a black suit with a white shirt and dark-coloured tie, he spoke only to confirm his name during a brief thirty minute appearance, as most of the day was taken up with the business of jury selection. The trial judge Sir Peter Henry Gross instructed the jury to ignore media coverage and not to carry out any private research on the internet and informed them that the "evidence is what you will hear in court and nowhere else. It is for you, the jury, and no one else to assess it." According to The Sun Wright's arrival at the court was captured by "scores of waiting photographers and film crews", whilst a helicopter buzzed overhead and five satellite trucks were parked nearby. Indeed as BBC News noted, such was the interest in the case, although the trial itself was being held at Court One, a live feed to a neighbouring court had been set up in order to accommodate the overflow of journalists as well as the large number of relatives and friends of the victims.
The jurors returned to Ipswich Crown Court on the Wednesday morning to begin hearing the case with Peter Wright QC appearing for the prosecution and Timothy Langdale QC acting for the defence. There was a slight delay in proceedings as the original jury of ten men and two women were dismissed just after 11.00 am after it was found that one member has a health problem. A new jury of nine men and three women was however sworn, when no doubt the judge repeated his earlier instructions.
As far as the prosecution case was concerned, whilst the bodies of the first two women to be found (those of Tania Nicol and Gemma Adams) bore no DNA traces having been immersed in water for a number of weeks, the police had subsequently found DNA matching Steve Wright's genetic profile on the bodies of Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell, and Annette Nicholls. The prosecution admitted that DNA from other potential sources had also been found on their bodies, however no other person's DNA profile was found on more than one of the victims. There were also semen-stained gardening gloves taken from Steve Wright's car which bore traces of Annette Nicholls' and Paula Clennell's DNA, as well as items of clothing found in Wright's house which bore traces of their blood, as well as considerable amount of fibre evidence which showed that Wright was acquainted with all five victims.
There was also the evidence of the neighbour who described how there was sometimes a "lot of thumping about" coming from Wright's home in the middle of the night, as well as CCTV evidence from the red light district in Ipswich which showed a Mark III Ford Mondeo hatchback which might well have been Steve Wright's car, as well as the fact that he had been stopped by police during the early hours of 1st December and warned to stay out of the red light district. As the prosecution saw it, although there was no single piece of evidence that clearly pointed to Wright as the killer, it all added up to a "compelling picture of his guilt".
As far as the defence was concerned, Steve Wright readily admitted that he'd had sex with four of the five women, and that he'd also picked up Tania Nicol on the day that she disappeared, but had decided against having sex with her because her acne "put him off". This therefore explained all the forensic evidence that had been found linking him to the victims, and it was merely a coincidence that all five had been murdered shortly after they had been with him. The defence also pointed the finger of suspicion at Tom Stephens, and made much of the fact that he had phoned police to communicate his concerns about having a "split personality" and that he was "doing things which he doesn't know about, then going back to his normal personality", and claimed that he could not be eliminated as a suspect.
The jury retired on the 20th February to consider their verdict, and returned to court at around 2.40 pm on the 21st February to deliver a guilty verdict on each of the five counts of murder. Mr Justice Gross concluded that Wright had been engaged in a "targeted campaign of murder" and therefore recommended that he spend his whole life in prison. On the 19th March 2008 Wright lodged an application for an appeal, claiming that he had not received a fair trial in Ipswich. This application was however rejected on the 15th July 2008. Wright made a further appeal, but that too was turned down on the 24th February 2009.
The final curiosity was the comment made by the prosecuting counsel Peter Wright, during his opening remarks at the trial, that the murders were the "work of the defendant, either alone or with the assistance of another". He later returned to this theme during his summing up of the case when he said that "we cannot exclude the possibility that another or others may have had a hand in each of these deaths". The point here being that all five bodies were found in wooded locations, but bore no scratches or marks, and it appeared unlikely that one man could have carried the body of each victim through dense undergrowth, in the dark, to the places they were found without the bodies being scratched or marked in any way.
What's in a name
The media of course delights in giving any serial killer a name. Initially The Sun dubbed the killer the 'Suffolk Ripper', although the Mirror preferred the alternative 'Ipswich Ripper'. Neither name caught on, if only because there was nothing at all Ripperish about the Ipswich murders. The Daily Mail preferred the 'Suffolk Strangler' whilst The Times rather unimaginatively referred to 'the Ipswich serial killer', a lead that was generally followed by the rest of the 'quality' press who referred to the unknown subject in similarly vague terms. By the 16th December The Sun had changed to the 'Suffolk Strangler', a name that was also used by the Evening Star on one or two occasions. However the news of the arrests on the 18th and the 19th and the subsequent bringing of charges rendered this game rather superfluous.
It is the Ipswich Evening Star which has consistently referred to the killings as the 'Red Light Murders', and has to date been the only paper to have noted the obvious similarity between these Red Light Murders and the Nude Murders of the early 1960s committed by one Jack the Stripper who was, of course, never caught.
Although the Suffolk Police have formally announced that they are "not looking at any other connections at the present time", suggestions have been made that the recent killings are connected to the disappearance or murder of other prostitutes in East Anglia over the past fifteen years. First off in 1992 the strangled body of Natalie Pearman was found in woodland at Ringland Hills in Norfolk; then there was Mandy Duncan who vanished from Ipswich in 1993; followed by Kellie Pratt who similarly disappeared from the red light area of Norwich in 2000,; whilst most recently the body of Michelle Bettles was found strangled in woods near Scarning, three days after disappearing from Norwich's red light district in 2002. In addition there is the case of seventeen year old Victoria Hall, snatched off a street in the village of Trimley St Mary in 1999 and whose body later turned up in a water-filled ditch at Creeting St Peter near Stowmarket. Although some one was charged in the Hall murder, they were subsequently acquited, and all the above cases remain unsolved.
A number of papers reported that Stephen Wright once ran the Ferry Boat Inn in Norwich, a public house which was described as "a magnet for vice girls" and included amongst its regulars both Natalie Pearman and Michelle Bettles, suggesting that both were at least known to Wright. In the aftermath of the trial Suffolk Constabulary also reported that they wanted to interview Wright regarding the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh, who had once worked with Wright on the QE2 and had stayed in touch with him before she vanished in 1986.
The BBC has announced that it will commence filming a three-part dramatisation of the case under the working title Five Daughters.
Sourced from various reports in the British media including The BBC, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, The Daily Star, The Sun, the News of the World, and particularly the Evening Star from Ipswich.
The account of Steve Wright's trial is largely taken from the Ipswich Evening Star which featured Live Coverage of the trial with a minute by minute coverage of the case as it progressed. Other sources included;
- Other possible victims of Steve Wright, Daily Telegraph, 21 Feb 2008
- Gordon Rayner and Nick Allen, Steve Wright suspected of more murders, Daily Telegraph, 26 Feb 2008
- Killer Wright fails in appeal bid, BBC News, 24 February 2009
- BBC to make serial killer drama, BBC News, 31 August 2009