In December 2006, the naked bodies of five women were found in Ipswich, Suffolk, on the east coast of England, across a span of 10 tragic days. All five were prostitutes from the area and their bodies had been left in water on the outskirts of the town or in woodland near to main roads. Police quickly linked the murders and realised they had a serial killer operating on their patch. Ipswich sits almost 60 miles northeast of London and while a town with its fair share of serious crime, Iocal detectives were not used to a full-scale murder hunt for a serial killer.
Ipswich has a known red light district where working girls would meet and stand ready for the various cars which would pull up, drive them around the corner and then drop them back off once they were finished. It was a routine repeated night after night with many girls being regular to the patch and some new who would appear for a few weeks and then move on. Many of the girls felt they had no choice but to work on the streets in order to pay for a drug addiction they could not escape.
Prostitution involves a great deal of risk. Any of the men these women get into a car with could turn violent, but when working girls are going missing and then being found dead, fear begins to build and spread across the town.
Tania Nicol was just 19-years-old when she disappeared late on 30 October 2006. Few of her family knew she was working on the streets. “Unfortunately drugs took her away into her own secret world, a world that neither of us were aware of.” her father said. Reported missing by her mother when she did not return home or get in contact after 48 hours, a witness came forward to report a woman she believed to be Tania talking to a man who was inside a dark blue car on 30 October. This is thought to be the last sighting of Tania Nicol alive. Caught on CCTV, the grainy images show a woman matching Tania’s description but no clear image of the driver.
The first body to be found was that of Gemma Adams on 2 December 2006. Spotted in a stream seven miles from the centre of Ipswich by a horrified water bailiff, he is still haunted to this day by his discovery.
Gemma was just 25-years-old and had become addicted to heroin which eroded her relationships with her family. Her decision to work the streets of Ipswich was one her family were unaware of and unfortunately walked her into her death. She had been missing for two weeks when her naked body was found in Belstead Brook, Hintlesham and when police divers began searching the area for more clues into her death, six days later they discovered another body. This second body was that of missing Tania Nicol and police believe her body could have been in the water since she went missing at the end of October.
Both young women had been left in the water further upstream when Belstead Brook was at its highest water levels due to recent weather. Their bodies had been caught up in weeds and debris and were not visible until the water levels fell. There was evidence that both Tania Nicol and Gemma Adams had been strangled but in both cases pathologists could not be sure if their final cause of death was asphyxiation or drowning, suggesting these girls may still have been alive when they were thrown into the water.
Two days later, on 10 December 2006, a third body was found in the woodlands at Nacton nearby Ipswich town by a passing motorist. Anneli Alderton was 24-years-old and a mother to a young son when she went missing one week earlier. Her body had been left in the shape of a cross and Anneli, also addicted to drugs, was discovered to be three months pregnant at the time she died. She had been strangled to death and her body then believed to have been dumped in the woodland where she was found. Most likely she was killed and dumped at the site very soon after she went missing.
In just 48 hours another report came into the police incident room. A member of the public had discovered the body of Paula Clennell, a working girl who had given an interview to a local news crew just seven days earlier discussing the murder of Gemma Adams and Tania Nicol and how although she was concerned for her safety, she “needed the money” and would continue working on the streets to pay for her heroin addiction.
Tragically, the 24-year-olds body was found just outside Ipswich next to a main road on 12 December 2006 and she became the fourth victim of the killer the press had now labelled “The Suffolk Strangler”. Paula Clennell had disappeared on the same day that Anneli Alderton had been found dead. This serial killer appeared to be abducting, killing and dumping his victims in quick succession with the discovery of the bodies having no impact on his continued attacks.
The final body was found just a few hundred metres away from Paula Clennell and on the same day, spotted by police helicopters sweeping the area. 29-year-old Annette Nicholls was addicted to heroin and had been working the streets to pay for her habit. An addiction which changed her like “flicking a switch” her cousin said after her death, “we basically just lost her” she said. She had also been left posed in a crucifix position and believed to have been strangled.
10 days. Five murdered young women. Police knew they were looking for a serial killer who was preying on young women who were sex workers around Ipswich. A murder investigation was launched under the code name Operation Sumac and police warned women in the area not to work on the streets for their own safety. Police believed the women had not been murdered where they were found; these were ‘dump’ sites the killer was using to get rid of the bodies.
When the forensic evidence was gathered, DNA was found on three of the women and fibre evidence on all five victims, giving police some leads to work with. Running the DNA profile through the police database they found a match. Steve Wright had been arrested in 2002 for a theft of money from his employer and as a result, his DNA profile was logged into the system. On 18 December police made their first arrest. A 37-year-old man whose name was not released at the time and then 24 hours later a second man was arrested, a 48-year-old man later confirmed to be Steve Wright. The first suspect was released on bail and then investigations dropped against him as police quickly charged Steve Wright on 21 December 2006 with the murders of all five women.
In a pre-trial hearing in January 2008, it was revealed that the DNA of Steve Wright was found on Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls. Furthermore, fibres found on the bodies were matched to Steve Wright’s car, his home and his clothing with the blood of two victims found on his jacket. Police had been confident they had found the Suffolk Strangler. Under interrogation, Steve Wright said very little, answering no comment to almost all questions that were put to him.
Steve Wright is the son of a former military policeman and one of four children. After leaving school he joined the Merchant Navy for a time and then moved to working as a steward on the QE2 cruise ship during the same period as Suzy Lamplugh, an estate agent from London who mysteriously went missing in 1986 in a case which still today remains unsolved, leading police to wonder if he had anything to do with her disappearance. Wright married twice and has a son with his second marriage ending after violence and control began to dominate the relationship. At the time Wright was arrested he was working as a fork-lift truck driver in Ipswich.
Wright had visited prostitutes all his adult life, both when he was in relationships and when he wasn’t. His partner at the time he committed the murders, Pamela Wright, worked a night shift at a local call centre leaving him free to come and go at night without having to explain himself. They moved into a house together in Ipswich in 2004 and he admitted he had visited local prostitutes in the area since that time.
“…whatever the drugs they took, whatever the work they did, no-one is entitled to do these women any harm, let alone kill them.”
The murder trial of Steve Wright started on 14 January 2008 at Ipswich Crown Court and he pleaded not guilty to all charges. His defence claimed Wright used prostitutes and had visited all of the victims and that is why DNA evidence was found linking him to their bodies. The prosecution was able to provide evidence from CCTV and number plate recognition software that Steve Wright’s car had been in the red light district area on the nights a number of the girls went missing.
The CCTV footage believed to show Tania Nicol talking to the male driver of a dark blue car matched the description of Wright’s car at the time. Steve Wright did take the stand during his trial and said it could have been him, however, he dropped Tania back at the red light district some time later that evening. Furthermore, he claimed it was simply a coincidence that his DNA was found on the victims. The jury, however, thought the forensic evidence against him was too overwhelming and on 21 February 2008, he was found guilty on all counts.
Over those six weeks ending in December 2006, Steve Wright committed horrific acts of violence against vulnerable young woman. After engaging in sex with them he strangled or smothered them to death, using his bare hands to ensure they could no longer breathe and watched as their lives ended. Then he got up, dressed and back into his car where he would drive home, go to sleep and go to work the next day as if nothing untoward had gone on the night before.
Some have called into question the DNA evidence against Steve Wright suggesting it proves he had contact with these women but does not provide he killed them, an argument that was played out in court during his trial between the defence and the prosecution.
After his arrest and conviction, his partner at the time he committed the murders gave a number of interviews to the press. Pamela Wright has been able to give a glimpse of the home life Steve Wright was living in between the murders. The normality, his routine of coming home from work, getting changed and watching the soap operas on TV. He would drive her to work just before midnight. She thought he always went home and went to bed, but now knows he was, in fact, out trawling the streets and murdering prostitutes.
She told how she visited Wright in prison after his arrest trying to get to the truth and how at that point she didn’t believe he was a serial killer. Wright admitted to her that he had slept with prostitutes during their relationship including three of the victims but told her he didn’t kill them. She believed him until his trial when he was on the witness stand. She knew his claims of being out in the middle of the night because he couldn’t sleep were untrue, he never had any problems sleeping. This, along with understanding his history of sleeping with prostitutes, and the DNA evidence against him convinced her that Wright was, in fact, a serial murderer and had brutally taken the lives of these five young women.
“The Suffolk Strangler was my Steve. I was living with a serial killer and I know people will think I’m totally stupid but I simply didn’t have a clue.”
Steve Wright is currently serving his sentence at Long Larton prison in Worcestershire and still remains largely silent about the murders and his motives. He has been approached numerous times by psychologists, researchers and journalists but has refused all interviews. He is a man that has never explained his actions or shown any remorse for the pain and suffering he caused his victims and their families. At his sentencing, the judge told him, “This was a targeted campaign of murder,” and recommended that Steve Wright is never released from prison.