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Ipswich Strangler arrested in prison for unsolved murder in Felixstowe

On Wednesday, serial killer Steve Wright was arrested at Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, where he is serving a whole life tariff for 5 murders.

He was being questioned on suspicion of killing 17-year-old Victoria Hall.

She went missing on her way home from a nightclub in Felixstowe in September 1999 – seven years before he stalked the red light district of Ipswich.

The teenager was found naked in stretches of the same stream in the village of Hintlesham, Suffolk. Similarly, a post-mortem examination revealed that Vicky had been asphyxiated but not sexually assaulted.

All Suffolk Police would say on the matter is that her murder is being ‘reinvestigated by a new team of detectives and fresh information has been received that was not previously known’.

In fact, the inquiry was reopened on the 20th anniversary of Victoria’s death in 1999.

A blurred CCTV image of a man standing next to a white van near where her body was found was released by the ‘cold case’ team.

The image was taken by a camera installed by officers from the original murder squad to capture anyone visiting the scene in the belief the killer might return.

It showed a grainy figure getting out the vehicle, walking around and then driving off at 12.34 on October 7, 1999 – about three weeks after Vicky’s body was discovered.

At the time, it appears Suffolk Police did not follow up or identify the vehicle or the driver.

What is known is that the information was made public for the first time on BBC Crimewatch in 2019, which staged a reconstruction of Victoria’s abduction.

The Mail can reveal that a member of the public with extensive knowledge of the case contacted Crimewatch after seeing the CCTV on the BBC.

He said the van was identical to the one owned by Wright back then and the man closely resembled his profile, age and height.

Was the man in the footage Wright revisiting the scene of his crime? The police would not be drawn, but it’s hard to believe that the CCTV did not play a part, in one way or another, in this week’s dramatic development

The arrest of the Suffolk Strangler in connection with the disappearance of Victoria is an embarrassment for Suffolk Police.

Apart from the CCTV, Wright is said to have been one of 1,200 names on a database drawn up by detectives after his car number plate provided a partial match for a vehicle that followed a girl the night before Victoria went missing. He was believed to be staying with his late father in Trimley St Mary where Victoria also lived.

But in 2008 her parents said police had visited them three times since Wright’s arrest and assured them there was no link to their daughter.

‘Although they say there were some very similar aspects they say there is no connection with Victoria’s death,’ her father Graham Hall, who worked as a freelance book agent, said in an interview with the Ipswich Star newspaper.

Businessmen Adrian Bradshaw was later charged with Victoria’s murder but was found not guilty at Norwich Crown Court in 2001.

Mr Bradshaw, now a marketing consultant and publisher who owns 12 monthly magazines as well as the Felixstowe Flyer newspaper, was initially questioned as one of dozens of people at the Bandbox nightclub in Felixstowe where Victoria and a friend had been shortly before she vanished.

At the centre of the prosecution case were ten grains of soil found in his car that were alleged to have come from the spot, near Creeting St Peter, where Victoria’s body was found by a man walking his dog six days after she disappeared.

But a soil expert said they could have come from any number of sites in East Anglia.

The jury took just 90 minutes to acquit him. ‘I am really relieved it’s over,’ said Mr Bradshaw, then aged 27, who spent 11 months on remand waiting to stand trial. ‘I was confident this would be the result.

I didn’t commit the crime. I am innocent. The jury did the right thing.’

Mr Bradshaw extended his sympathy to the Hall family, who had attended court throughout the nine-day trial.

More than two decades after Victoria was murdered, there is still no closure, if indeed there can ever be closure.

There can be little comfort in knowing your daughter may have fallen victim to a serial killer.

Understandably, the family have asked for privacy after news that Wright was now a suspect.

It was in the early hours of a Sunday morning in September 1999 that Victoria and her best friend Gemma Algar had walked the two miles from the Bandbox to their homes in Trimley St Mary.

Although their parents had expected the pair to get a taxi home, they did not have enough money so they stopped to buy chips and began to walk.

The two split up when they reached the village high road. Victoria was supposed to phone Gemma when the next morning. She never did.

Police at crime scene

Her parents raised the alarm and called the police when they discovered she was not in her bedroom. How could their reliable, responsible daughter, who did not drink and only began going to nightclubs three months earlier disappear?

Wright had not yet entered the public consciousness.

He was just a grainy image captured on CCTV near the scene of the murder, if the suspicions of the source who rang the BBC after seeing Crimewatch were borne out.

At the time, Wright, who had gone through two brief marriages, was working as a forklift driver and was living with Pamela Wright in Ipswich.

He was a member of a local golf club. No one could have marked him down as a serial killer.

But unbeknown to his girlfriend he had been paying strangers for sex for years – an addiction that turned to something much darker while Pamela was on night shifts.

The remains of the five woman – Gemma Adams, 25, Tania Nicol, 19, Anneli Alderton, 24, Paula Clennell, 24 and Annette Nicholls, 29 – were discovered in isolated locations near Ipswich between December 2 and December 12, 2006.

Wright had systematically selected and murdered them over a six-and-a-half week period starting in late October. Two of his victims were laid out in the shape of a crucifix

The fear that engulfed cities such as Leeds and Bradford at the height of the Yorkshire Ripper murders gripped Ipswich.

Women were too scared to go out at night. In the end it was science, not police footwork, that solved the crimes.

At the Forensic Science Service in Birmingham, 250 of the centre’s 275 scientists worked shifts around the clock testing dozens of samples from bodies until there was a match with Wright.

His DNA had been put on a national database when convicted of stealing from a bar till five years earlier. Wright protested his innocence. He still does. He is not alone in denial.

In March, a documentary about the Suffolk Strangler, The Murderer and Me, was shown on Sky.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever thought that he was capable of killing someone,’ his former love Pamela, who now lives in Devon, told the programme.

‘When I fall asleep I’m turning things over in my head I wake up in the morning and it’s there again. This my life sentence.’

But the real life sentence is being served by the family of the teenager he is now suspected of killing.

Victoria died shortly before her 18th birthday and would have been in her late 30s today.

Who is Steve Wright?

Wright was born in the Norfolk village of Erpingham, the second of four children of military policeman Conrad and veterinary nurse Patricia.

He has an older brother David and two younger sisters, Jeanette and Tina. While Wright’s father was on military service, the family had lived in both Malta and Singapore.

Wright’s mother left in 1964 when he was 8; his father divorced his mother in 1977; both later remarried. Wright and his siblings.

Wright left school in 1974 and soon afterwards joined the Merchant Navy, becoming a chef on ferries sailing from Felixstowe, Suffolk.

In 1978 in Milford Haven, he married Angela O’Donovan. They had a son, Michael. The couple separated in 1987 and later divorced.

Wright became a steward on the QE2, a lorry driver, a barman and just prior to his arrest, a forklift truck driver.

Former prostitute Lindi St Clair said she was attacked by Steve Wright in the 1980s.

His second marriage was to 32 year old Diane Cassell at Braintree register office in August 1987 They split in July 1988 while he was a pub landlord in Norwich.

He was in a relationship with Sarah Whiteley from 1989–1993 and they had a daughter together, born in 1992. It was during this time that he also managed a public house in South London.

The pub was lost due to his gambling and heavy drinking.

He was convicted in 2001 of theft, stealing £80 to pay off his debts.

This was his only criminal conviction prior to the murders.

It is known that throughout these times Wright built up large debts largely through gambling, and had recently been declared bankrupt.

Wright had twice tried to commit suicide, first by carbon monoxide poisoning in his car in the mid-1990s; secondly in 2000, by an overdose of pills.

A Thai woman, Somchit Chomphusaeng, says she married Wright in Thailand in 1999.

The Suffolk murders

Wright met Pamela Wright (the shared surname is a coincidence) in 2001 in Felixstowe and they moved to the house in Ipswich together in 2004.

Wright had always admitted that he had used prostitutes and had done since he was in the Merchant Navy, and continually throughout his life.

In Ipswich he admitted he went to certain massage and sauna establishments that were actually brothels.

Throughout his trial he had stated that he had used prostitutes on many occasions, including three of the victims and when his partner began working night shifts their sex life became almost non-existent.

He returned to prostitutes who were based on the nearby streets, procuring a dozen in the final three months of 2006.

Wright was found guilty of all five murders on 21 February 2008.

On the following day, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and the judge recommended that he should never be released.

Wright’s motivations for the murders have never been revealed.

In the interviews carried out after he was charged, Wright answered no comment to every question he was asked.

It was announced on 19 March 2008 that Wright would be appealing against his convictions.

However, on 2 February 2009, it was announced that Wright had decided to drop this appeal case.

Possible links to other crimes

Wright is still being investigated in connection with other murders and disappearances, including the Suzy Lamplugh case; he had worked with Lamplugh on the QE2 ocean liner during the early 1980s.

Lamplugh was last seen alive in 1986 and was legally declared dead in 1994, but her body has never been found.

However, the Metropolitan Police have stated that this is not a strong line of enquiry.

Cleveland Police have not ruled out a link between Wright and the murder of Vicky Glass, a heroin addict who vanished from Middlesbrough in September 2000.

The Ipswich 2006 serial murders began during December 2006 when the bodies of five murdered women were discovered at different locations near Ipswich in Suffolk, England.

All the victims were prostitutes or sex workers working around the Ipswich area.

Suffolk Police linked the killings in their murder investigation. 

A forklift truck driver, Steve Gerald James Wright, then aged 48, was arrested on suspicion of murder on Tuesday 19 December, 2006 and charged with the murders of all five women on Thursday 21 December, 2006.

The trial began on January 14, 2008. Wright pleaded not guilty to the charges.

He was found guilty of all five murders on 21 February, 2008 and was sentenced the following day to life imprisonment with a recommendation that life should mean life, meaning that he will probably never be released from prison.

Victims

The body of a young woman was discovered in the water of Belstead Brook at Thorpe’s Hill, near Hintlesham, by a member of the public on December 2, 2006.

She was later identified as 25-year-old Gemma Adams and had not been sexually assaulted. 

Six days later, on 8 December, the body of 19-year-old Tania Nicol, a friend of Adams, who had been missing since 30 October, was discovered in water at Copdock Mill just outside Ipswich.

There was no evidence of sexual assault. 

On 10 December, a third victim was found by a member of the public in an area of woodland by the A14 road near Nacton and later identified as 24-year-old Anneli Alderton.

According to a police statement, she had been asphyxiated and was around three-months-pregnant when she died.

On 12 December, Suffolk police announced that the bodies of two more women had been found.

On 14 December, the police confirmed one of the bodies as 24-year-old Paula Clennell.

Clennell had disappeared on 10 December and was last seen in Ipswich.

According to Suffolk Police, Clennell died from “compression of the throat”.

On 15 December, the police confirmed that the other body was that of 29-year-old Annette Nicholls, who disappeared on 5 December.

The bodies of Clennell and Nicholls were found in Nacton near the Levington turn-off of the A1156, close to where Alderton was found.

A member of the public had seen one of the bodies six metres from the main road and police discovered a second body by helicopter whilst conducting initial investigations.

  • Gemma Adams, aged 25, born in Kesgrave and living in Ipswich, disappeared on 15 November at about 01.15 (UTC). Her body was found on 2 December, in a river at Hintlesham; she was the first of the victims to be found.

  • Adams was found naked, in a brook, but had not been sexually assaulted.

  • As a child, Adams had been a popular girl among friends and her affluent family, but as a teenager she started smoking cannabis and eventually started taking harder drugs, becoming addicted to heroin.
  • She had been working as a prostitute to cover the cost of her drug addiction, which had already led to her being dismissed from her job with an insurance firm.
     
  • Tania Nicol, aged 19, from Ipswich, disappeared on 30 October and was reported missing on 1 November.

  • Nicol was found 8 December near Copdock Mill in a river; there was no evidence of sexual assault.

  • She was the first of the victims to be reported missing and the second body to be found.

  • Nicol, the youngest of the five victims, had been working as a prostitute to fund her addiction to heroin and cocaine.
     

  • Annette Nicholls, aged 29, a mother of one from Ipswich, disappeared on 5 December at 21.50.

  • Nicholls’ body was found on 12 December near Levington, naked but not sexually assaulted.

  • Her body was one of those posed in the cruciform position.

  • Nicholls, the oldest victim, had been a drug addict since the early 2000’s, when she was completing a beautician’s course at Suffolk College.

  • Soon afterwards, she had started working as a prostitute to fund her addiction.
     
  • Anneli Alderton, aged 24, a mother of one who was in the early stages of pregnancy, had been living at a temporary address in Colchester, Essex.

  • Alderton disappeared on 3 December and was last seen on the 17.53 train from Harwich to Manningtree.

  • Alderton got off the train at Manningtree at 18.15 before going on to Ipswich via another train, arriving at 18.43. Alderton’s body was found on 10 December near Nacton, in woodland in front of Amberfield School.

  • Alderton had been asphyxiated and was found naked, and also posed in the cruciform position, Alderton had been addicted to drugs since shortly after her father’s death from lung cancer in 1998.
     
  • Paula Clennell, aged 24, mother of three children, born in Northumberland and living in Ipswich, disappeared on 10 December in Ipswich at approximately 00.20.

  • Clennell’s body was found on 12 December near Levington on the same day as Nicholls’.

  • Clennell was found naked but not sexually assaulted and a post mortem reported that she had been killed by a compression of her throat.

  • Prior to her death Clennell commented on the then recent murders in an interview with Anglia News, stating that despite them making her “a bit wary about getting into cars” she continued to work as “I need the money.”

  • Clennell’s three children had all been taken into care due to her drug addiction.

  • Clennell herself had spent some of her childhood in a referral unit, and it was shortly after being placed there that she started taking drugs.

Police investigation

Suffolk police linked the killings and launched a murder investigation, codenamed Operation Sumac.

At a 10 December press conference, detectives from the Suffolk Constabulary issued a warning to all women in Ipswich not to work on the streets, and said they had received offers of assistance from neighbouring police forces, particularly Norfolk, in their “hunt for the killer or killers”.

Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter acknowledged that Suffolk Constabulary would be reliant on external assistance due to the magnitude of the investigation.

A senior investigator with the Metropolitan Police, Commander Dave Johnston, was reported to have been drafted into the murder inquiry team from Scotland Yard in London in an advisory capacity.

The day-to-day investigation was conducted by Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull.

During the 13 and 14 December press conferences, DCS (Detective Chief Superintendent) Gull revealed that police believed the locations where the five bodies were found to have been ‘deposition sites’ not murder scenes, indicating that the victims were all killed elsewhere and transported to the locations where they were later found.

However, DCS Gull was unable to indicate where the women had been murdered, or whether the crimes took place at a single location or at multiple sites.

DCS Gull also revealed that some items of women’s clothing and accessories, including a handbag and jacket, had been recovered and were being forensically tested to establish whether they belonged to any of the murdered women.

During the course of the press briefings, DCS Gull stated that over 200 police officers were involved in the investigation, and some 400-450 calls were being received daily by detectives.

On 15 December, Suffolk Constabulary’s website revealed that a total of 7,300 telephone calls had been made to police regarding the investigation, and that over 250 police staff were working on the cases, with support from at least 26 other police forces.

As of 18 December, the number of officers involved in the investigation had increased to 500 and a further 350 officers from 30 other police forces had assisted in the inquiry, which involved detectives trawling through 10,000 hours of CCTV footage.

The number of calls received regarding the case had also increased to around 10,000.

Arrest of suspects

18 December, Suffolk Constabulary reported that they had arrested a 37-year-old man on suspicion of murdering all five women.

The man was arrested at 07.20 at a house in Trimley St. Martin near Felixstowe, Suffolk. The detention of the suspect was extended by magistrates by a further period of 24 hours to the maximum of 96 hours allowed under English law.

19 December, at 05.00, police arrested a second suspect, a 48-year-old, at a residence in Ipswich on suspicion of committing murder. 

20 December, police were granted a 36-hour extension to question the second suspect in detention. 2

1 December a joint statement was issued by DCS Gull, and Michael Crimp, senior prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in Suffolk, announced that the second suspect named as Steve Wright had been charged with the murder of all five women.

Police said that the first suspect, who was not officially named, was released on police bail. Bail was cancelled on 6 June for the first suspect, as no more inquiries involving the case were to be undertaken involving this person.

Court appearances

Wright appeared before magistrates in Ipswich on 22 December 2006 and was remanded in custody.

On 2 January 2007 Wright appeared before Ipswich Crown Court and was remanded in custody to appear before a court on 1 May.

On 1 May Wright formally entered a plea of not guilty; the judge indicated the trial would be heard at Ipswich crown court in January 2008.

On 14 January 2008, Wright appeared at Ipswich Crown Court ahead of his trial, which began on 16 January, with the prosecution opening their case.

This was the first time specific details were released to the public.

These included the bodies of two of the victims, Anneli Alderton and Annette Nicholls, being deliberately posed in the cruciform position, DNA evidence linking Steve Wright to three of the victims and fibre evidence also connecting him to the victims.

The defence argued that Wright was a frequenter of prostitutes, and he had “full sex” with all of the victims, barring Tania Nichols, whom he “picked up” with the intention of sexual relations, but apparently changed his mind and dropped her off back in the red light district of Ipswich.

This contradicts Wright’s earlier statement when stopped by police in the district in the early hours of the morning, when he said that he “did not know he was in the red light district” and that he was driving around “because he could not sleep”.

Wright’s rented flat is located in the red light area.

On the 21 January, jurors were taken to sites involved in the case.

These included Wright’s rented house, which they viewed only from the outside, and the areas where the victims were found.

During the trial the prosecutor, Peter Wright QC, suggested that Steve Wright may not have acted alone, as the remains of Anneli Alderton were found some distance from the road but with no evidence that her body had been dragged by one person.

Jury

The jury in the trial was the second group chosen for the task, as a member of the original jury (which consisted of ten men, and two women) had a health issue which would have been prohibitive for the trial.

The sentencing jury consisted of nine men and three women.

All potential jurors had to complete a questionnaire, which asked if the candidates knew any of the victims, witnesses, or the suspect. 

The defence lawyer, Timothy Langdale QC, noted that the jurors had a particularly difficult task given the media coverage of the events.

The judge ordered them to decide the case based only on evidence presented in court.

Verdict

On 21 February 2008, after eight hours of deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict against Steve Wright on all five counts of murder.

Sentencing took place at 10:30 a.m. on 22 February.

He was found guilty of murder, which carries an automatic term of life imprisonment, but in such cases the judge recommends a minimum number of years the offender should serve before parole can be considered.

The Prosecution QC demanded that life should mean life for Wright and he should never be released from prison.

Subsequently, on 22 February 2008, Wright was sentenced to life imprisonment and Mr Justice Gross said that life should mean life, on the basis that the murders resulted from a “substantial degree of pre-meditation and planning”.

Steves car

After the verdict was passed, relatives of the victims thanked the police for their efforts to solve the crime and some family members also expressed their feelings that life imprisonment was not enough, and that Wright should face the death penalty.

Craig Bradshaw stated:

“Today, as this case has come to an end, we would like to say justice has been done but we’re afraid that where five young lives have been cruelly ended the person responsible will be kept warm, nourished and protected.

In no way has justice been done. These crimes deserve the ultimate punishment and that can only mean one thing. Where a daughter and the other victims were given no human rights by the monster, his will be guarded by the establishment at great cost to the taxpayers of this country and emotionally to the bereaved families.

Where a daughter and the other victims were given no human rights by the monster, his will be guarded by the establishment at great cost to the taxpayers of this country and emotionally to the bereaved families.”

However, other family members seemed satisfied with the verdict. The father of Gemma Adams said:

“I am very relieved and pleased for all of the families that this is now over and we can now start to get on with our lives.”

Prime minister Gordon Brown praised the “professionalism and dedication” of the police and prosecutors involved in the case, whilst using it as an example of what he believed to be the importance of the national DNA database.

Media coverage

Before the bodies started being recovered, coverage was mostly confined to the local media.

The national BBC news began to report the investigation following the discovery of the body of Tania Nicol, and after the discovery of the body of Anneli Alderton, the story started getting major exposure on a national and international level.

Though never officially named by the Police, the media named the first suspect arrested in connection to the killings as Tom Stephens.

The BBC and the Daily Mirror both released interviews with Stephens given before his arrest, something the BBC were criticised for in case it should affect any future trial.

Images of Stephens were also used in many media articles, and taken from his MySpace page.

The murders have been likened to those by Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper” who was convicted of murdering 13 women, mainly those who worked as prostitutes, over a period of five years from 1975 to 1980 in northern England; and to “Jack the Ripper”, the infamous Victorian serial murderer who also targeted prostitutes.

As with previous serial killers dating back to Jack the Ripper, many sections of the media have attempted to coin a name for the presumed murderer, using the “Suffolk Strangler“, and other terms to refer to the case.

A reward was offered, first by local business Call Connection. It initially offered £25,000, this was raised to £50,000. Shortly after, the News of the World offered a £250,000 reward for leads to a direct arrest and conviction of the murderer/murderers bringing the total reward on offer to £300,000.

Concerns about the media coverage

On 21 December 2006, the then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith issued guidance to the media after concerns were raised by Suffolk constabulary about the coverage and potential prejudice of a future trial. Lord Goldsmith urged the media to show restraint in what they reported about the two suspects being held, for fear of prejudicing any possible trial.

Coverage of related issues

The murders refocused press attention on a number of controversial issues in British politics.

The first is that of prostitution in the United Kingdom.

The laws concerning this have long been criticised. A long-term approach to tackling prostitution but did not proceed with them.

Prostitution in itself is not illegal in the UK, but living off the proceeds of prostitution is.

The murders have highlighted the vulnerability of prostitutes and the lack of action taken by the government, whether to be more punitive in the hope of reducing the numbers of prostitutes on the streets, to move towards legalised brothels and other measures to improve the safety of the women, or to target the demand for prostitution through prosecution of the clients, as is done in Sweden.

The second is that of drug use and whether it should be legalised or decriminalised, provided on prescription to registered addicts, or penalised more harshly. High numbers (95% according to the Home Office) of street prostitutes in the United Kingdom have a history of substance abuse, and prostitution is one means of funding addiction.

A third area of debate relates to possible restructuring of police forces in Britain. During 2005, the government proposed merging smaller police forces in England and Wales (of which Suffolk Constabulary is one) with their neighbouring counterparts with the stated aims of improving the ability to pursue major inquiries (such as anti-terrorism, drug-trafficking and other similar complex investigations) and making efficiency savings. However, this plan was subsequently abandoned in July 2006.

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