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. 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 tranquillity. 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.
The first report came Nov. 25 from the partner of a missing woman named Gemma Adams, a 25-year-old known to work as a prostitute. A week later, a passerby discovered her nude body in a stream in countryside inland from Ipswich.
Tania Nicol, 19, was reported missing by her mother. She had left home in Ipswich on Oct. 30 to go to work in the town's red-light district. Her naked body was found Friday in a nearby river. Police have yet to release the cause of the death for either women.
Sunday, the naked body of another woman, known to be a prostitute, was found in woodland in the same area. She was identified as Anneli Alderton from Colchester, a city about 20 miles south of Ipswich. She had died by strangulation, police said.
Since then, police had urged two other women reported missing to get in touch: Annette Nicholls, 29, had last been seen Dec. 5 in Ipswich, and Paula Nicholl, 24, was last seen in the early hours Sunday in Ipswich. Both were known to work as prostitutes.
Tuesday evening, police had not confirmed identities but said they assumed two bodies discovered during the day, one by a passerby walking near the village of Levington and the other, close by, spotted by a police helicopter, were those of the missing girls.
"We've formally linked the murders of Tania and Gemma on Saturday because of significant similarities, and they continue with Anneli, Paula and Annette," Gull said. "Clearly they were all prostitutes from Ipswich, they were found naked and in an open, rural environment."
Formal identification and cause of death are expected to be determined Wednesday morning when government pathologists arrive on the scene, BBC reports said.
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."