IPSWICH, England – Despite having arrested a suspect in the murders of five prostitutes whose naked bodies were found dumped in rural areas around the town of Ipswich, British police are concerned they may have the wrong man.
Tom Stephens, a 37-year-old grocery store worker, was arrested in connection with the murders Monday. In an interview with the UK Sunday Mirror, Stephens described himself as a "protector" of the women, but he also said he was as "close as there was to a pimp."
"I knew a lot of girls, and I used to run them about," he said.
Stephens knew all of the victims and used to drive them to drug dealers. Investigators, however, aren't sure they got the right man.
"Stephens is probably no more than midway on a scale of ten — about four or five," a senior detective told the London Times. Police close to the investigation told The Times that they were looking at five other suspects and that they were no more than 50 per cent sure that Stephens was their man. Authorities have until Wednesday morning to charge him or apply for more time to hold him in custody.
"I don't have alibis for some of the times — actually I'm not entirely sure I have tight alibis for any of the times. But I'm not worried about being charged, I'm innocent." Stephens told the Sunday Mirror.
All five of the murdered women attended a house-warming party at Stephens' home two months ago. Investigators are trying to track down other men who were also there.
Jacci Goldsmith, former prostitute in Ipswich, told the London Times that Stephens said he began visiting the red-light area 18 months ago after his marriage fell apart and used to offer rides to streetwalkers in return for sexual favors.
"He used to drive them around to get drugs and in return had sex with them. He had a little purple car, I think. I have been in it loads of times," she said.
Stephens' arrest came 16 days after the body of Tania Nicol was found dumped in a stream. The bodies of Germma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls turned up near the same location in the following weeks. The media to dubbed the case the work of the "Ipswich Ripper."
Three of the bodies were found near the main road and the rail line between Ipswich and Trimley; the other two were discovered near the same road in areas south and southwest of Ipswich. Clennell, 24, died of compression to her neck, and Alderton, 24, was strangled, a senior pathologist determined.
Post-mortem examinations of the bodies of Nicol, 19, and Nicholls, 29, reached no conclusion on the cause of death. An inquest into the death of Adams, 25, was opened and adjourned last week. The pathologist reached no conclusion about the cause of her death.
"Well it's all just very frightening knowing that the possible — because it's not confirmed, is it, yet? — but a possible murderer was where I used to walk alone sometimes," said Stephens neighbor Evelyn Davey. "My husband doesn't let me out of his sight since all this happened."
The Times of London, Sky News, The UK Sunday Mirror and The Associated Press contributed to this report.