Coroner Opens Inquests in 'Ipswich Ripper' Case

A coroner formally opened inquests into the deaths of four prostitutes Wednesday, and police continued to question two men suspected of killing them and one other woman.

Greater Suffolk Coroner Dr. Peter Dean opened and adjourned inquests into the deaths of Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell, and Annette Nicholls. An inquest into the death of the fifth victim, Gemma Adams, was opened last week.

Inquests are a legal requirement in cases of unattended or unexplained death, and the coroner's role is to determine who died, the time of death, the location and the cause. The swift adjournment was routine in cases which are under active police investigation.

All five women had been working as prostitutes, and their naked bodies were found in rural areas around the town of Ipswich over a period of about 10 days beginning Dec. 2.

Police were questioning two suspects: a 37-year-old man arrested Monday in a village outside Ipswich, and a 48-year-old man who lived in the town's red-light district who was taken into custody Tuesday. Neither man has been charged or formally identified.

Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull said both men were suspects in all five murders.

News reports identified the first suspect as Tom Stephens, a part-time taxi driver, supermarket worker and former volunteer police officer. He was quoted in an interview with the Sunday Mirror newspaper as saying he knew all the victims, and regarded himself as their protector.

Britain's Press Association and other media including Sky News and the British Broadcasting Corp. identified the second suspect as Steve Wright.

Wright worked as a forklift driver and had lived in the area since September, BBC television reported.

Neighbors said the man was often seen washing his dark blue Ford Mondeo, which was seized by police Tuesday.

Three of the bodies were found near the main road and the rail line between Ipswich and Trimley; the two others 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.