Steve Wright - The Suffolk Strangler

Crime Files

"The only way I can describe it, is to say he was a real Jekyll and Hyde character. He definitely had a psycho side to him.”Elizabeth Roche, Neighbour to Steve Wright and his wife in 1987.The Telegraph, 21 Feb 2006

It is 1958 and Steve Gerald James Wright is born in the Norfolk village of Erpingham, as the second of four children of military policeman Conrad and veterinary nurse, Patricia. As an army family, the Wright family moves around, living in Malta and Singapore.His mother walks out when Wright is eight years old. It would be 26 years until they see each other again. His father remarries and Wright has a good relationship with his stepmother, staying with them when his own relationships break down.

Starting what would be a pattern for Wright, he moves from job to job. As a school -leaver, he joins the Merchant Navy, working as a chef. Wright would be married and divorced twice, with domestic violence becoming a feature of his relationships with women.When Wright marries Diane Cassell in Braintree in 1988, neighbours would bear witness to Wright’s violence towards Diane, talking about the way her husband could switch from normal conversation to strangling his wife until people around would make him stop.In the later 1980’s his addictive behaviour manifests itself; while managing a pub in South London, debts come to light. Wright is sacked from this job over gambling and heavy drinking. He is convicted of theft in 2001, stealing £100 to pay off his gambling debts. It seems this was his only criminal conviction prior to the murders. Police enter Wright’s DNA on the national database. It was to prove crucial to his arrest for the Suffolk murders.Wright tries to commit suicide, first by carbon monoxide poisoning in his car in the mid-1990s; secondly in 2000, by an overdose of pills. Observers would talk about Wright’s growing appetite for prostitutes. This would take him from Thailand to the streets of Norwich and eventually to Ipswich’s red light district and becoming one of worst series of killings ever witnessed in the UK.

The Arrest

"These appalling crimes left a community, a county and a nation in a state of profound shock." Detective Chief Inspector Stewart Gull BBC Online 21 February 2008‘A MADMAN GRIPPED BY MURDER LUST’ The Mirror, 13 December 2006Newspaper headlines in the days after Wright’s victims are discovered would echo the nation’s horror reaction to the killings.Concerned at the mounting death toll, police decide to put Steve Wright, known to be a user of Ipswich prostitutes, under round-the-clock surveillance, before he is arrested.Wright’s arrest is meticulously planned; giving forensic experts time to search for vital evidence. Senior officers know they are taking a risk delaying bringing him in but are aware they would be against the clock once they make the arrest.On 19 December 2006 at 05.00am, Suffolk Police arrest Steve Wright at his home in Ipswich, close to the red light district where the dead women worked. Wright’s arrest would come a little over two weeks since the body of the first victim; Gemma Adams is discovered in a brook.During an intense police investigation, detectives establish that 48-year-old Wright moved into his Ipswich home just months before the killing spree started. With Wright safely off the streets, the police erect a scaffolding cover outside his flat so they can search for evidence to link him to the murders.Steve Wright is questioned by detectives for eight hours. He simply replies ‘no comment’ to all questions.Nevertheless, on 21 December 2006, police and prosecutors make a joint statement: Steve Wright is charged with the murder of all five women.

The Trial

“Drugs and prostitution meant they were at risk. But neither drugs nor prostitution killed them. You did.” Mr Justice Gross BBC news OnlineThe date is 14 January 2008. The place is Ipswich Crown Court. It had been two years since the murders. The weight of expectation at the trial could not be underestimated.As the case unfolds, it becomes apparent that there is no single piece of overwhelming evidence. Prosecutor Peter Wright QC leads the court through the series of coincidences that taken all together lead them to only one logical conclusion: Wright is the killer.The court is shown CCTV footage of Wright cruising the red light district, his DNA found on some of the bodies along with fibres from his car and home, neighbours who heard "banging noises" late at night.At trial, Wright goes into the witness box and ends his silence about the five women. He argues that he had had sex with the women but had not killed them, saying it was merely coincidental that forensic evidence linked him to all five.The trial lasts for six weeks. The court hears testimony and evidence from police, forensic experts and the dead women’s relatives. The jurors make visits to key locations: Wright’s Ipswich home and the places where the women’s bodies were found.For the victims’ families, the court case holds challenges; Wright’s physical proximity in court was met with horror. A few people leaned away. Two women grasped each other. For a moment, it seemed as though someone would shout out or scream. Paula Clennelll's sister Alice came close to tears.On 21 February 2008, after eight hours of deliberation, the jury of nine men and three women returns a unanimous guilty verdict against Steve Wright on all five counts of murder. The judge Mr Justice Gross, recommends Steve Wright never be released from prison.With Wright facing life behind bars, the issue of motive remains. In the words of the prosecutor: "As to what drives a man to embark upon a campaign such as this we may never know.”.

Timeline

1958   Steve Wright is born 1978    Wright marries Angela O'Donovan 1980’s  Wright starts using prostitutes 2001    Wright convicted of theft and his DNA put on the UK national database Sept 2006 Wright moves to Ipswich with his partner, he lives in the red light area 1 Nov 2006 Tania Nicol's mother reports her missing 15 Nov 2006 Gemma Adams is reported missing by her boyfriend 2 Dec 2006 Gemma Adams’ body is discovered 4 Dec 2006 Police formally launch a murder inquiry 8 Dec 2006 Tania Nicols’ body is found 10 Dec 2006 Anneli Alderton is found in woods at Nacton 12 Dec 2006 Two bodies are found, later confirmed to be Paula Clennelll & Annette Nicholl 16 Dec 2006 Police confirm Anneli Alderton was three months pregnant when she was killed 19 Dec 2006 Steve Wright is arrested 21 Dec 2006 Wright is charged all five murders 21 Feb 2008 Steve Wright is found guilty of the murders of all five women. He was sentenced to life imprisonment the day after

The Victims

Tania NicolThe youngest of Wright’s victims, the body of 19-year-old Tania Nicol is found on 8 December, after she disappeared on 30 October 2006. She disappears from her usual area of work as a prostitute in Ipswich’s red light area.Tania grew up on a housing estate on the outskirts of Ipswich, living there with her mother, Kerry, and her younger brother. She had dreams of being a pop star while a pupil of Chantry High School but ended up in a series of low-paid jobs.When she disappears, her devastated father, Jim Duell, makes an appeal to the public to help catch the killer of his "loving and sensitive" daughter."Unfortunately drugs took her away into her own secret world, a world that neither of us were aware of." said Mr Duell.Tania is reported missing by her mother, after she has not heard from her for 48 hours.Kerry Nicol was the first relative to give evidence at the trial of Steve Wright, telling the court her daughter had left home at the age of 16 to live in a hostel and began using heroin there but had asked for helped to get off drugs.In common with lots of the victims’ relatives, Kerry is unaware her daughter was a prostitute, believing she worked in a bar or hairdresser.Tania Nicol is the first to go missing but her body was the second to be found, in Belstead Brook, at Copdock Mill, near Ipswich. The prosecution says her body could have been in the water for five weeks and a post-mortem examination could not establish unequivocally how she died.Gemma AdamsGemma Adams's body is found on 2 December 2006. She was just 25.Her partner reported her missing on 15 November, having walked with her into Ipswich town centre, where she had gone to work as a prostitute. Gemma lived in a suburb of the town and she grew up in Kesgrave, a village close to Ipswich.During her childhood, she enjoyed horse riding and learning the piano. She left school at 16 and did a course in health and social healthcare at Suffolk College, Ipswich.But about a year later, she was using heroin and became estranged from her family who attempted to get her into treatment for her drug use. It is thought she turned to prostitution to fund her drug habit.Gemma’s father Brian said his daughter had lost her job at an insurance company before drifting into prostitution.Her naked body was the first to be found, in Belstead Brook - the stream in which Tania Nicol's body was found in six days later.Annelli AldertonAnneli Alderton is found dead on 10 December, one week after going missing. Suffolk Police say she had been asphyxiated. The police also reveal that she is three months pregnant.A passing motorist reports seeing her naked body in an area of woodland at Nacton, three days after another motorist mistook it for a mannequin and failed to report it.The court heard her body had been left in a crucifix pose, with her arms outstretched.The 24-year-old was known to work in Ipswich as a prostitute.She had been a popular student at Copleston High School with ambitions of being a model. Her behaviour began to worry friends when her father, Roy, a computer programmer, died of lung cancer.Annelli, who has a son, had lived in Cyprus and spoke fluent Greek. She had been jailed three times for persistent theft.Annelli is last seen on the 17:53 train going from Harwich to Colchester on 3 December, before boarding another from Manningtree to Ipswich.

Paula ClennellPaula Clennelll's body is discovered on 12 December in woodland near Ipswich, in a manner the prosecution says has been "hurriedly dumped".The 24-year-old had not been seen since very early on the morning of 10 December.A post-mortem examination revealed she had been strangled "in association with opiate intoxication".Paula's parents divorced in 1996 and she was educated in a pupil referral unit. Her father Brian, who lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, says he didn’t know his daughter worked as a prostitute.Paula is last seen late at night on a train on 10 December 2006.A police helicopter is called to the scene, just off the Old Felixstowe Road, in Suffolk, after a pedestrian spots her body. Annette Nicholls's body is also discovered nearby.Annette Nicholls29-year-old Annette Nicholls worked as a prostitute. She is found dead on 12 December.At the opening of Steve Wright's trial, the prosecution said she had been missing since 8 December when she was seen in the centre of Ipswich. Her body was discovered by a police helicopter a few hundred yards from the body of Paula Clennelll.Like Anneli Alderton she had been placed in a crucifix position. A definite cause of death could not be established because of decomposition, but pathologists determine that her breathing had been hampered.Annette’s family say she had wanted to be a beautician but began taking heroin in 2003, three years before her death.She was reported missing by her family, who had become concerned after seeing the publicity surrounding the murders of Tania Nicol and Gemma Adams.

 

 

The Investigation

Police: We have got the last girl to go missing with your DNA and the one before with yourDNA, both on their naked bodies. How can that be?Steve Wright:  No comment.Extract from Suffolk police interview from 20 December 2006Guardian Online, 21 February 2008After the disappearance of a second prostitute working in Ipswich’s red light area in the winter of 2006, Suffolk Police link the killings and launch a double murder investigation codenamed Operation Sumac.

Despite a team which includes officers from nearly every police force in the country, a record number of calls from the public and nearly 10,000 interviews, detectives are unable to find anyone who’d seen the bodies being dumped or the weapons used to kill the victims.Steve Wright is careful to try to dispose of all evidence linking him to his five victims, cleaning his car and his clothes. However, detectives would find enough traces remaining for forensic examiners to establish a link. Ray Palmer, a lead forensic scientist is one of the hundred experts used in the Suffolk investigation. Palmer and his team find Wright's DNA on three of the women's bodies, while microscopic fibres from his clothing, car and home were discovered on all five.Another challenge facing investigators was to establish a link between Wright and the missing woman. The answer is to view footage from the many CCTV cameras used in Ipswich and its red light area. Inspector Steve Griss from the specialist CCTV Unit uses surveillance systems and an automatic car number plate reader to identify Wright’s Ford Mondeo car. Suffolk officers wade through up to 10,000 hours of footage to find answers to their questions. Eventually they discover footage showing Wright was in the red light area at the key times when each of the five women had disappeared.After the one of the largest and most intense police investigations ever undertaken, Wright was finally caught by tireless police work and extraordinary forensic evidence.

The Crimes

"You get two girls for the price of one"Steve Wright, speaking of street prostitutesBBC news online21 February 2008Six weeks, 5 murders, 1 killer. It is an extraordinary set of facts.Wright’s crimes would hold the local community and the wider public in the grip of terror. The press dubbed the Wright the Suffolk Strangler and the murders earn a place in annals of British criminal history. The Ipswich serial murders take place between 30 October and 10 December 2006 when the bodies of five murdered women are discovered at different locations near Ipswich, Suffolk, England.Steve Wright for years has hidden a secret life with themes of sexual deviance, violence and addictive behaviours running through Wright’s chaotic life.A pattern would emerge in Wright’s crimes: after stripping their bodies he would then dump them in the countryside around Ipswich and, in two cases, arrange the bodies in the shape of a cross, before going home, changing his clothes and going to work as if nothing had happened.The bodies are discovered naked, but there is no sign of sexual assault. Two of the victims, Anneli Alderton and Paula Clennelll, were confirmed to have been strangled. Pathologists cannot conclusive establish a cause of death for the other victims, Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol and Annette Nicholls.Two of Wright’s victims would be posed. Annette Nicholls and Annelli Alderton’s bodies are placed in a crucifix pose, with arms outstretched. This troubling feature of Wright’s crimes is something that has never been explained.There were many awful elements of Wright’s crimes for the victims’ families to bear. One of the most tragic was that of Paula Clennell. Following discoveries of the dead women, Suffolk Police issue warnings to women working in Ipswich’s red light area. Under pressure, the 24-year-old Paula would be interviewed by Anglia News, saying the recent murders had made her more wary of getting into cars, but she continued to work as she needed the money. She would later be found naked in woodland. She had been strangled.

A pattern would emerge in Wright’s crimes: after stripping their bodies he would then dump them in the countryside around Ipswich and, in two cases, arrange the bodies in the shape of a cross, before going home, changing his clothes and going to work as if nothing had happened.The bodies are discovered naked, but there is no sign of sexual assault. Two of the victims, Anneli Alderton and Paula Clennelll, were confirmed to have been strangled. Pathologists cannot conclusive establish a cause of death for the other victims, Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol and Annette Nicholls.Two of Wright’s victims would be posed. Annette Nicholls and Annelli Alderton’s bodies are placed in a crucifix pose, with arms outstretched. This troubling feature of Wright’s crimes is something that has never been explained.There were many awful elements of Wright’s crimes for the victims’ families to bear. One of the most tragic was that of Paula Clennell. Following discoveries of the dead women, Suffolk Police issue warnings to women working in Ipswich’s red light area. Under pressure, the 24-year-old Paula would be interviewed by Anglia News, saying the recent murders had made her more wary of getting into cars, but she continued to work as she needed the money. She would later be found naked in woodland. She had been strangled.Observers of Steve Wright’s crimes would comment on some worrying aspects:The forensic awareness he displays in the crimes is considerable. Has he killed before? Did he have an accomplice?Handwriting expert Ruth Myers, who works with the police and the courts, studies letters Wright wrote from prison. She comments how personality types like his are masking behaviour. "They're seething inside but you would never know. They can't control it and have violent outbursts.”