updated 12/11/2006 7:45:11 AM ET 2006-12-11T12:45:11

British police investigating the deaths of three prostitutes whose bodies were discovered in the last nine days said on Monday a fourth sex worker was missing, as fears grow that a serial killer is on the loose.

Senior officers warned prostitutes to stay off the streets saying they were in danger after the naked bodies of the three women were found within miles of each other in Ipswich, eastern England.

On Dec. 2 police discovered Tania Nicol, 19, in a stream near Copdock Mill and on Friday police divers recovered the body of 25-year-old Gemma Adams in the same stretch of water two miles away.

On Sunday an unnamed 24-year-old woman was found dead by a member of the public in the Nacton area of the town.

Nicol, who went missing on Oct. 30, and Adams, who vanished on Nov. 15., were friends and worked in the same red light area. Detectives said all three women worked as prostitutes but none was thought to have been sexually assaulted.

“This is a deeply disturbing development, particularly in the light of the two murder investigations which have been launched during the past fortnight,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull of Suffolk Police.

“While we can’t formally link the discovery of the body at Nacton with the two murders, the facts speak for themselves,” he told reporters.

Fourth woman missing
Police also said a fourth prostitute, 24-year-old Paula Clennell, had been reported missing after a friend said she had not been seen since Saturday night.

Detectives said they did not believe she was the woman found in Nacton and that they were concerned for her welfare.

The murders raise memories of Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper” who murdered 13 women, mainly prostitutes, during a reign of terror in northern England between 1975 and 1980.

Gull said they were keeping an open mind as to whether a serial killer was responsible but added there were “distinct similarities” between the Suffolk deaths.

Assistant Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer appealed to sex workers in the Ipswich area to come forward with information.

“Your welfare is my priority at this time,” she said.

“My message to you is simple -- stay off the streets. If you are out alone at night, you are putting yourself in danger.”

No other option for many prostitutes
However Niki Adams, of the English Collective of Prostitutes, said women in the sex trade had no option but to stay on the streets in order to make ends meet.

“Women have said they are very scared at the prospect there may be someone committed to violence and even murder operating in the area,” she told Reuters.

“But on the other hand, most women don’t have the option to give up prostitution, especially this close to Christmas.”

She urged detectives to hold an “amnesty” for prostitutes and their clients until the killer was captured.

Police have stepped up patrols in the area’s red light district and are talking to local people and prostitutes.

Criminal profilers have been brought in to try to build a picture of the attacker.

A number of women have either been killed or vanished in similar circumstances in the East Anglia area over the past 13 years. Police say there is no evidence to link the earlier crimes with the recent deaths.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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