NET CLOSES ON THE STRANGLER; Cops have 'fewer than 50' suspects.
POLICE hunting the Suffolk strangler claimed yesterday that they are closing the net on him.
And insiders said detectives had a list of suspects with fewer than 50 men on it.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull, leading the hunt for the serial killer, said: "There are a number of people of interest to us.
"We are making good progress and pursuing a number of interesting lines of inquiry.
"A range of individuals have been suggested to us. Some are local and some are not."
All five victims of the strangler were prostitutes in Ipswich. But Mr Gull said some of the suspects "are not punters" on the town's red-light scene.
Mr Gull would not reveal how many men he was interested in, but sources said the number was lower than 50.
Police confirmed yesterday that the fifth naked body dumped by the killer was that of vice girl Annette Nicholls, 29.
At least two of the victims, 24-year-olds Paula Clennell and Anneli Alderton, are believed to have been strangled.
But a post mortem failed to reveal how Annette died and further tests were being carried out.
Toxicology tests have been ordered on all five girls. Police are considering the theory that the strangler drugged his victims before killing them.
Mr Gull said: "These women were all drug users so I expect to find drugs in their systems.
"We will have to see what else the tests tell us. It is likely to be some weeks before we know the results - normally the tests take around six weeks."
Annette, who had an eight-year-old son, was last seen at 9.50pm on Tuesday, December 5, on Norwich Road in Ipswich.
Her body was found a week later beside a road at Levington, south of the town. Paula Clennell's corpse was lying 150 yards away.
Police are anxious to find Annette's clothes. Mr Gull said:
"When she was last seen, she was wearing dark grey patterned leggings, calf-length boots, a black top and a dark bomber jacket."
The first victim to vanish was Tania Nicol, 19, who went missing on October 30. Her body was found on December 8 in a pond at Copdock, near Ipswich.
Tania was a close friend of the second girl to go missing, Gemma Adams, 25, who disappeared on November 15.
The strangler dumped Gemma in Belstead Brook at the village of Hintlesham, on the same waterway where Tania was discovered.
The bodies of both girls had partially decomposed in the water. Police have been unable to establish how they died.
Anneli Alderton was found in woods at Nacton, near Ipswich, on Sunday December 10. Police said she had been asphyxiated.
Then, on Tuesday of this week, a passer-by at Levington spotted the bodies of Paula and Annette. Mr Gull revealed on Thursday that Paula died from "compression of the neck".
VICTIM: Annette Nicholls