IN THE PAST MONTH, two women have been strangled in abandoned Kensington properties and a third choked into unconsciousness.
Now police are hoping that the third woman, who came forward Monday and said she had been choked until she passed out at the same spot where the latest murder victim was found, will help lead them to the killer.
Authorities stopped short yesterday of saying that there was a strangler on the loose in Kensington or that the cases were connected, but Homicide Lt. Norman Davenport said they all occurred within a four-block radius and all involved manual strangulation.
On Saturday, Nicole Piacentini, 35, was found partially clothed, half inside the rear doorway of an abandoned house on Cumberland Street near Jasper, police said.
"This is my worst nightmare ever," Piacentini's mother, Christine Piacentini, said yesterday. "Getting killed in a lot like an animal. It's sickening."
Piacentini said she knew when a police officer knocked on her door and told her to call the coroner that it had to do with her daughter, who had battled drug addiction and whom Piacentini had not seen in a month.
"As soon as I heard it happened to my daughter, I remembered reading in the paper about that girl and I said, 'I'm going to ask the coroner and see if any foul play was involved,' " Piacentini said.
"That girl" was Elaine Goldberg, 21, a nursing student who had also battled drug addiction. Goldberg was found partially clothed and strangled in an abandoned lot on Ruth Street near Hart Lane, 10 days before and less than a mile away from where Piacentini was killed.
Police believe that both victims had had sexual encounters with their assailant, but they have yet to determine if those encounters were forced or consensual.
As investigators combed Kensington for clues Monday, they came upon a woman who, sometime in early October, had gone willingly with a man to the same abandoned property where Piacentini was found.
The woman said she was assaulted by the man and choked until she passed out. When she came to, she realized she'd been sexually assaulted, Davenport said.
Police would not say if she was a prostitute, but Davenport did speculate as to why she hadn't reported the assault after it happend.
"We do know that it's not uncommon for persons who are in certain areas or who may be involved in certain activities, sometimes they are reluctant to come forward with certain reports of crime," he said.
Davenport could not confirm if either of the murder victims was involved in prostitution, but said the area is known "for a lot of high-risk behavior, narcotics abuse, as well as prostitution."
In fact, yesterday, on Cumberland Street near Jasper, where Piacentini was killed and the surviving victim was attacked, residents and people who work at Mariana Bracetti Academy charter school, which is directly across the street from the murder scene, said the empty streets were odd.
"On a normal day, this street would be filled with walking girls," said a school employee who asked not to be identified. "It's unusual they're not here; you can tell something is going on."
Sharon Malinksi, who has lived in the area for 35 years, said prostitutes stand at the corner, even when school is letting out.
"They don't care," she said. "My husband said, 'What's it going to take? Somebody getting killed.' And it did."
Deputy Commissioner William Blackburn said there was physical evidence from the murder scenes, the testing of which hasn't been completed.
"There is an investigation being conducted by the Special Victims Unit with the Homicide Unit looking at past cases to see if there's any similarities," he said.
SVU Capt. John Darby said his department was working with homicide.
"The fact that the two women had been partially clad, we obviously would be interested in anything like that," Darby said. "Investigators here are working with homicide to develop similar cases or any leads we've had on similar cases in attempts to put this together."
The woman who survived being choked provided police with a composite sketch and described her attacker as a black or Latino man in his late 20s or early 30s, between 5 feet 8 and 6 feet, with a goatee and a short-style haircut.
The Piacentini and Goldberg families are hoping those details will lead to an arrest.
"Honestly it's hard to determine if I'm super-happy or super-sick looking at that dude's face," said Goldberg's younger sister, Careen. "I actually thought there was no shot before to find who did this.
"It gives me a very sickening feeling looking at the picture of someone who was so sick in the head and made poor decisions and did this to my sister."
"I just want the guy to get caught," said Christine Piacentini. "It won't bring my daughter back, but I don't want this to happen to anybody else."
Anyone with information about the killer's identity is urged to call Homicide Detectives at 215-686- 3334.