A YOUNG woman battling drug addiction who was found strangled in a Juniata Park apartment Friday knew one of two other women strangled in the past month in nearby Kensington, her mother said yesterday.
"She knew about this a few weeks ago, we talked about it and she said she knew one of the victims," said Allison Edwards' mother, Karen Emery. "It could be that she knew the killer as well and didn't know it."
Edwards, 22, of Levittown, Bucks County, was pronounced dead at the apartment, on Glendale Street near Erie Avenue, about 8:25 p.m. Friday, police said. At first, investigators and her family believed that she had died of a drug overdose, but when autopsy results came back Saturday, the cause of death was listed as homicide by strangulation, police said.
"When I believed she had overdosed, I thought, 'Well, could it get any worse?' Then I found out she was killed," Emery said. "She really could have had a chance. She wanted to be sober so bad, and that was stolen from her."
Edwards' killing follows those of Nicole Piacentini, 35, on Nov. 13, and Elaine Goldberg, 21, on Nov. 3. Those strangulations, less than a mile apart in Kensington, have been linked by DNA evidence. Both women also struggled with substance abuse, according to their families.
Emery said she did not remember which of the victims her daughter said that she knew.
Edwards and Emery are originally from Michigan; Edwards had a 5-year-old daughter who still lives there, her mother said.
After a brief stay in Australia - during which her addiction got worse, her mother said - Edwards moved to Levittown this year to find sobriety and stay with her mother, who has lived in the area for four years.
Edwards had been in treatment several times, and once, when Emery was out of town, Edwards overdosed on heroin to the point that she had a heart attack and a stroke, her mother said. She was placed on a ventilator and was comatose for 24 hours, but "she pulled through" and began to turn her life around, her mother said.
In September, she landed a job as a dog bather at a PetSmart in Fairless Hills, and the company was planning to send her to grooming school in January, Emery said.
Edwards adopted a puppy to celebrate six months of sobriety, which she marked on Nov. 16, according to her mother and her Facebook page. She named the dog Zelda.
But on Nov. 26, Edwards wrote on her page: "Gotta start over . . . but that's OK."
Emery said that her daughter had a drink at a friend's house, and her drug addiction came raging back. On Wednesday, Edwards walked away from her mother's house and didn't say with whom she was staying or where she was going.
"She didn't have money, she didn't even have a winter coat," Emery said. "She just said she had to get it out of her system before she got back to sobriety."
Emery said that she knew of no connection that her daughter may have had to the house on Glendale Street where her body was found.
That house is about 2 miles from the abandoned house on Cumberland Street near Jasper where Nicole Piacentini was found slain in a doorway Nov. 13. It's also about 2 miles from the abandoned lot on Ruth Street near Hart Lane where Elaine Goldberg's body was found Nov. 3.
Both women were found partially clothed and manually strangled. Police said the victims, who battled drug abuse, also had been sexually assaulted.
Authorities have not yet said if Edwards was sexually assaulted. Her body was found on a couch in the living room of a second-floor apartment, police said.
On Nov. 23, police announced that DNA evidence from Piacentini and Goldberg indicated that they had been killed by the same man, although authorities have yet to announce a name or the arrest of a suspect. They have, however, formed a special task force to investigate the cases, police said.
In the wake of the stranglings, a woman told police that she had been sexually assaulted and choked to the point of unconsciousness in early October at the same abandoned property where Piacentini's body was found.
When a sketch she provided to investigators was released, another woman came forward and said that a similar-looking man had sexually assaulted and choked her into unconsciousness Oct. 31 in a lot on Sergeant Street near Kensington Avenue.
Although police have not characterized the two surviving victims as prostitutes, they said that the women had gone willingly with their attacker - who was a stranger - to the lots where they were assaulted.
Two other cases involving choking are under investigation by police:
* On Nov. 14, a woman claimed that a stranger approached her and offered to show her a shortcut home. Instead, the man raped and choked her in a lot on Flora Street near Carlisle, in North Philadelphia, then robbed her of $283, police said.
* On Nov. 28, a woman said that a man held a box cutter to her throat and forced her to a vacant lot on Buckius Street near Jasper, in Juniata Park, according to police. There, he ordered her to undress, and when she screamed he put a choke hold on her, police said. The woman was able to continue yelling, and the man eventually ran off, police said.
All of the surviving victims have offered similar descriptions of their attacker, according to police - a black or Latino man in his late 20s or early 30s, between 5 feet 8 and 6 feet, with a goatee and short hair.
Aside from the two homicides linked by DNA, police have no evidence that the cases are connected.
Still, Emery yesterday voiced a feeling that some relatives of the other victims have said they also harbor.