A young woman was found dead, partially clothed and with a plastic bag covering her head, in a desolate lot in Kensington yesterday.

One thought hung in the frigid air over the crime scene, over the group of police officers and worried residents who stood nearby and shivered in the cold for hours: Had the Kensington Strangler struck again?

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey acknowledged that investigators were wondering the same thing.

The task force of detectives that has been trying to hunt down the strangler was at the weeded lot, on Tusculum Street near Front, where the woman's body was found about 5 p.m.

"Any death of a suspicious nature in this area, we're going to take a real hard look to see whether or not it's part of the pattern that's going on out here," Ramsey said.

"At this point in time, we really don't know. She is nude from the waist down. Very, very suspicious circumstances."

The woman was white, he said, and appeared to be in her 20s.

More wouldn't be known about the woman's death until an autopsy is completed, Ramsey said. He said police planned to hold the crime scene so that investigators could search the area again in the daylight for clues.

Ramsey said that it was unclear how the person who found the victim and called police shortly after 5 p.m. made the discovery. The body was hidden from view from the street by overgrown weeds that blanket the lot.

"We do have people who go back there to inject drugs," he said, adding that it was possible that the victim could have gone there to do just that.

Local residents huddled at the edge of the lot and spoke as if they believed the woman's death was the work of the strangler, whom police linked through DNA evidence to the murder of two women in Kensington last month.

The killer is a suspect in at least three other sexual assaults of women who were also choked to unconsciousness.

"I walk to work in the morning with a pocket knife and Mace in my pocket," said Cheron Mickie, who said she lived about a block from yesterday's crime scene.

"Usually he strikes at 2 or 3 in the morning, never 5 at night. I'm shocked."

Steven Rosario, another nearby resident, said that he called to check on his wife when he saw the police activity in the neighborhood.

"You know the strangler's around here, so everybody got to be careful," he said.

"Everybody got to be careful, stay behind doors and don't walk by yourselves. This guy is dangerous."