A woman found dead in Kensington this week may have been killed by the man responsible for the stranglings of two women in the neighborhood last month, police said Thursday.
The woman, whose name has not been released pending notification of her family, was 27 - close to the ages of two previous victims. Like those women, she was white. The circumstances of her death are also similar: she was strangled, found nude from the waist down, and showed signs of sexual assault.
Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner William Blackburn said there were "strong indications" that the deaths are linked, and acknowledged that if the same person killed all three women, the behavior would fit the profile of what police consider a serial killer.
"If it turns out to be the same person, he's getting bolder and bolder," Blackburn said. "In a matter of several weeks, we have three murders."
The woman found Wednesday was not from Philadelphia, Blackburn said. He said she was known to police in another community, but did not specify where. Police believe she may be the mother of a young child, but Blackburn said police were still trying to reach her family on Thursday.
An official cause of death has not been determined, but Blackburn said strangulation was the expected ruling, based on obvious trauma to the woman's neck.
Police have also taken DNA from the woman's body, Blackburn said, and will be testing to see if it matches the DNA of the man who has been tied to two killings in the neighborhood last month.
"It fits the pattern," Blackburn said of the killing. "There are a lot of similarities."
Kensington has long been one of the city's roughest sections, a neighborhood police call high-risk due to rampant drug dealing and prostitution. The area is filled with abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and alleyways that serve as places to get high, make drug sales, and take temporary shelter.
Last month, however, some of those desolate areas became known as the scenes of vicious attacks against women.
On Nov. 3, police found 21-year-old Elaine Goldberg in a trash-strewn lot on Ruth Street.
Goldberg, a nursing student at Gwynedd-Mercy College, had battled drug addiction but had taken steps toward turning her life around, family said.
On Nov. 13, 35-year-old Nicole Piacentini was found blocks away at an abandoned building on Cumberland Street. Piacentini, too, had struggled with drugs, according to her family.
DNA evidence has since determined that Goldberg and Piacentini were killed by the same man.
Police blanketed the area with undercover and uniformed officers, and created a task force to investigate the crimes.
Officers have made dozens of arrests and taken DNA samples from numerous men in an attempt to isolate a suspect.
As the murders gained media attention, two women came forward and told police they had been attacked by a man who choked them until they lost consciousness. One woman told police she was attacked in the same place where Piacentini's body was found.
Each woman told police they met the man on the street and went with him willingly to a deserted location before he struck, and the women each gave police the same description. Weeks later, another woman told police a man matching the same description hit and tried to stab her.
Police have not determined whether that suspect, who is shown in a composite drawing that has been plastered all over Kensington and in SEPTA stations along the Market-Frankford Line, could be the same man as the one responsible for the murders.
The attacks have spread fear among the women who frequent the area, and many have said they are carrying weapons for protection or taking other precautions.
On Wednesday, police received a 911 call around 5 p.m. from someone who reported an unconscious woman in a desolate, weeded area near railroad tracks off Tusculum Street near Front - blocks from where Piacentini's body was found.
The wooded area is behind a series of crumbling barriers and a chain link fence along Tusculum Street. Several yards behind the fence, the hillside slopes down to a single set of tracks. The area is littered with tires and garbage, and there is a web of well-worn footpaths. The fence has been peeled back in several places, and police say drug addicts and prostitutes are frequent visitors.
Investigators returned to the scene around 2:30 p.m. Thursday to collect evidence, but left after about a half-hour as snow began falling.
Anyone with information is being asked to call 911 or the homicide unit at 215-686-3334.