For the third time in five weeks, police are grappling with strangulations of women in the Kensington area.

All three victims had battled drug addiction. Michigan native Allison Edwards, 22, had been sober for six months and started using drugs again only days before her death, her mother, Karen Emery, said.

Edwards was found around 8 p.m. Friday in a Juniata Park apartment just north of the Kensington neighborhood where two other women were found strangled on Nov. 3 and 13. On Saturday, the city medical examiner ruled that Edwards had been strangled.

Until Wednesday, Edwards had been living with her mother in Levittown. She started to drink and then left home with no money or car, Emery, 49, said.

"She told me she was just getting it out of her system before she went back to sobriety again," she said.

Investigators have not officially connected Edwards' death to the two others, which have been linked by DNA evidence. However, a police task force has been charged with investigating all three crimes.

In an interview Sunday, Emery noted a similarity in the cases - all three victims were found on a date containing the numeral 3. Edwards was found Dec. 3. "It seems like something to look at," Emery said.

Police have released a composite sketch of a man wanted for questioning in the first two slayings. He is described as African American or Hispanic, in his late 20s or early 30s, 5-foot-8 to 6 feet tall, with a medium complexion and low-cut hair.

Two women have come forward to say that while in the Kensington area in October they were attacked and choked. One provided the description police used to produce the sketch.

Edwards started using drugs as a teenager, but became a heavy heroin user while living in Australia, where a male friend died of an overdose, said Charlene Hicks, 20, a longtime friend from Michigan. "She was clean for a while, but then she moved to Australia and that's when it all went downhill," she said.

In January, Edwards returned to the United States to enter a drug rehab program.

"She has been struggling with drug addiction for a while," Emery said. "She had just got off six months of sobriety, and she had been living with me.

"She took a drink and that set her off. That was Wednesday. She just walked away from my house without a coat on. She took her toothbrush. I thought she might be staying with a friend."

Emery had no idea her daughter had ended up in Juniata Park.

Hicks said she spoke with Edwards by phone on Wednesday, encouraging her to go back to rehab or a halfway house.

"It's so hard for people to get off that stuff," she said.

"I want people to know that she is not some stupid drug addict. She was a beautiful person . . .. She was trying to do the right thing."

Edwards, mother of a 5-year-old daughter who lives with her father in Michigan, had attended community college classes there. She had 515 friends on her Facebook page. Her final entry was last Monday, shortly before 11 p.m. "Sooo sick . . . watching tv, snuggling with my blanket and pup," she wrote. She had recently bought a dog, Zelda, and was working at a pet store.

"She wanted to get clean and become the mom she knew she could be," Hicks said.

Emery said she did not believe her daughter was familiar with the rowhouse where she was found, on Glendale Street near Erie Avenue. The apartment is about two miles from one of the two spots in Kensington where the other victims were found last month.

A friend of Edwards' who had helped her battle her addiction was also unfamiliar with the Glendale address, Emery said.

"Her sponsor told me that she was texting Allison as late as Thursday . . . she has never heard of the street where she was found," Emery said.

Emery said her daughter had told her she may have met one of the earlier strangulation victims, but she didn't provide her mother any more information.

The family moved to Pennsylvania 41/2 years ago in search of a better economy.

"She had a nice job; she worked at PetSmart and she was going to be groomer," Emery said.

Edwards' struggle with drugs resulted in a massive overdose that nearly killed her. She suffered a heart attack and stroke that limited the use of her hands. She overcame that through intensive therapy, her mother said.

The first strangulation victim, Elaine Goldberg, a 21-year-old nursing student at Gwynedd-Mercy College, was found Nov. 3 in a lot on the 2800 block of Ruth Street.

The body of Nicole Piacentini, 35, was discovered Nov. 13 less than a mile away, behind a building on the 1900 block of East Cumberland Street.

Both bodies were partially clothed. Police said the women had been sexually assaulted. Relatives said Piacentini and Goldberg had battled longtime drug problems.

A service for Edwards will be held Wednesday, Dec. 8, at the Burns Funeral Home, 1514 Woodbourne Rd., Levittown. Viewing is from 3 to 5:45 p.m., followed at 6 by an "open service where anyone can speak," Edwards' mother said.

Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2997 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.