Police in Cyprus on Thursday confronted the possibility that a serial killer had been at large in their midst after an army captain in custody for the deaths of two women claimed responsibility for more murders, seven in all.
A police official said that if the statements the suspect made while under questioning were true, he killed five women and two girls — all but one were of Asian descent.
They include two Philippine women whose bodies were found in an abandoned mine shaft six days apart.
Police previously said that the suspect had admitted killing 38-year-old Marry Rose Tiburcio and the second woman, identified by Cypriot media as 28-year-old Arian Palanas Lozano.
Authorities searched the flooded mine shaft and a lake for signs of Tiburcio’s missing six-year-old daughter, Sierra.
Investigators now think, based on the suspect’s statements, that the girl was among his seven victims, the police official said.
A second police official confirmed that the army officer claimed responsibility for seven killings.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not allowed to publicly disclose details of an ongoing case.
The scope of the investigation expanded from a double-homicide to a triple earlier on Thursday after authorities told a judge at a custody hearing that the suspect had links to a third woman from the Philippines who vanished 16 months ago.
A witness told investigators the army captain had photographs of 31-year-old Maricar Valtez Arquiola’s temporary Cyprus residency permit that were taken the day she disappeared in December 2017.
The suspect initially denied killing Arquiola, but after the court hearing admitted to doing so, the police official said.
The suspect cannot be named publicly, because he has not been charged with any crimes.
Under questioning on Thursday, the army captain also claimed three more victims, including a woman of Indian or Nepalese descent whose body he claimed to have dumped last summer at a remote military gun range, the police official said.
Authorities located a body at the range late on Thursday after the suspect provided directions on where to look, the official said.
The suspect also said that he killed a woman of Romanian descent and her daughter.
Investigators plan to keep interrogating him to determine if he told the truth and for evidence that he killed even more people.
Authorities last week tracked down the army captain by scouring Tiburcio’s online activity.
Five British law enforcement officials, including investigators who specialize in cases involving multiple homicides, were en route to Cyprus to help with the probe, police said.
Activists who work to support immigrants in Cyprus have criticized the police, saying that the department dragged its feet when the two women whose bodies were found in the mine shaft were reported missing nearly a year ago.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides defended the department’s actions, telling private TV station Sigma that Cypriot lawmakers turned down a police request last year for a law that would authorize law enforcement officers to access the personal data of missing persons.
Cyprus Fire Service Chief Marcos Trangolas said that divers finished exploring the mine and yesterday planned to move the search for the missing girl to a reservoir 8km away.
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