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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

7 Young Women Strangled to Death

At least seven young women have been strangled to death this month in Moscow, prompting fears that a serial killer is on the loose.

But investigators said Monday that they doubt that the murders are the work of one or even two different serial killers because they have little in common with one another.

"Not yet," said police spokesman Alexei Vakhromeyev, when asked whether the police had collected evidence connecting the murders.

The two most recent murders took place over the weekend. The first victim was found at 1:10 p.m. Saturday near an apartment building on 16th Parkovaya Ulitsa in eastern Moscow. She had bruises on her neck where she had been strangled and she had been struck on the head, the police said. She was wearing a bangle on her left arm.

The police refused to release her age or name.

The second woman was found several hours later, lying in bushes near a pond at 232 Leningradskoye Shosse in the northwestern outskirts of Moscow. The 17-year-old girl was a student of the Timiryazev Agricultural Academy, the police said.

The Zhizn daily identified the victim as Tatyana Nikishina and said she had been strangled with her own bra.

Investigators believe the girl was killed in a personal dispute, Gazeta.ru reported, citing a police spokesman. Suspects have already been identified, and the police are looking for them, the spokesman said.

It was unclear whether either victim has been sexually assaulted. But police have ruled out robbery as the motive in both murders because valuables were found on the victims.

Two more young women were murdered on Saturday, but both died after being struck on the head, not from being strangled, the police said.

The killings came after at least five young women were found strangled in northeastern Moscow in the first two weeks of July. Some of them were tortured and sexually assaulted before being killed, the police said.

Still, investigators believe that it is highly unlikely that the crimes are all connected.

"There are too many differences," said Vakhromeyev, who represents the police's elite Criminal Investigations Directorate.

For instance, the killer or killers strangled some of the victims with their bare hands and others with clothing or ropes, Vakhromeyev said. Serial killers usually kill all of their victims in an identical manner, he said.

Prosecutors are keeping a close eye on all seven murders but have so far found no evidence indicating they might be the deeds of one or two serial killers, said Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the city prosecutor's office.

No arrests have been made in any of the seven cases, she said.

Deputy City Prosecutor Yury Sinelshchikov has ordered a team of criminologists to examine all of the cases for possible similarities, she added.

"We are not ruling out the idea of serial murders, but this is not the main lead given the differences in their markings," Petrenko said.

Vladislav Polikarkin, the investigator at the northeastern branch of the city prosecutor's office who is investigating his district's murders, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The first woman reported to have been strangled this month was a 28-year-old graduate of the Culture Institute. She was beaten, sexually assaulted, gagged with her own clothing and then strangled, the police said. Police found her half-naked body at the Botanical Garden in the afternoon of July 1. Police have only identified her by her first name, Yulia.

At 3 a.m. the next day, the half-naked body of an 18-year-old woman was found near a kindergarten on 2nd Vladimirskaya Ulitsa. The victim, identified as Ksenia, had been beaten, raped and strangled.

The body of the third victim, Irina Gera, 28, an employee of the City Duma, was found half-naked near railroad tracks at 43 Ulitsa Yablochkova on July 4. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with the strap of her purse.

On July 8, the fourth victim was found hanging on the belt of her robe attached to a door handle in her apartment on Ulitsa Inzhenernaya. The 25-year old woman worked at the Cherkizovsky outdoor market and might have moonlighted as a prostitute, the police said. They suspect she was killed by a client or by her boyfriend, who works at the same market.

The fifth victim, 32-year-old grade school teacher Yelena Tolokonnikova, was killed late July 10 or early July 11, and her half-naked body was found behind a row of garages on Ulitsa Dubininskaya. Police suspect that she might have been strangled by a gypsy cab driver.

A leading psychiatrist confirmed Monday that serial killers usually follow the same pattern in each killing but added that it might be too early to say whether the recent murders are linked. It can be very difficult to draw a correct psychological portrait of a serial killer during the early stages of an investigation, said the psychiatrist, Sergei Yenikolopov, a senior researcher with the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences' Center for Psychiatric Health.

Yenikolopov and Vakhromeyev said it is next to impossible to spot a serial killer.

Vakhromeyev said that those worried about a possible attack should stay away from isolated areas, especially at night, and find a companion when going out for a walk in the park.

"I am not saying that people should only gather in groups of 50 on Red Square and always be on high alert, but I would advise against taking a shortcut through the park," Vakhromeyev said.