British man guilty of canal murders

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A British man was found guilty on Monday of murdering two ex-girlfriends, including an American model, and dumping their dismembered bodies in canals in London and The Netherlands.

John Sweeney, 54, will be given two life sentences at England's Old Bailey central criminal court on Tuesday for the murder of British citizen Paula Fields and Melissa Halstead from the United States.

British police say the former carpenter may have killed other women and are trying to trace former girlfriends.

Sweeney is already serving four life sentences for the attempted murder of another former girlfriend in 1994.

Halstead, 33, was killed in 1990. Pieces of her body were thrown into a canal in Rotterdam in The Netherlands, although her head and hands are still missing. Her remains were identified in 2008 through a DNA test.

The body parts of Fields, a 31-year-old sex worker and mother-of-three, were found in six holdalls floating in the Regent's Canal in north London in February 2001. Her head, hands and feet have never been found.

Sweeney was arrested in March 2001, having been on the run since attacking another ex-girlfriend with an axe.

A cache of weapons and hundreds of pieces of artwork and poetry were found at his London home. One sketch showed a naked woman with no head, hands or feet, while another showed a gravestone with the words: "RIP Melissa Halstead."

In a statement, Halstead's family said she was an "intelligent and very attractive young woman" who had left the United States and moved to Britain to "seek her fortune".

Police were only able to link the two murders last year.

"By butchering and disposing of bodies in this way, the killer had intended that neither they should be identified, or he should be," said prosecution lawyer Brian Altman.

Detectives have appealed for information about three other women they believe may have been killed by Sweeney, including a Brazilian and a Colombian who both lived in north London in the 1990s.

Sweeney's case was the first to be funded by an EU Commission-funded operation involving British and Dutch police.

© 2011 AFP

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