Undated (AP) _ ''The grisly discoveries of the remains of three murdered young women and the unexplained disappearance of two others suggest that there exist one or more extremely sick persons ... consumed by a passion for killing, particularly for killing attractive young women.'' - An editorial in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Later, after the fire, neighbors would recall hearing loud voices that night and the sounds of a car speeding from the garage apartment on the city's southwest side.

It was Sept. 30, a Sunday.

Firefighters blamed the blaze on a burning cigarette dropped on a mattress but found no sign of the apartment's occupant, Catherine Davis, 23, a country club employee.

Friends later described the missing woman as friendly and outgoing with dark hair and the face and figure of a model, which she had once aspired to be.

Police were concerned. But hardly alarmed.

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A week before Halloween, Cindy Heller, 23, a 1983 graduate of Texas Christian University, stopped at a traffic light on the southwest side to help a stranded motorist, Kazumi Gillespie.

Although they had never met, the two young women spent the next two hours together at a restaurant-bar while Ms. Gillespie telephoned male friends for assistance.

Unable to reach her friends, Ms. Gillespie asked Miss Heller to leave a note about her car problems at the friends' nearby apartment. They separated at 11:20 p.m.

The friends said later they returned after midnight to find the note pinned on the door. The next day, Oct. 23, Miss Heller's car was found nearby, its interior scorched by fire and a door handle smudged with blood.

Those who knew Cindy Heller described her as beautiful and vivacious and a friendly competitor in the Miss Fort Worth beauty pageants of 1981 and 1982.

Police concern mounted.

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Angela Ewert, 21, an employee of Arlington radio station KEGL, left her home Dec. 10 to go with her fiance to have a new engagement ring sized. She did not live on the southwest side, but her fiance's parents did.

It was not yet midnight when she left their Wedgwood home and stopped to buy gasoline at a 7-Eleven store a few blocks away.

Then she vanished. Her 1984 Mercury was found the next day several miles from the Wedgwood area on Loop 820. The doors were locked, and the flat tire that passing motorists later reported to police had been changed.

A broken knife was found near the car.

Investigators soon learned that Angela Ewert was no less attractive than the other missing women and that she occasionally modeled clothing at the Dallas Apparel Mart and competed in high school and college beauty and talent contests.

''We got a problem,'' said police homicide Sgt. Jim Rutledge.

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At this point, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram printed a chilling front page story that chronicled the deaths and disappearances of nearly a dozen local women, all unsolved.

Reporter Paul Clolery observed that 1984 would be remembered locally as the ''year of unprovoked attacks on unprotected women.''

On Dec. 30, a Sunday, Sarah Kashka, 15, came to Fort Worth from her home in Denton to attend a party that apparently had been canceled.

She and her date went to a fast-food restaurant and back to the home of a friend where Sarah was staying. The friend was not yet home.

At Sarah's request, her date told police, he took her to a Wedgwood apartment complex so she could visit another friend. He said he dropped her off and drove away.

The apartment was near the 7-Eleven store where Angela Ewert had stopped to buy gas less than three weeks earlier.

Residents of the apartment said they were not at home when Sarah arrived, and police believe she walked toward a Dairy Queen just minutes away.

She never made it.

Her body was found Jan. 1 in the marsh area near Mountain Creek in southwest Dallas. She had been stabbed to death.

Fort Worth police Detective Capt. Ben Dumas said there was ''substantial'' evidence that Sarah had been killed at the Mountain Creek site and that her slaying probably was not linked to the disappearances of the three Fort Worth women.

''There's a difference we really can't talk about yet,'' he said.

At another point, Dumas said, ''We can't establish any thread, because we only have one girl found.''

That would soon change.

With the worse still to come, Fort Worth, a city of 400,000 with a Old West heritage and a high tolerance for violence, was working itself into a ''frenzy,'' as one investigator put it.

On Jan. 5, children playing along a creek that feeds a small lake on the TCU campus stumbled onto the partial remains of a young female.

The body was headless and decomposed.

Four days later, after the skull had been recovered from the lake, medical experts identified the body as that of Cindy Heller, whose car had been found less than three miles away.

They attributed death to strangulation and indicated she had been tortured.

At this point, the public outcry became a howl. Mayor Bob Bolen's office was inundated with phone calls, and reward money in the cases approached $60,000, including $50,000 offered by Cindy's parents, Mark and Peggy Heller of Glencoe, Ill.

The media reported a run on handguns and Mace and said more and more women were taking self-defense and personal safety lessons and altering shopping, travel and social habits.

TCU prepared a letter of information and instruction for students returning this week for the start of the spring semester.

''Hell, yes, I'm scared,'' snapped a young sales secretary who declined use of her name. ''The whole city is scared. And it should be.''

Meanwhile, police officials quietly assembled a 40-member task force to deal with the deaths and disappearances. Yet even as word of the task force spread, a fifth name was added to its list.

Lisa Griffin, 20, a pretty, popular waitress at a west side club called Bustin' Loose, was found shot to death the night of Jan. 9.

She had not disappeared like the others. Her body, fully clothed, was found along railroad tracks in southwest Fort Worth but not in the Wedgwood area that had served as a geographical link for the four other young women.

''She was executed,'' said Rutledge.

Four days later, Tennant County sheriff's deputies, acting on a tip and without the knowledge of the task force, arrested and charged a former mental patient with the slaying of Lisa Griffin.

The arrest was based on a fingerprint found in the dead woman's car, but after police checks, officials acknowledged the print did not match those of the suspect and released him.

Investigators admit they have little hard evidence and can only speculate on whether they are dealing with a serial murderer, copycat killers or random and unrelated savagery.

''We're trying to piece this puzzle together and look for common denominators,'' said Rutledge. ''All we know now is that they were young, female, single, model types and all apparently were abducted from the same part of town.''

He said evidence suggested the five had led active social lives and that at least two of the victims had known one another.

If police are reluctant to connect the cases, Lee May, the manager of a liquor store in the Wedgwood area, is not.

''There aren't four lunatics running around in this one neighborhood,'' he said.

Investigators are also looking into the slayings of four other women since September in west or southwest Fort Worth, although the cases are considered ''peripheral'' to the five more closely linked murders in Wedgwood.

Nevertheless, there may be connections; three of the nine missing or dead women were members of the Broadway Baptist Church on the south side, and a fourth had attended services there.

Dumas, chief of the Criminal Intelligence Division, said the investigation was being conducted from all angles but that he personally did not believe one person was responsible for the Wedgwood killings and abductions.

''It's a hard case,'' he conceded, ''a regular whodunnit.''