Homicide detectives hunting the killer of a young woman whose body was found on a Carlton North soccer pitch have released images of a man spotted on CCTV in the area.
The burly man, bearded and wearing a grey hoodie and carrying a blue backpack, is shown leaning against a pole around the time the body was found in Princes Park at 2.40am on Wednesday.
The hoodie has the letters MX on the front. The man was wearing blue jeans and dark shoes.
Police have not said he is the killer, but believe he is a person of significant interest who “may be able to help with inquiries”.
A pair of black shoes lay metres away from the body. It was not clear who they belonged to.
Police circulated images of the man about 16 hours after a passer-by made the grisly find.
Homicide squad investigators are looking into the movements of everyone who was in the area in the period before the woman’s death, and have made an intensive examination of CCTV.
The body was found just hours before police made a public plea for information about a sexual predator who is wanted over a random late-night ambush on a woman early on March 28.
The attack occurred less than 1km away, and police say they are unable to rule out links between the crimes.
Senior police said local patrols would be increased and warned people using the park, which locals say is poorly lit, to be vigilant.
“Take responsibility for your safety,” Superintendent David Clayton said.
The soccer pitch was cordoned off and running tracks closed as detectives and forensic examiners spent almost 12 hours on a painstaking search for clues. State Emergency Service volunteers conducted a line search as shocked residents watched.
Police analysed a bicycle and a bag found nearby but it is not known whether they were linked to the crime.
Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said police would “have an open mind” on considering possible links to the March 28 sexual assault in Parkville.
In that incident “Jessie”, 21, was walking along Gatehouse St, near the Bayles Crescent intersection, about 2.35am when a man grabbed her from behind in a bear hug and slipped his hand up her skirt.
Jessie, who is from Washington DC, screamed and the man tried to cover her mouth. Several nearby residents heard her and he fled.
Detective Senior Sergeant Brendan Butland called for witnesses to come forward.
Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
‘IT’S TERRIFYING … MY HEART BREAKS’
Several female joggers and walkers at the park this afternoon told the Herald Sun they were terrified to hear women were being targeted in the area.
Mary, who has lived in the area for 23 years, said the crime was “incredibly worrying” and she would hesitate to come to the park alone again.
“It’s disconcerting to think something like this happened in this community.
“We grew up coming to this park … you just don’t see this thing,” she said.
Mary, who often visits the park with her 10-year-old son, said the park was mostly used by locals because of its isolated position.
She said it was not uncommon for university students to cut through the park on their way home but noted the trams which operate along Royal Parade did not run past midnight, so it was unlikely the park was busy when the woman was found just before 3am.
One young woman walking in the park said she had been using the popular running track almost daily while her local gym was undergoing renovations.
“I’ve been here many, many times after dark, there’s no lighting around the park at night or early in the morning,” the woman, who did not wish to give her name, said.
“It’s terrifying … my heart breaks for that poor woman and her family,” she said.
The local resident said she received a frantic text message from a friend on Wednesday who was concerned she may have been the victim.
“She knew I ran this track and wanted to check I was ok — everyone is nervous now,” she said.
Several locals have said the street lights which border the running track are rarely — if ever — turned on.
Carlton local Lucy Williams, who left flowers at the scene, said she was shocked by the tragedy.
“I don’t know who the victim is but it could have been any of us. It could have been one of my friends,” she said.
“I just felt I should stop by and leave something.”