The family of “the woman with the flower tattoo” has been told her murder may be linked to a serial killer known as The Scalp Hunter and The Canal Murderer.
John Sweeney dismembered two former girlfriends before dumping their bodies in canals in Rotterdam and London.
He was known to be living in Belgium and Holland at the same time as the body of Rita Roberts was found washed up at a water treatment plant in Antwerp.
Police say she met with an extremely violent death – similar to Sweeney’s two victims who were about the same age as Cardiff-born Rita.
Interpol are already looking at Sweeney who is serving a whole life sentence for hacking to death Melissa Halstead, 33, and Paula Fields, 31.
Rita Roberts, from Cardiff, was found dead in a river in Belgium over three decades ago. She was recently identified thanks to her flower tattoo and an international appeal launched in May
John Sweeney dismembered two former girlfriends before dumping their bodies in canals in Rotterdam and London
Rita Roberts’ flower tattoo helped police identify her body. An appeal for information was in relation to 22 unsolved cold cases across Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany
The remains of Miss Halstead, whose head and hands were missing, were found in the Westersingel canal in Rotterdam after she vanished from her Amsterdam flat in 1990.
She was only identified in 2008 after Dutch detectives carried out a cold case review and matched familial DNA.
There are striking similarities with Rita Roberts, who was identified through the rose tattoo on her arm 31 years after she was brutally murdered.
Roberts is one of the women in Interpol’s Operation Identify Me – a public appeal to identify 22 women, believed to have been murdered in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands, but whose identity was never found.
A spokesman for Rita’s family told Mail Online: “It’s a lot to take in but obviously we want her killer brought to justice.
“We hoped for some sort of closure after her body was identified after all these years but instead it has raised so many unanswered questions.”
Interpol has confirmed Sweeney, now 66, is a person of interest in Operation Identify Me, a worldwide appeal to find the names of 22 women found dead since 1976.
Liverpool-born Sweeney was a jobbing carpenter who was known to work on building sites in Germany, Holland and Belgium.
He was known to romance vulnerable women including prostitutes like Rita before attacking them with an axe.
The evil killer earned his morbid nicknames from the vile sketches he drew of himself attacking his victims.
Rita Roberts’ body was found in early June of 1992 in the murky water of the Groot Schijn river
Sweeney was already serving a life sentence for the attempted murder of a girlfriend who he attacked with an axe and a knife when he was charged with the murders of Melissa and Paula.
Freelance photographer Melissa met Sweeney in London and embarked on a tempestuous relationship with him following her to Europe when she was deported from the UK for overstaying her work visa.
The former model, from Ohio, US was discovered floating in a canal after she vanished from her flat in Amsterdam in 1990, a year before Rita was found dead 100 miles away in Antwerp.
Mother-of-three Paula, originally from Liverpool, a crack cocaine user leading a chaotic life in north London that involved working as a prostitute, met him in 2000.
She vanished three months later and 10 body parts were found in six holdalls in the Regent’s Canal near King’s Cross in February 2001. Her head, hands and feet were missing.
The women’s remains were found a decade apart, and at the time police feared three other women known to Sweeney may also be victims.
Sweeney denied both murders at his Old Bailey trial in 2011 but was found guilty and told he will die in prison. Judge Mr Justice Saunders said the gravity of the offences was exceptional and only a whole life term was appropriate. He said: “These were terrible, wicked crimes.
The heads of the victims having been removed, it is impossible to be certain how they were killed.
The mutilation of the bodies is a serious aggravating feature of the murders. “Not only does it reveal the cold-blooded nature of the killer, but it has added greatly to the distress of the families to know that parts of their loved ones have never been recovered.
“The method of disposal of the bodies demonstrates that there was a substantial amount of planning.
“Why the killings occurred, I cannot be sure, but I am satisfied that this defendant is controlling in his relationships with women and, chillingly, that control extends to deciding whether they should live or die.”
Rita’s family is planning to take her back to Cardiff where she is remembered as a “passionate, loving and free-spirited young woman.