Since January of this year, seven young women in Washington State, most of them in Seattle, have vanished with hardly a trace. "It's as if the earth just opened up and swallowed them," admits a veteran police captain. In some respects, residents of the Northwest might be more comforted to learn that the earth had swallowed the seven; the alternative is chilling, and it has left the area in fear. All seven women were young—between the ages of 18 and 23—and pretty. Now a lone, suave suspect is the subject of a widespread—and as yet ineffective—manhunt.

At first the disappearances of young women in the area took on no special significance. In one case, blood was found and foul play was suspected. In others, however, the missing girls were thought at first to have run away. But by early June, four of them had disappeared under strangely similar circumstances, and in July two young women vanished on a single day.

Both had visited a state park not far from Seattle, and at least one was seen in the company of a young man with his arm in a sling. Forty thousand people were in the park that day, and as it turned out, no less than five women had been approached by that same man, a congenial stranger who introduced himself as "Ted." He asked each woman to help him lift his small sailboat onto the roof of his car. Most refused, although one woman got as far as the parking lot with "Ted" before she realized there was no sailboat in sight, and fled. Two women, 23-year-old Mrs. Janice Ott and 19-year-old Denise Naslund, were apparently not so fortunate. Neither has been seen since.

From interviewing witnesses at the park, police have been able to come up with a composite drawing (above, right), some physical details—5'7", about 170 lbs., blond—and a couple of clues. Those who talked with him recall that "Ted" spoke with a slight English accent, and that he claimed he had broken his arm playing "racquet ball," a sport almost unknown around Seattle but extremely popular 128 miles north in Vancouver, B.C. There is an ominous implication here: that "Ted" may also have something to do with the unsolved sex slayings of six other women, whose mutilated bodies were recently found in British Columbia.