Newspaper investigative crime reporters didn't come much better than 54-year-old Vlado Taneski. As a freelancer in the tiny Balkan state of Macedonia, he was under contract to all the leading newspapers and magazines and could be relied upon to bring in the exclusive stories well ahead of his rivals.
And when murder came to the normally violence-free town of Kicevo, Taneski brought in scoop after scoop. When other reporters had just bare facts, Taneski had all the details. He was first with interviews with victims' relatives. He could forecast what the police would find. His stories, splashed across front pages seemed to answer all the questions other reporters were still asking.
It was Taneski who invented a name for the killer who kidnapped and murdered three middle-aged women in Kicevo in 2006 and always seemed to be a step ahead of the law. He dubbed the serial killer "the Monster of Kicevo."
Where did Taneski get all his information? Ah, came the obvious reply, a good journalist never reveals his sources. And Vlado Taneski was a good journalist. For over 20 years he had worked on newspapers in the Balkans and in Russia. He had been offered editorships but refused them. "I am a working reporter and that's how I'll stay," he said.
And when three women in their fifties, Ljubica Licosta, Zivana Ternekoska and Mitra Simjanoska were found murdered in Kicevo, a remote town in the mountains some 75 miles from Skopje in the spring of 2006, Taneski was deluged with offers from newspapers and wire services to file exclusive reports.
He chose the country's leading newspaper, Nova Makedonija, whose editor, Utrinski Vesnik had known him for many years. "He was the best when it came to covering crime," Vesnik said later. "He was a very quiet and unassuming man, but he always got the story."
Indeed, within days of covering the murder inquiry, Taneski had produced an exclusive story that Ljubica Licosta was abducted after two men approached her and told her that her son had been injured. They then lured her into a car and she was not seen alive again.
Taneski's report continued: "The people of Kicevo live in fear after yet another butchered body has been found in the town and it is possible that these monstrous murders are the work of a serial killer." All the women were murdered in the same fashion which rules out the possibility that they could have been killed by two different people.
The motive of the Kicevo monster remains unclear. The women were friends living in different parts of the town. Police have a few suspects who they are interrogating but privately admit that they are not optimistic that they actually have found the identity of the killer.
"The latest body was found in a rubbish dump. It had been tied up with a piece of telephone cable with which the woman had previously been strangled."
Police chief Ivo Kotevski later confirmed that the woman, who all worked as office cleaners, had each been strangled with a length of telephone cable, put into plastic bags and dumped on the outskirts of Kicevo.
Chief Kotevski said he had hoped to keep this information secret because to make it public might harm the inquiry. But he had been forced to make it public after Taneski had revealed all the details in Nova Makedonija.
"This Taneski knows everything," said Kotevski. "He even seems to know more than we do."
As the hunt for the killer intensified, detectives who had been studying the ace reporter's exclusive stories noticed that they included several facts that the police had not released. These included the type of phone cord used to strangle the women and the fact that it had also been used to tie them up.
That had been kept secret by police. Detectives also noticed similarities among the victims — they were all poor uneducated cleaners.
Taneski's mother was also an office cleaner and it was found that he had a severely strained relationship with her — which grew even worse after his father killed himself in 1990. Friends would say that Taneski always blamed his mother for his father's suicide. And was it just coincidence that all the victims had known Taneski's mother and that they all bore a striking resemblance to her?
Chief Kotevski decided there was enough circumstantial evidence to bring the reporter in for questioning. When they did so, Taneski shook his head in disbelief. "You're not serious surely?" he said. "I write about murders. I don't commit them."
Editor Vesnik was also incredulous when police rang to say his ace reporter was being questioned as a possible murder suspect. "He is a nice educated guy who seems completely normal!" he said. "I could barely believe my ears."
Taneski had two grown-up children but was separated from his wife Vesna, who told police: "I lived with him for 30 years. We had a perfectly normal relationship and when we parted four years ago we remained friendly for the sake of the family. I have never known Vlado to ever lose his temper or be violent."
Next day came the sensational story that the ace reporter was not able to file. Police chief Kotevski told the media: "The three victims were murdered in a terrible way and we have very strong evidence that Taneski was responsible for all three.
"There is also the case of another Kicevo woman who went missing three years ago and we believe Taneski could be involved in that disappearance too."
At a preliminary investigation Antoni Novotni, a professor of psychiatry said that there was a possibility that Taneski actually wanted to be caught by letting slip incriminating information in his newspaper reports.
"He could have seen it as a way of resolving his inner problems and getting rid of the burden which came with killing these women."
But throughout his interrogation, Taneski denied he was responsible for the deaths and refused to allow DNA samples to be taken.
Eventually police obtained a court order to force Taneski to give a DNA specimen — and the reason for his reluctance was clear. It matched DNA found on the bodies of all three victims.
"In the end there were many things apart from DNA that pointed to him as a suspect and led us to file charges against him for all the three murders," Ivo Kotevski said.
"Vlado Taneski will be in court in two days' time to be charged with the murders he has written about." But he wasn't.
Hours before he was due to appear in court in the nearby town of Tetova, Taneski was found dead in his prison cell.
A note reading: "I did not commit these murders," was found on his pillow.
The official cause of death was suicide — the prisoner had apparently killed himself by putting his head in a bucket of water — but a prison spokesman sounded unconvincing when he broke the news to reporters. Nor could he explain why neither warders keeping a round-the-clock watch on the prisoner, nor his two cell-mates, had noticed what Taneski was doing.
"It was a bit like a horror movie," the spokesman told reporters.
And as they hurried off to file their stories, the reporters at least had the consolation of knowing that at least Vlado Taneski wasn't around to rob them of yet another scoop.