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 fathe