Detectives are considering “all possible” motives for the murder of a police community support officer who died from blunt head trauma while out walking her dog.
The body of Julia James, 53, was found in Akholt Wood in Snowdown, near Aylesham in Kent, on Tuesday.
She was off duty and not in uniform at the time of her death.
At a press conference in Aylesham, near Canterbury, on Friday, Kent Police Assistant Chief Constable Tom Richards urged members of the public to be “vigilant” and “aware of their surroundings”.
He declined to rule out that Ms James was killed by a stranger, someone she came across during her work, someone trying to steal her dog, or as part of a sexual assault.
No arrests have been made and no suspects identified, Mr Richards told reporters.
He would not comment on any potential murder weapon and also declined to say whether detectives had found signs of a struggle.
Ms James’s body was found just “a few hundred yards from her house”, he said.
Mr Richards said: “We do not at this stage have any identified suspects; we are keeping all options open to us while we fully investigate the circumstances of this matter and try to understand fully what happened.
“We do not at this stage understand the motive.”
However, he added that there was “no evidence that any of her possessions were missing”.
He took a moment to pay tribute to Ms James, who joined the police in 2008.
Mr Richards said: “She was a hugely devoted, passionate individual who was completely committed to serving the people of Kent. She will be hugely missed and lost by her colleagues.
“My heartfelt thoughts go out to her family, her friends and of course her colleagues.”
Mr Richards stressed that the murder was an “awful” but “incredibly rare and isolated” incident.
He said: “I would encourage people to be cautious, to be vigilant, to be aware of their surroundings, to report anything of concern to Kent Police.
“We’re very, very interested in that, but, no, I am not specifically advising women, or anyone for that matter, to stay at home or to avoid any particular locations.
“But until we understand exactly what has happened and why it’s happened, of course I understand why people would be concerned.”
Ms James’s death has led to an outpouring of grief in the area where she served as a PCSO, and was described as having a “heart of gold”.
It has also sparked concern in a community which is less than three miles from the village of Chillenden, where Lin Russell and her six-year-old daughter Megan were murdered in a savage attack while out walking their dogs in July 1996.
Asked if police were investigating a connection with the 1996 killings, or if Ms James could have been murdered by a copycat, Mr Richards said he understood local residents might have concerns.
He added: “As I say, we don’t understand the motive at this case which of course is a challenge for the investigation.
“I of course acknowledge that it will have a impact on local communities – that famous case that you reference is quite close to here.
“But just for clarity, that is a case with an individual convicted, serving a prison sentence, that conviction has been tested by the Court of Appeal, but as I’ve said a number of times we’re keeping our assessment of the motive completely open at this stage, we’re not going to be blinkered in any way.”
Among the growing collection of flowers, candles and tributes left for Ms James in Aylesham was a note praising “beautiful Julia”.
It read: “I am so thankful to have had you in my life and will hold tight to all those special memories. Heroes live on forever and you were certainly one of mine.”