A 27-year-old artist from Falls Church was fatally stabbed this week as she jogged on a footpath in an East London park, prompting Scotland Yard to issue an alert to women and generating fears about a violent attacker there.
Investigators said Margaret Muller's body was discovered Monday by passersby at 8:30 a.m. after what detectives described to the British media as a "frenzied attack" in Victoria Park.
Muller, a recent graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art in London, was stabbed several times in the upper body and neck, according to officials, who put out a plea for help from anyone who might have information about Muller or the case.
"We're not clear on the lifestyle she lived or the friends she had or what she was doing," said Paul Clark, a spokesman for New Scotland Yard. "We're trying to build a picture of her life."
Muller, a graduate of George Mason University, moved to London in 1998 to do postgraduate work at the Slade School, part of University College London, where she was awarded the Melville Nettleship Prize, one of Britain's most prominent awards for figure composition. Officials said she lived alone in Hackney and at times supported herself as an artist by teaching weekend and evening art classes.
Investigators said Muller's body was found on the pathway between the rose gardens and the children's play area on the east side of the park. Police were able to trace Muller's friends and family through a cellular phone found at the scene. Since the attack, investigators have been warning women jogging or walking alone to avoid the park or to be alert.
Police said yesterday they do not have a clear suspect in the case but are investigating whether the slaying is linked to a rape at knife point Thursday in nearby London Fields.
"The one thing we've said consistently about this case is that we're retaining an open mind," Clark said. The rape "would be one line of inquiry, but it's not being flagged off as a significant one."
Police said they are also interested in speaking with a witness who was seen riding a blue racing bike out of the park. Officers believe he spoke to other bystanders, who told investigators he said he would help Muller by riding to the park's St. Marks entrance to wait for the ambulance and show medics the way.
"Although this witness headed off in that direction . . . he was never seen at the gate and did not wait for the ambulance to arrive," Scotland Yard Chief Superintendent Jon Shatford told reporters at a news conference yesterday. "We are anxious to speak to this witness to eliminate him from our inquiries."
Erich Muller, Margaret's father, said his daughter was home for the Christmas holiday and returned to London on Jan. 6. He said he and his wife will travel overseas to sort out their daughter's affairs and bring the body home before a memorial is arranged.
"All I can say is, she was dedicated to becoming an artist," Erich Muller said. "A good artist. She pursued art with a passion and with a lot of enthusiasm. It's tragic she could not continue in this way."
Muller's formal training in the Washington area included study at GMU and the Corcoran School of Art, where she took summer courses.
While attending GMU, Muller was awarded an arts scholarship and had a solo show in the school's art gallery. In 1998, shortly before her move, she was invited to exhibit her work at the University of Maryland. After earning a bachelor of arts at GMU, she received a bachelor of science degree in geology in 1998.
Muller posted many of her works -- including a series of self-portraits -- on a personal Web site she had created. During her short career, she participated in a number of exhibitions and shows, including a postgraduate degree show hosted by the Slade School in 2001 and an open exhibition at the Southwark Gallery in London.
In July 2001, she was quoted in an article in the Evening Standard about her interest in drawing live models.
"I became very passionate about looking," Muller said at the time. "All my work is now strictly observed."
During the last two summers, Muller worked as a teaching assistant at Slade.
"Ms. Muller was clearly a hardworking, decent and enthusiastic young lady with a brilliant future ahead of her," Clark said. "Her family is devastated by the news. . . . It is essential that anyone with information about this incident come forward to help us."