Police investigating the death of a Zichron Yaakov woman whose body was found in a grove near Beit Shemesh two months ago believe the woman may have been murdered.

Police initially suspected that Neta Blatt-Sorek, 52, had committed suicide, but began treating her death as a murder case after an autopsy indicated that she had likely been killed.

The change in approach was kept under wraps until yesterday, when a gag order prohibiting the release of details about the investigation was lifted in response to a request by Haaretz.

The murders of three other women whose bodies were found in forests in the Jerusalem area have remained unsolved since the 1980s, although police do not believe the perpetrator in those cases also killed Blatt-Sorek.

On the last Wednesday in February, Blatt-Sorek, a teacher at the Jewish-Arab school Bridge over the Wadi in Kafr Kara, went for a vacation to the Beit Jimal Monastery near Beit Shemesh, where she had spent time on other occasions.

That afternoon, she went for a walk and did not return. Friends of hers who were also staying at the monastery participated in a police search for her the next day, as did her neighbors and fellow teachers. Her body was found two days later.

Blatt-Sorek's husband, Amotz Sorek, was highly critical of the initial police statement that they were viewing her death as a suicide.

He said the suicide determination was "unclear - and that is an understatement - since investigators on the team told me personally that this was a murder."

Sorek says there was no evidence his wife had been planning to kill herself.

"As the person closest to her for 31 years, it is clear to me that she didn't harm herself," he said. "A person who is going to harm herself is usually in bad psychological shape and leaves a letter, doesn't take a suitcase full of clothing on her last trip, doesn't make appointments for after the vacation, and does not try to extend the vacation, as my wife did."

Three other murders

There have been three other unsolved murders in the Jerusalem area since the 1980s. Maya Singer, a 17-year-old student at Jerusalem's Israel Goldstein Youth Village, was found half-naked and badly burned in a grove near Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. She died of her burns two days later.

Vardit Beckerknut, 27, from Kiryat Anavim, was raped and murdered in December 1993. Beckerknut, a photography student at the Camera Obscura School of Art in Tel Aviv, was last seen hitching a ride out of Tel Aviv two days before her body was found in the Eshtaol Forest.

Noa Eyal, a 17-year-old high school student from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, was murdered in February 1998. She was last seen getting into a car at the central bus station in the center of town, around midnight. Her body was found in the Ramot Forest. Four years ago, the commander of the Jerusalem police force announced a breakthrough in Eyal's murder, but the new details that emerged did not lead to the killer's arrest.

Chief Superintendent (ret. ) Gabi Orgal, former chief of investigative psychology in the police, said that although sex murderers can be active for many years, it was unlikely the same perpetrator had committed all the murders because age would have taken its toll.

"Assuming that he didn't start at age 16, it is difficult to imagine that he had the ability to continue planning and attacking all this time," said Orgal.