Three decades later: Confronting the ‘Aspen Hill Rapist’
By Dan Morse,
The 50-year-old Olney woman stood up in court Thursday, 20 feet from the man prosecutors called the most notorious rapist Montgomery County has ever seen.
For 32 years, she said, close friends have known to not come up behind her. She described herself as easily intimidated and nervous — a far cry from the 18-year-old walking home from work in the summer of 1980. That’s when the rapist grabbed her from behind, put a gun to her head and forced her into a darkened side yard.
“Mr. Buzbee has helped to kill off the person that I was supposed to be,” she told a judge, her voice and hands shaking. “And I still wonder who that person might have been.”
Dubbed the “Aspen Hill Rapist,” Timothy J. Buzbee rained terror on Montgomery three decades ago, attacking women as young as 15 in what police said was a string of at least 11 rapes. He broke into homes. He lurked along shadowy sidewalks. He posed as a jogger while looking for victims. Buzbee was captured in 1982, was later convicted and has been behind bars ever since.
On Thursday, Buzbee was back in court to be punished for three more rapes in Montgomery, dating to 1977. DNA linked Buzbee to the long-unsolved crimes in 2009, and prosecutors went after him, knowing there was a chance he could someday be released on parole. Hoping to secure additional prison time, they asked four victims — ages 50 to 58 — to come to court to tell the judge how the attacks changed their lives.
The women met for the first time Thursday morning, about an hour before the hearing was to start in Montgomery Circuit Court.
Three came from the Washington region — the Olney woman, a 58-year-old tax lawyer who lives in the District and a 56-year-old from Rockville. They gathered in a conference room, they would recall, as a prosecutor led them through the proceeding ahead. Buzbee had pleaded guilty days earlier to three of the rapes.
Then the fourth woman arrived, dropped off by a detective who had picked her up at her hotel lobby. “You’re the one from California,” one of the trio said warmly as the 52-year-old physical therapist walked in.
By 11 a.m., the four had made their way up to the courtroom. Joined by two friends, the six sat together, close enough to touch a shoulder, whisper words of encouragement.
Buzbee, wearing blue jeans and a denim shirt, came in. He showed no emotion, sat down at a table and folded his hands.
His attorney, Brian Shefferman, said Buzbee has been an exceptional inmate while earning college degrees behind bars and working in a prison print shop. Shefferman urged Judge Nelson Rupp to allow the parole board to one day do its job and consider whether to release Buzbee.
Then the victims rose to speak.
“I want to unequivocally state that what the defendant did to me and women in Montgomery County — in his teens and continued until he was caught in this 20s — was indescribably evil,” the tax lawyer said.
About 7:35 p.m. on April 14, 1977, the woman, who was then 23, was walking home when Buzbee jogged by, turned around and attacked from behind. He covered her mouth, pushed her beside a house, took off his shirt and wrapped it around her head. He threatened her with a knife, raped her, stole $20 and fled. The woman ran to a nearby house and at the time thought she was calm.
“I didn’t realize I had been banging on the door and that when she answered, I was disheveled, crying and covered in grass and dirt,” the tax lawyer said.
As the years went by, she said, she kept the attack secret from colleagues, even family members.
“For years after the rape, it would paralyze me and make me hyperventilate and feel faint if a stranger in the street came up behind me too close,” she said.
The physical therapist spoke next, touching her new friend on the shoulder as she walked past. She looked directly at the rapist, recalling the attack 34 years ago, shortly after ending her summer job shift. “Mr. Buzbee, I’m the 18-year-old lifeguard that you raped. I probably smelled like chlorine,” she said.
During the attack, he took off her glasses, and her vision was so bad that she couldn’t see more than a foot in front of her. She knew he had a gun but couldn’t tell what he was doing with it. For 15 years, she said, she was terrified of the dark. “Thankfully,” she told the judge, “that extreme fear has subsided to a rational level of concern and care.”
The victim from Rockville gave the briefest remarks but was powerful nonetheless. She’d been walking home from a dance class in Wheaton when Buzbee attacked. She, too, became afraid of the dark and was easily startled when someone approached from behind. “I had to accept that a horrible crime was committed against me,” she said, “and live one day at at time.”
Prosecutor John Maloney told Rupp that the fear Buzbee caused was similar to that of the Capital Beltway snipers years later.
“This guy terrorized the community in the 1980s. And we find out [from the DNA] he had been doing it for much longer,” Maloney said. “None of us want to take the risk of him getting out and doing anything. I honestly believe he is the most prolific rapist in Montgomery County history and probably the state of Maryland.”
Buzbee stood in court and said he is sorry and thinks every day of the pain he’s caused.
“There’s nothing that can justify my actions,” he said. “There’s nothing I can say to these victims that’s going to make them feel better. I just hope that through the years and through the grace of God they’ve gotten through the pain somehow. I don’t suspect they will.”
Rupp was clearly moved by the women’s statements. “The impact on these victims, and their families, and the community, can’t be measured,” the judge said.
He imposed the maximum sentence he could under an earlier plea agreement: Two consecutive life terms plus a third concurrent life sentence. Under Maryland rules, the sentence will push Buzbee’s parole eligibility date out at least another 23 years, according to state officials.
“Just so it’s clear, Mr. Buzbee,” Rupp told him, “my intent in imposing this sentence here today is that you never, ever be free again.”
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.