“The Potomac River Rapist,” they’ve dubbed him, because most of the attacks took place in lower Montgomery in homes not far from the river. The last known assault — the only fatal one — also happened near the river, in Georgetown on a summer night in 1998. Investigators said they have no clue what became of the rapist after that.
“Just horrible, despicable acts against so many victims and their families,” said Montgomery Assistant Police Chief Russell E. Hamill. “It’s time to bring this matter to closure. We need the public’s assistance. . . . Somebody knows something out there. . . . Please, search your hearts, search your memories.”
And visit a new Web site, fbi.gov/potomacriverrapist.
Inspired by a digital public-information blitz that led to an arrest in the notorious “East Coast rapist” case in March, Hamill and other officials gathered Thursday to announce a similar campaign. It is probably a harbinger of more such efforts as police agencies increasingly use new media to hunt elusive suspects.
The Web site, launched at 9 a.m. Thursday, includes newscastlike video accounts of the nine cases, a photo gallery, a podcast about the rapes, a timeline of the assaults with a map of where they occurred, reward information, phone numbers to call with tips and a sketch of a man being sought for questioning.
The sketch and reward offer also began appearing Thursday on digital billboards along highways, in bus shelters and elsewhere in the District and 15 Eastern states.
In the East Coast rapist investigation, police arrested 39-year-old Aaron H. Thomas within days of initiating a digital media effort. Authorities said the key tip came from someone who saw news coverage of the campaign, which sought an attacker suspected in 14 sexual assaults in Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut and Rhode Island from 1997 to 2009.
“This is something we’ve tried, and has worked, four or five times across the country in the past year,” said Lindsay Godwin, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Washington field office. She said the effort to identify the Potomac River rapist also will employ iTunes podcasts as well as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
“We want to be able to use everything that the public has at their fingertips,” Godwin said. “So if they’re bringing it up on their iPads, their BlackBerrys, their iPhones, and they can easily get not only images but video and podcasts — anything the public uses on a daily basis — we want to be in front of them.”
The Montgomery attacks attributed to the Potomac River rapist began May 6, 1991, and continued until Nov. 14, 1997. The victims ranged from an 18-year-old babysitter in Germantown to a 41-year-old woman living in downtown Bethesda. Other assaults took place in Gaithersburg, North Potomac, Rockville and Silver Spring.