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Serial rapist suspected in Prince William Halloween assaults

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009; A01

A masked man who raped two Prince William County teenagers as they returned home from trick-or-treating Halloween night has been linked to a string of sexual assaults along the East Coast that span more than a decade.

The serial rapist had been idle for nearly three years and hadn't struck in the Washington region since 2001, investigators said, ramping up concern that there would be more attacks.

Police said the suspect's DNA has been found at 13 crime scenes in four states. In addition to the Halloween assaults, he has attacked four women in Fairfax County, one in Leesburg and seven in Prince George's County, officers said. Some of the crimes had more than one victim.

He also raped a woman in Connecticut and was spotted peeping through a sliding glass door in Rhode Island.

Police officials in Prince William, Fairfax, Leesburg and Prince George's pleaded Wednesday for the public's help in identifying the man. Although officials have known his genetic fingerprint for at least seven years, efforts to attach a name have hit dead ends.

Now authorities think he is back in the Washington area. The attacks in the region started in February 1997. Armed with a gun, the man raped a 25-year-old woman walking along Marlboro Pike in Forestville.

"This violent offender is now back," said Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer. "We are asking the public to think and look at people they know, whether it is a loved one, a friend, a family member."

The descriptions that victims have provided of their attacker are vague: black male, medium build, in his 30s or 40s. The man was often masked or wore a hoodie, and many of the assaults occurred in the dark. Officers have not released a sketch of the suspect because they haven't been able to produce one they think is reliable.

The victims range in age from 14 to 41 and are of different races. The rapist has used a gun, a knife and a screwdriver to overpower his victims. He has broken into homes and approached women on the street. In some cases, he has seemed innocent at first, striking up a conversation before pulling out a weapon.

The man might not appear sinister or even suspicious, police said. "People who may know the offender may not think he could do such a crime, that he may not be capable," said Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Deane.

Police officials said the rapist's travels could provide the best hope of finding him. They said they think the man lived in or is familiar with the areas where he has trolled for victims. They think he might have grown up in Prince George's, where the rapes started in 1997, because the attacker rode a bicycle and might have been close to his home.

There have been two gaps in the attacks, during which police speculate that the man might have been in jail or traveling. On Dec. 28, 2001, the man, armed with a knife, raped a 29-year-old woman who was waiting for a bus in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. The next time he showed up was five years later, peering through a sliding glass door at a woman and two 11-year-olds in Cranston, R.I.

"The break in this case is going to be that period from 2001 to 2006," said Kevin Davis, a Prince George's deputy police chief. Someone "is going to know her neighbor was in the military those years or was locked up those years."

In the months after the Forestville attack in 1997, similar attacks occurred in Suitland, Temple Hills and southern Fairfax.

In May 2001, the man struck in Leesburg. That was the first time he broke into a home. He entered an apartment and used a screwdriver to threaten a 41-year-old woman, and then he raped her. There were two more attacks that year, in Fairfax and Temple Hills, before the crimes appeared to stop for several years.

Victims in several of the first attacks described the man as muscular, but police said his physique might have changed. Sometimes he has been clean shaven, but some of the Fairfax victims said their attacker had a beard.

Genetic evidence ties the man to a 2007 rape in New Haven, Conn., but police there have said they think he might have committed other assaults.

Police have run the suspect's DNA through national and local databases, hoping to match it with a name. But it has never yielded a hit. Nearly all states collect samples from convicted felons. If the man was in prison, authorities said, it is possible that his sample was not processed because of a backlog or that he was arrested in one of the few states that did not collect a sample.

He could also have attacked other women. "I don't think any of us have any question there are other cases we haven't linked by DNA," Deane said.

New Haven police have said that some victims said the man talked with an accent, which one described as similar to a West Indies dialect. Washington area police would not say whether any victims described an accent.

Officers have issued appeals for tips in finding the man, but the few leads they have received have not panned out. Cold case detectives took over. Then, on Halloween night, the rapist resurfaced. Three teenage Dale City girls walking home about 9 p.m. were approached by a man with a gun.

The man, wearing a ski mask, forced them into the woods and made them lie on the ground. He raped a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old in the group. He fled on foot.

Police ask that anyone with information on the case call Crime Solvers at 866-411-TIPS (8477).

Staff writers Tom Jackman and Josh White and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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