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After 13 years, police still hunting for the East Coast Rapist

"He's taking advantage of people who are unguarded," said Fairfax Detective John Kelly. "He's doing it under the cover of darkness. He acts like a trapper would."

His methods remain unpredictable. He has attacked using a gun, a knife, a screwdriver and a broken bottle. He has approached his victims using banal conversation or an abrupt demand. He compliments them and threatens to kill them. But beyond the violence of the rapes, he has not carried out any of those threats.

The rapist's DNA has not turned up in any database of convicted criminals, and police think he knows it because he seldom uses a condom. He is skilled at hiding his face by operating in the dark, wearing a mask or covering his victims' faces.

Besides his deep voice, which several of the women say they would recognize, descriptions of him remain fairly vague: black man with medium complexion, medium build.

Police have been looking at known sex offenders, people who have lived near the rape sites and people who have served prison time during gaps between the assaults. That has allowed them to rule out more than 100 possible suspects, but they haven't been able to home in on anyone specific. They are using a high-tech data analysis program to scour leads and identify people with connections to the areas of the attacks.

But rapes by a stranger are among the most difficult to solve. This predator picks women and girls with whom he has no apparent association. Most are black, but some are white. The descriptions the women have provided are generic at best. Other than DNA, he leaves little evidence.

Although they are open to any possibility, detectives are exploring whether the man could be a long-haul trucker, a utility installer or a member of the military.

Whatever he is, he's back. His rapes on Halloween carry several of his trademarks.

The three teenagers were laughing, chatting and sending text messages in the chilly night rain, their bags of candy swaying as they walked through a dimly lit Dale City shopping center. They were just a few blocks from home.

Slinking out of the darkness, a stranger wearing a black ski mask was suddenly behind them. One of the girls felt a gun in her back. The man led them into a steep wooded ravine as they held one another's hands. A deep voice through clenched teeth told them to lie down side by side and to face away from him.

"I thought he was going to kill us," one of the girls recalled.

As her two friends were raped in the leaves beside her, the 16-year-old dimmed her cellphone's backlight. Operating blindly, she pleaded with her parents and friends for help, texting her rough location. She called her mother and then 911, breathlessly asking police to "please help me, please help me, please help me" before the call was dropped.

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