Memories Of Rapes Resurface

By David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 8, 2005; C1

The glaring man stood at the bus stop, 92 paces from the young woman's front door. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked home that October day, and something about his aura -- "repellent," she would call it later -- inspired fear. So instead of walking into her snug two-bedroom Chevy Chase home, she got in her car and started the engine.

The glaring man watched as she drove away.

"I somehow thought that would trick him into thinking I didn't live there," the woman, who now lives in Bethesda, said in a recent interview, describing the weeks leading up to her November 1987 rape.

To this day, she doesn't know if the stranger at the bus stop was the man who raped her, staking out the neighborhood. But she has always strongly suspected it.

What if she had just kept walking that day? Would he never have connected her to the house? Would she be free from the awful memories of the man in the ski mask who jimmied a window and held a knife to her throat as he raped her?

All are questions that never go away but also, she knows, can never be answered. For the victims of the so-called Silver Spring rapist, there are a lot of those. But one central mystery in the four-year string of rapes that terrorized the area may have been answered last week, when police arrested a suspect. Authorities said a 30-year-old sample of DNA connects a man known as Clarence Williams to rapes that spanned at least 20 years and three states.

Williams, also known as Fletcher Worrell, was charged in New York City late last month with two attacks, in 1973 and 1974.

Williams's DNA matched that from at least nine attacks attributed to the Silver Spring rapist between 1987 and 1991, along with two assaults in Morris County, N.J. Police said he is a suspect in as many as 21 assaults in Montgomery.

Williams's attorney, Michael F. Rubin, has said Williams is "maintaining his innocence."

The Bethesda woman, along with a woman who was raped in 1991 and now lives near Minneapolis, agreed to describe their attacks for The Washington Post, with the understanding that The Post generally does not identify the victims of sexual assault.

'Is It Him?'

The attack on the Bethesda woman, on Nov. 5, 1987, came at the end of a series of rapes that summer. Then a freelance writer and editor, she had seen reports of the others in the news and knew that some had happened frighteningly close to her home.

Maybe that's why the man glaring at her from the bus stop gave her such pause.

He was waiting for a bus that she knew would never come -- the J-1, which didn't run at that time of day.

"I thought about telling him, 'You know, you have to go down to East West Highway to get a bus,' " she said.

The look on his face stopped her.

"He was just staring at me as I went by," she said. "As I got to the driveway, I was so bothered by his presence that I got into my car and drove away."

That week, a 27-year-old woman was raped at knifepoint in her bedroom 11/2 miles from the Bethesda woman's home -- the sixth in a series of rapes that police attributed to the Silver Spring rapist.

Fear had metastasized across the area.

"It got enormous amounts of attention," said Montgomery Deputy State's Attorney John McCarthy, who was one of hundreds of law enforcement authorities who worked on the case. "It captured the imagination."

Three weeks later, the Bethesda woman went to bed at 2:48 a.m., according to notes she took after the attack. Thirty-three years old at the time, she lived alone. She used her second bedroom as an office.

She turned out the lights and got up a few minutes later to check the locks on her doors. They were all in place.

Leaves had been falling in earnest, and she recently had raked her yard -- something she would later regret, another choice she would question for years to come.

About 30 minutes later, she awoke to a man straddling her, stuffing a towel into her mouth. He had a knife and threatened to kill her.

He spoke constantly, she remembers. He apologized. He said he couldn't help himself.

"The more we talked, the more he kind of calmed down," she said. "The rape itself was over in no time and kind of -- it's a funny word for rape, but it was annoying. I was much more upset then, and now, that someone I had no connection with just walked into my house to kill me.

"Somehow the actual rape was nothing. It was that there was someone out there stalking me to kill me for no reason other than sex."

When the man left the bedroom, she listened in vain for his footfalls outside. There were no leaves to tell her he had walked away.

The agony of not knowing whether she would survive the attack was prolonged.

"I was cursing myself for raking leaves that day," she said. "I couldn't tell whether he was in the house or out of the house. I wanted to hear him leave. Every fall after that I got nervous about raking leaves."

The man wore a black ski mask and had a beard. His powerful smell -- a chemical, fruit-like aroma that police later said was probably a car air freshener the man had used as deodorant -- was still in the air, in the sheets, when the woman returned home the next day.

She resolved not to move from her neighborhood, not to be scared away by the attack.

She installed locks on the bedroom door and moved her bedroom into the room that had been the office. Her mind raced sometimes late at night when she heard someone walking outside her windows. She often left the lights on.

She didn't expect to ever know who did this to her life.

Then, on April 25, Phil Raum knocked on her door. He showed his badge.

Raum, who had taken the woman's original report 18 years earlier and now is the deputy head of the police department's major crimes unit, had barely gotten a few words out when she blurted: "Is it him?"

Yes, Raum said, it is.

'Are You Sure?'

Hours later and 1,200 miles away, an Edina, Minn., police officer went to the door of a three-story house and knocked. A woman holding a 9-month-old baby came to the door.

The officer said police had gotten a break in the "Silver Spring incident," and the woman, who was 24 when she was attacked in 1991, paused for a moment before she realized what he was saying.

"They have a suspect in custody," the officer said.

"I almost dropped my son, and I almost fainted," said the woman, now 38. "We had given up hope" that someone would be charged, she said. "I couldn't believe they [police] had even located me."

The Edina woman, who moved from the Washington area in 1999, had been attacked late at night while alone in her apartment on Memorial Day weekend. "The Arsenio Hall Show" had just ended, she remembered, and she saw someone walk into the room. He wore surgical scrubs, she said, and held a knife.

For 14 years, she saw his face in her mind almost every day.

When the Edina police officer brought her the news, she asked several times: "Are you sure?"

Yes, the officer said, we are.

As the officer left, the woman closed the door. She was crying.

Her 6-year-old daughter asked: "What's wrong? What's wrong?"

"I told her that a very bad man had been caught," the woman said. "And she was happy, and we were all happy."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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