Investigators have linked forensic evidence from a 1996 sexual assault to nine similar crimes — including the killing of a 28-year-old intern — believed to be committed against women by the same suspect, a man they have dubbed the Potomac River Rapist.
The link, discovered after DNA from a 1996 case in the 4900 block of MacArthur Blvd. NW in the District was recently retested, was reported at a Thursday news conference held by D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and investigators and agents from Montgomery County police and the FBI.
The attack on July 20, 1996, was the second of a string that runs from May 1991 to August 1998 to have taken place in the District; the rest happened in Montgomery County. Officials hope this link will help generate new witnesses or other avenues for their investigation as they search for the suspect — if he is still alive.
“There’s some connection he had to this area. It could be a neighbor, it could be a family member. Any little bit of information might be the piece that identifies this guy,” said Det. Todd Williams, the Metropolitan Police Department’s lead investigator on the case.
In the 1996 case, the victim was walking alone on the south sidewalk of MacArthur Boulevard, along a stretch of homes and woods in the Palisades neighborhood, at about 8:30 p.m. She was attacked without warning, dragged into the woods and sexually assaulted, officials said.
The attack shared similarities with the only homicide connected to the suspect, in which Christine Mirzayan was assaulted in the 3600 block of Canal Road NW in Georgetown in August 1998.
Mirzayan also was walking alone before she was pulled from a city sidewalk, struck in the head with a rock multiple times and then left just yards from Canal Road. The attacks took place less than two miles apart.
“Now we have two that are linked in this very small area,” said Lanier. “We are again asking for the public’s help.”
John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted,” joined officials at the news conference and said his television show would highlight the Potomac River Rapist on its June 29 broadcast in an attempt to expand the search nationwide.
“This is a dangerous sexual predator. This is a hunter of women. Somebody knows something about this guy,” Walsh said.
During the attacks in Maryland, the suspect employed a “blitz” attack, throwing a blanket or towel over his victims before attacking them inside homes.
Police released a second composite sketch from the 1996 case, as well as one from the Mirzayan case that a witness helped produce. Investigators said the suspect in both cases was described as a black or black Hispanic man between 5-foot-8 and 6 feet tall with a muscular upper body.
He was described as being in his late 20s or early 30s at the time of those offenses, and as being dressed in a polo-type shirt and khaki pants. Other victims also told police their attacker was neatly attired.