Every day cars trundle up and down the Ramsey Street corridor in Fayetteville, N.C. At first glance, the stretch of road, lined with a number of restaurants, gas stations, family businesses and residential areas, looks like any other American street. There’s even a church with a pristine white steeple across the street from a quaint animal hospital.
For six women, though, the roadway and its surrounding area represents something far more disheartening and tragic. It was here that they were each raped by the same man in separate incidents between March 2006 and January 2008.
Dubbed the “Ramsey Street Rapist,” the man’s identity proved elusive. DNA was recovered, but the samples didn’t match anything in the system. Descriptions of him didn’t help much either. Victims said they were attacked by a white male with short, dark-colored hair, anywhere from 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet 3 inches tall with a thin to average build, the Fayetteville Observer reported. The women recalled he had a Southern accent, which wasn’t unique for North Carolina.
As the attacks kept happening and investigations failed to turn up solid leads, residents found themselves living in a state of constant fear that either themselves, their mothers, daughters, nieces or female friends would be the serial rapist’s next victim.
“He ruined a lot of things for me,” one of the victims told the Fayetteville Police Department in December 2016. “I know he messed a lot of people’s lives up. . . . I want to see him get what he deserves.”
Then, in 2008, the rapes suddenly stopped, but it wasn’t because an arrest had been made. The “Ramsey Street Rapist” had seemingly vanished and soon the trail ran cold, leaving many wondering if he would ever be brought to justice.
But on Wednesday the Fayetteville Police Department announced it had arrested and charged a suspect named Darold Wayne Bowden, a 43-year-old local man who is believed to be the “Ramsey Street Rapist,” a breakthrough more than a decade in the making. The new development in the case was made possible by genetic genealogy, a technology that has helped revive countless cold cases, most notably playing a major role in the arrest of California’s notorious Golden State Killer.
“We put a lot of time in these cases,” Lt. John Somerindyke, head of the police department’s cold case unit dedicated to rape and sexual assault cases, told reporters, his voice shaking. He said Bowden lived about five miles away from the Ramsey Street corridor. “For three years, I’ve poured my heart and soul in these and a lot of our other cases, too,” he added. “I’m just glad we got the guy finally.”
It all started about 12 years ago, when a woman reported she had been raped at an apartment complex near the Ramsey Street corridor in March 2006. Several months later, another woman jogging near the Walmart just a few miles down the road was also sexually assaulted. In 2007, there would be three more attacks, and in one of the incidents the rapist returned to the apartment complex of the March 2006 incident. The final assault was reported in January 2008.
Then, nothing. Leads dried up and no new victims came forward. Fayetteville police were stumped.
It would remain that way until only recently when authorities got their first big break in the case. In 2016, a sample of the suspect’s DNA was sent to Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based company that has been involved in several recent high-profile cold cases, according to WTVD. Using the DNA, four composites were created to show what the suspect could look like and gave police renewed hope that updated images would help them identify the man who had eluded them for years.
But when the composites failed to lead to an arrest, police decided to take it a step further and try genetic genealogy, again utilizing services provided by Parabon NanoLabs, Somerindyke said Wednesday. This time, the results were more fruitful.
Somerindyke explained that the lab compared the DNA sample to open source records and public family trees available online to “triangulate and figure out a strong person of interest.”
“They did their magic with it,” he said with a wide smile. “We were able to obtain his DNA, get it off to the state crime lab, and we got a match yesterday. We got the guy.”
Bowden is being held at the Cumberland County Detention Center on an $18.8 million bond, Somerindyke said. He is expected to make his first court appearance Thursday.
Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said prosecutors plan to hold Bowden accountable for “his actions that really startled and rattled our community years ago.”
“This individual has been in our community walking around our streets for the last 10 years probably smirking thinking he got away with this,” West said. “Well he didn’t.”
Kathy Jensen, a member of the Fayetteville City Council who represents the area where the rapes happened, told the Fayetteville Observer she remembered “all of us taking precautions because of the rapes back then.”
“Thank God,” she said, referring to Bowden’s arrest.
This is not the first time Bowden has tangled with the law, said Somerindyke, who described him as a “career petty criminal.” Despite his numerous arrests, Bowden never had to submit DNA because his convictions came before laws mandated DNA collection, Somerindyke said, explaining why none of the samples from the rapes turned up a match.
“He has barely skirted the system probably going back 25 years,” he said. “He has been on the edge of getting DNA collection for years, but it just didn’t happen.”
Now, Somerindyke said he is focused on contacting victims to tell them the news. As of Wednesday’s news conference, he said he had reached four of the six women.
“Ecstatic is probably the most severe understatement of the century describing their emotion,” he said. “They’re all very pleased, finally getting them some closure.”
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