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The San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday, August 23, 1997 Page A1 1997 San Francisco Chronicle

Tips, Slipups Help Nab Rapists
Experts say luck has a lot to do with capturing attackers

Kevin Fagan, Henry K. Lee, Chronicle East Bay Bureau

The ``Ski Mask'' rapist of San Jose was caught after the victim of an earlier burglary remembered his mask. The ``Peninsula Rapist'' suspect slipped up when he kept driving the same van during his alleged attacks. Pittsburgh's ``Creeper'' rapist stayed too long in his last victim's room.

A lucky tip, or a sloppy mistake by the rapist -- that's how most serial sex attackers are caught. And that's probably what will bring down the East Bay rapist or rapists responsible for 12 attacks since July 16, experts said yesterday.

Hollywood movies might make criminal manhunts look easy, with everything wrapped up in two hours by computers and supersleuths, but in real life, serial rapes are maddeningly hard to solve. Fewer than half ever are, and luck has a lot to do with it, said Robert Hazelwood, a former FBI special agent who studies serial rapes.

The average serial rapist is highly intelligent, can come from any walk of life and tends to blend seamlessly into his community, Hazelwood said. He likes the publicity he gets, but is careful about keeping his mouth shut and his trail covered.

Even the cases that are solved often go a long time before they are cracked.

``Ski Mask'' rapist George Sanchez, now in state prison, went unapprehended from 1984 to 1987 while he raped 26 women. Romel Reid, the accused ``Peninsula Rapist,'' allegedly attacked nine women over five months in 1995 and 1996. He is awaiting trial. Melvin Carter confessed to terrorizing more than 100 women over nine years in the 1970s in the College Terrace rapes in Palo Alto, Berkeley and other cities. He was paroled to public outrage in 1994. And convicted Pittsburgh ``Creeper'' Albert Britton raped six women in a year before police got him as he fled the bedroom of a 15-year-old girl in 1991.

Berkeley's notorious ``Stinky'' rapist of the 1970s, so named because of his bad smell, was never caught.

``These cases are extremely difficult to solve,'' Hazelwood said from his office in Virginia, where he is part of the Academy Group of criminology consultants. ``The rapist could be anybody: the owner of a business, a member of a church or an ex-convict.''

San Jose police Sergeant Bob Nallett, who helped snap the string of ``Berryessa'' rapes along the Milpitas border in 1995, said, ``Basically, what you need is a lucky break; either a great tip or a screwup by the bad guy.''

So far, the East Bay rapist or rapists have given investigators no breaks.

In the dozen attacks reported from Hayward to Berkeley, the attacker has usually worn a mask, robbed the victim, stripped her and then beaten and sexually assaulted her. But other than the similarity of attack methods, there isn't much for police to go on.

More than 200 tips have been phoned in to police this month, including several calls yesterday from residents in the Oakland hills who found a black ski mask. The mask -- the fourth one found in recent weeks in Oakland and brought to police attention -- was on the ground near the corner of Grass Valley and Golf Links roads. It had eye, nose and mouth holes cut by hand, was wet and covered with debris.

``We really don't have any conclusions on what it is,'' Oakland police Captain Pete Dunbar said. ``We don't know who put it there or why it was there.''

Police were also questioning costume shop employees throughout the area to see if anyone had recently bought monkey or elephant masks like those worn in two of the attacks along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and Oakland.

``That's a pretty slim lead, seems to me,'' said Nickie Chaney, a designer at Stagecraft Studios in Berkeley, which lent police the ``Planet of the Apes''-style monkey mask they displayed as a model of the one they are seeking. ``The guy who wore such a mask could have gotten it from a garage sale, a shop anywhere, or had it as a kid decades ago.''

Police released a sketch of a suspect based on one victim's account, but it provided few details. The suspect in some of the attacks has been described as African American, about 24 years old, 6- foot-2 and wearing a dark shirt and dark pants.

``The best weapon you can have in these cases is some way of getting police departments to communicate with each other and to link similarities of any clues,'' said Brent Turvey, a Connecticut-based police consultant specializing in serial rapes and murders. ``And the sooner the better, especially in a case like this California rapist, because he seems to be the angry type who may want to kill soon instead of just rape.''

Cooperation is indeed the main tactic for now in the East Bay hunt. A task force was formed Thursday with investigators from police departments throughout the county, those in Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward, the University of California and BART. Officers from the state Department of Justice have also joined the effort, which was expanded from a sex crimes task force already begun earlier this summer, before the rapes began.

``The number, the frequency, the unpredictability of these attacks have really brought up the fear factor,'' said Dunbar, head of the task force. ``And we want to do everything we can as a county to bring this to an end.''

Berkeley officials announced a $5,000 reward last night for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for the Wednesday attack on Telegraph Avenue. ``We need to send a message that we're not afraid,'' City Councilwoman Polly Armstrong said. ``No sleazy urban predator is going to make us change our lifestyles.''


The Chronicle Publishing Company


The following is not a part of the original article as published in the above paper, and is in no way endorsed by them. It is an effort to make corrections as this interviewee deems appropriate.

Brent Turvey's Note:

This article somewhat accurately conveys what I said during the interview. The same correction applies again, as I stated that the offender in this case appears to be consistent with an Anger- Retaliatory rapist, not and Angry/Retaliatory rapist.

One major correction that needs to be made here is that I am quoted as saying: "He seems to be the angry type who may want to kill soon instead of just rape.'' This is not what I said, or even what I meant. What I said was that he may soon kill. In this case, it would not necessarily be on purpose, but as a result of the high amount of victim damage he is inflicting. Anytime an offender consistently inflicts high amounts of damage on the victim, even when they don't intend to kill, the possibility exists that one of the victims may die.

I do not, repeat, do not believe that this particular offender's goal or desire is to kill. He has the ability to kill, and he deliberately refrains from inflicting those types of lethal injuries on the victim. When he inflicts damage on these victims, he is doing so to vent rage or displaced anger, and the wounds reflect it.

 


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