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On the trail of a serial rapist

By TERRY SUTTON , Special to The New Britain Herald

He crept into young women's apartments while they slept and would wake them, brandishing a handgun. He disabled the phones, blindfolded his victims and raped them. He left, compounding his assault by stealing from the women as he went.

Nearly 25 years later, his identity is still a mystery. As far as police know, he is still on the loose.

"This serial rapist is a dangerous felony predator of women," said James Rovella, the supervisory inspector in charge of the Cold Case Unit for the Chief State Attorney's Office.

But the curious nature of the cold case - those in which the trail has gone cold - suggests another possibility: With decades having past since the crimes, the man police seek may already be dead.

The sexual assaults were committed in central Connecticut in the cool summer nights of 1984. Frustrated police in Rocky Hill, Middletown, Windsor and Bloomfield, in conjunction with State Police, formed a special task force to investigate the attacks.

Although victims gave slightly different descriptions of the rapist, police knew the assaults were linked because there were many details in common: the victims were between 24 and 30 years old; the attacks took place in condominiums or apartments - and it was unusual they were attacked in their own homes; the attacker gained access through sliding doors and conducted the rapes in the same way, although in one attack, the phone wasn't disabled.

The first incident took place June 3. The victim was a 25-year-old woman in the Sutton Apartment complex in Bloomfield. The attacker threatened the victim by telling her he had just shot a person at a convenience store, then raped her.

Before leaving, he drank a beer from her apartment.

On June 26, a second victim was attacked, a 30-year-old woman living in the Trolley Crossing condominiums in Middletown. In this case, the assailant told the victim he had previously shot someone for not cooperating with his demands.

On July 21, a 24-year-old woman was sexually assaulted in her home at the Rivers Bend Apartments in Windsor. Police said the assailant tampered with the woman's clocks and ran water from the faucets to mask his exit.

The last attack, on July 24, took a potentially more dangerous turn. The victim, a 24-year-old woman living at the Westledge Apartments in Rocky Hill, had been sleeping in bed with her 2-year-old daughter. She awoke at 1:15 a.m., shocked to find a strange man over her, saying he'd killed someone and had to hide.

The man told her to take the sleeping child to another room. He then raped her for three hours.

Before leaving, he coldly made himself something to eat. He again left the water faucets on before he left the apartment, trying to confuse the victim as to his whereabouts, police said.

And there the case languished, with police having only the vaguest description of the rapist - that he was a "soft-spoken" black man - to go on. To this day, the state's "cold case" Web site has no sketch of a suspect.

But an arrest warrant was finally issued in August 2004, two decades after the sexual assaults, when DNA testing found a definite link between the four attacks.

Based on the DNA profile, state's attorneys charged the unknown rapist with four counts of kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm. No charges of sexual assault were filed because the statutes of limitations had expired.

"In Connecticut, only kidnapping and homicide have no statute of limitation," Rovella explained. "In 1984, the statute of limitation for sexual assault was only five years. That has since changed."

Rovella affirms that the case remains active.

"Every month the DNA from these sexual assaults are routinely searched against new entries inputted into the Connecticut database and CODIS, the National DNA Index. This automated search, along with traditional police work, is the best way to find the attacker," he said.

It is possible the rapist is dead, Rovella admitted, or was convicted of a serious crime and is in prison where he has not given a sample of his DNA.

Police are driven to determine the answer.

Two detectives are assigned to Rovella's unit from Windsor and Bloomfield to work on the case, and "the police chiefs of each of these towns have made a commitment to the resolution of these cases," Rovella said.

There are other important characteristics of the attacks, Rovella said, citing that each took place along the Interstate 91 corridor. The attacker most likely had knowledge of the victims, either through surveillance or prior visits to the complexes where they lived. He may also have known other people in those areas for personal or business reasons.

"It is likely that before he did these crimes, he had a background in burglary and a history of violence against women," Rovella said.

Rovella hoped someone will come forward with information that can lead them to a suspect.

The state is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the rapist's arrest and conviction. People with information about the cases are asked to call a tip line at (860) 548-0606 or at (866) 623-8058.