DNA links Philadelphia serial rapist to Colo. attacks

Last Pa. case was in '99

new series began in May

September 19, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - DNA tests have linked Philadelphia's Center City rapist to sexual assaults on seven young women since May in this college town in the foothills of the Rockies, police say.

The link to the unsolved crimes in Colorado was the first time police have tied the Center City rapist to new crimes since August 1999.

That 1999 rape ended a two-year, six-victim run of crime in Philadelphia that included the strangulation death of University of Pennsylvania graduate student Shannon Schieber, 23, in 1998.

This year, more than 1,750 miles from Philadelphia, a police task force in Fort Collins began hunting for a serial sexual attacker whose pattern of assault is similar to that of the Center City predator.

Police said that the DNA match was made recently after experts in Denver compared DNA data recovered from crime scenes in Colorado and Philadelphia.

Authorities involved in the investigation in Colorado said the DNA results had been verified after the initial match.

On Saturday, detectives from Philadelphia arrived in Colorado to begin working with Fort Collins police.

Investigators in Fort Collins released a sketch of the attacker and a detailed breakdown of similarities between the assaults in both cities.

Victims in Fort Collins and Center City have given similar descriptions of the attacker. He is said to be cleanshaven, possibly of mixed race, with a dark or olive complexion and in his late 20s or early 30s.

The intruder in both cities gained entrance by removing screens to get through windows, sliding doors and unlocked doors in lower-floor apartments.

The assaults in both cities took place after midnight but before dawn, typically between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. The intruder surprised his victims as they slept and then immediately blindfolded and bound them.

Sylvester Schieber, the father of Shannon Schieber, said Monday that he was not surprised the man had struck again.

"Everybody we've talked to, in the FBI, in the police force, told [us] that once these guys get going, they don't stop," said Schieber, an economist who lives in Chevy Chase. "We have heard that they go dormant for a while, but invariably, they come back."

Schieber and his wife, Vicki, have filed suit in federal court against the Philadelphia Police Department. Their lawsuit notes that two city police officers responded to a 911 call reporting a woman screaming but left her apartment after arriving and hearing no sounds at her door. Her killer entered through a rear sliding door.

Philadelphia police officials have said that the officers who responded to the call to Shannon Schieber's apartment acted properly, based on what they knew at the time.

The man in Fort Collins has assaulted seven women, including two inside one apartment.

Of the six attacks, the last known in Fort Collins - a city of 125,000 about 55 miles north of Denver - took place Aug. 23, when an assailant attacked two students, 21 and 22, from Front Range Community College. He got into their ground-floor apartment through an unlocked window at 3 a.m.

His first known attack in Fort Collins was May 10, when a 20-year-old woman was assaulted in her apartment. The next occurred June 13 when a woman, also 20, was attacked one block way.

After the third attack 11 days later - an assault on a 26-year-old woman - police alerted the community that a suspected serial sexual criminal was on the loose.

The man attacked once in late July, assaulting a 23-year-old woman, and then struck again twice last month. He attacked a 20-year-old woman Aug. 5 and the two roommates Aug. 23.

He fled the Aug. 23 assault in a faded, light blue, 1980s four-door sedan. Left at the crime scene was his black baseball cap, with a Quiksilver brand logo.

As in Philadelphia, the attacks have stirred considerable fear among young women, prompting a run on locks and pepper spray. The 11-officer Fort Collins task force reports that it has interviewed nearly 200 men and taken DNA samples from scores to rule them out as the attacker. Investigators also have collected fingerprints and shoe prints from crime scenes.

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