DNA links suspect to rapes

Police say man jailed in New York is the `Silver Spring rapist'

April 27, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

A man suspected of being the "Silver Spring rapist" who terrorized Montgomery County women in a series of attacks from 1987 to 1991 - among assaults on at least 25 women in three states - has been found through DNA evidence, authorities said yesterday.

The serial rapist, whose crimes included rapes in Silver Spring, Kensington, Chevy Chase and Bethesda, was singled out by detectives at the time for his bizarre apologies to victims after sexually assaulting them in their bedrooms.

New York prosecutors announced breakthroughs in those unsolved cases after authorities matched 58-year-old Clarence Williams, already jailed in New York, through a national DNA database to sexual assaults in Maryland and New Jersey.

Williams was arrested last year near Atlanta after he tried to buy a shotgun and a routine background check turned up outstanding warrants for him in two New York rape cases, prosecutors said. He is awaiting trial in those two cases.

For more than a decade, the Silver Spring rapist had frustrated Montgomery County police. Investigators suspected he was responsible for as many as 21 sexual assaults in the area. Police at the time described him as in his 30s or 40s, with a slight potbelly and strong body odor.

The man, often wearing a ski mask, had a distinctive routine - entering his victims' homes after midnight through an unlocked door or window, police said. The victims, who ranged in age from 23 to 61, were women usually home alone.

The man often brandished a knife or talked of having one, but did not beat the women, detectives said at the time. He did, however, apologize.

"I don't want to give you a direct quote, but he generally apologizes after each act," Montgomery police Detective John McCloskey told The Sun in 1987, while he was heading the investigation.

This month, authorities matched Williams to DNA found in nine cases of sexual assault in Maryland and two in New Jersey.

Police in New York said yesterday that Williams had addresses in Silver Spring and Washington, D.C., during the string of unsolved rapes. Montgomery detectives also linked him by method and description to three other rapes and four attempts.

Montgomery police have contacted victims in five of the nine cases where DNA matched.

The victims were surprised, said Officer Derek Baliles, a Montgomery County police spokesman. Several told police they would testify.

"These kinds of cases are so gratifying, because people can know after all these years that we've got him," Baliles said.

Before coming to Maryland, Williams had lived in New York, where he had been charged with rape, sexual abuse, robbery, criminal possession of a weapon and several lesser crimes.

A 1974 Manhattan trial ended with a hung jury, and a conviction for a separate rape in Queens was reversed in 1976, said Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau.

While free on bail pending retrial on both cases, Williams fled in 1978 and warrants were issued for his arrest. However, he eluded authorities until his arrest last year in DeKalb County, Ga.

The breakthrough came when cold-case prosecutors submitted the 32-year-old underwear of the rape victim in the Manhattan case for testing though a federal DNA database.

"This case shows the importance of the federal database," Morgenthau said. "It will send a chill through defendants to know that you can still test for DNA after 32 years."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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