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Web, Billboards Spark Leads On ‘East Coast Rapist’

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rapist billboard, Aaron Thomas

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) –A campaign to catch a man known as the East Coast Rapist by using electronic billboards and a website is generating leads, an investigator said Wednesday.

The man is believed responsible for rapes and other attacks on 17 women since 1997. Billboards featuring sketches of the suspect are running where attacks occurred in Virginia, Connecticut, Maryland and Rhode Island and in neighboring states.

Police set up a website about the case at http://www.eastcoastrapist.com.

Detective John Kelly in Fairfax County, Va., says investigators are pursuing “some very interesting leads.” He says the website generated 44,000 hits in 12 hours after it was launched last week.

Kelly says an arrest is not imminent. He called the case unusual because it involves many high-risk outdoor attacks over many years and jurisdictions without being caught.

“It’s not often that you see this type of violence committed over these many years,” Kelly said.

Kelly said investigators decided to put up the billboards to draw renewed attention to the case and protect the public.

“We felt that our best lead may come from the public because somebody may know him linked to all these areas,” Kelly said. “There’s no boundaries with people like this and there’s no jurisdiction or person that is safe. In a way we are working against the clock.”

The man has worn a mask or hooded sweat shirt to conceal his face in some attacks, according to investigators. He typically approaches women outdoors on foot and threatens them with a knife or handgun.

The cases have been linked by DNA. Investigators say they have cleared over 700 suspects.

The first attack occurred in 1997 and the last known attack occurred on Halloween night in 2009 when he raped two teenagers on their way home from trick-or-treating in Woodbridge, Va.

The FBI began the national digital billboard campaign to solve crimes in 2007. Since then, authorities say at least 39 cases have been solved as a result of tips from the public.

Those cases include a suspected serial bank robber identified within 24 hours after billboards went up in several southern states, as well as a man dubbed the “granddad bandit” arrested a week after authorities received a tip from someone who saw the billboard.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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