ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — Police in the District of Columbia plan to start a website seeking tips and leads about a suspect whose DNA is linked to the 1998 killing of a young scientist in Georgetown and to a series of violent rapes in Montgomery County in the 1990s, investigators say.
They hope a website bearing the composite sketch of the man they believe is responsible for the crimes might encourage someone to come forward.
In turning to the Internet, police said they were at least partly inspired by a recent publicity campaign that netted an arrest in another string of crimes. Their campaign is similar to one that resulted in an arrest in March in the so-called “East Coast Rapist” case. That suspect has been linked by DNA to rapes and other attacks on 17 women from Virginia to Connecticut.
Authorities aren’t sure whether the suspect in the Georgetown and Montgomery County cases is committing crimes in another area, in prison or even still alive.
“We’ve had no activity that we know of since ’98. We’re just trying to drum up as much information from the public” as we can, said Joseph Mudano, a Montgomery County police detective who specializes in cold cases and has been investigating the rapes. “Somebody knows who this guy is.”
D.C. Police Capt. Michael Farish, who runs the homicide branch, said police hoped to have the website up by the end of June, but the process was delayed. It’s not clear when it will go up.
Police say DNA connects eight rapes or attempted sexual assaults in Montgomery County from 1991 to 1998 to the Aug. 1, 1998 death of Christine Mirzayan. She was accosted by a man while walking home to a Georgetown University dormitory after a barbecue with friends. Mirzayan, a 28-year-old biochemist who had a summer fellowship with the National Academy of Sciences, was sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death with an object weighing about 75 pounds. She screamed for help as she was attacked, Farish said.
The rapes began in May 1991, when a woman returning to her North Potomac home from a business trip found a man waiting for her. He threw a blanket over her head, raped her and stole her purse, Mudano said.
The sexual assaults continued on and off for the next seven years across the county, which borders D.C.
The assaults generally occurred between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and targeted women from their teens to their mid- to late 40s and of varying ethnic backgrounds, Mudano said. The suspect used violence, including smacking one of his victims in the head with a boom box. In another case, he made comments suggesting that he knew a victim’s husband and said he was angry that the man had sold him a car with a faulty engine, Mudano said.
Police said a composite sketch created after Mirzayan’s slaying depicts a black man with freckles, between 5 feet 9 inches and 5 feet 11 inches tall with a muscular build. Authorities believe he was in good physical shape, given the strength needed to lift the heavy object that killed Mirzayan and the sometimes acrobatic maneuvers required to sneak into some of the homes.
In the “East Coast Rapist” case, Aaron Thomas was arrested in Connecticut in March after authorities put up electronic billboards in the states where the attacks occurred and neighboring states. He is charged with three rapes in Virginia and one in Connecticut. He has pleaded not guilty in Connecticut.
Mirzayan was killed just as her fellowship program, which has since been named in her memory, was coming to a close. She was newly married and her husband was planning to relocate to D.C. to be with her. She had a prestigious AAAS Congressional Science Fellowship lined up as well.
Farish said the fact that Mirzayan’s husband lost his spouse just as they were starting their life together is one driving force to try to close the case. Plus, he added, “You also have these other women who still deserve justice.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)