St. Petersburg police use DNA, MySpace to find suspect in 1999 rape

ST. PETERSBURG — Lured into the home of a stranger, the 16-year-old girl was beaten and raped.

When her attacker was done, he took the victim's driver's license from her purse. Then he let her go with a warning:

"Now if you call the police," he said, "I will come to your house and kill you."

The girl did call police. But she didn't know St. Petersburg very well. She couldn't lead them back to her attacker's home. Police couldn't find the suspect, and the investigation stalled.

That was 10 years ago. Now the law — and technology — have finally caught up to the man police say attacked the girl.

Elliot Mack, 39, was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday, charged with sexual battery. He arrived via Texas, where he was extradited on a Florida arrest warrant. He was being held Tuesday night without bail.

It was DNA and social networking that helped Detective Joseph Bross close the cold case, according to St. Petersburg police.

The assault took place on May 15, 1999, police said. The victim was driving home to Seminole from the St. Petersburg home of her boyfriend.

"She got disoriented and stopped and asked for directions," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

That's how she met Mack, police said. He said she could follow him to Seminole, but first he had to stop by his house.

He invited her inside, police said, then forced the victim into a bedroom, beat and threatened her life, and sexually assaulted her. He also implied, but never showed her, that he had a gun.

After he freed her, the victim ignored his threat. She called police from a gas station but couldn't lead them to her attacker. All detectives had was a sample of the attacker's DNA.

But for years there was nothing to match that DNA profile to. Despite a Florida arrest record dating to 1990, Mack didn't have to submit a DNA sample until 2006. That's when he was arrested on multiple counts of burglary in Okaloosa County.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement entered his DNA profile into the state offender database in January 2007.

Then, 18 months later, the detective got a call from an FDLE lab supervisor: They had found a genetic match.

Bross reopened the investigation and tracked down the victim. She picked Mack out of a photo lineup, police said.

Then police had to find Mack. But leads in Mississippi, Texas and the Florida Panhandle went nowhere. Then Bross checked social-networking Web sites. Mack had a MySpace page that led police to his location in Texas in the summer of 2008.

But there appear to have been some delays in apprehending Mack that authorities couldn't account for Tuesday.

FDLE officials said they needed more time to determine why there was an 18-month gap from the time the DNA was entered into the database and police were told of a match.

Authorities also couldn't explain why the arrest warrant was issued more than a year after the suspect was located in Texas.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

St. Petersburg police use DNA, MySpace to find suspect in 1999 rape 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 10:34pm]

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