A sexual assault in south Hyde Park early Saturday has intensified the search for a serial rapist suspected of attacking women in the area for the last year. Police said a 35-year-old woman was getting ready for work about 5 a.m. when she was attacked by a man who apparently entered through a window on the ground level of her apartment building.
The attack near Bayshore Boulevard and Howard Avenue is at least the sixth since last June that police suspect is the work of the same man. All the attacks have occurred in Hyde Park, a fashionable neighborhood known for its restored homes and upscale shopping.
Police Lt. Tom Kester said there is no evidence directly linking this attack to the others but said investigators are looking hard at the possibility. The description given of the person who committed Saturday's attack closely matches the description of the man sought in the earlier incidents.
"We're pursuing all leads," Kester said.
Glen Davis, who lives in the apartment complex next to where the attack occurred, said his apartment also was broken into early Saturday while he and a friend were asleep.
He said he was awakened when police knocked on his door to ask questions. He noticed his window screen had been ripped off, a box of detergent sitting in the window was on the ground, and a piece of luggage was missing.
He said the intruder left a footprint outside his window.
Kester said additional police cars probably will patrol the neighborhood Saturday night and will continue indefinitely. He strongly urged people in the area to keep their windows and doors locked at night.
"Most folks should be taking precautions all of the time, not just when they read about something like this," Kester said. "We don't want people to stop worrying because there will be a cop on every corner. A little paranoia is good for everyone."
The attacks linked to the serial rapist began last June, when a young man assaulted a 78-year-old woman as she got out of her car. Two months later, a 24-year-old woman was attacked at knifepoint in her bedroom.
The third and fourth assaults occurred within hours of each other 11 days later. In the first incident, a man attacked a 58-year-old woman in her bedroom. In the second, a woman was assaulted after someone climbed through an open window in her apartment.
That's also what happened in the fifth attack, which occurred in January. But police said the man broke off his assault after his 28-year-old victim told him something that scared him.
All of those incidents occurred in an area bordered by Bayshore Boulevard, Howard Avenue, Swann Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard. In at least one of the attacks, police said the assailant left on a 10-speed bike.
Kester said police found a red bicycle Saturday that probably belonged to the man who committed the latest assault.
Police said neighbors in the building where the bike was found called police after hearing a scream. Police arrived minutes later, but the attacker already had fled. The woman was taken to Tampa General Hospital for treatment.
Victims in the earlier rapes have described the attacker as a black man, 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 10, 150 pounds and muscular. In past cases, he was described as being soft-spoken, clean-shaven and having his hair styled in loose curls. He was always armed with either a knife or handgun.