Police think the rapist who is terrorizing the Hyde Park area of Tampa could be the same unidentified man who raped at least nine women in a section of St. Petersburg four years ago. Investigators from the Tampa and St. Petersburg police departments have compared the methods and physical descriptions of both serial rapists and have found striking similarities, St. Petersburg detective Katherine Connor-Dubina said Wednesday.
"I think they're very similar," she said.
Detectives say they won't know for sure until they can compare the DNA pattern of the St. Petersburg rapist with that of the Tampa criminal.
DNA is found in virtually every cell of the body and can be traced from semen samples, saliva or hair. Testing involves identifying a particular person's genetic code; experts say it is nearly impossible for two people to share the same code. Tampa police do not yet have the results of laboratory tests, which sometimes take months to obtain.
Whether the rapes are committed by the same person or not, they produced similar results: Entire neighborhoods have been terrorized by the attacks.
About 150 people assembled Tuesday night in Tampa to hear police explain how they can protect themselves.
Similarly, police sponsored community meetings in St. Petersburg after more than a dozen women were attacked in the apartment complexes that dominate the southern end of the city. More than 800 people attended one such meeting.
The St. Petersburg rapes began on Oct. 4, 1986, and ended Aug. 24, 1987. At one point six officers were assigned to the investigation and hundreds of potential suspects were examined. When the rapes abruptly ended, police speculated that the rapist had either left the area or had been jailed for another crime.
St. Petersburg police definitely linked nine rapes to a man dubbed the Pinellas Point rapist by comparing DNA samples taken from the crime scenes. They believe he is responsible for three more attacks. He actually operated just north of Pinellas Point in an area dominated by middle-income apartment complexes.
St. Petersburg police are also investigating whether the rape of an elderly woman less than two weeks ago in the same St. Petersburg neighborhood was committed by the same man.
The Hyde Park rapist first struck a year ago today and has since added five victims. All were in an area bordered by Bayshore Boulevard, Howard Avenue, Swann Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard.
There are obvious similarities in the St. Petersburg and Tampa cases.
Both rapists are described as black men in their mid-20s, between 5 feet 7 and 5 feet 10 and of medium weight, about 150 to 175 pounds. Both normally entered apartments early in the morning through unlocked windows and attacked white women of varying ages.
The Hyde Park rapist is known to ride a bicycle. Tampa police displayed a red, single-speed bicycle he left Saturday at a rape scene north of Bay-to-Bay Boulevard near Bayshore Boulevard. Police know a bicycle was used in at least one of the St. Petersburg cases.
The Hyde Park rapist uses a gun or knife to control his victims. The St. Petersburg rapist sometimes displayed a weapon and sometimes implied that he was armed.
Connor-Dubina said there are similarities in the way the women were raped, although she declined to comment on them.
Tampa and St. Petersburg police noted the similarities when Tampa police presented their evidence to several local law-enforcement agencies at a meeting last Thursday. Tampa police say they have compared notes with other agencies.
Once results are obtained of tests of the DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, police can determine if the same man is involved. DNA, found in the attacker's semen, is a "genetic fingerprint," Connor-Dubina said.
"As of right now, I can't say they're the same person. But thank God, with the technology we have now we may be able to link these up, or we'll find out it's not the same guy," she said.
"We are really pushing this through quickly. At this point we are taking a very close look at Tampa's cases and ours. We're going to help them any way we can."