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SERIAL RAPIST E-MAIL IS A HOAX, POLICE SAY

The e-mail urgently tells the reader to spread the message to those they love.

Credibility is added by the opening sentence, "This came to me from a good friend that works for Pinellas County Sheriff's Department." But the horrific warning is a false alarm, perpetrated by a likely rumor mill that has left some St. Petersburg residents on edge.

Authorities are working to debunk the chain e-mail that says a serial rapist has been on the prowl, targeting young women in the northeast section of the city.

"It's a bad rumor. There's nothing to fear about a serial rapist," said George Kajtsa, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department.

The myth may have started from two isolated incidents. On Sept. 20, a woman reported that she had been a victim of sexual battery at a BP gas station. Investigators determined her claim was false when video evidence didn't match her story.

Then on Oct. 10, a woman was trying to buy drugs near 38th Avenue and 28th Street N, Kajtsa said. She was raped at gunpoint by the person who was supposed to sell her drugs, he said. The investigation is continuing.

The e-mail identifies several locations in the city where attacks purportedly have occurred, including one at the Red Mesa restaurant on Fourth Street N.

Peter Veytia, 56, owns the eatery and said that he has gotten phone calls from friends asking whether he had heard about the rumor.

"I'm disappointed that something like this can get so far that we have to address the issue," he said.

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