An unidentified sex predator linked to two prior attacks in Mayfair seems to be expanding his territory and growing more violent, a Philadelphia police investigator said on Friday in the aftermath of a third brutal assault within 33 days.
During a news conference at the police department’s Special Victims Unit, Capt. John Darby reported that a 20-year-old woman was badly beaten and sexually assaulted last Wednesday night behind Our Lady of Ransom Parish in Castor Gardens after a man grabbed her from the 6700 block of Roosevelt Blvd. Police believe that the attacker was the same man who assaulted two other women in their 20s in Mayfair on April 25 and May 17, based on similarities in the three cases, although detectives haven’t ruled out the possibility of multiple offenders.
“We have identified a pattern, a series of incidents in the Mayfair and Oxford Circle [sic] sections of the city in the Northeast,” Darby said. “This is a series of assaults on young women, late at night or [in the] early morning hours. … There is enough similarity in these cases certainly to cause us alarm. We want to bring to the attention of the public the fact that these incidents are occurring.”
In each case, the attacker wore a black sweatshirt, using the hood to hide his features from potential witnesses and even from his victims, who have been unable to provide investigators with specific descriptions. In each case, he approached victims from behind. In two of the incidents, he used an unknown object to threaten the victims. In all cases, he issued verbal threats, too.
“That’s consistent in each of the cases. There are threats to kill or harm the victim if they fail to cooperate,” said Darby, who further characterized the attacker as “extremely aggressive.”
“He’s an extremely violent character. In two of the cases, the victims were able to quickly get away from him. … We just don’t know where these attacks would lead if there wasn’t some intervention by the victim or someone else on those particular cases,” Darby said.
The first assault occurred on Friday, April 25, at about 11:45 p.m. The 23-year-old victim was walking along the 3300 block of Tyson Ave. toward a friend’s house when a man approached her from behind, placed a sharp object to her throat and threatened to harm her if she did not cooperate with him. The man directed her to a rear driveway of the 3300 Disston St., where he sexually assaulted her, then fled.
A second attack occurred on Saturday, May 17, at about 12:50 a.m. The 29-year-old victim was walking home from a convenience store when she cut through a rear driveway for the 3200 block of Wellington St. Video of the incident released by police shows the man pursuing the unsuspecting victim past several private surveillance cameras and motion-sensor flood lights until he finally approaches her from behind and grabs her by the neck, pushing her out of the frame.
“The video was pretty compelling and shows the level of violence. This guy just goes at her almost immediately, pushes her behind the properties and there is an attempted sexual assault,” Darby said.
According to an initial police report, the woman screamed for help and struggled to escape as the man placed an object to her neck and attempted to remove her clothing. The commotion drew the attention of a neighbor, who chased the fleeing attacker as far as Rowland Avenue.
The physical violence reached another level in the May 28 incident, which occurred at about 10:30 p.m. along busy Roosevelt Boulevard. The victim, 20, had just exited SEPTA’s Route 20 bus at Longshore Avenue and was walking to meet a male friend who was a couple of blocks away, Darby said.
“A male approaches her, tackles her to the ground, pulls her behind one of the buildings at Our Lady of Ransom Church and physically and sexually assaults her,” Darby said.
As the woman struggled, the attacker “strikes her several times in the face, causing a laceration that required suturing,” the captain added. “Later on, hospital treatment had to be sought.”
There is no composite sketch of the man because the attacker hid his face in all three cases. His race is unknown, although victims have described him as either white or black with light skin color. He is about 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and a medium build, Darby said. He has worn a dark hooded sweatshirt in all three cases. In two cases, he wore dark sweatpants. In the latest case, he wore shorts, Darby said. Police are unaware of any distinguishing marks or tattoos on the attacker.
Police advise women to avoid walking alone at night and ask for the public’s help in keeping their neighborhoods secure. Women should walk in groups or have someone drive them to their destinations. They should carry cell phones and be ready to call 911 immediately if something seems suspicious. Neighbors can remain on the lookout for suspicious people walking around or loitering in an area as if looking for a victim.
“We need the community to step up and say, ‘We’re not going to allow this to happen,’ ” Darby said.
To view surveillance video of the May 17 attack, visit the Philadelphia Police channel on YouTube.com. Call the Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251, 3263 or 3264 to report information. Ask for Officer Lichtenhahn or Lt. McFadden. ••