No rapist is stalking Old Town, say police

A rapist is not stalking the downtown area and striking in broad daylight — no matter what an e-mail circulating locally claims, Wichita police said Wednesday.

The e-mail and some blogs claim there have been three daytime rapes the past two weeks in the area around Old Town and Intrust Bank Arena.

That "is just untrue," said Lt. Troy Livingston, who heads the sex crimes unit of the Police Department.

A 26-year-old woman reported being sexually assaulted near Douglas and St. Francis shortly before 2 p.m. on Dec. 15, Livingston said.

She told police she was approached from behind in the 100 block of North St. Francis, dragged into a nearby alley and raped.

That case remains under investigation. The e-mail claims "this is the 3rd case of this happening in the past 2 weeks, all within broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon (per police reports)."

Livingston said he has reviewed every rape or sexual assault case in the past month and found no other cases in the arena/Old Town area.

He said he has met with his detectives to determine whether any other cases of rape or sexual assault have been reported, and they're reviewing old reports going back six months or more to look for trends. But none have emerged.

"Any kind of case like this is a concern," Livingston said, but when false information is spread, that can cause "a bit of a panic."

He has seen the false reports that are circulating, Livingston said, so he decided to clarify what is happening.

Nicole Howerton of Howerton & White, 520 E. Douglas, said the e-mail is "everywhere." When she first heard about it, Howerton said, the victim was reportedly going to the Value Center thrift store at 530 E. Douglas.

"Another version said she was coming to us," Howerton said, adding she knew of no connection between the victim and her business.

Nevertheless, the company bought its employees personal security devices that emit a loud sound as a form of added protection.

"If it's a serious threat, we want to take the right precautions," Howerton said. "If it's just an urban legend, we want to squelch it."

An employee of the Museum of World Treasures, 835 E. First, said concerns among employees there are heightened as a result of the circulating e-mail.

Anyone who may have seen or heard something linked to the sexual assault reported near Douglas and St. Francis on the afternoon of Dec. 15 should call the sex crimes unit at 316-268-4137 or any police bureau in the city, Livingston said.

The e-mail cautions, "Keep in mind the new arena will be opening shortly — so negative publicity is the last thing the city needs."

But suggestions that the police are covering up the rapes to protect the image of the arena and the city are wrong, Livingston said.

"My primary focus is to protect the community," he said. "I'd never hide any activity that would put the community in jeopardy."

Police alerted the public after a series of assaults on women in downtown Wichita over a three-week period spanning May and June 2008.

A 30-year-old homeless man was arrested and is now serving prison time in connection with the attacks.