Crime & Courts

Parents, women alerted about college rapist

She is one of 13 young women living off-campus in Manhattan or Lawrence who have been attacked by the same home intruder — the same serial rapist — since 2000.

When the young woman from the Wichita area was raped, she was living alone in an upstairs unit of an upscale apartment complex in Manhattan. Her roommate was away for the summer.

The woman thought she was safe.

The man who attacked her apparently targets women living alone. He spies on them before each attack, said Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, who along with others has been trying to spread awareness of the crimes.

The rapes have occurred during college breaks.

Mary Todd, director of the Kansas State University Women's Center, recently wrote in her blog about the woman and e-mailed the woman's quotes to The Eagle.

"No one has been talking

about this serial rapist. I want to warn other women, especially since there seems to be a lot of silence about the crimes," the blog quotes "Jess," the Wichita-area woman. Her real name is not being used to protect her identity.

She says in the e-mail that she had not known about the serial rapist before her attack.

"If I would've known about him, I would've definitely NEVER stayed at my apartment alone," she said.

To draw attention to the crimes, Six recently spoke at personal-safety forums at K-State and the University of Kansas.

Despite awareness efforts by Six, police and the universities, some Wichita-area parents whose daughters attend the schools say neither they nor their children knew about the serial rapist until a reporter called them.

Other young women are aware of the crimes, and the attacks have affected their lives.

"I also hear from women that they are sad that they no longer feel completely peaceful when they get in bed at night," Todd said.

"Many women have told me they actually check under the bed or in the closet, something they never did before."

Students might want to let fresh air into their apartments. Unfortunately, Todd said, they can't afford to leave windows or doors open or unlocked — even on a second floor — day or night.

She also says awareness and concern among students and parents appear to be rising.

"As the years have passed, and we focus on educating freshmen, I get mostly hands-up when I ask, 'Who has heard of the so-called serial rapist?' "

'Not be alone'

In an interview Thursday, Six said the crimes indicate that the rapist does surveillance to "find a target, to find somebody who's alone."

Six said he advises women to do "the best you can not to be alone."

Six's spokeswoman, Ashley Anstaett, said the Attorney General's Office has made a point of using the word "surveillance" to describe what the rapist does before each crime because it wants people to watch for and immediately report someone acting suspiciously, seeming out of place, loitering.

"That's going to be helpful to the investigation," Anstaett said.

Six declined to discuss how the rapist has entered apartments.

The crimes have occurred "during a break in school when there aren't as many people in an apartment complex, and there aren't as many people to see you," he said.

Twelve of the 13 attacks have occurred early in the morning.

The victims have been younger women living in off-campus housing where students typically live, Anstaett said. Not all were students.

Police in Lawrence and Manhattan "began working together shortly after the attacks started in Lawrence," around July 2004, Anstaett said.

Recently, authorities had enough evidence to link the rapes publicly, Anstaett said.

The first attack occurred Oct. 1, 2000, in Manhattan, and the most recent happened Dec. 1, 2008, in Lawrence, according to a timeline Anstaett provided.

The first six attacks occurred in Manhattan. Five of the past eight rapes have been in Lawrence. There has been at least one attack every year since 2000.

The suspect has been described as a white man, 25 to 40, 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet tall, with a slim build. Usually he has been armed with a weapon and has worn "some sort of garment to cover his face," Anstaett said.

Six said Lawrence and Riley County police have done most of the work on the cases and have shown a "tremendous effort" to solve the crimes.

The Attorney General's Office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation in the last year. The Attorney General's Office also is providing financial support.

Lawrence and Riley County police spokesmen referred questions about the case to Six's office.

"I became involved because I thought I could help get the word out," Six said.

Although the crimes have drawn the attention of parents around the state, it is not easy to reach the student population sometimes, he said.

KU students' view

Chloe and Lillian — KU sophomores from the Wichita area — live off-campus in Lawrence. The two 19-year-olds had heard about the serial rapist.

"There is always that kind of question in your head when you are walking somewhere at night or when you are alone," Lillian said.

Students' and parents' last names are being withheld for their security.

Chloe carries a "rape whistle" given to her by an aunt when she began college.

Both women said they have a general fear of sexual assault.

Officials at both universities say women are much more likely to be raped by someone they know, not by a stranger like the serial rapist.

For Chloe and Lillian, living with three roommates makes them feel safer.

"I can see living alone being kind of nerve-racking," Lillian said. A friend who lives alone frequently spends the night at their house partly because she feels safer with others around.

"We definitely go out and do our thing, but I think we all are aware of what is going on around us," Lillian said.

K-State parents' view

Nancy, a Wichita-area woman whose 18-year-old daughter is a K-State freshman, said she didn't know about the serial rapist until a reporter called. She said she wondered if students' parents should receive some kind of special notification.

Her daughter lives in a dorm on campus, which means there should be more security, she said.

Another Wichita parent, Terry, has a 22-year-old daughter who attends K-State and lives in an off-campus apartment with a roommate.

"We just tell her to be aware of her surroundings, if she is out at night to have somebody with her," Terry said.

He tells her to use a cell phone immediately if she senses a threat.

He reminds her to be cautious about what she says on Facebook — to never say her roommate is gone for the weekend, for example.

Terry said his daughter had heard that the serial rapist has entered through windows. "As far as I know, she keeps them locked."

Student's precaution

One K-State sophomore, Taylor, said safety was a consideration when she chose to live with a roommate in a third-story apartment.

She had heard about the serial rapist after moving to Manhattan from the Wichita area.

She never walks alone. She's careful about who she hangs out with.

The serial rapist seems to be a taboo topic, she said.

"I think people are scared to talk about it because it is not something that is comfortable to talk about."

'Try to move on'

Todd, the K-State Women's Center director, said Jess, the woman who is one of the victims, was a year from graduating when the crime occurred.

"She decided she would not let a criminal stop her from her goal, and against her parents' wishes, came back and finished," Todd said.

"The parents admired her courage."

When asked how Jess was healing, Todd relayed a response from her:

"From day one, I told myself that there was nothing I could've done differently that would've caused this not to happen. Therefore, I have no regrets. That is how I have made it through this experience and healed myself.

"So many girls get raped and are embarrassed/mad/ angry because they blame themselves, and for me there was no reason to blame myself. I didn't do anything wrong.

"This is just a terrible thing that happened to me, and the only thing I can do is try to move on and hope that he gets caught before it happens to another girl."