04.25.12 8:45 AM ET
LAPD Launches Manhunt for Prolific Serial ‘Teardrop Rapist’
The Los Angeles Police Department is conducting a manhunt for a prolific serial rapist who has been linked to at least 28 sexual assaults since 1996. He has been nicknamed the “Teardrop Rapist” because he is believed to have one or more teardrop-shaped tattoos beneath one of his eyes, which is fairly common with some gang members.
“This series has gone on too long,” said Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese. “We need to put an end to it. We need to put the bad guy in jail.”
Police have advised women to walk in pairs until the assailant is caught.
The early-morning assaults have mostly occurred while the victims—all Hispanic, except for two black women, between the ages of 14 and 41—were walking along sidewalks on their way to work or school in South Los Angeles or Koreatown. In many of the cases, the police said the attacker approached his victims asking for directions or attempting to make small talk, before he pulled out a gun or knife and steered them into an alleyway or yard.
“We don’t know if he is laying in wait or following them,” said Sharlene Johnson, one of 12 LAPD detectives assigned to the case.
The assailant’s last assault took place on Nov. 10, 2011, about 5:30 a.m., when he asked a 15-year-old girl walking to school in South Los Angeles for directions. The man forced the teen at gunpoint into a nearby yard, where he sexually assaulted her. Within weeks of her attack, he was linked by DNA evidence and his “distinct mode of operation,” to the other cases, police said.
Eerily, the attacks have occurred over a 16-year-period, with the rapist taking a number of breaks in between. “There are often lags,” Johnson said. “It is not uncommon. It is not unusual for there to be gaps in between.”
Case in point is the notorious story of “the Grim Sleeper,” one of L.A.’s most notorious serial killers. The man got the moniker because he took a number of long breaks during his alleged murder-and-sexual-assault spree, which began in 1985. His victims, who were mostly poor, young black women living in South Los Angeles, were dumped in alleyways and parks along L.A.’s seedy Western Boulevard. His last alleged victim, Janecia Peters, was discovered in a dumpster in January 2007, three years after his last known attack. Police arrested Lonnie Franklin Jr. in the summer of 2010, when DNA and ballistic evidence linked him to the slayings. He has been charged with multiple counts of murder, as well as other offenses.
LAPD detective Jesse Alvarado said he is fearful that the Teardrop Rapist may continue his attacks. “At this point he may hit again,” he said. “This investigation will take a long time.”
Alvarado said the attacker, who is fluent in both Spanish and English, seems to be right at home in the areas where he is scoping out victims. He doesn’t stand out and fits easily into the neighborhood, he said.
Alvarado said that, unlike most rapists, the Teardrop Rapist doesn’t seem to have a type. “He targets women who are alone. Rapists usually have an age range. He doesn’t. He is more of an opportunist.”
At a press conference Tuesday, police released several composite drawings of the man they believe is responsible for the decades-long spree. He is described as a 40-something Latino man 5 feet 2 inches to 6 feet tall, weighing 130 to 200 pounds. He also has been described as having either one or two teardrops tattooed under his right or left eye. Police believe he may have attempted to remove the tattoo in an effort to thwart authorities.
The Teardrop Rapist began his crime spree in 1996 with the attack of a Hispanic girl. His second known attack came in 1999 with the rape of a 14-year-old girl who was abducted in a carport behind an apartment building. That same year, he attacked an 18-year-old woman in Koreatown.
At the time, his victims described him as a 30- to 40-year-old Latino male with brown eyes, brown hair, 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-9, and weighing about 150 pounds.
In August 1999, police arrested a 21-year-old man for the attacks, but he was later exonerated through DNA evidence.
During the Teardrop Rapist’s crimes, police were shocked when they realized in 2001 that there was another serial rapist operating in Los Angeles. That assailant, dubbed the “Canoga Park rapist” because he attacked his victims in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley area, also used a knife and a gun to assault his victims. Those victims, who ranged in age from 17 to 43, were assaulted in their homes and cars. A couple of the women were raped in front of their children. At the time, that rapist was described as a Latino male in his 20s about 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 9 inches tall, and weighing around 200 pounds.
More attacks linked to the Teardrop Rapist soon occurred. By June 2003, there were 20 incidents matching his MO, police said. That same year, the LAPD appealed for help after a 15-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in the area of Hoover and Gage Avenues. The girl described her attacker as wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, a green bandanna, and a black baseball cap or dark-colored beanie.
The man took a hiatus before he resumed his attacks, in 2005. He lay low for six more years after that, before he attacked the other 15-year-old girl in November 2011.
The Teardrop Rapist is one of a handful of Los Angeles serial rapists.
Many of L.A.’s serial rapists are now behind bars, including Robert Charles Lee, who was convicted in March of sexually assaulting at least 10 women in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Lee, whose crime spree spanned almost a decade, attacked his victims with a knife in their homes. Most of his victims were between 55 and 75 years old. He was caught after DNA evidence linked him to the crimes in 2006.
Some serial rapists have not been caught—including the “Canoga Park rapist” and the elusive Hyperion Bridge rapist, who has attacked more than 19 school-age girls since 1995. Most of the victims of the Hyperion Bridge rapist, who were raped, groped, or fondled near Marshall High School, were 11 to 17 years old.