This article originally appeared in The Kansas City Star on Sept. 2, 2007.
He breaks into young women’s homes as they sleep, his arms covered by long sleeves and his hands by dark-colored gloves.
He wears a mask that covers all but his eyes.
Police in Manhattan, Kan., think that in the past seven years this man raped seven college-age women near the Kansas State University campus, including one last month. Because the man wears a mask, police don’t have a composite of the rapist and just a few leads to track down.
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That only heightens a fear growing inside the college community as worried parents pump police for information and professors schedule crime prevention presentations for their students.
“Whenever there is an attack by this guy, we get lots of calls,” said Mary Todd, director of K-State’s Women’s Center. “Calls from people concerned about their safety.”
After the attacks, police have released crime prevention tips to help keep students on the campus of 23,000 safe. At one point, they passed out fliers on campus telling female students how to protect themselves, such as walking with a friend and keeping windows and doors locked.
Police say they want students to be able to protect themselves against all criminals, not just one man who may be carrying out a series of rapes over several years.
“If someone is able to protect themselves from the opportunist rapist, you can protect yourself against the serial rapist,” said Capt. John Doehling of the Riley County Police Department, which covers Manhattan. “Yes, we believe there is one guy doing this. But if it was seven different persons committing these crimes over the course of seven years, people would still need to be concerned.
“The threat is the same.”
In a college community, the vast majority of rapes involve people the victims knew either as an acquaintance or a date. Stranger rapes are far less common.
But according to studies conducted by two University of Kansas doctoral students, women feared a stranger rape more, even though they thought they were more likely to be attacked by an acquaintance.
Last summer, Lawrence police investigated a report of an armed intruder breaking into a woman’s residence while she was asleep and assaulting her. At the time, police said that attack appeared to be related to two sexual assaults in 2004.
In Manhattan, until the attack in the early morning hours of Aug. 7, there hadn’t been a rape attributed to the masked man in about two years. Few stories in the media mentioned the attacks.
Now, old stories about him and his methods are new again.
“We do the best we can, but can we ease everyone’s mind until the suspect is caught?” said Riley County Police Lt. Kurt Moldrup. “We can give people prevention tips. ... We can tell people how to help make them safe.”
Officials urge parents to talk with their daughters and survey their college homes and apartments, making sure they keep doors and windows locked even during the day.
Female students are using Wildcat Walk, a service that escorts students across campus at night, and buying wood sticks to secure sliding glass doors.
When Wildcats Against Rape solicited members during a campus activity day this semester, a record number signed up — about 100 people, compared with 40 last year.
“I think it’s great people are concerned and it’s great people want to get involved,” said Abby Heraud, a senior from Pratt, Kan., and president of WAR. “But I think it’s really sad that it has to happen again for people to pay attention to it. ... This has gone on for years.”
Police think the man first surfaced in October 2000. That’s when, investigators say, he tried to rape a woman but, after a struggle, ran off.
The series of rapes began in August of the following year. But it wasn’t until 2004 or 2005, after at least the fourth rape, that Riley County police acknowledged they all may be related.
Descriptions of the assailant matched.
The man is described as being about 5 feet 10 inches tall, about 200 to 220 pounds. He wears long-sleeve shirts, pants and boots.
Stronger than the man’s description was what he did and said, how he carried out the crimes. It was always similar.
But that’s as far as police will go.
“Those are details that are known to him, the victims and a few of us,” said Doehling, of the Riley County Police Department. “Those are the things we need to keep under our hats. ... If you have information that he’s a one-armed man, we’d be putting that out there. That’s a pretty good clue. That’s something to look for.
“But here, we’re talking about method and tactics.”
The women’s ages range from 18 to 25. They have lived in different parts of town, though within a mile or two from one another in the relatively small town.
Five of the seven occurred from May to September. Another occurred in March, and one in December.
At least five of the women attacked lived in apartments, and another in a single-family home. Investigators won’t say how the man got in.
“We don’t want to say for sure,” Moldrup said. “But in some instances, the victims are not real sure (how the assailant got inside).”
Police also won’t say whether they have DNA or any evidence collected at the scenes.
At one point the Federal Bureau of Investigation was brought in to help compile a profile of the assailant.
Police shy away from labeling the crimes, however. Though they say they are looking for one man, they don’t want to call him a serial rapist.
It narrows the focus. That word, officials say, implies with certainty that one man is responsible, and authorities say they won’t know that until someone is arrested.
Police think the rapist sees a woman and then comes to know her routine.
“We can’t say definitively how this person is casing the victims,” Doehling said. “We don’t know how much time’s spent on that.”
This year, Scott Manning knows he has gotten more calls from people worried about safety around K-State. He manages the University Crossing apartment complex near campus.
“I’ve talked to everybody under the sun,” Manning said. “Grandmas, brothers, aunts and uncles have called.”
After the latest attack Aug. 7, some wonder whether enough has been said publicly about the attacks.
Not the details of the investigation, just that the crimes were committed and what’s being done about it. And how the crimes affected the women who were attacked.
“When we have a heinous crime happening, let’s talk about it, let’s get it out there,” said Todd, of the Women’s Center. “I know there’s a line. Police want a good investigation so the guy is caught as soon as possible and there’s good prosecution after that.
“But that’s on one side of the line. Public safety is on the other.”
Todd has spoken with at least two of the victims in these attacks. She worked with one young woman to write her story down.
“No one has been talking about this serial rapist,” that victim told Todd. “I want to warn other women, especially since there seems to be a lot of silence about the crimes.”
Heraud, the K-State senior, said she and others involved in Wildcats Against Rape want people to know that assaults against women happen all the time. They spread that message as they also let people know about the seven rapes over seven years.
“A lot of incoming freshmen don’t know there’s a serial rapist,” she said. “I feel like there should be more information.”
The aim of police, Doehling said, has been to arm the college community with prevention tools and not just news of the attacks.
“Do you go out and say, ëLet’s throw up the big red flag and say there’s a serial rapist out here?’ “ he said. “Does that do more good than putting out information on how to protect yourself?
“… This is more about prevention.”
Police say there are several ways to help prevent becoming a victim of an assault while living in a college community. They include:
Keep your doors and windows locked -- even on balconies and even during the day. Communicate with roommates about using locks.
Have plenty of outside lighting. Leave lights on while you are gone.
Get to know your neighbors. Watch out for one another.
List only your last name and initials in phone books and on mailboxes.
Never admit a stranger, even if you think he looks “safe.”
Arrange to ride with someone you know well when leaving a party. Never walk after dark alone.
When giving your keys to repair shops, only give your ignition keys. Never give your apartment or house key out.
Make noise. Carry a whistle or noisemaker.
Avoid taking the stairs, if possible. Use the elevator.