Rapes since 2001 in Lawrence and Manhattan seem to be work of one man

This article originally appeared in The Kansas City Star on March 12, 2009.

Rapes of 13 college-age women in Lawrence and Manhattan, Kan., appear to have been committed by the same man, Kansas authorities acknowledged Wednesday.

“At this point we feel there are definitely enough similarities that we need to tell people about the threat, that someone is out there,” said Ashley Anstaett at the attorney general’s office. “In the interest of public safety, we need to share this information.”

The warning came days before the spring break, significant because the rapes have largely occurred when classes are out and fewer people are about in the college towns. All of the attacks occurred off the campuses of the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.

Manhattan has investigated seven rapes since 2001 -- plus one attempted rape the year before -- and Lawrence has had six victims since 2004.

Until now, those police departments declined to connect the two series of sex crimes. While descriptions of the rapist and how most of the attacks were carried out often presented similarities, investigators had refused to say they were looking for the same man.

Wednesday, however, Attorney General Steve Six said the crimes appear to be linked.

Two of the rapes occurred in March: just last year in Lawrence and in 2002 in Manhattan.

The most recent attack attributed to the serial rapist was in December, when a KU student was attacked in her home.

Police want women to take precautions.

“Any time there is a school break approaching, you want to increase awareness,” said Capt. Tim Hegarty of the Riley County Police Department, which covers Manhattan.

At some point this year, police in the two jurisdictions requested the help of the attorney general’s office in helping coordinate the multi-jurisdictional effort. Six has provided an investigator from his office and help from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and has given officers authority to work across their jurisdictions.

“It’s pretty intensive right now,” Anstaett said.

“And we are making progress,” Hegarty said.

Authorities can’t say how the women are targeted or what similarities may exist between the victims.

Police offered no new details on the case Wednesday. Clues from the Manhattan cases point to a white male, about 5 feet 10 inches, who uses a mask to keep victims from seeing little more than his eyes.

In Lawrence, victims described a white man between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet. Authorities will only say the man covers his face.

In Manhattan, victims have described their attacker as having a medium build, 200 to 220 pounds. In Lawrence, victims say he’s slim, with one putting his weight around 160 pounds.

Advocates hope people realize there’s a need for precaution against all crimes and attackers, not just serial rapists targeting strangers.

“What we don’t want to have happen across the state is people to be heightened about the need for caution and then as soon as he’s caught, we forget all of that,” said Sandy Barnett of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

“And then people will be like, ‘OK, now we’re safe,’ “ Barnett said. “And we’re not.”

Authorities say news that the same serial rapist appears to be hitting the two college towns will alarm many students and their parents. But it was time to release the news, Anstaett said.

Hegarty agreed.

“We absolutely understand the concerns, the additional concerns this may raise,” he said. “But, clearly, for us to not say something would be a disservice to our communities.”

Laura Bauer: 816-234-4944, @kclaurab