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'Suspicious' man seen in Reston raises East Coast Rapist concerns

A viral e-mail that has been circulating through Northern Virginia's community groups and listservs over the past two weeks has created what police are calling "undue alarm and hysteria" about a suspicious man spotted along a Reston pathway.

The e-mail claimed that the suspicious man was the notorious East Coast rapist, an unknown serial attacker who has raped at least 12 women in four states dating to 1997 and who was the subject of a Washington Post article on March 16.

Not so fast, area police say.

Though the suspicious man in the e-mail appears to loosely match the serial rapist's description -- a black man, about 6 feet tall, close to 200 pounds -- police have no evidence whatsoever that the person reportedly on Reston's paths has any connection to the serial rapist.

In news releases over the weekend, Fairfax County and Vienna police called the e-mail "malicious and erroneous," and were trying to calm residents who have called in to express their fears.

The e-mail, which several readers have forwarded to me, includes a report from an area resident saying that her mother was nearly attacked by a stranger while she was walking her dog on Saturday, March 13. The gist of the messages is that a man was acting suspiciously in a way that matches the "East Coast Rapist's description and M.O."

The e-mail says that the man approached the woman from one direction, then suddenly appeared behind her and took his hands -- which were in latex gloves -- out of his pocket.

Captain Deborah Burnett, the Reston station commander for the Fairfax County Police, sent an open letter to area residents Friday explaining that the e-mail message has "many inaccuracies, false information and presumptions which have caused much concern in our community."

Burnett continued:

On Saturday, March 13, police received two reports of a suspicious male on the pathway along Glade Drive between Soapstone Drive and Twin Branches Road. Based on these reports, I directed additional patrol and resources to the pathway in an attempt to identify the subject along with providing a sense of security to the users of the pathways. The subject did not commit any crime nor was there any physical contact made.

Our report about the East Coast rapist appeared on the Post's Web site Monday afternoon and in the paper on Tuesday morning, March 16. We had no mention of Reston in the story, nor have we heard in our reporting that there is any sense that the rapist has been active there.

As for the suspicious man fitting the East Coast rapist's description and M.O.? According to police, the suspicious man in Reston was in his 20s, making him far younger than the unknown serial attacker would be. The East Coast rapist, based on numerous witness descriptions and the timing of the attacks dating to 1997, is probably in his mid- to late 30s.

In a total of 17 crimes linked to the rapist in Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut and Rhode Island, the man has always initiated his attacks on a public street or has entered the home of his victim. As far as police know, he has never attacked on a pathway or in any other secluded area.

Police and victims also believe that the rapist has spent some time studying his victims prior to the attacks and has most often grabbed women as they were leaving their homes, returning to their homes, or inside their homes.

Since the East Coast rapist article ran in The Post, police say they have received tips that they are following up on. Police in Prince George's, Fairfax and Prince William counties and Leesburg, New Haven, Conn., and Cranston, R.I., continue to work as part of a task force to identify the rapist, and ask anyone with information that could help to contact them.

But Burnett and Town of Vienna police urge residents not to continue to forward the e-mail about the suspicious Reston man. Instead, they urge people to remain vigilant and to contact police should they witness anything suspicious themselves.

Vienna police also released a list of safety measures people can take while walking outdoors.

-- Josh White

By Josh White  |  March 29, 2010; 8:17 AM ET
Categories:  East Coast Rapist , Fairfax , Josh White , Maria Glod , Virginia  
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"As far as police know, he has never attacked on a pathway or in any other secluded area."

Just stay on pathways or inside secluded areas if you don't want to get raped. This method is foolproof.

Posted by: steampunk | March 29, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Maybe the police are just riled because they know they've done a terrible job of catching the rapist. And really, if it is two separate guys, doesn't that mean we should be TWICE as vigilant, since there are two psychopaths out there instead of one?? Give me a break. No harm in sending around an email informing folks of the facts, especially if it helps them be more alert and vigilant. This is just bs from the police who are tired of being bothered with concerned calls.

Posted by: richardalpert | March 29, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

The police are "riled"?!!! What about those who were raped, their family members, friends and neighbors? I thought the police were supposed to be protecting law abiding citizens from slimeball rapists...guess they can't be bothered!

Posted by: lsf07 | March 29, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

If you are a black male in his 20s or 30s, it's probably a good idea to stay away from secluded walk-ways or pathways for the time being.

Posted by: jabreal00 | March 29, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I haven't seen any Post coverage of another recent assault, this one in Lake Ridge:

Posted by: key375 | March 31, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

How did the police determine that the e-mail was "malicious"?

The Reston suspicious person wasn't the right age to be the East Coast Rapist, but he was the right race.

Also, the East Coast Rapist rapes that occur indoor appear to be carefully stalked. The outdoor victims seem to be crimes of opportunity -- the rapist even used a broken bottle to subdue two victims at once, outdoors. The East Coast Rapist has also been known to use a bicycle, in case you were feeling safe on the W&OD Trail.

Be safe always -- even when there isn't a monstrous sexual predator watching you silently as you sleep.

Posted by: blasmaic | April 2, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

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