Inside the East Coast Rapist story
The Post's Maria Glod and Josh White this week told the riveting, frightening story of a serial rapist who has been preying on women in the Washington area and elsewhere around the country for 13 years. The piece is a textbook example of reporting and storytelling, and it required the cooperation of police in departments up and down the Eastern seaboard. Story Lab asked the reporters to tell us about the origins and evolution of the project, and Maria Glod provided this account:
The day after Halloween, Josh wrote a news article about three teenage girls who were raped as they were trick-or-treating in Dale City. Several weeks later, when Prince William County police announced DNA had proven the attacker was a serial rapist, Maria followed up with an article about the string of attacks.
Both of us have covered criminal justice at The Post for years, and at the time of the Halloween rapes, we had talked about what a particularly terrifying crime it was. When we learned the same man had raped at least 10 other women, we were shocked. Rarely had we heard about serial rapes of strangers.
It struck us that in a plea from police for help from the public, the authorities had said they thought a tip would likely be how the case would get solved. They urged people to look at the timeline of attacks, which spanned four states, and to consider if they knew anyone who could be a possible suspect.
We immediately thought that a more in-depth article would be one way to provide more details about the man’s description, his patterns, and the timeline of the rapes. This man had harmed many women, and we wanted to try to give a sense of how the attacks changed their lives. So we set out to follow the rapist’s path.
We went to the local police departments, presented the idea and asked for help. One advantage we had is that we both have worked closely with these departments. Josh covered Prince William police for years, and I covered the Leesburg police department. We both have worked with Fairfax police.
From the get-go, we assured police that we would not name, or in any way identify, any of the women who were attacked. It is Washington Post policy to not identify victims of sexual assault unless they choose to be identified.
The Virginia departments opened their case files, helped us connect with victims and showed us around the crime scenes. Prince George’s police officials met with us extensively and provided details about cases there. Their aim and ours, in this case, was the same: to present as complete a picture of this man as possible.
Local detectives reached out to their counterparts in New England to introduce us. New Haven, Conn., police welcomed us and spent an afternoon with us. Police in Cranston, R.I., declined to discuss their case, a peeping tom incident, in detail. But the homeowner in that case, a woman whose 11-year-old daughter spotted the man on their back deck, invited us into her home and described the events of that evening.
Detectives asked us to leave out only one or two details that only the rapist and the victims would know for fear it could harm the investigation, and we agreed. Those details, including one that involved the details of a sex assault, were not important to the story.
Five of the victims agreed to share their stories. In our interviews with three of the victims, detectives working on the case joined us. That made the women more comfortable, and in one of the older cases, the detectives currently on the case hadn’t previously personally interviewed the woman, so the conversation was also helpful to them.
When we talked to the 16-year-old Prince William victim, her mother was with her. And the Leesburg woman brought a friend along for support.
As we visited each of 17 crime scenes in Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut and Rhode Island, we began to see similarities in the places where the rapist has carried out the attacks.
The fact that there is DNA evidence has allowed the police to reveal more details of the cases without concern. They know that from a list of potential suspects they will easily be able to exclude the innocent -- and find the rapist.
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