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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.

By Maria Glod and Josh White  | March 19, 2010; 9:24 AM ET
Categories:  How I got that story, More on the story  
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"Rarely had we heard about serial rapes of strangers."

I don't think you meant this.

Posted by: wwwwwwww | March 19, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

This may not be the right forum for a comment like this, but I would just like to say that the layout of the front page on March 16 was beautiful, and perfectly tailored to highlight the story about the East Coast Rapist. I'm just a lowly college journalist, but examples with that level of finesse definitely go on the wall of our newsroom. My compliments to the layout designer, whoever he or she was.

Posted by: vkinnibu | March 19, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

It was excellent journalism, thank you. It increased awareness among women of the need to be alert and security conscious in and outside of their homes. Hopefully, it will help locate and convict the perp.

I forwarded it to female friends who thanked me and forwarded it to their friends and family.

Having grown up on the west coast in the 1960s-70s-80s, serial rapists and killers are part of my memories. The "I-5 rapist" during my college years was particularly alarming as his predation included our campus.

Best wishes to law enforcement as they hunt this guy down. And thanks again to the Washington Post reporters.

Posted by: DagnyT | March 19, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

An interesting and useful follow-up to the story would be an article providing guidance to women on what to do if they are threatened or feel threatened.

A list of local resources and options for crime prevention and self-defense would be helpful, too.

The NRA has for over a decade sponsored "Refuse to Be a Victim" courses that focus on security when you are in public, in your home, car and at work. The course pointedly does not focus on or advocate guns. I attended one in the early 90s and it has stuck with me all these years.

The "Refuse to Be a Victim" course includes helpful advice on rudimentary security measures such as landscaping that adds security and does not conceal predators. And such advice as: even if you don't have a dog, buy the biggest dog bowl you can find and put it on your back porch (add a "Beware of Rottweiller" doormat for good measure).

There are no doubt other programs that can help women increase their safety and the safety of their families.

Posted by: DagnyT | March 19, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

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