Friday, October 22, 1999

On guard against a rapist

People take action to ensure safety

The Cincinnati Enquirer

target shooter
Fara Riley practices shooting at Target World in Sharonville. What if someone attacked her? "They would be hurt if they tried," she said.
(Saed Hindash photo)
| ZOOM |
        As a serial rapist continues to stalk the suburbs, people are changing the patterns of their daily lives, police are stepping up their vigilance and parents are keeping a closer watch on their children.

        Some doors, windows and garages are being locked for the first time. Some women no longer take their evening walks. Neighbors take turns walking children to and from the school bus. And fewer children are sleeping alone these days.

        “I'm very aware of my surroundings,” said Jayne Lajti, who lives in an upscale Symmes Township subdivision. When she mowed her lawn Thursday afternoon, she first locked up the house and garage.

        “Fear is good when you control it. It's when fear con trols you that you're in trouble,” said Debbie Gardner, a former police officer who teaches self-defense tactics through her Kenwood company, Survive Institute.

        “To have the antennae up to double-check is very prudent right now. I see people taking action and taking responsibility.”

Map of recent attacks
        Mrs. Gardner said she has been barraged with requests to speak to schools, businesses and scout troops since April, when the rapist struck for the third time in Mason. The $20 videotapes of her self-defense and motivational presentation are selling fast, she said.

        Mrs. Gardner, who said she now warns her son to keep all doors locked at home, is not the only one directly affected by the rising tension over the serial rapes:

        • Kitch Rinehart, co-owner of Target World in Sharonville, said her store sold out of pepper spray this week, and shooting lessons are booked through Thanksgiving. More women are dropping by with their boyfriends and spouses for “coaching sessions” on how to use handguns, she said.

        • Steve Moore, residential sales manager with ADT Security Services, West End, said calls for security systems jump considerably for a week or more after each attack. “There's a concern on everyone's mind that they don't want to be the next victim,” he said.

        The same holds true at Dial One General Electronic Security in Madisonville, said that company's president, John Lindberg. “The one attitude I've seen over the years is that "things never happen in our neighborhood.' Things do happen in everybody's neighborhood.”

        • In Colerain Township, where the serial rapist attacked a 10-year-old Oct. 4, Lowe's has experienced a run on sales of do-it-yourself security systems and patio-door blocks. “The more the media is covering this and they're showing Colerain, it's making a lot of people nervous,” said assistant manager Dave Dine.

        In Symmes Township, residents are watching out for themselves and their neighbors and keeping a keener eye on their children.

        At the three- and four-bedroom homes along the streets of a well-manicured subdivision, the doors are deadbolted and the windows locked. Lights are left on at night, and several of the children know not to play alone in their back yards.

        Karen Herbe, a stay-at-home mom with two boys, ages 12 and 17, keeps the garage closed at all times. Her husband suggested she answer the door with Otis, a chocolate Lab, at her side.

        Mrs. Herbe and other neighbors take turns watching their children walk to and from the bus stop.

        “We're all looking out for each other more,” she said.

        Using DNA evidence, police have linked the serial rapist to five attacks on women, teen-agers and young girls in Mason, Montgomery and Colerain Township since April 1998. Police say the masked man breaks into the houses through an unlocked window or door, and usually attacks his victims as they sleep. He has carried many of his victims, especially the children, outside to commit the rape, police said.

        Victims of the serial rapist have described him as white, 20 to 40 years old, about 6-feet, 200 pounds, muscular, with blue or green eyes, sandy or reddish hair and a mustache. He has worn a black mask in all of the attackes.

        Authorities now are having forensic tests run on DNA evidence to see if Sunday's attack on a 29-year-old woman at Wellington Place condominiums in Symmes Township was committed by the serial rapist.

        The task force, which includes police and prosecutors in Warren, Butler and Hamilton counties as well as federal and state agencies, also is investigating attempted rapes in Sharonville, Springdale and Blue Ash.

        The task force works in secrecy, but many police agencies have increased patrols in areas where the rapist has attacked.

        “It doesn't necessarily mean we've added more cars. We're just changing the patrol patterns to flood the areas where this has happened a little more,” said Steve Barnett, spokesman for the Hamilton County Sheriff's office. “Hopefully we're close enough to prevent it or catch him in the act.”

        In Mason, which experienced the first three rapes, Chief Ron Ferrell has assigned one of the department's two detectives full-time to the investigation.

        Meanwhile, patrol officers are taking no chances on the street.

        “Their awareness in all of our residential areas is very much heightened and has been for some time. It's difficult to move around in our neighborhoods without our officers wondering what you are doing. They are stopping cars,” Chief Ferrell said.

        “There is nothing about this we don't take very, very seriously.”

        Even communities that haven't been victimized are taking heed.

        “If you do the geography, we're next. We'd like to be prepared if he should make the mistake of coming out here,” said Loveland Chief Dennis Rees. The northeastern Hamilton County city is sandwiched between Montgomery and Symmes Township, less than a mile from the Warren County line.

        Requests for crime prevention programs are at an all-time high at the sheriff's office in Warren County. By day, Deputy Mike Krznarich teaches DARE to students in two schools. At night, he speaks to neighborhood associations and Girl Scout troops.

        “I think they are more concerned for their safety. They want to know how to take an active role in preventing this from happening to them or near them,” he said.

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen is coordinating activities of the rape task force from his office in downtown Cincinnati.

        Officers from 17 agencies are meeting almost daily to share information and track down leads in the hope of identifying a suspect.

        “It's been the most frustrating part of my relatively short realm as prosecutor,” Mr. Allen said of the serial rape investigation.

        “I can't stress enough the seriousness of this, with the nature of the offenses and the ages of the victims. Every day that goes by that this guy is not captured is another day of frustration.”

        Richelle Thompson contributed to this report.

        Some tips for staying safe

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