WHEELING, W.Va. – DNA evidence from the February kidnapping and rape of an 11-year-old girl matches that from a rape of a Kentucky woman last year, and law enforcement officials are focused on the entire region in an effort to catch the unknown suspect.
“We believe the same individual is responsible for both of these assaults,” Wheeling police Chief Kevin Gessler said Wednesday, adding he believes the man might have approached other women and girls.
The suspect is described as white and in his late 20s or early 30s. He has a medium build; short, dark hair; and might have a thin moustache. Police said he has a tattoo depicting a braided chain or barbed wire around his upper right arm.
He used the same approach in both assaults — stripping naked, except for boots or socks, to shock his victims and asking questions to distract them, the victims said.
On Feb. 20, the suspect approached the girl on a Wheeling street. He was wearing only socks and asked for directions, according to police and the FBI. He grabbed the girl and forced her into a dark-brown, extended-cab pickup. He took her to St. Clairsville, Ohio, where he raped her outside in subfreezing weather. The man released the girl less than an hour later in Bridgeport, Ohio.
In August 2006, the same man attended a yard sale hosted by a 30-year-old woman in Leitchfield, Ky., police said. After negotiating a price for furniture, the man left to get money. He reappeared a short time later at her back door, wearing only boots. He entered the house and assaulted the woman. A neighbor reported seeing him flee in a red sport-utility vehicle.
Two weeks ago, the FBI laboratory in Maryland matched DNA samples collected in both incidents, said Kevin Deegan, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI office in Pittsburgh, which covers West Virginia.
Leitchfield is about 75 miles southwest of Louisville and about 400 miles from Wheeling.
“Clearly, there’s a connection between these two areas,” Deegan said. “What that connection is, we don’t know.”
Authorities released a sketch of the suspect based on information from the Kentucky victim.
The Wheeling victim’s mother said her daughter was attacked the day before her 12th birthday.
“He kidnapped her from behind, so she really didn’t have a chance,” said the woman, 35, who is not being named to protect the identity of her child.
She said she believes the information will lead to an arrest.
“Thank God,” she said. “I hate if this happened to another victim, but I think this is the way we catch him.”
Gessler, the police chief, said the same.
“We are determined to solve this case,” he said. “Our focus is on this region of the country. We don’t want to limit this to any particular state.”
More than 1,000 leads have been investigated since February, the police chief said. Anyone with information should call 1-800-CALL-FBI or visit www.wheelingpd.com .