Fairmount rape victim haunted by memory of attacker police never found

 A sketch of the suspect. (Courtesy of Philadelphia Police Department)

A sketch of the suspect. (Courtesy of Philadelphia Police Department)

Fifteen years ago, a brutal sexual assault left a Fairmount woman hospitalized with physical injuries that would heal, but memories that would haunt her to this day.

Around 10 p.m., she was in her kitchen having a glass of wine and cooking when a man armed with a silver handgun snuck in through a side door, told her not to scream and asked, “Where’s the money?”

She was then forced upstairs, where she handed over her credit cards including an American Express Optimum Card, which she said would give him access to cash.

Then, he raped her.

“After he was finished,” the report from July 16, 2000, states, “the male asked the complainant if she had any rope. The complainant replied no, but she had string in the kitchen.”

The rapist used that string to tie her hands behind her back. Then, he hit her over the head with his gun.

“[She] attempted to play dead but was unable to because she began choking on the blood that she was spitting up,” the report states.

Then, the man left the room. When she heard him coming back upstairs, she jumped out of a second-floor window onto the ground below.

The fall left her bloodied from extreme injuries, but her assailant — who was seen breaking into a car earlier in the evening — then fled the scene.

Neighbors who heard the victim’s screams called 911.

Witnesses would tell police that the gun-wielding man ran from the Ringgold Street crime scene, north toward Girard Avenue, carrying a dark-colored duffle bag with a light logo on the side.

He would never be heard from again.

And the woman would be left facing the horrors of what happened.

The suspect description

The victim described the rapist as a 5-foot 9-inch tall black male with a thin beard, brown eyes, close-cut hair and a long face. Between the ages of 28 and 33, he was wearing a white-checkered plain shirt and navy blue jogging pants with a stripe on the side.

Witnesses who saw the assailant after the fact told police he was a little taller than that (5-feet 11-inches tall) with a dark complexion wearing dark clothing (possibly a hip-length jacket) and a baseball-style hat.

The impact

While these cases often garner widespread attention in the immediate aftermath, they linger with victims and investigators long after the fact.

That’s particularly true of this case for the victim — whose name is being withheld at her request — and Special Victims Unit Detective Linda Pace, who was the first to interview her in the hospital that evening.

Pace said the brutality of the case led to the victim and investigator forging a first-name relationship that’s lasted until this day.

She recalled how they spoke for hours, as the victim “just needed to vent, needed somebody to talk to and she felt comfortable talking with me.”

The victim was “really traumatized and injured so it had an impact on both of us.”

“Some victims, you get really, really close to, and she was one of them,” said Pace, who requested a transfer to a unit specifically to work on abused-women cases nearly 20 years ago. “I really want this to be solved before I retire.”

DNA evidence from the assault has been in the national CODIS database for years, and anytime similar cases arise locally or across the country, they check for a connection. But every time, it’s been for naught.

“She’ll call me and say, ‘I saw this assault on the news,’ and I tell her that we’re already on it, checking for a match,” Pace said. “She contacted me recently because of the anniversary approaching, and I let her know that I was thinking about her too.”

The rape “impacted her severely” with emotional stress making it difficult to hold down a job. She recently found one about which she’s really happy.

“I know she relives it a lot, thinks about it a lot,” Pace said. “There have been a lot of emotional setbacks. This was a really violent sexual assault, one of the worst cases I’ve investigated. I guess that’s why I got so emotionally attached to it.

“She was a true victim. That’s why, whenever she calls me, I make time for her to come in, or if she just wants to talk on the phone, whatever it is, because I know she just needs that ear. She can’t just talk to anybody.”

Often, those conversations transcend the investigator/victim relationship; they’ve become friends.

“I think that’s even better because it doesn’t focus on what happened to her, so she doesn’t have to live that whole thing all over again,” said Pace. “I think she just calls to vent about anything and everything, and I’ll just listen to her.”

What haunts Pace is knowing that the assailant has yet to be arrested and convicted. Someone who does this once is likely to do it again.

“We want all of our cases to be solved right away, but to go 15 years without a DNA match is a little surprising,” said Pace, noting that investigators canvassed the neighborhood and took swabs to exclude possible suspects mentioned by tipsters.

“This is one case that I would love to see come to an arrest more for the victim to have closure, but for me as an investigator to have closure as well,” Pace continued. “She’ll never get over it, but to know this violent person is off the streets and can’t do this to anyone else would give her some level of closure.”

If the assailant has since died, or if he’s just a burglar who opportunistically saw a chance to sexually assault a woman that night, it may never reach that point due to lack of DNA evidence.

Still, Pace said she’ll continue investigating as if the assailant is alive and walking the streets with the chance to strike again. What’s her message to the unknown rapist?

“Turn yourself in because, eventually, we’re going to catch up to you. That could have been your mother, sister, aunt. What would you want to happen?” she said. “If you have any conscience, do the right thing and turn yourself in so this victim can go on with her life.”

If you have any information about the case, contact Detective Pace at (215) 685-3265.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.