Woman forced to drive to empty lot by would-be rapist

Eerily similar to two prior incidents in Maplewood, North St. Paul

 
Maplewood police are investigating the abduction and threatened sexual assault of a 25-year-old woman that occurred early Sunday morning. 
 
Had a gun
 
At approximately 2:40 a.m. Nov. 23, police were called after the 25-year-old victim reported an armed man had forced her to drive to an empty parking lot and threatened to rape her. 
 
Just a few steps from safety
 
Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell said the woman had left the Dog House Bar, 2029 Woodlynn Ave., Maplewood, with two friends; the trio walked separately to their cars in the parking lot.
 
That's when a man holding a gun got into the victim's car from the unlocked passenger door.
 
Although he brandished the gun, he told the woman he wanted sex and would only become violent if she did not comply.
 
The suspect directed the woman to drive away from the bar and to pull into a parking lot in the 2700 block of Hazelwood Street. 
 
Once there, the suspect ordered the victim to remove her clothing. He exposed his genitals. 
 
After a short time in the car, the suspect, who did not rape the woman, apologized to her and denied picking her specifically. 
 
The suspect got out of the car and walked away. The victim drove to a nearby fast food restaurant and called police and the other women she had been with earlier in the evening.
 
Maplewood police are collecting evidence from the car and are hoping there will be DNA.
 
The man is described as a white or light-skinned male from 30-50 years old, with a thin build. His face was obscured by a dark-colored ski mask with a red stripe near the top.
 
The woman said the man was wearing a dark colored hooded sweatshirt and pants. 
 
'Same MO'
 
Investigators are looking at possible correlations between this incident and similar occurrences in Maplewood and North St. Paul last February.
 
"The MO (method of finding victims) is very similar in nature to the previous cases," Schnell said. "And the description is loosely related -- of a guy from the 30s to the 50s -- although in none of these cases do we have a really highly detailed description." 
 
  • At 7:47 p.m. Feb. 23, 2013, North St. Paul police responded to a report of a female victim who ran away from a possible rapist.

    After a hockey game at North High School's Polar Arena, 2444 11th Ave., a 24-year-old woman had started her car in the parking lot.

    A man she described as a white male, about 30 to 40 years old, 6 feet tall with a medium build and facial hair, got into the car on the passenger's side. He had a black handgun, wore dark clothing, a black cap and latex gloves.

    The man told the victim that he wanted to have sex with her, ordering her to drive the vehicle to a parking lot west of North High near 10th Avenue and Third Street.

    He forced her to turn the car off and grabbed her. She saw a chance to get away, fled and screamed for help.

    The man then drove off in her car, which was later recovered.

    At the time, North St. Paul police expressed alarm that the suspect was familiar with local streets and appeared to have planned an abduction.

  • The Maplewood Police Department received the report at about 9:30 p.m. the same night in February 2013.

    According to a police statement, a woman reportedly left a gym near White Bear Avenue and County Road D at about 8 p.m., got into her car, and then a man she didn't know sat down in the passenger seat.

    The suspect was described as a white male, 30 to 40 years old, wearing a black ski mask, dark-colored pants and light-colored latex gloves, threatened to shoot the woman with a black handgun, if she tried to get away.

    He then forced her to drive to different locations in Maplewood, including a hotel, while telling her he was going to rape her.

    According to Schnell, in that case, the woman noticed that the man became increasingly nervous as they drove around.

    She apparently talked the man down, saying things to the effect of "'You should let me go. I don't want to see you getting into trouble,'" Schnell said.

    "He was explicit with the victim in the Maplewood case that his intention was to rape her," Schnell said.  "She was afraid of him.

    "To her credit, she was able to convince him to let her go." He didn't harm her and eventually asked to be dropped off near County Road C and White Bear Avenue.

    She braked at a stoplight, and he got out.

 
Police were unable to find the suspect in the 2013 cases.
 
'May escalate'
 
Schnell said of the February incidents that there is no proven right or wrong way for victims to respond to such a situation. In the February cases, the victims gauged the attacker's statements and behavior -- and the gun -- and did what they thought would keep them alive.
 
"It could be perfectly right to run. It could be perfectly right to fight. It could be perfectly right to comply," he said.
 
Schnell says that with the current attack some nine months later, police can't account for why there was a lapse in what appears to be a pattern involving one man.
 
Asked if the man might have been out of state or incarcerated in the meantime, Schnell said, "We just don't know."
Whatever happened in the interim, the recent case has police on edge.
 
"We believe the suspect in this case poses a very real threat," Schnell said. 
 
The fact victims have apparently been able to reason with the man and have escaped unhurt doesn't lessen the urgency to find him.
 
"This could be somebody who's attempting to get the courage to follow through on his threats. There are so many aspects of this that are so unclear, but the bottom line is it's very concerning, because he could escalate. 
 
"Until this suspect is arrested, we recommend increased safety diligence and active reporting of suspicious activity," he added.
 
Holly Wenzel can be reached at review@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7817.
 
 

 

Maplewood Police recommend simple steps to reduce the risk of being sexually assaulted:
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way to get out of a bad situation.
  • Try to avoid isolated areas. It is more difficult to get help if no one is around.
  • Walk with purpose. Even if you don't know where you are going, act like you do.
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably isn't the best place to be.
  • Try not to load yourself down with packages or bags as this can make you appear more vulnerable.
  • Make sure your cell phone is with you and charged and that you have cab money.
  • Don't allow yourself to be isolated with someone you don't trust or someone you don't know.
  • Avoid putting music headphones in both ears. You need to be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are walking alone.

 

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