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Serial rapist may be preying on women near skid row, authorities say

August 12, 2010 | 12:44 am

Authorities say a possible serial rapist may be stalking women on skid row after what appears to be a second sexual assault involving a van driver in as many weeks.

Investigators say the suspect is believed to be a middle-aged man who drives a Ford Econoline-style van.

The first attack occurred Aug. 1 when a 37-year-old transient woman accepted a ride near 6th Street and Stanford Avenue in skid row. The victim told detectives that her assailant bound her with duct tape and raped her repeatedly over the next three days. The suspect eventually released her in Koreatown.

“The challenge for us in this case was the victim’s apprehension to cooperate,” said Los Angeles Police Lt. Paul Vernon, who heads the Central Detective Division. “It was difficult for officers to get any useful information from her, and since that night we’ve been unable to locate her.”

Then about 10 p.m. Monday, two women walking near 6th Street and Towne Avenue, not far from the previous incident, were approached by a middle-aged, balding man in a brown van. He offered one of the women a ride to get food. Vernon said one of the women accepted and they drove to a McDonald's restaurant at 7th Street and Alameda Avenue.

Once there, the man told the woman he wanted her to perform a sex act, Vernon said. When she refused, the assailant pulled a knife and bound the woman's arms and legs with duct tape and gagged her with more duct tape, Vernon said. The man drove to an industrial area of Alhambra, where he raped the woman, Vernon said.

The suspect then threw the victim, still naked, bound and gagged, into a dumpster and drove away. A nearby business owner discovered her, Vernon said.

“These types of stranger rapes and abductions are quite the exception, and we take them very seriously," Vernon said.

LAPD officers and detectives continue to patrol skid row for the van, he said. Detectives plan to release a composite sketch and possibly video footage in the coming days.

According to Vernon, the last series of rapes in skid row occurred in 2008. Eric Lamont Clay, 37, was arrested and charged in the rapes of at least four women, whom he picked up in his taxi.

Police are asking anyone with information on the rapes to call Det. Josh Riggs, Central Division sex crimes unit, at (213) 972-1235.

-- Richard Winton