Serial specter: Belmont attack renews rapist fears

She went out to walk her dog that night. The dog growled, and two men appeared in her driveway, identifying themselves as detectives from the Charlottesville Police Department.

That's how a long-time Belmont Park area resident learned that, a few doors down from her Stonehenge Avenue home, a woman had been sexually assaulted around 7:30pm on January 11.

And while forensic results were not back at press time, police acknowledge that aspects of this attack are similar to those of the serial rapist who's terrorized Charlottesville since 2002 and has been genetically linked to assaults on seven women over the past eight years.

In the most recent attack, a 46-year-old woman returned home to find an African-American male of medium build in his early to mid-twenties, approximately 5'10" tall.

"As soon as she came in the door, he grabbed her and threw her down to the floor," says Captain Chip Harding. The attacker had a knife and the woman suffered a cut, for which she was treated at UVA Medical Center and released.

Entry appeared to be through an unlocked window in which the screen had been cut, says Harding.

Police believe the serial rapist observes his victims beforehand. He typically waits inside, which was the case in the most recent DNA-linked attack August 18 at a Webland Drive residence off Hydraulic Road. In that incident, he punched the woman in the face, what police call the "blitz attack," which was used most viciously in a November 2002 rape in the Willoughby subdivision.

"It would be very unusual if this one was a random selection," says Harding of the Belmont assault. "To investigators, it appeared he'd done some homework, and he was definitely lying in wait."

The case also may be connected to another Belmont attack December 4 on Montrose Avenue. A woman in her late 30s returned home with a friend. She went upstairs and found a black male, who claimed he had a gun. The woman's scream brought her friend upstairs, and both women struggled with the intruder down the stairs. That attack has not been linked to the serial rapist.

However, in the January 11 incident, "We are strongly leaning toward thinking whoever did this is the same assailant who attacked a woman in her residence on Montrose," says Harding.

"It's definitely upsetting," says the Belmont neighbor, who asks not to be identified. "I've been here 20 some years, and every time you go out the door, you've got to look behind you."

Belmont represents the newest reported location in an ever-widening web of attacks. At least four have taken place in the UVA area, but the first reported rape happened in Waynesboro in 1997.

And every time a new attack is reported, fears of the predator are reawakened, particularly in the area where the assault occurs.

Belmont, originally a working-class neighborhood, has seen more affluent buyers come in, and, correspondingly seen skyrocketing home prices in the once affordable neighborhood.

Many older residents remain. "This is normally a pretty decent neighborhood," says the woman who's lived there 25 years. "It's awful when you're not used to this sort of thing. You used to be able to sleep with the doors and windows open. You can't do that anymore."

The Hook's January 16, 2003, cover: Are police any closer to catching the serial rapist?