No Definitive Link to Serial Rapist in Low Country Cases - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

01/06/05

No Definitive Link to Serial Rapist in Low Country Cases

Authorities have not linked this suspect to Low Country assaults. Authorities have not linked this suspect to Low Country assaults.

A serial rapist has hit victims in Savannah, Garden City, and Richmond Hill. Lately, fear has spread to the Low Country. But is it warranted? Maybe not.

There are two rape investigations going on right now in Beaufort and Jasper Counties, and a lot of people have been pretty worried they might be related to a handful of rapes in the Savannah area. But investigators have yet to make any definitive connections in either county.

This man in this police sketch is still on the loose, wanted for the Savannah-area rapes. Now a lot of women in South Carolina are worried he's crossed the border and are being much more careful.

"Twenty minutes ago, I went to the store and me and my cousin rode together," said Priscilla Willis of Hilton Head Island. "We just won't even go outside alone."

Willis is like a lot of women around Beaufort County right now. Investigators, though, say a lot of people may be jumping to conclusions.

"The rumor mill is working overtime," said Beaufort County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Debbie Szpanka. "People need to focus on the facts. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office is working one criminal sexual assault."

That one rape happened last month in Bluffton, but Szpanka says it could easily be an isolated incident. "There is no link at this point to the other incidents in Savannah."

Fueling some of that speculation was another incident where another Bluffton woman was approached by a man with a gun. But investigators say the victim knew the suspect in that case, and it's not likely connected at all. That doesn't mean, though, that women should let their guard down.

"The negative byproduct is there is unnecessary fear and confusion," said Szpanka. "The good byproduct is that people are being more vigilant."

"It's kind of keeping me in the house more," said Priscilla Willis. "I've been in the house a lot more, and I'm an outdoors person."

Investigators say one problem they've run into in Bluffton is someone's been putting up sketches with the picture of Savannah's suspect, but the flyers don't put it in context, and that's created a lot of confusion.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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