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LAPD: Serial rapist strikes 35 times; 'We need to find this man'

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For 17 years, a man once dubbed the "Teardrop Rapist" has quietly struck again and again, sexually assaulting 35 women along a corridor that runs through the heart of the city from Hollywood to South L.A.

The suspect -- who his victims believe had a tattoo or teardrop-like mark -- left behind DNA in 10 of those attacks, but he has continued to elude detectives, police said.

Now, equipped with FBI profilers, a Facebook page, a $100,000 reward and billboards displaying an array of composite sketches, LAPD sex crimes detectives finally hope to uncover clues to help capture one of the city's most notorious rapists.

"We need to develop new leads. The calls have dried up. We need to find this man before he strikes again," said LAPD Det. Sharlene Johnson, who began working the case after a 15-year-old girl was assaulted in 2011 in South L.A.

"He has a connection to L.A. He has some anchor here … most serial rapists don’t stop until they get caught."

Johnson is one of the latest detectives to be assigned to pursue the rapist since police identified him as serial predator more than a decade ago. The suspect is described as Latino, 5 feet 2 to 5 feet 6 inches tall and 130 to 170 pounds. He speaks both Spanish and English and sometimes wears a beanie cap or baseball hat. He is now believed to be 40 to 55 years old with brown eyes, a light complexion and brown hair.

With the help of an FBI profiler, authorities spent several months developing information about the man's likely background and behavior. LAPD scoured DNA databases for the suspect and even looked for potential family members related by DNA. But so far, no clues have emerged.

LAPD Capt. Billy Hayes said the attacker has struck in an area bordered by Melrose, Western and Alameda avenues and 103rd Street. Three of the 35 attacks occurred in unincorporated areas just outside the city.

Last year, detectives from the Robbery Homicide Division canvassed the neighborhood surrounding the L.A. Coliseum, believing the rapist may be associated with the area. They came up empty.

In many of the cases, Johnson said the attacks are often so quick that the victims, between the ages of 14 and 41, didn’t get a good look at the suspect. Composite drawings based on victim descriptions have varied even as DNA identified the same man. Some victims saw a unique, teardrop-like tattoo near the man's eye; others did not.

The scenario is the same: After a few words, the man wields a knife or gun and threatens to kill the victim. He pulls his victims into an alley or secluded area, where he assaults them before vanishing. He typically strikes between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. No vehicle has ever been connected to assaults.

At one point between 2005 and 2011, the streak of attacks seemed to stop. But in retrospect, Hayes said it may not have been a hiatus. Victims may have just not reported a crime.

The last confirmed attack was in June 2012 when a man fitting the serial rapist's description accosted a woman on Naomi Avenue near 25th Street in South L.A.

He approached her wearing a hoodie, tried to talk to her, then pistol-whipped her and forced her into an alley, Hayes said.

When a vehicle pulled into the alley, the man became frightened and fled on foot. The suspect hasn’t been seen since.

Anyone with information is asked by to contact LAPD's 24-hour number, (877) 527-3247, or email rhd-sas@lapd.lacity.org.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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