Conduct of High-Ranking Police Investigated : ‘Ski Mask Rapist’ Case Marred by Bungling
The “Ski Mask Rapist” case could be grist for one of Police Chief Joseph McNamara’s best-selling cop novels.
Laced with as much sex, violence, and mystery as McNamara’s “Fatal Command” and “The First Directive,” the ski mask case is unfolding as a tale of cool detective work marred by blunders and discord at the highest ranks of the police force.
George Anthony Sanchez, 26, a seemingly ordinary sewer worker and father of two, is behind bars, charged with 106 felony counts in 26 sexual assaults and linked to at least seven other rapes.
His cousin, Antonio Rodriguez, 20, also is in jail on charges that he joined Sanchez in one of the rapes and robberies.
City officials say Sanchez was a good worker and neighbors say he was nice to children. Police, though, describe him as a man obsessed with rape and robbery who prowled neighborhoods at night looking for women.
They say he was daring enough to attack day or night, but he was careful enough to leave few clues and elude capture for three years.
A search of his car and home turned up a pair of black panty hose tied into a mask with eye slits, a pellet handgun, gloves and jewelry and purses belonging to many of the victims, investigators say. Women in the nine cities where Sanchez allegedly struck say they feel more at ease this holiday season after assurances from police that he is, indeed, the Ski Mask Rapist. But there is fear of copycat rapists appearing. Already, one such case has been reported.
A Grim Story
The Ski Mask Rapist story is a grim one that has left victims on all sides: the women who were assaulted and robbed, their families and friends who suffered with them and thousands of people who lived in fear while the armed thug struck in churches, offices, schools and homes.
The latest victim is a police officer, the deputy chief in charge of the Bureau of Investigation, who was shifted to another post for what the chief called “intolerable mistakes.”
McNamara says the deputy chief, 30-year veteran Ike Hernandez, violated strict department rules by not informing him of important details in the case and for misleading reporters with inaccurate statements.
One piece of information McNamara says he wasn’t told about was Sanchez’s alleged sexual assault of an 83-year-old woman in a church confessional during a break in police surveillance the day after Thanksgiving.
Respect of His Peers
McNamara, respected by his peers for running an efficient, highly computerized force, has ordered Hernandez’s replacement, Deputy Chief Tom Frazier, to conduct an inquiry into the entire investigation.
Why, McNamara wants to know, was surveillance suspended, and was it justified?
Why did detectives take six months to start watching Sanchez full-time after they were tipped off that he had once used a ski mask, handgun and gloves while trying to get in the house of a lone woman in nearby Foster City in 1985?
He was convicted of attempted burglary in that case and served six months in jail during a time when the rapes stopped.
The mask, gun and gloves--similar to items found in Sanchez’s car--sat in a Foster City police storage room for two years as officers there failed to make a connection with the much-publicized rape cases 25 miles way.
Similar Cases Reported
Reports of rape in San Jose come in every day, few of them connected, but after 11 similar rapes in Santa Clara County, only three of them in San Jose, McNamara said detectives knew a dangerous serial rapist was on the loose.
Following a department practice of assigning descriptive names to unknown felons, detectives dubbed the assailant the “Ski Mask Rapist.” San Jose police began assembling details and holding meetings with police in neighboring cities.
The big break came last May when the Foster City woman called a rape crisis center and suggested that Sanchez might be the serial rapist.
That tip, relayed to San Jose police, was filed as “Lead No. 120" by Lt. Joe Reyes, the only detective working full-time on the case because of a manpower shortage.
Another detective joined Reyes on the case in August after all leads had been filed in a computer. Working up to 16 hours a day, they began narrowing the list of suspects. In October, they started looking at Lead No. 120.
At least three other suspects still looked “promising,” McNamara said, including one tailed for three weeks, but by late November, Sanchez became a “red hot” suspect and police put him under surveillance.
Foster City police say that they didn’t associate their attempted burglary with the rape cases, in part because the two crimes are so different. Many burglars, they say, wear ski masks or hoods, and most burglars are not rapists.
McNamara, while acknowledging that he wishes the Foster City police had come forward sooner, refused to criticize them. And he backed his own detectives, who he said did a solid job sifting hundreds of leads and finding Sanchez.
“It’s not possible to do it as they do on the television programs, to sort of look at the suspect and say, ‘This must be him,’ ” McNamara said. “We simply had to work one lead after another.”
Supervising Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Nudelman says detectives who cracked the case have been “denied their moment in the sun” because of “a public relations error.”
“There is no investigation of this magnitude that is going to be conducted without error,” he said. “The issue is, what is the ultimate result? It culminated in what is probably the most significant arrest in a sexual assault case in the last 15 years.”
The case is far from over. Sanchez is scheduled to enter a plea on Jan. 6. The women who were assaulted are reliving their ordeals as they confer with investigators and will have to go through it again at the trial.
McNamara may be taking notes along the way for another novel, but for the time being he has to deal with a shake-up in his high command and an investigation that still has many questions to be answered.