Los Angeles police officers searched the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area on horseback Saturday for an unidentified man believed to have attacked four women in the park since July.
The four mounted officers, who carried composite drawings of the attacker based on victims’ descriptions, found no sign of the man despite 9 hours of combing the rugged park, where he may be living.
The members of the department’s new Mounted Police Patrol were assigned to search the park this weekend after previous efforts by police on foot and in helicopters failed to find the attacker. Six officers on horseback were scheduled to continue the search today.
The mounted officers at the park Saturday roamed a 2,000-acre strip of brush that was too overgrown for officers on foot to penetrate.
Detective Sgt. Dave Dempsey, who is heading the investigation, said the horse patrol also was being used to remind joggers who use the recreation area that the rapist is still at large. A suspect arrested 2 weeks ago was released when he was not identified by the victims.
In separate incidents in July and October, three women were attacked and raped while jogging or walking in the park, and a fourth woman was knocked down and robbed in mid-September, police said.
The rapist in at least two cases is believed to be a transient who lives in the heavily wooded parts of the recreation area, police said.
The attacker is described by police as 25 to 30 years old, about 5 feet, 5 inches tall, with black hair. His four front teeth are edged in gold, authorities said.
The victims described their attacker as an unclean, foul-smelling man who wore no shoes or shirt and appeared to be familiar with the brush areas of the park.
Police and Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department officials believe the area’s steep hills and riverbeds are home to a community of homeless people. But the officers patrolling the area Saturday said they saw no indications that people are living in the brush.
“Horses are good out here,” Detective Dexter Owens said. “They can detect things that we can’t see, especially people in the bushes. My horse will let me know, he’ll signal me. He hasn’t signaled me yet today.”
Despite police warnings to women walking or jogging in the park to be cautious or, if possible, to exercise with a partner, numerous women were using park trails alone early Saturday. The four attacks had occurred during morning hours.
But some women said they had changed their exercise habits since the attacks and now walk or run with a friend or wait until later in the day.
“I used to walk out here alone at night after work,” said Pam Griffith, 40, as she cooled down after her customary 3 1/2-mile walk. “Now I come out here later Saturday mornings, and what I do during the week is tapes at home, aerobics mostly.”
Tom Fee, a Van Nuys resident who said he often walks in the park at night with his dog, told two of the mounted officers that he had seen a man 2 weeks ago in the park who fit the composite description provided by the officers.
Fee said: “All of a sudden, this guy just came out of the weeds. Scared the hell out of me; my dog went crazy. We went to see where he was going, but he just disappeared into the night.”
Fee was the only person Saturday who told police he thought he had seen the park rapist, and several officers said they believe the transients may have moved on.
Earlier Camp Sighting
But the park’s senior maintenance supervisor, Patrick Kennedy, said he frequently has seen what appear to be hobo encampments in the area’s brush. He said he has come across sleeping bags, boxes of clothing and trash in remote areas of the flat, expansive park.
“It’s gotten increasingly worse over the years, but it’s been going on for quite some time,” Kennedy said. “We have found them sleeping in the restrooms. Some of our employees have literally tripped over them in the restrooms. It scares them as much as it scares the transients.”
Since the attacks, police and park rangers have increased the time they spend in the park, particularly during morning hours, Dempsey said.