A 45-year-old Temecula pool hall owner is in custody in connection with a series of 86 burglaries, sexual assaults and other crimes across Orange County, authorities said Tuesday.
Police said the suspect in the crimes, which took place over eight years, typically left his victims obscene notes or exposed himself during burglaries and sometimes returned to the same homes to rape the women who lived there.
Kenneth George Wade, a former truck driver with a criminal record dating back more than 25 years, was arrested July 25.
The victims range from a 12-year-old girl to women in their late 40s, investigators said. The attacks occurred in Santa Ana, Orange, Anaheim, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Tustin and Placentia and date back to the summer of 1987, police said.
“Those are just the cases we know about,” Santa Ana Police Lt. Robert Helton said. “There could be more. Many of these types of cases go unreported.”
Santa Ana police detectives said that, since the arrest, they have worked with investigators across the county to link Wade to a series of unsolved assaults and burglaries, including 32 cases in Orange, 24 in Santa Ana and 11 in Anaheim.
For several years, Helton said, a Santa Ana detective had been trying to make the connections among the unsolved cases in the city and elsewhere in the county. Helton said Tuesday that he did not know whether the department had issued public warnings about the unsolved cases over the years.
“Clearly, he’s been very elusive,” Helton said.
Investigators said the case came together after Wade’s arrest in an Anaheim neighborhood on the same day he allegedly tried to rape one woman and exposed himself to another there.
The reports jarred the memory of Police Sgt. Jim Moore, who recalled a string of unsolved rape cases in which a burglary suspect who exposed himself to women would return to rape them, Helton said.
That prompted Moore to dispatch other officers to the neighborhood where police spotted a man in a white Honda Accord who matched the description provided by victims, Helton said.
After a short car pursuit and a foot chase at a nearby apartment complex, Wade was arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property, resisting arrest, evading a police officer and indecent exposure. He was later booked on suspicion of rape, attempted rape, residential burglary and indecent exposure for his alleged connections to 24 victims in Santa Ana. Wade was being held Tuesday without bail at the Orange County Jail. His arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 11.
Investigators are setting up police witness lineups in an attempt to connect Wade to 62 other cases in Orange County, police said. They are reviewing physical evidence found at the crime scenes.
Anaheim Police Lt. Ted Labahn said authorities may be unable to prosecute Wade for some of the earlier crimes because the six-year statute of limitations on some sex offenses may have expired.
Wade served two prison sentences from December, 1990, to February, 1993, for first-degree robbery and grand theft convictions. During those years, Helton said, the series of rapes stopped. Since the late 1960s, Wade had struggled with drug and unemployment problems before embarking on the burglary and theft string that landed him in state prison twice.
He was arrested about a dozen times dating back to 1969 for drug possession and sales, weapons possession, sexual assault and indecent exposure charges, some of which were dismissed because of insufficient evidence.
The new charges stem from a series of crimes that began in July, 1987, when Santa Ana police started investigating home invasions in which a burglar entered through a window or a back door left open, Helton said. Often, the man would steal his victims’ cars to commit other crimes, police said.
When the victims were home, the man would expose himself before fleeing with the stolen property, police said.
Sometimes, the intruder would memorize a woman’s name, possibly from a driver’s license or other identification found during the burglary, and when he returned to rape her, he would repeat those personal facts, investigators said.
When he returned days or months later, the man would remind the woman that she had not heeded his warnings, Helton said.
Times staff writers Anna Cekola, Tracy Weber and Davan Maharaj and correspondent Shelby Grad contributed to this story.