For nine years the "teardrop" rapist was one of Los Angeles' most prolific serial predators, preying on women from Melrose Avenue to Manchester Boulevard.
The assailant, sometimes described as having a teardrop tattoo below one of his eyes, targeted girls and women walking alone in the early-morning hours. He would force them into a secluded area at the point of a gun or knife before raping or sexually assaulting them.
There were 27 reported rapes or attempted assaults between 1996 and 2005. Then the crimes seemed to stop.
But on Tuesday, police announced that DNA evidence indicates that the attacker is prowling the streets again. Last November, a 15-year-old girl walking to school early one morning in Southwest L.A. was pulled into a yard by a man brandishing a gun. He sexually assaulted her. Samples of DNA linked the case to the earlier teardrop rapes.
Officials issued a blunt warning, urging women and girls to walk in pairs, especially at night and during the early morning.
"The crimes have been rape, sodomy, oral copulation, kidnapping … the M.O. is very distinct … these are women walking alone," said Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese at a news conference.
With 11 of the 28 victims being minors, Albanese said, parents need to pay particular attention to the safety of their daughters.
"As the father of a teenage daughter, I would not want her in the described area walking alone," he said.
He also warned that women should not wear headphones while walking alone in the early morning.
Investigators from the Los Angeles Police Department and theLos Angeles County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday released a panel of nine sketches of the attacker drawn over the years from victims' descriptions.
From April 1996 to June 2003 he struck more than two dozen times. But after an LAPD news conference in 2003 that sought the public's help, no attacks were reported until 2005, when he struck once more in the Florence-Firestone area patrolled by the Sheriff's Department.
For reasons police don't know, the attacks then appeared to stop.
"We've speculated why he stopped, but we don't know," Albanese said.
The attack on the girl in November is the first new case since 2005.
"What we do know is he is back," Albanese said.
Investigators said the assailant is described by some victims as having a teardrop tattoo under one or both of his eyes, but the teenage victim in November did not see the tattoo. Detectives said it was possible that he had the tattoo removed.
Detectives have plenty of physical evidence, but no suspect.
They said 11 of the sexual assaults are connected via DNA evidence gathered from rape kits taken from the victims. In the remaining ones, the attacker's actions are so similar that they believe it is likely the work of the same person, who is described as a Latino man in his 40 to 50s who speaks fluent Spanish and English.
LAPD Det. Sharlene Johnson said that although the crimes that began in April 1996 occurred on random days, the assailant always attacked between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. She said the latest attack was similar to many of the others. It was 5:30 a.m. when the assailant struck up a conversation with the victim and casually asked for directions. He then pulled out a handgun.
"He quickly corrals them into a yard nearby. If anyone comes he flees," Johnson said. "He is generally calm."
Though he sexually assaulted many of the victims, Johnson said, he did not stab or shoot anyone.
Officials said the assailant has taken property from the victims, who were ages 14 to 41 at the time of the attacks.