By Maria Glod and Caitlin Gibson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A white man who stabbed or attacked three dark-skinned men in Leesburg this month is probably the "Flint serial killer," thought to have killed five men and wounded 10 -- almost all of them black -- in Michigan, police said Monday.
The unprovoked Virginia assaults began Aug. 3, when a teenager out for a nighttime jog suddenly felt a sharp pain, then turned to see a man who had plunged a knife in his back. Two days later and a short distance away, police think, the same assailant stabbed a 67-year-old man who was sitting on the stoop outside his apartment. Then, on Friday, the attacker asked a man for help fixing a dark-green sport-utility vehicle, then struck the good Samaritan in the head with a hammer.
Leesburg Police Chief Joseph R. Price said he is confident the man wanted in Flint is the same person attacking men in Loudoun County. There are striking similarities in the methods of the attacks, but the strongest evidence is the specific description of the suspect's green SUV, which is nearly identical in both locations.
Price said he thinks the man may be prowling for more victims and warned residents to be on guard. He recommended that people use the buddy system while walking or jogging. Police in Michigan have been reluctant to say the attacker is motivated by race, but Price was not.
"He's attacking based simply on the color of their skin," Price said. "I would consider this man to be very desperate and very dangerous."
Meanwhile, indications emerged Monday that the assailant may have struck over the weekend in Toledo. The last attack in Leesburg was on Friday.
Police in the Ohio city said Monday that the stabbing of a black Toledo man Saturday is likely linked to similar crimes in Flint and Leesburg, ToledoBlade.com reported.
The Toledo newspaper website said a 59-year-old Toldeo man was in critical condition Monday after being stabbed Saturday night by a man who asked him for directions. The website said the assailant was reportedly driving a dark green, older model Chevrolet S-10 Blazer with a tan lower section.
According to the website, police described the assailant as a white or Middle Eastern man, 5 feet 8 and 160 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.
Police in Leesburg said they have reached out to the local NAACP. "It does appear that the target of his rage, the targets of his attacks, are African American," Price said.
Two of the Leesburg victims are black. The 19-year-old who was struck with the hammer is Hispanic, but police think the attacker mistook him for African American because of his dark complexion. In the Leesburg attacks, the man has not used racial slurs or indicated any motive to his victims. In two instances, he did not speak.
In Michigan, police think a single assailant has stabbed 15 men since May, killing five. Thirteen of the victims are black, and two are white. All of the those killed were black. Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Patrick McGreevy said investigators there are aggressively examining the Leesburg cases but are not certain the same man is responsible.
"I can tell you there are similarities, and it may appear to be the same person," McGreevy said. "But to say they are conclusively linked -- we are not prepared to state that."
Police say the link to Michigan is not based on forensic evidence, such as DNA, and is therefore not conclusive. But Leesburg detectives noticed similarities to the Flint attacks and flagged investigators there. The attacker's description -- a white man with a muscular build who often wears a baseball cap -- is similar. Police think he often (but not always) chooses targets who are vulnerable: people who are older or of small stature. The victims are alone when they are approached. In each state, the attacker has used a similar ruse, asking for help with his car.
But the suspect's vehicle makes Leesburg police confident it's the same man. In both locations, the attacker was seen in a dark-green Chevrolet Blazer with tan paneling around the bottom. In Leesburg, the vehicle was described as having two grapefruit-size dents in the hood. An image of the car was captured on surveillance video after the most recent attack.
"These people are assaulted, and he disappears into the night," McGreevy said. "We're not going to stop until we get this guy."
Leesburg police have stepped up patrols, and the FBI is helping with the investigation. Police in Leesburg and Flint -- separated by 555 miles, or about 9 1/2 hours by car -- announced the possible connection Monday and urged anyone who may have seen the SUV or have other information to call them.
"Clearly people have seen this person, have seen this vehicle," Price said. "We have no information to say if he's still here, or if he has fled."
Ronald Turco, an Oregon psychiatrist who has studied serial killers and worked with the FBI, said if it is the same assailant, he thinks the crimes are probably racially motivated, partly because the attacker has targeted similar victims and Leesburg is not predominantly African American. The town's population is about 10 percent black.
"I'd say it's someone who has a deep resentment against black people," Turco said.
In Leesburg, the assaults began about 9:30 p.m. Aug. 3. A 15-year-old boy was jogging near a busy stretch of strip malls when he felt a pain in his back. Then he saw blood. The assailant never spoke, but the teen saw him run and flee in a car he described as a green minivan with a white stripe. Police think it could have been the SUV because the teenager's fleeting glance was in the dark after he had just been stabbed.
Two days later, a 67-year-old Leesburg man was sitting outside his Edwards Ferry Road apartment just after 6 a.m. when a man wearing a baseball cap hopped out of his vehicle and walked past him into the apartment building. The man soon came back out and, without a word, stabbed the Leesburg man in the back.
The most recent Leesburg attack happened Friday night when a 19-year-old Hispanic man walking through a parking lot to meet friends was approached by a man who said he need help fixing his car. When the two got to the man's car, the assailant pulled out a tool they think was a hammer and aimed at the teenager's head. The teenager avoided the worst of the blow, and then ran for safety.
Police said the 15-year-old and the 67-year-old remain hospitalized. Both are expected to recover, though the older man had to have a kidney removed as a result of his wounds. The 19-year-old is recovering, they said.
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