Las Vegas Sun

March 20, 2018

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Similarities seen in serial rapes locally and in St. Louis

Although the statute of limitations has run out on prosecuting the so-called "Green Valley rapist," Henderson Police are working with St. Louis authorities to catch the man who may have committed several local sexual assaults during the early 1990s.

St. Louis police believe that city's "Southside rapist" is Dennis N. Rabbitt, a 42-year-old construction worker who lived in Las Vegas during the early 1990s but more recently has lived in Cedar Hill, Mo., in Jefferson County.

Police took a saliva sample from Rabbitt last week and found it matched DNA at the scene of at least one of the Southside rapist attacks. The Southside rapist has struck at least 16 times in the St. Louis area over the past 10 years.

When St. Louis police went to arrest Rabbitt, he was gone. He was charged over the weekend with a 10-month-old rape in Jefferson County and now is the target of a nationwide manhunt by state and federal agents.

Rabbitt was last seen in southwest Missouri. Some have speculated that he may be en route to Southern Nevada.

"I don't think he is heading here," Henderson Police Capt. Richard Perkins said Tuesday. "He has very little means. He is traveling in a beat- up car. He has no money."

Nevertheless, if Rabbitt does come here, Perkins says he can be arrested on a fugitive warrant obtained by Missouri authorities. But charges cannot be filed locally.

"The statute of limitations on rape is four years, so we can't prosecute," Perkins said of the Green Valley rapist case that is classified by police as open but inactive.

"We can, however, provide closure for the local victims by helping St. Louis authorities prosecute him. And we can help at sentencing."

Evidence on Nevada rapes for which Rabbitt might have been responsible could be presented at a sentencing hearing, if he were convicted of crimes in Missouri.

The Green Valley rapist was linked to as many as seven rapes -- usually at automated teller machines -- in the affluent part of Henderson in late 1991, early 1992 and autumn 1992.

However, police now believe that one rapist may have been the culprit in only two or three of those incidents and that the others may have been copycat crimes.

Several police sketches were released to the Southern Nevada news media at the time. Witnesses described the rapist as a white man with light brown hair, 6 foot, 3 inches tall, and weighing 215 pounds.

Rabbitt is of average height, possibly 6 feet tall, and weighs from 220 to 260 pounds. Victims of the Southside rapist have described him as ranging from 5 feet, 10 inches to 6 feet tall and weighing from 150 to 200 pounds.

None of the local sexual assaults were solved. If the rapist moved between Southern Nevada and St. Louis, it would answer a number of questions about how he avoided capture.

A lot of movement "would have made it real tough for us to catch him," Perkins said.

Yet Perkins strongly cautioned that Henderson Police, who were contacted about Rabbitt for the first time Monday, currently have nothing to tie Rabbitt to any crimes committed locally.

"There were some similarities, but nothing to link him now."

In St. Louis, police started suspecting Rabbitt after a tip last week that a man was trying to break into homes. A witness gave police the license number of the prowler's car, which led them to Rabbitt.

Police questioned him. Although they didn't charge him, they asked Rabbitt for a saliva sample, which he gave.

Preliminary tests showed that Rabbitt's DNA matched some of the DNA left at the crime scene where the Southside rapist struck, prompting additional tests.

"We conducted new DNA tests, and it's a 100 percent match," St. Louis Police Chief Ronald Henderson said Monday.

DNA results showed there is only a one-in-5.5 billion chance that the Southside rapist is anyone but Rabbitt.

The St. Louis circuit attorney's office, which had asked for the extra tests, is reviewing the city's cases linked to the serial rapist. Charges are expected within a few days, police said.

While police were waiting for Rabbitt's initial DNA tests from the lab, they showed his mug shot to an 18-year-old Byrnes Mill, Mo., woman who was raped at knifepoint in a car outside the Schnucks store in High Ridge, Mo., on Jan. 15. She identified the man in the photo as her attacker.

As a result of that identification and the information St. Louis police obtained about Rabbitt, Jefferson County authorities got a warrant Saturday charging Rabbitt in the attack on the teenager.

The Jefferson County sheriff's office said Rabbitt was last thought to be in Joplin, Mo., near the Oklahoma border.

The attacker got the nickname "Southside rapist" because the first eight assaults were committed in affluent neighborhoods in the southern half of St. Louis. DNA evidence has been gathered in 16 of 22 incidents in which the serial rapist is suspected.

St. Louis-area police are contacting hotels and motels between Missouri and California asking managers to post Rabbitt's picture. The FBI also is involved.

Investigators say Rabbitt is driving a faded red 1985 Nissan Sentra.

Six years ago, the Green Valley rapist generated a lot of local news coverage and widespread community fear.

The rapist approached women at ATMs, took their bank cards and forced them to give him their secret codes so he could rob them. Then, at knifepoint, he raped them.

After a lull of eight months, a rapist fitting the description of the earlier attacker returned and in a weekend spree raped three women, two at the same apartment complex.

During the height of the Green Valley rapist frenzy, Southern Nevada judo instructors reported an increase in the number of new students -- especially females.

"The bad publicity raised a level of fear, which is not what a police department wants to see happen in its community," Perkins said. "But it also raised the level of awareness, and we received a lot of tips about that case and others."

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.