Houston & Peach

Peach authorities increase patrol, form task force to catch accused rapist

FORT VALLEY -- Five break-ins in seven days in which two women were raped has prompted Peach County authorities to beef up patrols and form a task force.

Authorities think one man is responsible, and Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese said he thinks the man’s intent is not burglary but rape.

“In none of them he’s actually broken in and taken stuff,” Deese said. “He’s getting the ladies out of bed or waking them up, so I think his motive is more toward the women than the property.”

Two of the break-ins happened early Thursday.

“Once we recognized that there was a pattern, we wanted to jump on top of it as soon as we possibly could,” Fort Valley Public Safety Director Lawrence Spurgeon said.

The suspect was described as a black man, standing 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing 130 to 150 pounds. He has worn dark clothing and a red bandana over his face.

Authorities think the crimes were committed by the same person based on the facts and circumstances of the break-ins, including the suspect’s actions and descriptions from the victims.

“This is just out of character for our little neighborhood here, and for there to be this many cases that are this similar, this close together, I feel pretty confident that they’re interrelated,” Deese said.

All the break-ins happened within walking distance and near Fort Valley State University, Deese said.

The first residential break-in was April 2 in the Julius C. Simmons Avenue area, the next was Sunday on Vandaway Street and the third was Wednesday on Rayfield Wright Street. Thursday’s break-ins were on South Montrose and Green streets.

All the victims were women. All woke up to find an armed man in their home. Two were sexually assaulted, two were able to fight off their attacker and another called for her husband, who was in another part of the home, and the suspect ran off, Deese said. All of the break-ins happened between 2 and 4:30 a.m.

Deese encouraged residents to report anything suspicious -- from “sounds in the night to strangers in their neighborhood.”

Spurgeon advised residents to “take all precautions, especially females. When they need to leave the house at a certain time by themselves, make sure that they’re keeping a 365-degree perspective on their surroundings, make sure you’re locking the doors, the bedroom windows and just use common sense safety precautions.

“We’ve adjusted our shifts, so we’re going to have plenty of people out looking for this guy and trying to make sure that he gets caught. But it would really help if all our citizens would be vigilant in looking for this person and give us any tips they possibly can.”

The task force comprises Fort Valley police, Peach County sheriff’s deputies and FVSU campus police. Also, the Peach County Drug Enforcement Unit has been called in to help.

“One of the historical problems with investigation of rape cases has been that the investigations are often haphazard, disjointed and frequently done in ignorance of the suspect’s past sexual assault history and other agencies’ previous investigations,” Spurgeon said in a release. “We have formed this task force in order to alleviate any of those issues.”

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Fort Valley police at 478-825-3384, the Peach County sheriff’s office at 478-825-8269, or call 911.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.