The idea of waiting years for the opportunity to resolve a work-related issue is alien to most of us. For Lt. Hugh Howard of the Emory Police Department (EPD), it's sometimes the only option available.
That kind of patience recently paid off for Howard, who is in charge of the EPD Detective Unit, with the arrest of a suspect in two assaults and one rape in Lullwater. The assaults occurred on Memorial Day weekend and in November of 1993, and the rape took place on Memorial Day weekend the following year.
Being ready for a breakthrough
"It was obvious to me that those three incidents were related," Howard said. "The composites we had drawn were all the same. We followed all kinds of leads, checking with the district attorneys in nearby areas. Anything that might be a possible lead was investigated to the point of trying to find the same MO (method of operation) of similar suspects. We couldn't find anything. We had to go all the way back to 1989 in the metro area to find anything that was even reasonably close."
About six months after the rape, Howard said, the leads stopped coming in, which meant there was little else left for him to do in terms of solving the cases.
"After that, I would check every couple of months to see if any similar incidents had happened around the area," Howard said. "I was with the DeKalb County Police for almost 20 years and I've got some friends in the DeKalb Sex Crimes Unit. I would check with them and with the City of Atlanta. Any time that I read in the newspaper or saw on the news that any assault or sexual assault had happened anywhere in the state-especially on a jogging trail with a middle-aged white male, six feet or taller-I would call and find out exactly what happened."
That determination began to pay off for Howard last November when a composite of the suspect in the latest in a series of rapes in Athens, Ga., was released. Not only did Howard notice striking similarities between the Athens composite and the description by the Emory rape victim, but also between the victims' statements in both the Emory and Athens attacks.
"The more I talked with the people in Athens, the more we felt like things were similar," Howard said. "We started looking at common elements. Both rapes took place adjacent to a college campus. The Athens victim was a college student. Our victim wasn't a student, but she was in an area where students go. Both universities have lots of construction going on, so we looked at similar contractors."
While Howard and the Athens police were conferring, a similar rape occurred in Gainesville, Ga., not far from Athens. "The Gainesville incident happened on a jogging trail, and they were actually able to identify the guy," Howard said. "You could interchange the victims' statements. It was almost like the exact same things had happened."
A suspect was soon arrested in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta.
Keeping in touch
In addition to the extra effort Howard put into looking out for new leads, he also kept in touch with the Emory rape victim to keep her updated on the investigation. "I told her that I felt almost like her big brother because we had been together for so long," Howard said. "To be honest, she would get in touch with me when she would hear of something that happened. If there was something on the news that had any similarity to her attack, I knew I might as well call her because I was going to get a call. She just wanted to see if I had looked into it."
Staying in touch with crime victims, Howard said, is critical for police investigators. "I feel it's important to stay in touch and just let them know what's going on," he said. Howard stressed that communicating with a victim merely for the sake of communicating is not the point. Rather, calling to let a victim know that you are aware that a similar incident has occurred tells the victim that the investigator is paying attention to what's happening and is continuing to work on the case. "That means a lot to them," he said.
While Howard has kept in touch with the two Emory assault victims, his communication with the rape victim has been the most frequent. "Hers was the strongest case for bringing to court because we had the most evidence," he said. "We knew that if we found somebody who fit the profile for her case, it would have a domino effect on the others. We feel confident that all three of the cases from campus will go to court."
Despite the notoriety of the Lullwater attacks, Howard said that violent crime on the Emory campus is rare and that theft is the most common form of criminal activity. "That's the way it really is most everywhere," he said. "But that's all wiped out with one person being attacked or injured. That's what we focus on. You always want to take care of people before property."
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