Wednesday, April 24, 2002
Philadelphia rape suspect arrested
Evidence links a suspect in Colorado assaults to the attacks in Center City, including the 1998 killing of Shannon Schieber.
By Thomas Ginsberg, Larry Fish and Thomas J. Gibbons Jr.,
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS
FORT COLLINS, Colo. - After leaving DNA evidence in two states, the man who police believe is almost certainly the Center City rapist was caught yesterday by old-fashioned fingerprint analysis - and a letter tying him to the crime spree.
Authorities said fingerprints of the suspect, Troy Graves, 29, a onetime Center City resident now in the Air Force at a base near Fort Collins, matched a print from one of a string of attack scenes here.
Police also said that Graves had been linked to an unsigned letter sent to Fort Collins police about the crime wave.
The letter, produced on a computer used by Graves, discussed the Fort Collins assaults - and also referred to a Philadelphia attack in which the writer noted that a victim died, police said.
This was an apparent reference to graduate student Shannon Schieber, slain at age 23 in 1998 during a sexual assault in Center City.
With this evidence, police early yesterday arrested Graves and said he would face charges for a series of 2001 sexual assaults in Fort Collins.
He has yet to be charged with the 1998 killing of Schieber and five other Philadelphia attacks between 1997 and 1999. But DNA evidence taken from the crime scenes in both Philadelphia and Fort Collins has previously shown that the same predator was responsible for the attacks in the two cities.
Based on that, police officials here said they were virtually certain Graves would ultimately be charged with the Philadelphia attacks, too. Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson called him the "prime suspect."
"When it [DNA] comes back positive, we're going to have a lot to say," Johnson said. "And I'm pretty sure it's going to come back positive."
Johnson said the new round of DNA testing, in which a fluid sample taken directly from Graves would be checked against Philadelphia crime-scene samples, would not be finished for a few days.
With charges apparently imminent, the five-year-old hunt for the Philadelphia rapist appears to have reached its end.
"I am stunned. I am stunned," said one of his Center City victims. "I think about this every single day. You're always waiting for the next attack. If this means there aren't going to be any more, that's amazing."
His attacks here also exposed deep problems in how Philadelphia investigated sexual assaults. Police repeatedly botched their investigations into the cases, labeling his first victim a liar, refusing to accept his second as an sexual-assault victim, and failing for months to make crucial DNA links.
Graves, an Air Force maintenance worker at a nuclear-missile site in Cheyenne, Wyo., 50 miles from here, was arraigned in a Fort Collins courtroom yesterday, appearing via closed-circuit TV.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, Graves had black hair that appeared wavy and thick. He had stubble on his lower jaw.
He spoke only to quietly respond "yes, sir" to questions from Judge C. Edward Stirman on whether he understood his rights.
Police would not release his photograph, saying that to do so might prejudice plans for a lineup in which victims might identify him. A Fort Collins detective who has seen Graves reportedly said he closely resembles composite sketches released of the assailant in Philadelphia.
Graves is to be charged in Colorado with six counts of first-degree burglary, four counts of sexual assault, and two counts of unlawful sexual conduct, said Larimer County Sheriff's Deputy Julie Barney.
Graves was being held on $1 million bond in the Larimer County Detention Center here.
Graves is being investigated in connection with sexual assaults or rapes of at least 14 women since 1997 - six in Philadelphia and eight in Fort Collins. The charges to be lodged in Fort Collins apparently refer to five victims.
One of the Center City attacks ended in death for Schieber, a top-flight student at the Wharton School. She was found strangled on May 7, 1998, in her second-floor apartment near Rittenhouse Square.
Fort Collins police spent part of yesterday at Graves' home, a small brick twin next to the Colorado State University campus.
Neighbors said they watched police remove two bags of what appeared to be personal effects and tow away two vehicles.
It was not immediately clear how Fort Collins police zeroed in on Graves, putting investigators in a position to obtain his fingerprints.
Police did say that Philadelphia and Colorado officials began working closely in May 2001, after DNA linked a Philadelphia-area native to one of the assaults in Colorado.
According to Philadelphia police sources, detectives in both states then began creating a list of individuals who had connections in Fort Collins and Philadelphia, including Graves.
At some point, Fort Collins police received a letter, unsigned, discussing the assaults in Fort Collins, police said.
Police said the letter was written on a computer used by Graves, either at his home or his military base, Philadelphia police officials said.
At another point, Fort Collins authorities also linked Graves to at least one of the Colorado crimes through fingerprint evidence.
Based "largely" on that evidence, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said, they moved to arrest him.
On Monday, police contacted Graves at his home and asked him to come in to talk, voluntarily. Neighbors said police cruisers were parked outside his home Monday evening.
"We had discussions throughout the evening," Fort Collins Police Chief Dennis Harrison told reporters yesterday. "He came to the Police Department voluntarily. He came at our request."
Graves was arrested at 12:30 a.m. at the station.
"We have both physical and circumstantial evidence that led us to the inescapable conclusion that we should make an arrest," Harrison said, declining to detail any of it.
Abraham cautioned that Graves had not yet been charged in Philadelphia.
Victims, she said, "don't really deserve to have their hopes elevated by 'Oh, they finally caught this guy,' only to find out today, tomorrow, or the next day it's not the right guy."
Graves was living primarily in Philadelphia when the first attacks took place in June and July 1997.
At one point he lived at 10th and Pine Streets, near the locations of two of the Center City attacks. He also lived for a time in a studio apartment at 41st Street and Baltimore Avenue.
The last attack linked to the Center City rapist was Aug. 28, 1999.
Two months later, Graves reported for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, in Texas. In April 2000, after training, he joined the nuclear-missile maintenance unit at Warren Air Force Base, in Cheyenne.
Colorado records show he got married in March 2001 and listed an address in Fort Collins.
In May 2001, reports of assaults similar in nature to those in Philadelphia began coming from Fort Collins. Six assaults took place until August 2001 near the Colorado State University campus.
Until the DNA tests revived the trail, the hit-and-miss search for the Center City rapist had whipsawed the Philadelphia Police Department itself, ultimately forcing an investigation of the department's procedures and its rape unit.
When the first assaults took place, Philadelphia police investigators dismissed the victims' complaints, describing one as a liar and the other a victim of a burglary, not sexual assault.
Then, a month later, two women were raped within a period of days in August. Shannon Schieber was killed the following May.
Community fears were soaring. Shortly after Schieber's body was found, her parents sued the Police Department, alleging that officers had responded to a 911 call at her apartment but failed to break down the door when they got no answer.
Schieber's father, Sylvester Schieber, said at the time: "We are even more devastated at the shocking knowledge that police stood outside her apartment door while the killer was undertaking his assault."
Police officials have said the officer handled the episode properly, given what they knew at the time.
The lawsuit is pending.
Shannon Schieber's mother, Vicki, yesterday said she was relieved to hear about the arrest but declined to comment further.
Marc Fleischaker, the family's attorney, said the Schiebers were "watching developments closely and are very hopeful that the Fort Collins police have arrested their daughter's murderer, and that he is now finished preying on young women."
Contact Thomas Ginsberg at 215-854-4177 or email@example.com. Inquirer staff writers Matthew Blanchard, Barbara Boyer, Linda K. Harris, Larry King, Robert Moran and Jacqueline Soteropoulos contributed to this article.