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Investigators can figure out what a rapist's face might look like, using DNA

No fingerprints, video or witnesses but now a picture emerges

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – For 12 years, a Tavares woman has wondered what her rapist looked like and if he would ever go to prison for his horrific crime.

One October night in 2007, the then-65-year-old said, the man broke into her home and assaulted her for two hours.

She never got a good look at his face because he was covering it, it was dark and he ordered her not to look at him.

Lake County Sheriff's Detective Tamara Dale said there were no witnesses to the crime and no fingerprints were found. For 12 years investigators struggled to find the attacker.

"I think it would anger anyone to think of someone doing this to a grandmother or relative, someone treating an elderly lady like that," Dale said. "You don't want him out on the streets or doing this to someone else."

A DNA sample taken from the crime scene didn't yield any results, either.

"It's the only evidence we have," Dale said. "We put it in C.O.D.I.S. (Combined DNA Index System). Of course, back in 2007, and (we) never received a hit." 

C.O.D.I.S. is nationwide database of DNA collected from felons.

No results means the attacker either hasn't committed any other felony crimes or hasn't been caught committing them.

Dale said that's strange and unsettling to her.

"Because if he's done something like this, you'd think he's done it again," Dale said. "Which doesn't mean he hasn't; just means he hasn't gotten caught."

Dale, a cold case unit detective at the Sheriff's Office, took over the case last year.

When she learned of a technology called DNA phenotyping, which uses DNA to track down family members of suspects or create composite sketches based on the characteristics of DNA, she asked Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell to budget for the technology.

Grinnell approved $3,000 to have Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs create a composite sketch of the attacker based on his DNA.

Scientists at the labs said they are fairly confident of the attacker's mixed race, that he has light brown skin, green eyes, reddish brown hair and a few freckles. His age could not be determined.

"Based on their track record, Parabon Nanolabs, [the sketch is] probably very accurate," Dale said.

On its website, Parabon Nanolabs highlights several cases where a DNA-generated composite sketch helped solve a cold case.

Dale said she hopes it will generate new leads in this case.

"Because one of the things we were lacking is his face," Dale said. "For the first time we can see his face. And show it to the public. We're trying to get as much exposure as we can with his face. Because it only takes one person, the right person, to see that, recognize him, and call us."

Dale said the woman, now 77, is also hopeful.

"She's a very nice lady, I speak to her once in a while," Dale said. "She's very excited about this and hopeful it brings good results."


About the Author:

Erik von Ancken

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.

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