ORLANDO, Fla. – After nearly two decades, authorities have made an arrest in at least two sexual battery cases perpetrated by the “Woodline Rapist” with the help of genetic genealogy, according to a news release.
Orlando Police Department officials announced the arrest of Dwight Harris, 50, on Tuesday during a joint news conference with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Both agencies have rape charges on Harris dating back to 2002, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Dwight Arthur Harris has kept a violent secret for nearly 20 years,” Lt. Frank Chisari with the Orlando Police Department said.
“This man committed at least two sexual batteries in Orlando, and Orange County approximately 19 years ago and detectives with both OPD and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are already reviewing other similar cases to determine if there is a link,” Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon said.
According to the release, detectives believe Harris would wait for women who were returning to their apartments alone in very early morning hours after a night out and drag his victims to nearby wooded areas to sexually batter them. During the attacks, he would drag the women just past the tree line, which is why detectives call him the “Woodline Rapist.”
“We know the memory of that night has haunted the victim for all of these years,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said. “Especially since he had not been brought to justice until now.”
Authorities said until recently, Harris was still living and working as a night delivery driver in the Orlando area.
The nearly decades-old cases had gone cold until last year when Orlando police detectives submitted unknown DNA to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That DNA was linked to one of several similar unsolved sexual battery cases and attempted sex batteries from 2002 and 2003, according to the police department. The FDLE, in partnership with Parabon NanoLabs, used that DNA to identify four persons of interest in the Woodline Rapist cases, according to the release.
Orange County investigators said one of the cases happened in the area of South Semoran Avenue. Records show he told one victim to stop yelling and if she didn’t comply, he would kill her.
Investigators said his two victims are relieved that he’s in custody.
“They thought this day would never come. They thought this was cold cases forever and these would never be solved,” Orlando Police Detective Graham Cage said.
Further investigation by Orlando police narrowed it down to two potential suspects, then Orlando detectives learned from Orange County detectives that sex battery allegations had been made against Harris involving a woman in an area of Orange Blossom Trail in 2011, officials said.
As of Tuesday, the Orlando Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Office had filed one charge each of sexual battery with a deadly weapon or physical force against Harris, according to the news release. DNA was still being tested in a second OPD cold case and Orange County detectives were reviewing the 2011 Orange Blossom Trail case.
“We know there could be other victims out there, but we want to let people know that we hear victims, we start by believing and we never stop investigating these cases,” Mina said.
Rolon said now his department plans to hold on to evidence in sexual battery cases for 50 years.
“As technology continues to evolve, we see the potential here for other cases to be solved,” Rolon said.
Harris remains in jail on no bond.
News 6 stopped by a listed address for Harris Tuesday to try to get reaction from his family about his accusations, no one answered the door, but Harris’ neighbor, Stephen Cruz, spoke.
“He’s a very nice guy. He’s real mellow, soft-spoken. To hear this news is really shocking to me,” he said.