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Prostitutes, Police Ally in Serial Rape Case

Crime: Streetwalker's report leads to charges in six alleged attacks.

July 21, 1996|LISA LEFF | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — Even after she was raped by a stranger, Danielle was not supposed to go to the police. Prostitutes, junkies and convicted felons usually don't. And she was all three.

But what happened that Sunday morning in March was so cruel, so violating. She was going to see her mother and daughter, not working the street, when she accepted a ride from a clean-cut man in a blue family station wagon. Within minutes, his hand was on her throat and he was on top of her, taking what was not for sale at any price.

After she was released, Danielle recalled thinking she had little choice but to risk the help of law enforcement. A million worries raced through her mind. What if the cops didn't believe her? What if she were arrested for an outstanding parole violation?

In the end, Danielle decided, "whether I had to end up in jail over this didn't matter to me. There was no question in my mind that it was rape. The main thing was I didn't want this to happen to another woman who was not as strong as me, physically or emotionally."

Her decision ultimately led police to Burbank construction worker Vincent Paul Fanelli II, a 38-year-old married father of two, who has been charged with attacking Danielle and five other San Fernando Valley prostitutes over the course of several weeks this spring.

The case stands out from other assaults of prostitutes--which often go unreported and unpunished--because of the unusual cooperation between adversaries. So far, the criminal justice system has been as swift in its pursuit of the so-called "spanker rapist" as it has been supportive of the victims.

Los Angeles Police Department Det. Greg Stone took just 16 days to locate six victims, and then arrest Fanelli based on their accounts. Stone said he did not let the background of the women prejudice his investigation.

"It doesn't matter that these were acts they maybe would have done for a fee. They were not done by choice and when something is not by choice, it hurts," he said in an interview.

Stone credits Fanelli's arrest to Danielle and another prostitute who overcame their mistrust and contacted police. Their detailed reports enabled him to detect a pattern in the attacks, information vital in identifying more victims.

Other law enforcement officials have also sought to protect the women.

Ann Korban, the prosecutor assigned the case, charged Fanelli with 34 separate offenses that carry a potential prison term of 281 years. The judge who heard Fanelli's preliminary hearing in Van Nuys Municipal Court raised his bail to $2 million, even though he could not afford his bail when it stood at $1.2 million.

"He preyed on vulnerable people and thought because of the nature of their work, he could do what he wanted and be safe, and that is horrible," Van Nuys Municipal Court Judge Jessica Silvers said in court last month before ordering Fanelli to stand trial. No trial date has been set.

Fanelli has denied all of the charges, and his defense attorney, Barry Hammond, declined to give permission for his client to be interviewed for this story. Hammond said only that Fanelli admits seeing "one or two" of the women as a customer, with the rape charges "quite possibly" growing out of "a grudge over not being paid."

Hammond also noted that two of the victims failed to identify Fanelli from police photographs, naming him as their attacker only after seeing him in court.

The six attacks occurred in less than four weeks, beginning March 10 and ending April 5, according to testimony during Fanelli's preliminary hearing. One took place in Pacoima, another in Van Nuys. The rest unfolded in an industrial section of North Hollywood, about three miles from the Hollywood Way apartment that Fanelli shared with his wife and two sons.

Danielle was the first victim. (Her name and the names of the other victims were changed to protect their identity.) Although she had been streetwalking in Pacoima for four years to support a heroin habit, she said she left her motel room at 9:30 a.m. on family business.

She was walking to a bus stop on San Fernando Road, looking forward to seeing her mother and 11-year-old daughter, with whom she had recently reestablished contact. When a man wearing a gold wedding band pulled over and asked if she needed a lift, she accepted.

"Being in the line of work I'm in, I take myself as a good judge of character," Danielle recalled in an interview. "It just goes to show that looks are totally deceiving."

As soon as she sat down, the man hit the automatic door locks, and then turned into an industrial park, according to court testimony. He asked how much she would charge to perform oral sex. As they passed a security guard emptying trash into a dumpster, the man put his hand around Danielle's throat.

He parked the car in front of a closed warehouse, and ordered her to remove her pants. When she stalled, hoping the security guard would come by, he tightened his grip on her neck, she said.

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