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Man Tied to 14 Sexual Assaults in 5-Year Span

Crime: Simi Valley police say search of suspect's home yields evidence he's rapist.

July 31, 2001|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 30-year-old Simi Valley man has been arrested in connection with 14 sexual assaults committed over the last five years in this quiet, suburban community that routinely ranks as one of the safest in the nation.

Vincent Henry Sanchez, a part-time studio employee, was arrested Sunday night after police received a tip from his roommate.

Sanchez is expected to be charged today with multiple felony counts of burglary, sexual assault and kidnapping. He remains in custody in lieu of $1 million bail.

"We're pleased to finally get back to our victims and help them realize the man who attacked them is off the streets," Police Chief Randy Adams said. "We hope this will help ease the pain and fear of our victims."

After a search of Sanchez's home, Adams said, investigators became convinced that he is the long-sought sexual assailant. Several items, including newspaper clippings of the attacks, ski masks and some sexually explicit material were found inside, he said.

"We have enough evidence right now that we are convinced we have our rapist," Adams said. Some of the evidence, he said, directly connects Sanchez to various victims.

Simi Valley council members cheered the news. The police chief called each of them at home Sunday night.

"I was overjoyed for the residents of our community and for our Police Department," Mayor Pro Tem Barbra Williamson said. "This has dogged the Police Department for a long time."

"I don't think there's any words to describe how happy we are that this finally came to a conclusion," Mayor Bill Davis said. "I'm sure the public is very pleased."

As of last week, police had no suspect, despite a five-year search that included a six-person task force, analysis of hundreds of DNA samples, and assistance from the FBI and Justice Department.

Their luck changed Thursday when the home of a neighbor of Sanchez's on Woodrow Avenue was burglarized. The neighbor later visited Sanchez's roommate and told him about some of the odd things taken from his home: a filing cabinet, a wooden tissue box holder and a shower head.

The roommate, whose name was not released, remembered seeing many of these items around the house, prompting the pair to search the residence, police said. During the search, they discovered items that Adams would only describe as "sexually explicit," as well as news clippings about the assaults.

Police said Sanchez, who sometimes earned money moving heavy equipment around on movie sets, once served time in prison for burglary. But his previous offenses do not include sexual assaults, Adams said.

The sexual assaults began in 1996. But police did not suspect they had a serial rapist on their hands until 1998, when a 15-year-old girl was raped in her bedroom at knifepoint while her parents slept in a room down the hall. The attack was similar to five others since 1996.

The rapist, who often wore a ski mask and carried a knife, focused on women between their mid-teens and mid-20s.

Authorities believe Sanchez started out as a burglar, but gradually moved on to sexually assaulting his victims.

Such assailants "are often burglars before they ever become rapists," Adams said.

The attacker became more brazen, spending time prowling victim's homes before moving into the bedroom to assault them while they slept, the police chief said.

The fact that he wore a ski mask made the investigation difficult, police said. Also, the victims' descriptions of the assailant's age, height and weight varied greatly.

The last attack occurred on Nov. 9, 2000. A 29-year-old woman was assaulted in the hallway of her west Simi Valley home about 11:30 p.m. after her attacker broke through a window.

Outrage over the crimes helped fuel a reward fund, with contributions from the City Council, the police foundation and several anonymous donors. The fund, which has reached $25,000, is expected to be awarded to Sanchez's roommate.

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Times staff writers Jenifer Ragland and Tracy Wilson contributed to this story.

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