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Suspect in Seven Miami Rapes Is Arrested

A Honduran whose visa had expired is positively identified by at least one victim, police say.

September 21, 2003|John-Thor Dahlburg | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Police noticing a suspicious motorist led to the arrest of a suspect in one of Miami's biggest manhunts in recent years -- the search for a serial rapist blamed for at least seven sexual assaults on women and young girls, police said Saturday.

Police Chief John Timoney said Reynaldo Elias Rapolo, 32, a Honduran whose visa had expired, was arrested Friday night after police spotted him driving a car slowly through Little Havana, a largely Cuban American area. The car matched the description of the vehicle used by a man in a string of sex crimes in predominantly Latino neighborhoods of the city over the last year.

A police sergeant made brief eye contact with the suspect and began following him, Timoney told a news conference. "It's very hard to articulate a cop's gut, but when their eyes met and [Rapolo] averted them, he knew there was something wrong," Timoney said.

The motorist ran at least two stop signs before being pulled over and arrested without further incident, officials said. Timoney said Rapolo was positively identified by at least one rape victim, and that his fingerprints and a DNA profile from a saliva sample he voluntarily gave matched forensic evidence collected from some of the rape scenes.

Timoney declined to say whether Rapolo had confessed, explaining that police wanted to keep some information confidential because their investigation was continuing. Officials said the suspect could appear in court as early as today, and that if convicted of all pending charges he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Since June, Miami police have said their No. 1 priority was catching the rapist, whose seven known victims have ranged in age from 11 to 79.

Police believe the same assailant may have attempted to rape at least three other women in the city.

Police offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, posted sketches of the suspect on billboards throughout Miami and sought the help of illegal immigrants in the manhunt.

Officials were concerned because the rapist managed to break undetected into some homes of the victims.

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