Before the Baseline Killer and Serial Shooters, there was the A.M. Rapist, who assaulted women all over Phoenix in the wee hours of the morning and managed to elude police for the better part of 2005. It would take a mere moment for the man to slip up and get caught, but police say it’s what they learned from this particular manhunt that has helped lead them to other serial criminals.
It got so bad that Phoenix Police Detective Randy Hutson didn’t want to go to bed on Sunday nights. “I knew the phone would ring, because that’s when he hit,” he remembers. A phone call meant terror. It meant another Phoenix girl – the kind of girl that could so easily be your sister or your daughter – had gone to sleep in her safe, snug bedroom and had been shocked awake by a man on top of her. Hutson could feel their horror. He had lain in his own secure bed in the dark of night, next to his wife, Sherry, and put his hand in front of his face. He couldn’t see a thing. That’s what those poor girls saw of the man with rough hands who demanded they not scream and do as he say; the intruder who smelled of sweat and grease; the guy with the pot belly and the shaved head; the rapist who made them say how great he was and how much they liked it. He was like a phantom, not only staying invisible in the dark, but going to incredible lengths to be sure he didn’t leave any DNA behind. This wasn’t a careless rapist who attacked on impulse; this was a methodical pervert who stalked his victims obsessively and so toyed with police, he even took the bed sheets from the crime scenes with him. It was Randy Hutson’s job to find the man who was attacking women the length of the city – from Ahwatukee to the North Phoenix Mountains – and so he lay awake most Sunday nights in 2005 waiting for the call that there was yet another victim of the “A.M. Rapist.” “You’ve gotta get him,” Sherry said, and this 23-year veteran of the force had never wanted anything more in his life. The Phoenix Police Department had never mobilized as many detectives, investigators, surveillance crews, patrol officers and civilian support staff at one time for one crime in the entire history of the department. But the serial rapist who terrorized Phoenix for much of 2005 brought the state’s largest police department to a new level of action. Since then, Phoenix has seen the terror of the “Baseline Killer” and the “Serial Shooters,” and giant task forces were created to find the culprits. “But we cut our teeth on the A.M. Rapist,” says Assistant Chief Kevin Robinson. “The things we learned then helped us catch the Baseline Killer and the snipers.” (Police have arrested suspects in both those cases, and they’re awaiting trial.)
Robinson remembers the first day Sergeant Jim Markey of the Sex Crimes Unit came to him and said, “We think we have a serial rapist.” There had been just two rapes at that point, only two that police knew about, but what they had seen in those two was enough to raise red flags. In February 2005, an Ahwatukee woman had fought off a man who’d slipped into her condo. The attacker ran away and, a few minutes later, entered another condo in an adjoining complex and raped a woman. Both women reported the crimes – a point that would become crucial – and their stories were eerily similar. If just one of those women had stayed quiet, that red flag wouldn’t have been raised. Just as it wasn’t raised three months earlier when the crime spree had actually begun. It wasn’t until April 2005, when the rapist struck at 18th Street and Northern Avenue, that police learned just how long he had been operating in Phoenix. After that rape, they canvassed the entire complex and were shocked to find a woman who said she had been attacked back in November 2004. She hadn’t reported it, but as she finally told her story, police realized the depth of the problem. Police not only had a serial rapist on their hands, they had one who traveled dozens of miles from one attack to the next. They had a guy who obviously was stalking his victims before his attacks, and they had one who wasn’t leaving many clues behind. And they had a Sex Crimes Unit with just a supervisor and seven detectives. This clearly was not enough. Robinson remembers asking them what they needed. “They said they needed more people dedicated to this and they needed to surveil a bunch of places – what they needed was a lot. My role was to get them everything they needed,” he says, noting that such a thing is no easy task. Every police unit has its own type of crime to solve, and on a good day, there are never enough officers to get everything done. The Sex Crimes Unit itself was a good example. Besides the A.M. Rapist, they received another 70 sexual assault reports just in the month of May, Markey remembers. So it’s no small request to tell officers to drop a case they’re working on to help out another unit. Robinson wasn’t very popular in many circles that summer. Little did they know that even more notorious cases were already in the works. Detective Hutson remembers a disquieting talk in the summer of 2005 with his daughter, Crystal, who is a police officer in Tolleson. “She told me they had somebody shooting horses out there,” he recalls. “I told her this would go somewhere because it takes a special kind of bad person to shoot a horse.” The horse shooters eventually started shooting at people (killing at least two) and became known to the entire nation as the Serial Shooters.
“When you’ve got two or three rapes, you really don’t have any patterns, but when you get six or eight, now you can see what’s happening,” Markey notes. “We saw that he liked to go back to the same area, either the same apartment complex or an adjoining one. We combined our intelligence with our best guesses. But we didn’t have much.” The victims were all attractive young women who lived alone. Police first searched for a common denominator – did these women work together, exercise together, shop together? Did they have the same cable system or order pizza from the same place? Did they go to the same bar, or have their hair done at the same salon? Did they take their cars to the same service center, put their money in the same bank or get their cars washed at the same place? “We looked at everything we could find and came up with zip,” Hutson says. “They had nothing in common.” He and Markey laugh when they remember that, as new officers joined the task force, the first question was usually, “Have you checked the pizza delivery guy?” They said the question was asked so often they started putting a big sign on the board in the strategy room: “It isn’t the pizza guy.” So what did police know about their criminal? They knew he struck between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. They knew he never struck on a Friday or Saturday night, preferring Sundays instead. (Hutson, who comes from a Pentecostal background, wondered if he was a religious type getting out of church; others thought he might be getting off work.) They knew he was a “gentleman” type of rapist (compared to the sadistic, opportunistic or acquaintance-type rapist.) They knew – from two different incidents – that if he was thwarted at one attempt, he had a backup ready to go and would rape the second woman. Police were quite sure he was window peeping. They were certain he was stalking his victims and feared he was watching some for long periods of time. “He spent as much time on this as anyone with a full-time job,” Hutson says. “This was his mental fixation. He’d watch, peep, scout out the place, check for unlocked windows and doors. One time we later learned he unlocked a window and then forgot about it until months later when he happened to see that woman coming out of the grocery store. He went there that night – the window was still unlocked and he got in and raped her.” Hutson says he got chills when he first learned one woman was stalked for nearly a year. The rapist had always found her windows and doors locked “tighter than a drum,” until she opened her arcadia doors one evening during a rainstorm to let in some fresh air. When she closed them, she forgot to lock them. The next time the rapist methodically checked those doors, he found them open. Police would eventually learn one victim was upstairs vacuuming her bedroom when the rapist first came in through an open door. He removed a security bar from a window and left – he surmised she would have no reason to ever double-check her security windows, and she never did. That’s how he got back in months later. Another woman’s cell phone was dying, and as she went out to her car to charge it, he slipped in the front door she had left open. He unlocked the back door, left, and came back later that night. One woman spent more than an hour on the phone with a friend while he was in the kitchen listening. He took her keys when he slipped out and used them to re-enter the house later that night. The rapist was just as thorough in his efforts to thwart police with “DNA stoppers.” He shaved his body hair, brought along a towel to wipe down fingerprints, took the bed sheets with him, and forced his victims to shower after the assault, instructing them to especially wash their private parts. “He’d stand outside the shower and turn on the water, telling them he wanted to be sure it wasn’t too hot or too cold, like he was a gentleman,” Hutson notes. One time, a victim said she caught a glimpse of him in the bathroom, and police used her description to make up a composite drawing that they then released to the media. Although most of the victims thought the guy had a dark complexion, in reality, he was fair with red hair. Police knew about his pot belly and a greasy smell that led them to believe he might work at a restaurant; they knew he verbally threatened his victims but didn’t hit them; they knew he spent up to a half-hour with each victim, demanding sex of various kinds; they knew from every single victim that he was far from being a well-endowed man. “He was out for a date,” Markey says they surmised. “He couldn’t have a normal relationship with a female during normal hours, so he was looking for a date.” Hutson says he was surprised that they finally got lucky – all of the rapist’s efforts to eliminate DNA evidence didn’t work. Police were able to get DNA from the sperm he left deep inside his victims’ bodies. “We knew eventually we’d get him – he’d commit some crime and the DNA would hit,” Hutson says. “So we could sit back and wait for him to be arrested or we could be proactive. We decided to be proactive.”
The attacks kept happening as the summer of 2005 blasted Phoenix. And, as usual, it was a beast. It hit 100 degrees early in May that year and topped 100 degrees every single day into September. So it’s not hard to imagine how unpopular Markey and Hutson were when they demanded that surveillance units stake out apartment complexes like the ones where attacks had already occurred. “We told them to pick a spot, park and stay there all night without the engine running. They couldn’t do anything but sit there and watch. They couldn’t even read,” Hutson notes. Those surveillance teams – about 40 officers assigned to the same spots night after night, another 40 in rolling patrols – sweated it out all summer: June, July, August, most of September. Hutson points out that it’s almost impossible to imagine how boring and uncomfortable everyone was. “It was just miserable,” he says with great sympathy. To make matters worse, the rapes stopped at the end of July. Nothing in August. Nothing in early September. Here were all these people doing overnight surveillance in dozens of sites around Phoenix and nobody was being raped. Pressure mounted to call the whole thing off. “We worried the guy had moved,” Hutson says. “We were constantly hearing, ‘other crimes need us,’ and there was a lot of pressure to pull back,” Markey recalls. “We decided to take the longest time between his hits and then go another two months; if nothing happened, we’d scale back. We knew he wasn’t going to stop – we told our people, look at cities back East – they’ve got serial rapists that have been at it for 10 years. He won’t stop because he can’t control it.” Robinson remembers, “A couple times people came to me and said, ‘We’ve been at this all summer and we’re getting nowhere.’ But we elected to stay out there.” Hutson remembers going into his “cheerleader” role as the troops started complaining. “I told them about the quality of [life for] the victims,” he recalls. “You just couldn’t get around that.” Sometimes women are raped when they’re in a precarious situation, he notes, but this wasn’t one of those times – these were women who thought they were safe and sound at home, getting a good night’s sleep before another day of work or school. Police would eventually learn the rapes stopped for the most obvious of reasons – the rapist had gone on vacation, traveling to the Midwest to visit family. But when he returned to Phoenix, he returned to his old ways. And those poor officers doing tedious surveillance were still there. “When people sit in the same spot every day, they know that area – who belongs there, who doesn’t,” Hutson notes. “And that’s how we caught him.” Officer Jeri Hubert was sitting in her unmarked surveillance car, as usual, on the morning of September 20. A truck pulled up next to her and parked. A minute later, she was on the police radio: “I got a guy just jumped over a wall,” she reported, and her supervisor would later say he felt they had their rapist right then, because Hubert hadn’t said a word over her radio for five long weeks.
The people of Phoenix tried to help police end this horrible crime spree. “We got more than 600 tips from the public, and we ran down every one,” Markey says. Officer Lorenzo Mares was put in charge of rating every lead from 1 to 4: 1 being hot, 4 being nothing. Some people called in saying they thought it was their neighbor; several called to report, “I know it’s my ex.” One guy turned in a fellow driver he’d encountered at a stoplight: “I could see it in his eyes that he’s the rapist.” In the meantime, police were running through known sex offenders; surveillance was uncovering peeping Toms who were investigated. Police cleared 70 to 80 suspects. From one rape scene, they got a shoe print and tracked down the model – a New Balance, Model 1221 – then they fretted over whether to release the information to the public, fearing the rapist would simply discard the shoes. In the end, they did tell the media, but nothing ever came of it, and they would later learn that he had discarded the shoes months earlier. Police pulled surveillance tapes at Circle Ks near the crime scenes, hoping to see something, never sure what. If there was some avenue they didn’t explore, nobody knows what it was. And in the end, it was good old-fashioned police surveillance work that nabbed him. Robinson had gone to bed about 12:45 a.m. that Tuesday when his phone rang. Bureau Commander Louis Tovar sang into the phone, “We got him.” Robinson remembers jumping out of bed. “Are you sure?” he asked. “It looks damn good,” Tovar replied. “We’re interviewing him now.” Robinson remembers starting to dress, excited by what was happening Downtown, when Sergeant Markey called. “Chief, it’s him,” his sex crimes commander said. At that point, Robinson felt comfortable enough to call Chief Jack Harris, who was home recovering from knee surgery. The chief’s wife, Connie, answered the phone and happily woke up her husband. “I went Downtown and found out the rapist was related to one of our sergeants,” Robinson said. “That kind of took the wind out of our sail. He looked just like his father – it broke my heart.” The rapist was 33-year-old David B. Wilson Jr. He was the father of two, separated from his common-law wife. He made his living installing satellite TVs. Police captured him after Officer Hubert put in her call. In his rush to escape, Wilson hit his head, then used the wound to concoct a story that he was climbing over walls to escape from thugs he’d encountered in a traffic altercation. Among the arresting officers was Sergeant John Juslin, a former sex crimes detective. He called paramedics to treat Wilson’s head wound. The paramedics used a piece of gauze to clean his wound – Sergeant Juslin put the gauze in an evidence bag and sent it to the crime lab. By the time Wilson got down to the station and faced Randy Hutson in an interrogation room, lab technicians were discovering that the DNA on the gauze matched the DNA they had collected from various victims. In the meantime, police ran his name and found he had been arrested years earlier in Mesa on criminal trespassing charges when he had been peeping. Of course, Wilson didn’t know police had any of this. He thought he had been so careful to not leave his DNA behind. He tried to keep up his story of being an innocent victim just trying to escape violent road-ragers. Hutson started gently, asking about his history of peeping. Had he ever gone into anyone’s house when they weren’t home? How about going into someone’s house when they were home? Wilson darted and dodged and then Hutson hit him with the blow: “You know what? Our lab has processed your DNA, and despite all your efforts, we’ve matched you to all these rapes.” Wilson was surprised. He had learned all of his techniques watching the popular television show CSI, and it didn’t turn out this way on TV. “I’m not going to tell you – you’re going to have to work for it,” he told Hutson early on with a sneer. But his bravado wore down as it became obvious the jig was up. Markey says he has watched the tape of that five-hour interview three times because it is “so awesome,” and he saw the moment Wilson cracked. “Once he said, ‘I really messed their lives up’, I could see the stress released off him. I knew then that Randy would run the table with him.” Hutson started at the beginning and kept on going through every single crime. “I emphasized how nice the victims were and, this is B.S., but how nice he’d been to them,” Hutson recalls, playing the “good guy cop.” “I told him I’d like to call the girls and tell them so they can sleep tonight.” Hutson had a thick black book filled with incident reports that he then opened. “Let’s talk about the very first one – I don’t want to miss any so I have to bring you back in here,” he told Wilson. Wilson started talking about his first rape, then stopped and asked sheepishly, “Is that one you had?” It wasn’t a rape they had attributed to him. “Once we got going, he named them all,” Hutson says. And he filled in all the blanks. He never attacked on Fridays and Saturdays because he had his kids on weekends. He took them back to his ex-wife on Sunday nights, right before he went out to rape. He picked his victims at random – they were simply women he found attractive. He sometimes spent months watching a woman, planning how to get in, setting the stage for later. He never raped anyone he had installed a TV for. He’d never had a close call with the cops as they tried to catch him – although they had questioned several people in the large complexes he had been stalking, he was never one of them. He got caught because he wasn’t paying attention – he was so fixated on the woman he was after, he never noticed anyone sitting in the car next to his parking space. But there was one blank even the rapist couldn’t fill in: As he told Hutson, he didn’t know why he did it. Wilson was indicted on more than 80 counts, everything from sexual assault to kidnapping to robbery. He had raped 14 women and had attempted to rape another six for a total of 20 victims. In a plea agreement that avoided trial – and spared victims from having to relive the trauma – he was sentenced to 50 years in prison and lifetime probation. If he ever gets out of prison, he’ll be in his mid-80s. He wept as he was sentenced, as did four of his victims who sat in the courtroom that day. The Arizona Republic later published a letter to the editor that expressed what a lot of Phoenix women were thinking then: “I want to thank the police department,” wrote the woman who said she had spent several nights “frozen” in her room. “Imagine the commitment and desire it took for these officers to sit in their cars in the desert all summer long,” she added.
“I could retire today, my career satisfied,” Hutson says. “I’ll never out-do this case. I’m very proud of what we did.” Ironically, Hutson was finishing up another career-high case as this one was unfolding. Since 2002, Hutson has been the chief investigator in a series of murders that took place in the historic Downtown Garfield neighborhood, where seven women were killed, many sexually assaulted after their deaths. Hutson was in a Phoenix courtroom testifying against that accused killer – Corey Morris – at the very moment the A.M. Rapist was taking his summer vacation in 2005. Morris, convicted, now sits on death row. The department is proud of him, too, along with every one of the 150 people who worked on the task force. Last year, they all received the Police Chief’s Award, one of the highest the department gives. The sad news is that with everything they’ve learned, all the techniques they’ve polished, they can’t do much but wait for the next round. “We’ve caught and convicted 40 serial rapists since 1998,” Sergeant Markey says. “That’s what keeps me going. Tomorrow, there’ll be another David Wilson. He’s out there right now.”