MANATEE — With no arrests made in 11 violent attacks between Sarasota and Manatee counties, it remains unclear if one or several attackers are responsible for beating and robbing mostly women.
“There’s some similarities, but there’s some continuing differences. We have not been able to link them together,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Dave Bristow. “We’re not even convinced that the one in east Bradenton is linked to the one in Northwest Bradenton.”
Regardless, there have been enough similarities in the attacks to have authorities in Sarasota and Manatee counties talking periodically to share information through a task force of detectives.
In the attacks, a masked man standing about 6 feet tall often enters people’s homes. He wears dark clothes as well as gloves and long sleeves. Some victims, mostly over the age of 55, have told investigators the man’s race is uncertain.
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There are differences in attacks. In several of the cases, women have been sexually assaulted. Sometimes victims are tied up. Sometimes they are pistol whipped.
All attacks are marked by violence.
“It appears to be apparent this person is not breaking into homes simply to steal something. That’s obvious with the violence that has occurred inside,” said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
The areas of the attacks have been upper-middle class neighborhoods. Most of the attacks have been during the day, although some have happened at night.
In at least one of the cases, the attacker told victims he had a drug addiction.
No one knows how the attacker travels. It’s possible he has a car parked several blocks away, or the suspect bikes.
Investigators have also looked at the possibility of the intruder being someone who does maintenance or construction work in neighborhoods.
In the attacks, some of the victims have been hospitalized for several days. In one case, a Sarasota woman was killed.
Authorities are hoping a FBI criminal profile that’s due out of Quantico, Va., will give them more insight to the attacker(s).
The profile could help investigators narrow down an age, personal characteristics, possible jobs, race and education level.
“We hope to get a profile based on the information from all the agencies,” Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Peter Rampone said.
Officials said they could not comment on the likelihood of a copycat attacker. A profile could provide more insight though.
On April 22, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office released a composite sketch from a witness in a neighborhood in the 8200 block of 19th Avenue Northwest who saw a man running away carrying a red backpack. An 84-year-old woman was pistol whipped in her home on March 13.
Has the sketch helped?
“That’s applicable only to that specific incident,” Rampone said. “We got a lot of calls on information. ... I think it’s helped generate many leads, but it’s also given us leads we can’t follow up on.”
Bradenton Police Department and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives talk daily about their cases. Between the two agencies, well over a hundred tips have been generated from the sketch.
“We’re still following up on them,” Rampone said. “We’ve gotten names of possible suspects. ... We’re keeping an open mind and examining all the facts of evidence. We’re letting the evidence take us where we go from there.”
However, part of the problem has been the lack of evidence.
In the five attacks in Manatee County, intruder(s) have left no fingerprints or DNA.
In two of the Sarasota cases, investigators were able to match DNA linking the cases. The DNA has not been matched in a database containing the DNA of convicted felons, according to authorities.
“Unfortunately, with each incident, we have a little bit more evidence. It’s all being sent off for investigation,” said Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Col. Steve Burns.
The series of attacks, which began in February on Riverview Boulevard when a woman was attacked jogging in her neighborhood, span to the latest one in Siesta Key when a woman was beaten and sexually battered nearly two weeks ago.
It’s unclear if the attacker(s) watch victims before attacking them.
In some cases, victims have been home alone. A Bradenton woman’s son had just left when an intruder came in through the side door to beat and rob her.
In a Sarasota case, the attacker was startled by someone’s husband and fled.
“It’s anyone’s guess whether it’s completely random or he’s keeping an eye on them,” Burns said. “Historically, if one person has done all of these, he’s probably spending a lot of time driving around and looking.”
The door was open when the intruder entered — in one of the cases Rampone cited.
“I don’t see how he surveilled her. It was a crime of opportunity. The door was open,” he said. “One would think if there was a strange person hanging out for an extended amount of time, someone would call.”
In the meantime, investigators continue to re-interview victims and search for new leads.
“We’re still working it. Somebody’s out there,” said Sarasota Police Department Capt. Bill Spitler. “The sad part is these are happening in people’s homes where they should feel safe. That bothers me as a police officer.”