DNA Hit Links Harrington Homicide to Probable Serial Rapist

Last week, officials from the Virginia State Police (VSP) released information linking the slaying of 20-year-old college student Morgan Harrington to the 2005 sexual assault of women in Fairfax.  Nearly 100 miles separate the two crime scenes. 

Although VSP officials will not disclose the evidence linking the two cases, DNA analysis is the likely nexus. 

In the 2005 Fairfax incident, the victim was abducted by a black male while walking home from a grocery store at approximately one-in-the-morning. 

The modus operandi of the suspect may cause investigators to rethink the widely held belief that Morgan Harrington was abducted while hitchhiking on the Copeley Road Bridge.  A newspaper delivery person claims to have observed Morgan leaving an apartment building at 3:45 a.m. on October 18, only blocks from the location where her Pantera t-shirt was later located. Media reports suggest that investigators were initially skeptical of the newspaper delivery woman’s observations.

The DNA hit linking the Harrington investigation and the 2005 assault creates two scenarios: either the suspect is not a convicted felon or he has fallen through the cracks of the criminal justice system. Walter Ellis, Milwaukee’s alleged North Side Strangler, is an example of the latter.  While incarcerated, Ellis reportedly convinced a fellow inmate to supply a DNA sample. 

Having visited the area of the Harrington crime scene, the disposal site leads me to believe the suspect has knowledge of the area.  The 720-acre Anchorage Farms is somewhat isolated, although the suspect likely gained access to the property via an affluent subdivision, where homeowners would view any vehicular traffic suspiciously. 

This leads me to believe that the perpetrator is a somewhat educated risk taker. He probably scouts the area for a day or two before committing his crimes then waits for the right opportunity to present itself.

Moreover, I sincerely doubt these are the only two crimes this man has committed in nearly five years.  Psychological profiles of serial rapists and those convicted of sexual homicides typically involve crimes of fantasy and control.  After committing these crimes, the perpetrators go through a cooling-off period; however, their fantasies persist to the point where they strike again. 

From past experience, the good news is the release of the sketch is likely producing hundreds of tips.  Without a doubt, it will take time to sort through the reams of information generated by the public.  Nonetheless, let’s hope that the VSP hones-in on the perpetrator before another woman falls prey.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010

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