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Cameras lead to rape suspect

PSTA bus camera images result in his arrest in the Trop parking lot.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN and CASEY CORA
Published March 17, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Virgil DeBose is escorted by St. Petersburg police Detective Bill Burris after DeBose's arrest Friday in the assault on a 78-year-old woman.

ST. PETERSBURG - Just hours after releasing photographs of a suspect in a series of rapes of elderly women, police arrested a man Friday afternoon in connection with the crimes.

After getting tips from people who saw images captured by cameras on a PSTA bus, St. Petersburg police found Virgil DeBose in the passenger seat of a pickup in the parking lot of Tropicana Field on Friday.

DeBose, 42, faces one count of sexual battery and one count of burglary with battery. Both charges are connected to an attack on a 78-year-old woman in her Paradise Shores condominium. DeBose's fingerprints match those taken from the crime scene, detectives said.

Authorities say DeBose may have attacked other women in the area and are asking any other victims to come forward.

DeBose had a dazed look on his face and didn't say a word, as he was led to a police cruiser Friday evening.

The arrest came after a joint investigation by police and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Authorities think DeBose may also be responsible for raping a 58-year-old woman March 7 and assaulting an 85-year-old woman on March 2 in an attack that had "sexual overtones." Investigators are waiting for tests to determine if his DNA matches.

The crucial break in the case came after detectives watching security camera footage from a PSTA bus saw DeBose follow the 58-year-old victim off a PSTA bus before he raped her, according to police detective Bill Burris.

"We looked at hundreds of hours," Burris said.

After watching more PSTA footage, they saw Debose on another PSTA bus near Paradise Shores the same day a 78-year-old woman was raped in her condominium.

DeBose is unemployed and has no fixed address, according to the Sheriff's Office. He has worked in telemarketing and construction. He has a lengthy criminal record that includes arrests on charges of burglary, larceny and cocaine possession, mostly in Orange County, according to state records.

DeBose's sister, Vanesha Collier of Sanford, declined comment.

Detective John Spoor of the Sheriff's Office said DeBose "did not speak" when he was questioned. He also asked for an attorney.

The attacks, which took place over the past two weeks, drew widespread attention because DeBose picked mostly victims who were especially vulnerable: elderly women who left their screen doors open to enjoy nice weather, or opened the door when they heard a knock.

Paradise Shores Condominiums is a tight-knit and serene enclave, where posted messages announce bake sales, group outings and gatherings for coffee.

"I never thought it could happen here," said 62-year-old Margaret Ballard, a seasonal resident at the 55-and-older condominium community.

As news spread that authorities had a suspect in custody, neighbors cheered and tenants rejoiced.

"Oh my goodness," Ballard said. "Yes."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed tot his report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727 893-8472.

[Last modified March 17, 2007, 06:05:36]


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