Official: We got the rapist

A man has been charged with one USF-area attack and is a suspect in several others.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007

TAMPA - The serial rapist who stalked single black mothers for the past four years in the blighted streets off Fowler Avenue has been caught, Hillsborough authorities said Saturday.

Following a three-month manhunt by sheriff's deputies, Jerrod Pass, 38, of Clewiston, has been charged with two counts of armed sexual battery and armed burglary in connection with a June 14 rape, Sheriff's Capt. J.R. Burton announced at a Saturday news conference.

He is also the suspect in half a dozen other attacks, all linked by DNA and other evidence.

"We feel confident he is the suspect in the other cases," Burton said.

Pass was one of about 50 men stopped and questioned by investigators who saturated the neighborhoods where seven attacks occurred, dating back to 2003.

Burton said a DNA sample taken from Pass matched DNA left at the scene of the June attack.

In that case, a man slipped through an unlocked window of an apartment before dawn, pressed a screwdriver against the neck of a woman, and threatened to kill her and her children if she cried out.

Investigators expect to file more charges after DNA and evidence are compared in the remaining six cases, which are linked by DNA and a common description of the rapist -- a dark-skinned, barefoot man with a scar on his left forearm and foul body odor.

Burton said deputies now think the smell came from his feet because he would take his shoes off inside the victims' homes.

After Pass was booked Friday night, deputies noticed a bad odor from his sneakers and feet, Burton said.

In each case, the suspect entered a home to attack between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. He preyed on single black mothers, Burton said. In every attack, there were children in the home between the ages of 2 and 4.

When told of Pass' arrest, the victim of the June assault felt a "big sense of relief," Burton said, but then, acknowledging the level of trauma she faced, he added, "sexual battery victims never really recover."

Since June, the Sheriff's Targeted Area Response, or STAR, team saturated the area with extra patrol cars and undercover officers, about 15 in all, Burton said. Even local prostitutes helped in the search.

Deputies stopped about 50 men who fit the description of the attacker, and when the person was a close match, they called a detective to collect DNA evidence.

Deputies Sam Bailey and Keith Edwards stopped Pass around 3 a.m. Aug. 28, when they spotted him riding a bicycle without any lights on it near Lexington Court and 14th Street, said sheriff's spokesman J. D. Callaway.

Investigators now think he could have been looking for his next victim. It was the rapist's "witching hour," Burton said.

When Detective Geoffrey Harris arrived, he told Pass there had been some burglaries in the area and asked if he could collect a DNA sample.

Pass agreed, signed a waiver and allowed investigators to take a swab of his mouth. Pass was forthcoming and showed no signs of resistance, said Harris, who noticed the burn scar on Pass' left arm.

Harris said he thanked Pass for his cooperation and the officers left.

At the time, five or six of the other men questioned and swabbed for DNA in the area also had scars on their arms.

It wasn't until the Florida Department of Law Enforcement called the sheriff's office at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon that they knew who their man was, Burton said.

FDLE said their lab made a match from the June DNA to Pass' swab.

The STAR team spread out. Pass had told Harris the night he was stopped that he didn't have a permanent address. He bounced from one friend's home to the next.

Callaway said when FDLE called with the match, STAR fanned out. Deputies went to the wings joint where Pass worked as a cook. They just missed him.

Deputies found his cell phone number and called him, undercover, arranging a meeting with him supposedly to give him some money. They convinced him to show up at Fletcher Avenue and 15th Street, where he was arrested at 10:15 p.m. Friday.

Pass has a no significant criminal record, according to the FDLE. Burton said he had been arrested previously on a misdemeanor charge of soliciting a prostitute.

He was held without bail Saturday in the Hillsborough County Jail.

Burton thinks more victims might be out there who were too frightened to come forward before because the rapist threatened to come back and kill their children if they reported the crime.

He said deputies think women with young children were picked for victims because threats to their children made them easier to intimidate. Burton encouraged other victims to call the Sheriff's Office.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or 813 661-2441.