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Police think two abduction cases involve one man

The man who kidnapped a Gilchrist County girl is thought to have targeted a Putnam County child earlier.

By JOUNICE L. NEALY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2000


Five days before a man snatched 10-year-old Jessica Rodriguez from her driveway in Gilchrist County, a man fitting a similar description approached a 9-year-old girl in a nearby county and tried to lure her with a story about a lost dog.

Investigators said Monday they are investigating the Putnam County report, which came in two days after Jessica was abducted March 6 by a man in a green Jeep Cherokee.

Law enforcement officials think it is the same man. Both incidents occurred after a school bus drop-off in rural areas near the Alachua County line. The girls gave similar descriptions of the man and his car.

On March 1, the 9-year-old Putnam County girl was approached by a man in a green Jeep Cherokee minutes after she stepped off a school bus. She was walking home from the bus stop in the Gordon Chapel Road area near the northwest Putnam County town of Hawthorne.

The man, she told police, got out of the Jeep and said he was looking for a lost dog. He offered to give her a piece of paper with his telephone number, but she did not get close to him.

"She was sharp enough to back away and a car came around the curve and she said, "That's my mom, you can give it to her,' " said Ken Tucker, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The man got back in the Jeep and immediately drove away. "Mom" was actually a neighbor.

A search is under way in the Gainesville area for a thin white man in his 30s who grabbed Jessica last week in Gilchrist County near the Alachua County line.

The man was talking to Jessica and her two younger sisters near the edge of their driveway, which stretches about 80 feet toward the mobile home where she lives. He grabbed Jessica, and the sisters ran to get help. The boyfriend of Jessica's mother jumped into a car and tried to find the Jeep Cherokee but could not.

Jessica was released three days later in the parking lot of a Gainesville Wal-Mart 25 miles from her home. She described her kidnapper as 6-feet tall with a balding spot on the crown of his head.

Tucker said the man took Jessica to a house with a privacy fence, an in-ground swimming pool and a metal shed in the back yard. Officials said they now know he has a small barking dog. He is believed to be driving a green Jeep Cherokee or some other sport utility vehicle with a tan or brown interior.

Police hope the combined description of the man, his vehicle and his house will lead to his arrest.

"This guy lives next door to somebody," said Linda White, a spokeswoman for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. "Somebody knows this guy." No matter how much of "a nice guy" the next-door neighbor is, White said people should notify police if they have suspicions.

A composite sketch based on Jessica's description has been released by officials in Alachua County, and a $15,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest.

Police are getting a lot of calls and have several leads but "nothing that jumps out at you," Tucker said.

"Every ex-wife in the nation has called to say, "It's my ex-husband,' " he said.

-Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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