Police seek man suspected in East Campus burglaries

Thursday, November 21, 2013 | 10:32 p.m. CST; updated 12:30 p.m. CST, Friday, November 22, 2013

COLUMBIA — Police think the same man has entered at least nine unlocked East Campus-area homes since June, and at least one of those incidents ended in sexual assault. 

The man has typically fled when the women have woken, but two incidents in October escalated further. In one case, he jumped onto the victim's bed and hit her in the chest; in another, he threatened the victim with a sharp object and sexually assaulted her.

Officers think they're dealing with only one person because the incidents have all happened after midnight, in or around East Campus, and only in homes with unlocked doors, Assistant Police Chief Jill Schlude said. Several women have awoken in bed to discover the man standing over them, undressing or touching them, or undressing himself.

Around 3 a.m. Nov. 3, a woman awoke to a white man wearing a hat and bandana over his face, crawling into her bed. She screamed, and the man fled.

An officer on his way to the scene spotted a man bicycling about 20 mph away from the area. None of the victims' descriptions included a car, so the officer tried stopping the biker to investigate, but the man didn't stop.

The police car's dashboard camera footage showed the biker fleeing through East Campus until he crashed into a curb. The officer exited his cruiser to arrest him. The man got up and peddled down a private drive before the officer could reach him. 

Schlude said police think he's familiar with East Campus. 

"The area he goes down into — he's either taking a huge risk and just going, 'I'd rather go off a cliff than get grabbed by the cops,' or he knew exactly where he was going," Schlude said.

She said that the officer who chased the biker runs marathons but that there was no chance for him to outrun someone on a bike.

Victims have not been able to describe the man in much detail, but police say he appears to be in his 20s and of medium build.

Police think the man has tried entering more than nine homes. Schlude said some East Campus residents have reported someone rattling windows and jiggling doorknobs as recently as Wednesday night.

The latest report of such a home burglary was Sunday.

East Campus used to have several volunteers for its neighborhood watch, neighborhood association representative Janet Hammen said, but she doesn't think anyone does it anymore.

Police recommend that East Campus residents keep doors and windows locked. Anyone with information can call the Columbia Police Department's Crime Stoppers line at 875-8477.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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