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Florida investigators have arrested a man seemingly living a “normal life” as a married, night delivery driver for allegedly being the “Woodline rapist” nearly 20 years after the brutal attacks.
“Dwight Arthur Harris has kept a violent secret for nearly 20 years,” Orlando Police Lt. Frank Chisari said in a press conference announcing the arrest. “Thanks to the tenacious efforts of our detectives here at OPD and our partners at the sheriff’s office, we have now determined that he attacked and sexually battered at least two women in 2002 and there may be more.”
Harris, 50, is facing two counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon or physical force in connection with the two attacks, carried out on women as they returned home.
“Detectives believe Harris was a stranger to his victims, waiting for adult women who returned to their apartments alone in the very early morning hours, after a night out,” Orlando Police said in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com.
Investigators were able to link Harris to the rapes in Orlando and Orange County, with help from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who used genetic genealogy to identify Harris as a possible suspect in the case.
“We never stop investigating these cases,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said Tuesday.
Harris is suspected of raping of a woman in Orange County in the early morning hours on February 1, 2002 as the victim had been walking to a friend’s nearby apartment.
An unknown suspect approached her from the side of the building, tackled her to the ground and told her to shut up or he would stab her if she started to scream, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
The suspect, who had been holding a knife, then forced the victim behind a garbage dumpster where he vaginally and orally raped her. He then forced her further into a wooded area and raped her again.
After the victim began to cry, investigators said the suspect instructed her to put her pants over her head and wait for several minutes until he had left the area or he “would return and hurt her,” the affidavit said.
After he fled, the woman returned to her apartment and called 911 but said she hadn’t been able to see the suspect’s face and likely wouldn’t be able to identify him.
Months later, on July 10, 2002, another woman reported being attacked in Orlando as she was returning home from a night out with friends around 3:30 a.m.
According to an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com in that case, the woman had been approaching her front door when she noticed a man peeping around the corner at her.
The man ran up to her, covered her face with a blue towel and dragged her into some bushes near her apartment complex. He forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her as he asked her personal questions about herself, including her name, whether she had children and what she had been doing that night before coming home.
The suspect forced her to keep the towel over her face throughout the attack, then asked her to lay face down and wait as he ran away. As soon as he had fled, the woman gathered up her clothes and ran for her nearby apartment, according to the affidavit.
Detectives gave the rapist the moniker the “Woodline rapist” because of his habit of dragging his victims into nearby wooded areas just past the tree lines.
Both cases would remain unsolved for nearly two decades until investigators were able to use DNA taken from the crime scenes to develop a genetic profile that helped them identify Harris as a suspect in the case through the use of genetic genealogy.
Investigators secured a search warrant for his DNA and were able to positively match it to the evidence found at the crime scene, according to court documents.
Investigators believe Harris may also be tied to other sexually battery cases in the area and are already testing DNA in a second Orlando Police Department case that could be connected.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has said they also have reason to believe he could be linked to another 2011 case, where Harris had been identified as a suspect but the victim had later declined to pursue charges and declined a rape kit, according to the affidavit.
The victim in that case, who had been a known sex worker, told police a man produced a boxcutter and raped her. She was able to provide authorities with the tag number on his vehicle and a description of the vehicle that helped them identify Harris as a possible suspect in the case before she stopped cooperating.
At the time of his arrest, authorities said Harris had been working as night delivery driver.
“He was living a normal life, he had a family, a regular job, just as if it had never happened,” Chisari said.
The only arrest in his criminal past had been a misdemeanor domestic violence offense against his wife in 2004, according to the affidavit.
Investigators believe technological advances and the persistence of investigators helped them finally bring the Woodline rapist to justice, even after nearly 20 years.
“This is what every law enforcement professional wants. We want closure on a case for a victim who has had to live for almost 20 years without having it,” Lee Massie, special agent in charge with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said during Tuesday’s press conference.
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