2011 Ann Arbor sexual assaults: Police now unsure serial rapist was to blame
Two years after several sexual assaults in Ann Arbor put the community on alert, police say they're not sure a serial rapist was to blame.
The assaults, which occurred in areas close to downtown and the University of Michigan campus in summer of 2011, prompted Crime Stoppers to offer a 1,000 reward for tips and created anxiety and frustration for police and residents alike.
Police sifted through 600 tips as seven assaults were reported starting in July and ending in September. Different theories sprung up. Police eventually considered a serial suspect scenario.
Now two years later, no arrests have been made and new tips aren’t coming in, but the cases still remain officially open, officials said. As for whether the attacks were related, that's an open question.
“We are open to the possibility of them being related, but caution that the descriptions and methods of operation varied widely,” said Ann Arbor police Lt. Robert Pfannes. “Very diverse events were described by some in the media as being the work of a lone ‘serial’ suspect.’”
For instance, descriptions of two suspects varied in race, a decade in age and a foot in height, Pfannes said. At the time, a poster was issued featuring a 35-year-old 5-foot 6-inch tall Hispanic man and an 18-year-old 6-foot 5-inch white man. The seven attacks ranged from groping incidents on street corners to a reported rape in a parking structure.
Two years later, the sexual assaults from the summer of 2011 haven’t been forgotten, but they aren’t necessarily at the forefront of students’ thoughts on the U-M campus.
“It’s not really brought up,” said Meghana Kulkarni, a U-M senior and co-coordinator at Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. “It didn’t really affect how I was living my life. I wasn’t living in fear.”
Six of the attacks, including two rapes, were reported between July 15 and July 26, 2011. The seventh was reported Sept. 13, 2011.
The first attack occurred about 10:10 p.m. July 15, according to previous AnnArbor.com reports.
A then-21-year-old Ann Arbor woman was walking near Thompson and East Liberty streets when a man grabbed her around the neck. The woman resisted, broke free and was not injured, police said. In that case, the attacker was described as white, 29 years old, 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 165 pounds with a medium build.
The second assault occurred around 11 p.m. on July 15 near Community High School. A then-19-year-old Ypsilanti woman told police she was walking in the 400 block of North Division Street near the school when a man grabbed her and tried to drag her to a secluded area before she broke free and fled.
Then at 2 a.m. on July 16, a then-22-year-old Ann Arbor woman was reportedly grabbed and fondled in the 900 block of Greenwood Avenue. She was able to break free and flee.
In the Division and Greenwood incidents, the suspect was described as a man in his late teens or early 20s, about 5 feet 6 or 5 feet 7 inches tall with an olive complexion and short black hair, or possibly a flat-top hair style.
The next incident was reported two days later. A woman told police she was walking about 12:40 a.m. in the 700 block of South State Street when a man grabbed her, pulled her behind a wall and raped her.
The fifth incident was reported July 21, but had occurred on July 18. A 26-year-old Ypsilanti woman told police that a man followed her into an elevator at the Liberty Square parking structure near East Liberty and Thompson streets between 10:30 and 11 p.m. July 18 and raped her.
The suspect was described as white, 26 years old, 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 7 inches tall, with short, dark and straight hair, police said.
The sixth assault was reported by a University of Michigan student who said she was grabbed from behind and fondled by a man as she was walking to her car the night of July 26 in a parking lot in the 700 block of South State Street.
That attack occurred in the same block as the first of the two rapes on July 18. The attacker was described as tan, 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall, with no facial hair.
At that time, police held a press conference saying they believed one or two suspects were responsible for the six attacks.
A seventh sexual assault was reported Sept. 13, 2011. A 20-year-old woman told police she was sexually assaulted in the 400 block of South First Street.
She said a man walked up behind her, grabbed her arm and then her waist and fondled her chest and groin areas before she broke free. The attacker was described as white or Hispanic with darker skin and a medium build and height.
Then-Ann Arbor Police Chief Barnett Jones said the assault could be related to the previous six.
The University of Michigan sent out crime alerts about the incidents at the time, which is how students like Kulkarni said they were made aware of them.
“We’re actively conveyed to our university community about those incidents,” said U-M police spokeswoman Diane Brown. “We combined efforts and had a detective over with AAPD to follow up on them.”
A special university webpage was also set up about the incidents.
U-M police also had increased police presence in the areas near campus where assaults were reported, Brown said.
“We took it very seriously,” she added. “This was one that was much more widespread, much more of a concern to people, much more of a public safety threat as viewed by police.”
The incidents were reported between Kulkarni’s freshman and sophomore years.
“It was the topic of conversation,” she said. “We took precautions. We would walk home in groups at night. Everyone was expressing some worry.”
Even though there's been no arrest, police and the community seem to be moving on after two years without an incident has seemed to allow police. No tips concerning the assaults have come in to Ann Arbor or U-M police recently, officials said.
Kulkarni is more interested now in educating students about how the majority of sexual assaults are not perpetuated by strangers.
“Most sexual assaults happen between intimate partners, not some scary guy jumping out of the bushes,” she said.
The map below shows the approximate locations of the assaults:
View 2011 sexual assaults in a larger map