Phila. Rapist's 1st Victim, Dismissed In 1997, Refuses To Help Detectives

Posted: March 30, 2000

The first known victim of the Rittenhouse Square rapist is refusing to cooperate with the police investigation because the department shelved her complaint when she came forward three years ago.

After the attack on the woman, in June 1997, the rapist went on to commit a string of other crimes. He is now wanted for five sexual assaults and the May 1998 murder of Shannon Schieber, a student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The first victim's refusal to talk to homicide detectives shows the price police can pay when they fail to believe crime victims, a pronounced tendency for many years in Philadelphia's sex-crimes unit.

The woman, an artist who was then 27, was molested by a man who climbed through a window of her Center City apartment around 4 a.m. on June 20, 1997.

The sex-crimes unit, after interviewing the woman, decided her story was not plausible, because a gap in window bars that she had identified as the assailant's entry point seemed too narrow.

After a brief investigation, the unit mothballed the case. The incident was classified as "investigation of person," an administrative label that police used for years to keep thousands of sexual assaults out of the city's crime statistics.

Over the last year, as police pieced together the pattern of assaults around Rittenhouse Square, they took renewed interest in the artist's case and sought to reinterview her. She rebuffed every approach.

In the fall, after Inquirer reporters raised questions about the Rittenhouse Square cases, police conducted fresh DNA tests on hairs the artist had retrieved from her bed sheets after the attack. The tests confirmed that she had been assaulted by the Rittenhouse Square rapist.

Friends say the woman, whose name is being withheld by The Inquirer, felt mistreated by sex-crimes investigators, believes they made no effort to solve her case, and wants nothing further to do with the police.

The desire of investigators to talk to the woman, and her steadfast opposition to the idea, were evident during a recent court hearing on a lawsuit she had filed against her landlord.

The suit, since withdrawn, contended that security was inadequate at the apartment building where the attack occurred.

During the Feb. 24 hearing before U.S. District Judge Norma L. Shapiro, it emerged that homicide investigators were demanding to interview the woman before private lawyers questioned her in connection with the civil suit.

Her attorney, Joseph M. Rollo, told Shapiro that the woman would not cooperate because of "the treatment she received from the police."

Shapiro replied: "Every citizen owes an obligation to speak with the police about something this serious."

Rollo said he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade his client to cooperate.

The woman said in her lawsuit that she left Philadelphia after the attack and now suffers from post-traumatic stress, depression and insomnia.

The parents of Schieber, the slain Wharton School student, said in an interview that they hoped the artist would change her mind.

"We are very sympathetic to the pain and problems that she has been put through," said Sylvester J. Schieber, an economist in Washington. "I believe deeply and firmly in my heart that the city has just failed horribly.

"That having been said, if there is anyone who can come forward and put an end to this guy continuing to stalk that community, I would encourage anyone with information to help put it to an end."

The victim's silence is another setback for the investigation, which appears to have stalled.

In January, the department shook up the team handling the case, assigning fresh investigators from the homicide and sex-crimes units after deciding the frustrated detectives needed a break.

The attack on the artist was not the only case in which an assault later tied to the Rittenhouse Square rapist was initially shelved by the sex-crimes unit.

The same thing happened with a July 1997 assault on a 25-year-old woman in her Pine Street apartment - the assailant's second confirmed attack.

That incident was designated "investigation of person" and handed off to regular detectives, who investigated it as a burglary.

As in the earlier case, after The Inquirer raised questions late last year, police conducted DNA tests to see if the Pine Street attack fit into the Rittenhouse Square crimes.

The tests, on semen found in the victim's underwear, confirmed she had also been assaulted by the Rittenhouse Square rapist.

The Pine Street woman, while angry over the initial police response, decided to cooperate and met recently with investigators.

"It's the police, in the end, who are going to find this guy," she said in an interview.

The pattern of doubting sexual-assault victims has become an issue in a lawsuit filed against the Police Department by Schieber's parents.

The suit, filed in 1998, contends that police missed a chance to rescue Schieber when, after responding to a 911 call about a "female screaming," they knocked on the door of her apartment, on 23d Street near Spruce, and left when they got no response. The department maintains that the officers acted properly based on what they knew at the time.

Schieber's parents expanded their lawsuit late last month, adding a new element: a contention that the sex-crimes unit's mishandling of the first two incidents helped cause their daughter's death.

The complaint says that those early missteps prevented police from detecting the unfolding pattern of sexual assaults and warning Center City residents and patrol officers.

"It is very sad," Sylvester Schieber said. "We gave a daughter, and nobody else should have to go through what we went through."

Police Commissioner John F. Timoney has said police did a good job of picking up on the rapist's pattern.

The assailant has a distinctive modus operandi. He enters women's apartments, often through narrow openings. He wakes them, covers their faces, and assaults them. FBI profilers say he views his attacks as "dates" and engages in "pillow talk."

His first attack, on the 27-year-old artist, fits the pattern, according to the police investigative file on the incident, a copy of which was obtained by The Inquirer.

He entered the first-floor studio apartment, on 21st Street between Spruce and Locust, about 4 a.m.

"I saw a black shadow on top of me," the victim said in a handwritten account that she gave to police and that is included in the file. "As soon as I realized it wasn't a dream, I screamed."

The woman said the man stripped off his jeans and underwear and molested her for a half-hour. She said she persuaded him not to rape her.

In a separate statement taken by investigators, the woman said the intruder talked to her extensively.

The assailant left around 4:30 a.m., ordering his victim to cover her face with a sheet as he walked out the front door. The woman said she hid for several hours in her bathroom "because I was petrified" he would return.

Michael McGoldrick, an investigator with the sex-crimes unit, spoke to the artist after she called police several hours later.

She told him that the man had likely entered through an opening in security bars on a rear window.

McGoldrick was skeptical. In his confidential report, he wrote that the opening was extremely narrow and that it was "improbable for anyone to enter through that location."

McGoldrick classified the case as "investigation of person" and "inactive." A sergeant and a lieutenant approved the coding.

Some time later, the case was reviewed by the rape squad's Special Investigations Unit. That unit's undated report, after summarizing McGoldrick's work, says: "There is no indication that the [crime] scene was processed or physical evidence was collected and submitted."

McGoldrick, 44, was fired as a police officer in 1984, two years after joining the force. An Internal Affairs Bureau investigation found that on more than 50 occasions when he had said he was responding to 911 calls, McGoldrick was in shops, a private home, or parked under a bridge.

The investigation found that McGoldrick had sometimes filed incident reports falsely indicating that he had responded to 911 calls.

McGoldrick contested the dismissal. After a long appeal process, the city's Civil Service Commission ordered him reinstated, saying the department had not met its burden of proof and had improperly pressured him to inform on fellow officers.

The commission also denied McGoldrick back pay for the nearly four years he had been off the force.

McGoldrick declined to be interviewed for this article.

INFORMATION SOUGHT Anyone with information about the Rittenhouse Square attacks is asked to call the police Homicide Division at 215-686-3336.

A $35,000 reward is available for information leading to an arrest in the killing of Wharton School student Shannon Schieber. Information can be provided anonymously to the Citizens Crime Commission of the Delaware Valley by calling 215-546-TIPS.

* Inquirer staff writers Thomas J. Gibbons Jr. and Clea Benson contributed to this article.

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