'The Jogging Rapist': The hunt comes to an end

St. Matthew Church on Cottman Avenue, where William J. Gray confessed to a priest as the sun set. It was a scene similar to a psychic's vision.
St. Matthew Church on Cottman Avenue, where William J. Gray confessed to a priest as the sun set. It was a scene similar to a psychic's vision. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 24, 2014

Part two of three parts.

Capt. Kenny Schwartz was convinced that William J. Gray was "the Jogging Rapist."

This is the guy, this is the guy. How do we hang him?

He assigned a crew of cops to Gray. "We woke him up in the morning, and we put him to bed at night, watching, watching. He knew we were there.

"And he was never gonna rape again."

Police began showing his victims a Polaroid of Gray that he said had been taken illegally by Northeast detectives. A 14-year-old girl who had been assaulted on Erdrick Street on May 18 said Gray was the man.

On Dec. 10, Gray was arrested in connection with her attack, charged with attempted rape, robbery, assault, unlawful restraint, and indecent assault.

It wasn't the collar the cops had sought. Schwartz wanted a confession to rape. But they also had to have Gray in the system with a sex-assault pinch.

At the detective bureau, Schwartz had had it. Furious, he leaned into Gray's face, eyeball to eyeball:

"Gray, we're gonna slowly f- you."

Gray said nothing.

He was ordered held on $10,000 bail. His mother put up the required 10 percent, and he was allowed to go home.

"I was so angry he walked," Schwartz said. "And I was pissed that he wouldn't crack."

But Gray was shaken. Schwartz had gotten to him. He's going to cook me, Gray believed. All of this was going to end with a cop bullet in his head.

Within five hours, Gray had made a decision. He called his sister.

"I'm the guy they're all looking for," he told her. "I'm the Jogging Rapist."

"I'll call a priest," she said.

She didn't sound surprised.

Then she put her husband, a Northeast cop, on the line.

"Jeff," Gray told him, "I'm scared they'll kill me. Will you come in with me?"

Gray confessed to a priest at St. Matthew Catholic Church on Cottman Avenue, not far from the sites of a few of his attacks.

"Turn yourself in," the priest advised.

Before he did, Gray knelt in front of St. Matthew's steeple as the sun was setting, according to officers who were tailing him. That's the exact scene that the psychic from Alaska had described to Lt. John Maxwell a week earlier.

Maxwell nodded. The psychic was right all along, he said to himself.

Maxwell was in the detective bureau when Gray walked in. The young lieutenant called his boss. "I'll be right there," Lt. Gerald Baker said.

As calmly as he could manage, Maxwell asked Gray: "What brings you back tonight?"

"I saw a priest, and he told me to confess," Gray said.

Baker arrived and processed the arrest. He smiled. There would be no easy bail tonight.

"The exultation, the relief," Maxwell said. "Everyone was walking three feet above the ground."

After Gray gave his statement to Baker, waiving his right to an attorney, he sat again with Maxwell on a bench in the detective bureau. Bail this time would be $240,000.

Gray told Maxwell that he looked familiar. On one of his forays looking for Gray, Maxwell had caught up with Gray's blue 1970 Cadillac Eldorado, only to have his police-issue Plymouth malfunction.

"You're the guy I lost when smoke came out of your car. Bad catalytic converter, right?" Gray asked.

The conversation went that way at first. Gray was relaxed, meek even.

Then he started to get agitated and confused. He asked Maxwell, "Can I call my wife?" The two had recently reconciled.

"I'm worried I may be late for my job tomorrow, and I need her to call work," he said.

Maxwell was incredulous. A passing cop heard Gray and said aloud what Maxwell had been thinking: "You ain't gonna make it to work tomorrow."

Gray heard that and broke apart, curling up on the floor in a corner of the room.

"Once reality set in," Maxwell said, "the man just shook."

'IT'S NO. 4'

It was not until Susanne Worsham was attacked on Nov. 26, 1979, that the media became fully aware of the Jogging Rapist.

Reporters camped out in front of the family home.

"This can't be in the paper," yowled Regina Dougherty, Worsham's mother. But it was front-page news. A reporter phoned, asking to talk to the mother of the rape victim.

"There's no rape victim here," Dougherty barked, hanging up.

Worsham insisted on going to school the next day. Her mother was aghast: "Doesn't she realize what happened?"

Worsham said that at the hospital, she had learned the words for what had occurred. "I went from being a kid to a grown-up overnight."

The 12-year-old was dazed. Nasty children from school had been taunting her: "You asked for it."

It got so bad that John Graham, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, secretly slipped into St. Helena's one day and sent for Worsham.

"You didn't make this happen," he told the girl. "Don't blame yourself."

The family was in turmoil. One day, Dougherty's 8-year-old son had an idea: "Mommy, if I wear high heels and carry a purse, I could pretend to be a girl and beat up the bad man." Dougherty's heart broke.

A couple of weeks later, with her daughter in school, Dougherty was vacuuming as a soap opera flickered on TV. A news announcer broke in: "We interrupt this program to inform you that the Philadelphia police have captured the Jogging Rapist."

The attacker's face flashed on the screen. Before the announcer could say his name, Dougherty dropped the vacuum and screamed.

"Oh, my God. It's Billy Gray."

Dougherty had attended St. Helena School with Gray and had played with him as a child in the streets of Olney.

"Oh, he was a mouse of a kid, a nasty little pissant. No wonder he raped girls. Women would've beaten him up. He was a sissy."

It was astonishing for Dougherty to be so vividly reminded how tight and provincial the Catholic world of Olney and the Northeast was.

And she wanted to know this: How could a boy who was taught about Jesus and sanctifying grace by the same nuns I had in school grow up to become my daughter's rapist?

Not long after the announcement, the police organized a lineup at the now-closed Holmesburg Prison. Worsham and her parents went, as did all the other girls and their families. The still-anguished adults were checked for guns.

One by one, the girls started talking with one another, like tornado victims commiserating in a shelter.

"I felt sorry for myself, but now also for them," Worsham said. "I had no idea of the magnitude."

The parents avoided one another's eyes.

"The girls were conversing, but the parents were silent," Dougherty remembered.

Then a light went on and the children were told to study the men lined up on the other side of the one-way glass.

"No. 4," one girl immediately said, looking at Gray.

"Four, Mommy," another pointed.

"It's No. 4," Worsham said.

The police said thank you, and the girls all looked at one another one last time, already beginning to feel ashamed, inexplicably embarrassed, for reasons they could not begin to understand.

Then, as quickly as they had gathered, they all dispersed and were out the door.

Worsham never looked back.

GRAY'S DEAL: 20 TO 50

Television lights heated the corridor outside Courtroom 696 in City Hall on April 16, 1980. Newspaper cameras whirred and flashed endlessly, an insufferable torment to the parents of the seven girls who were raped.

The victims had been left home. Their mothers and fathers - their proxies and protectors - walked stone-faced into court, resentful of every lens that peered into heretofore private lives.

Gray's was the first major case handled by the new rape and sexual-assault unit under Ed Rendell, elected district attorney in 1977.

Not every assault made for a strong case, and prosecutor William Heiman did not want to try all of them and risk losing.

Police initially charged Gray with the 16 rapes and assaults he committed in 1979, and a separate sexual-assault charge for an attack on an 11-year-old girl in his home three years earlier.

Heiman, however, worked out a deal with Gray's appointed attorney, Edward Ohlbaum, now dead, for his attacks in 1979.

None of the parents wanted a trial, because it meant their girls would have to testify.

Gray also hoped to avoid trial, knowing he would face sentences totaling more than 150 years in prison if he rolled the dice in front of a jury. He pleaded guilty and accepted a sentence of 20 to 50 years.

Schwartz felt like breaking something.

"We wanted a trial. We wanted 10 to 20 years per count. It should have been 50 to 100."

During a long hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Abraham Gafni, the words uttered and deeds done by Gray on dark sidewalks in 1979 spilled out:

"I'm going to strangle you."

"Do what I say, or I will stick a knife in you."

"Take down your underwear. I'll let you know when I'm done."

With each recitation, the enormity of Gray's spree filled the room with a toxic density.

Reading from a psychiatric report, Ohlbaum said Gray was "mentally disabled and certainly dangerous."

When it was his turn, Gray apologized "to the girls that I assaulted and to their families." He added that "all those growing-up years without family around me . . . made something go wrong inside of me.

"I am sorry, and I am deeply ashamed of myself."

Brian Dougherty, surprising even his wife, rose in anguish to speak. He said that he and Regina thought the sentence was not just but that they had agreed to it to save their daughter embarrassment.

"Only the parents know the full extent of the crime, the crime he has committed against us," he told the court. "And I just want everyone to feel . . . how emotional we were."


alubrano@phillynews.com

215-854-4969

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