Investigators have been following up on tips pouring in through phone calls and text messages, searching for the suspect who appears to be the same man who got into one car in North St. Paul and then another in Maplewood on Sunday night, threatening to rape and shoot the two women who drove them.
One woman took her chance to run away, and the other convinced the man to let her go unharmed. By Tuesday afternoon, police had received many calls and texts from people who claimed to have seen the man, but they haven't yet led investigators to the suspect's identity.
"We have received a number of tips, which are extremely helpful and have been great," Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell said. "We're not there yet."
Schnell said that there's no indication that the man is or isn't still in the area, but there are some "elements of this that would make one believe this person is potentially local."
The North St. Paul Police Department responded to a report of a female victim who ran away from a possible rapist at 7:47 p.m. Feb. 23 in the area of Tenth Avenue and Third Street.
After a hockey game, a 24-year-old woman reportedly started her car in the parking lot of North High School Polar Arena, 2444 11th Ave. Then, a man, who she described as a white male, about 30 to 40 years old, 6 feet tall with a medium build and facial hair, entered the car on the passenger's side. He had a black handgun, wore dark clothing, a black cap and latex gloves. He told the victim that he wanted to have sex with her, ordering her to drive the vehicle to a parking lot west of North High. He forced her to turn the car off and grabbed her. She saw a chance to get away, fled and screamed for help.
The man then drove off in her car. According to Schnell, the car has since been recovered.
About 15 minutes after the North St. Paul incident, a 26-year-old woman in Maplewood reported an armed kidnapping involving a man who looked and acted similar to the man in the other incident in the adjacent suburb.
The Maplewood Police Department received the report at about 9:30 p.m. the same night. According to a police statement, a woman reportedly left a gym near White Bear Avenue and County Road D at about 8 p.m., got into her car, and then a man she didn't know sat down in the passenger seat.
The suspect, who was described as a white male, 30 to 40 years old, wearing a black ski mask, dark-colored pants and light-colored latex gloves, threatened to shoot the woman with a black handgun, if she tried to get away. He then forced her to drive to different locations in Maplewood, including a hotel, while telling her he was going to rape her.
According to Schnell, the woman noticed that the man became increasingly nervous as they drove around. She apparently talked the man down, saying things to the effect of "'You should let me go. I don't want to see you getting into trouble,'" Schnell said.
"He was explicit with the victim in the Maplewood case that his intention was to rape her," Schnell said. "She was afraid of him.
"To her credit, she was able to convince him to let her go."
He didn't harm her and eventually asked to be dropped off near County Road C and White Bear Avenue. She braked at a stoplight, and he got out.
Schnell said that there is no proven right or wrong way to respond to such a situation, but it usually comes down to the victim figuring out what increases the likelihood of survival.
"It could be perfectly right to run. It could be perfectly right to fight. It could be perfectly right to comply," he said.
Although he said these types of incidents are "extremely, extremely rare, yet these are the offenses oftentimes that we were the most fearful about."
He recommended that people remain aware of their surroundings at all times, but acknowledged that the man has not been apprehended.
"At this stage, it's important and wise that we employ all of the standard types of tactics or strategies to keep ourselves safe, increasing our level of awareness, making sure we lock our doors.
He added, "But certainly, (authorities are) more concerned given the fact that we have not identified the suspect."
Schnell noted that a similar incident took place this month in Sartell, Minn., which is about six miles north of St. Cloud. A woman was kidnapped by a masked man who was waiting in her vehicle outside a fast-food restaurant late Feb. 12 to early Feb. 13. The 56-year-old woman reportedly told police she was assaulted. She was driven around the St. Cloud area, and then was pushed out of the vehicle in Sauk Rapids, where police found her car. The interior had been set on fire.
Maplewood and North St. Paul investigators are working together on the investigation.
Anyone with information can call Maplewood police at 651-767-0640 or 911. Anonymous tips can be submitted by texting the keyword "MAPLEWOOD" and the tip information to TIP411 (847411).
Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and email@example.com . Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.