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The Beast of Bermondsey

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The Police can't catch him but Science can...

When the attacks started back in the 1980s, there was no standard street CCTV and DNA was in its infancy. But by geographically profiling the first two rapes, the police suspected the attacker lived nearby to his victims.
There were no witnesses to the attacks. But because the surviving victims noted the curtains were closed, the attacker hid his face, or covered theirs; the police thought they were probably looking for ‘a distinctive looking person’. And amazingly, despite being badly injured, the first victim helped detectives draw up an image of the suspect. She added he smelt of alcohol and stole cigarettes.
A young PC, Bob Meade, started knocking on doors. He attempted to find out on a day to day basis who might have been hanging around the flats and draw up a list of suspects. He was also trying to identify areas where they could set up surveillance operations. Police coverage was comprehensive.
"If you were a young man out in the streets in Southwark in the early hours of the morning, by yourself and wandering aimlessly around… you would definitely get stopped."
Bob Meade

From her hospital bed, the second victim was able to give a photo-fit of what she thought the rapist looked like. She described a white man with short dark hair in his twenties or thirties.
But due to the severity and suddenness of the attack, the age of the witnesses and the poor lighting, the police couldn’t rely on this. They worked out that the attacker wasn’t an opportunist. He must have carefully planned and selected his victims. He would have also done periods of surveillance to gather more details. The police tried to establish occupation or activities that would have meant the attacker was around on the days he decided to actually to follow through.
They searched back and found the victims had been victims of burglaries beforehand. The attacker was using the burglary as an opportunity for reconnaissance. Once inside, he could confirm the person lived alone, was elderly, and most importantly, was vulnerable. He particularly targeted those with walking sticks and Zimmer frames.
When the attacks moved to Rotherhithe, the police suspected it was because of press appeals. Press and public attention had forced him away from his home base. The next victim was able to give an artist’s impression. Some patterns began to emerge.
The attacker had a distinctive hairstyle. He wore his hair with a fringe. One victim said he had a crooked or broken nose; another that he had a lot of moles on his back. One said that he had long fingers like a pianist. He was also said to have worn a pale green tracksuit.
The police took the press appeal from local newspapers onto national television. But despite a ‘Crimewatch’ appeal for information on the rapist of three elderly women, no progress was made. The police believed they were after a 25 year old, 5ft 6in tall man of stocky build. They were on the right track. But it wasn’t enough to stop another attack two months later.
Although DNA technology was just beginning to become a practical tool in 1990, detectives did start to gather scientific evidence. Each crime scene gave up various bits of the attackers DNA. Blood, saliva and semen were found on the victim’s clothes and around the scene. A genetic fingerprint of the attacker was being put together which one day would unlock the case.
But with no DNA database with which to compare their findings, the offender remained at large. Then Irene Grainey was killed. Had the ‘Southwark Rapist’ moved from sexual sadism to homicide? Everything apart from the fact that she was murdered seemed similar to the previous attacks.
But as the police commenced a large scale murder enquiry, the crimes suddenly stopped. There were no more rapes. And no more attacks on elderly women. Had their man moved? Or had he been jailed for another crime?
With no new crimes, and despite numerous appeals, the trail went cold.