The Minstead rapist case concerns a burglar and gerontophile rapist operating in the South East London area of England. He has a distinctive modus operandi, preying on elderly women who live alone. He is suspected of over 90 offences from 1992 to the present. The long running and continuing hunt for the Minstead Rapist is the largest and most complex rape investigation ever undertaken by the Metropolitan Police.
The name Minstead Rapist is derived from the Specialist Crime Directorate designation of this series of linked offences as Operation Minstead. The name was arrived at due to the SCD’s then method of assigning operational names based on an alphabetical list of English villages. When the operation was begun in 1998, this list was up to M. Due to the length of time that the operation has been ongoing, this alphabetical list has been exhausted. Among Metropolitan Police officers, he is more familiarly called Minstead Man. He has been referred to in the press as the "Night Stalker" but there has been little media attention and this name is not widely known.
The Minstead Rapist is an accomplished burglar and has broken into the homes of over 90 elderly women aged between 68 and 93. He is positively linked to four reported rapes and around 30 other sexual assaults. Police believe he is also responsible for at least another two rapes where the victims felt unable to make any official allegation. The true total may be higher as his victims are often too traumatised to speak to police. The series of offences began in October 1992 in the Shirley area of Croydon. However due to a break of four years between this first attack and a spate of others, Operation Minstead was not set up until 1998.
Although prolific, the Minstead Rapist becomes dormant for long periods. After the first attack in October 1992, no further offences were reported until 1997. After a particularly violent rape on 5 August 1999 where his victim almost died from her injuries, there was another long break. This prompted some media speculation that the rapist had been imprisoned for an unrelated offence or that he had died. However on 13 October 2002, ten years after the first attack, he struck again. Seven confirmed attacks took place in the summer of 2003. Another break then followed.
Detective Superintendent Simon Morgan who heads the Minstead team, explains the problems in arriving at a definitive total of offences in this series by saying "His victims come from a generation who are inclined to see good in everyone. One thanked him for being gentle when he raped her". Another said she didn’t want to dial 999 "because I know the police are already so busy".
The offences occur in defined geographical clusters in and around South East London. Most of the offences have occurred around Shirley in Croydon, and also Orpington. However he has also struck in Coulsdon, Forest Hill, Catford, Brockley, Bromley, Beckenham, Dulwich and Sidcup. Only once has there been a report of him offending outside the London area. This was in Warlingham, Surrey.
The fact that many offences have taken place in Orpington, including one on Boxing Day in 1998, has led detectives to suspect the rapist has a link to the area. Det Supt Morgan has said "He either lives, works or has some connection with someone he visits in Orpington. This could be a child, a school or a job". On three occasions, he has made remarks about having to get to Brighton.
The Minstead Rapist singles out lone elderly women as victims. It is thought that he is meticulous in planning his crimes. He may place his potential victims under surveillance for some time since he has never broken into a house occupied by anyone but a lone elderly female. He once targeted three houses in a single street. He picks detached or semi-detached houses and bungalows but never flats.
The suspect gains entry to the homes of his victims from the side or the rear, either through open windows or by removing a window pane entirely. He has been known to use tools stolen from the victim's own garden shed to remove the window beading. He rips out the telephone wires, either before entering the property, or after gaining access. He then disables the lights either by switching off the electricity at the meter or by unscrewing lightbulbs from their sockets.
He then approaches his victim, shining a torch in her eyes. Often his first words are to demand sex. However, he has been known to spend hours in victims’ homes either before or without assaulting them. He has been described perversely as exhibiting tenderness, sometimes gently kissing his victims on the cheek. He has exhibited a knowledge of geriatrics, knowing how to support his elderly victim’s spine and how to pick them up from the elbow. There is speculation that he may be, or may once have been, a carer for the elderly. He has sometimes been shamed into leaving without committing a sexual assault when his victim has chastised him. Of particular note is an incident where one victim caused him to apologise and leave by angrily demanding "What would your mother think of you?" Police have speculated that the rapist is ashamed of his actions, perhaps explaining the long period that sometimes occurs between offences. Despite this, he can be extremely violent. During an attack on 5 August 1999, he raped his victim twice and left her bleeding from a perforated bowel. She almost died from these injuries.
He has been known to burgle his victims but this is clearly not his primary motive. He often takes money but only small amounts. He has taken credit cards and obtained their PINs from his victims but there has never been any record of him using them. In 2004 he stole a wad of five pound notes but these were later discovered thrown away a mile and a half from his victim’s house. He has also taken jewellery.
He has struck on all days of the week but most often during the early hours of a Friday or Saturday morning.
Detectives strongly believe that he rides a motorbike - Met press notice oct 2006
Descriptions from his many victims suggest a black male aged between 25 and 40. He is about 5'9" to 5'11" tall, of slim athletic build and tends to wear dark clothing. He usually wears gloves and a mask or balaclava. He has occasionally worn a baseball cap. He is described as having a soft or well-spoken voice. Some of his victims have reported a curious sweet smell.
The Minstead Rapist is thought to be forensically-aware since he has never left a fingerprint at any scene. However, an offence committed on 13 October 13 2002, left behind a vital clue – a footprint from a size 10 Nike Air Terra Contego trainer. Most importantly he does not use condoms and his DNA has been captured. The first time his DNA was discovered at a scene was in 1992.
Britain’s national police DNA database contains samples from anyone arrested for a recordable offence since 1995. Even by the time of his first offence, the Minstead Rapist was clearly an accomplished burglar. However his DNA remains unmatched and unidentified on the database. If the rapist has ever been arrested for burglary or a related offence, it must have been some time before 1995 when police began to routinely gather DNA samples from prisoners.
Advanced DNA techniques have pointed towards a north Caribbean ethnic origin for the rapist; probably the Windward Islands – St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, the Grenadines, Tobago or Trinidad. Operation Minstead identified around 21,000 possible suspects that fit such a profile.
In March 2004, Operation Minstead detectives hand-delivered a letter to hundreds of black men in South London, asking for their help in voluntarily providing a DNA sample for elimination purposes. Police explained that they desperately needed to reduce the vast number of suspects in the operation and that this was the best way to do so. Volunteers were assured that their DNA sample would be destroyed as soon as it was confirmed to be unmatched with the rapist’s DNA. The majority of those potential suspects were eager to help if it would assist police in catching the suspect. However 125 men initially refused to provide a sample, believing it was discriminatory and breached their human rights. Police brought pressure to bear on those who refused, explaining that their behaviour could be construed as suspicious. Five objectors were subsequently arrested but cleared. This incident was seen by some commentators, particularly The Voice newspaper and Liberty, as an abuse of power that damaged relations between London’s black community and the police . A Liberal Democrat MP, Lynne Featherstone, questioned police tactics in the House of Commons . Although they were able to reduce the list of potential suspects from 21,000 to 1,000, police have now resigned themselves to only being able to obtain the DNA of certain suspects still on the list if and when they are arrested for an unrelated offence.