Community, DNA Crucial in Serial Rapist Arrest

By Rachael Horowitz and Sonal Shah ♦

Posters, like this one outside City College, offered a reward for information about the serial rapist. (Photo by Sonal Shah)

After an intense two-month search, police have arrested the man they believe is responsible for raping and robbing four women in Hamilton Heights during August and September.

DNA from the suspect, 21-year-old Vincent Heyward, matches DNA samples from all the rapes, and a 5th attempted attack, according to officers from the 33rd Precinct.

At his September 21 arraignment, Heyward tried to escape the courtroom but was easily restrained. He will next appear in New York Supreme Court on October 22. “It’s too bad he got lawyered up,” said NYPD Deputy Inspector Scott Shanley. “I want to know what drives this guy.” Heyward had been in a Virginia jail for car theft and had been released in June.

Police involved the community in the investigation, widely publicizing a sketch of the suspect based on surveillance footage and victims’ descriptions. They also circulated still photos from the surveillance.

At a community meeting, Sgt. Richard Crespo from Manhattan Special Victims assured residents that the police were following all leads from the four attacks and encouraged local residents to provide information. He even urged people to “ask your kids to snoop around.”

“If this guy’s in jail, it’s because of the community and the police,” said Officer Alan Asusta of the NYPD Crime Prevention Section at a City College meeting after Heyward was arrested on September 21.

The rapist first attacked on August 1, assaulting a 59-year-old woman at knifepoint in the courtyard of 565 W. 148th Street at 2:45 a.m.. After the second attack on August 10 – on a 23-year-old woman at 144th and Convent Avenue – police began looking for a single perpetrator.

The rapist struck again at 4 a.m. on August 18 when he followed a 69-year-old woman into the lobby of an apartment building at 765 Riverside Drive as she returned from work. She was raped and robbed inside the building elevator.

In the last attack on September 7, a 28-year-old woman was raped in her apartment on St. Nicholas Avenue. The attacker jumped to her apartment’s fire escape from the roof of a neighboring building and entered through a bathroom window.

Details of the attacks led some residents to speculate early on that the rapist might be local. “I get the feeling he might be from the neighborhood,” Raquel Monserrate, who lives at 788 Riverside Drive, said in August. Police said that Heyward lived on Edgecombe Avenue, close to where the four attacks occurred, and they later confirmed that he probably picked out victims and followed them from the subway. Monserrate was avoiding going outside to walk her dog during those quiet hours. “Since that happened, we bought wee-wee pads,” she said.

Deputy Inspector Shanley hopes that the community involvement will remain even though this particular crisis has ended. “People have to realize he’s not the only rapist in the world,” he said.

Originally published in The Uptowner, October 13, 2009.