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KATU Investigators

Law enforcement agencies join forces to track down Salem serial groper

Law enforcement agencies join forces to track down Salem serial groper

SALEM, Ore. – The man who groped three Willamette University students and a half a dozen other women across Salem struck again this week.

That brings the total number of reported victims to nine during a two-month time period.

The On Your Side Investigators tracked the trail of assaults and found the man's groping-spree spread so far that three different agencies are working jointly on the investigation, including Salem Police, the Marion County Sheriff's Office and Willamette University campus security.

"It really annoys me, I'm really mad, I would like to catch this guy, and we've taken steps to do that," said Rich Dennis, associate director of campus safety at Willamette University.

Dennis said the university doubled its number of campus security officers, from two to four, after the groper assaulted two women on campus. One woman was assaulted near the campus library and second woman on a campus parking lot. Dennis said a third student was groped at Bush Park, which is close to campus.

Dennis said, "During the night, we have at least four sets of eyes and then during the day we have two."

After each of the instances, the university sent out an alert to students and faculty.

"We want all students, male and female, to feel safe," Dennis said.

Students told KATU they are taking additional precautions by walking in pairs.

"It's kind of unsettling, but when I walk places on campus I always have one other person with me," a freshman named Kristen said.
She did not want to give her last name. "When I leave my friend’s dorms and stuff, I always have someone walk me back."

The remainder of the attacks happened across the city. The most recent assault happened Wednesday afternoon near Carolina Ave. and Phipps Lane NE. The Marion County Sheriff's Office received a report of a woman who was grabbed while she was walking. She reportedly told authorities that a man came up behind her and grabbed her lower legs.

There is seemingly no pattern for the places the man gropes the women.

"The patterns and trends are very sporadic," Salem Police Lt. Dave Okada said.

However, Okada believes one man is responsible for all of the assaults since his tactics are the same. Okada said the man typically approaches women at night when they are alone and appear to be distracted.

One victim was on her cellphone. Another was placing something in the trunk of her car.

Okada said he then grabs the women's private areas and runs away.

Based on victim reports, the groper is a white male with a slender build who is between 5 feet 5 inches and 5 feet 9 inches tall, dressed in all black and wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood tied tightly over his face. Women described him as a younger man in his early 20s or 30s.

"We've briefed our officers on it, we're all aware of it, we're certainly aware of people matching that description," Okada said.

The spree began Oct. 28 when four women reported being groped by a man in one night.

At 10:05 p.m., the man groped a woman on the 2800 block of Broadway Street NE. Twenty-five minutes later he struck again at the corner of Hawthorne Avenue NE and Market Street NE. Ten minutes after that, he assaulted two more women, one on the corner of Liberty and Lincoln streets SE and the other on the corner of High Street and Division Street NE.

Then for two weeks, no new reports came in.

But on Nov. 10, the man groped two more women. This time, Salem police said he struck at 10:30 p.m. on the corner of Liberty Street SE and Leffelle Street SE. Around the same time, the Marion County Sheriff's Office received a report that a woman was groped on Lancaster Drive NE.

Then, the groper seemingly went quiet. Nearly a month went by without a report.

The man started up again on Dec. 2. Salem police said the man groped a woman on the 1000 block of Mill Street SE.

Five days later, he assaulted another woman on the 1100 block of Mill Street SE.

This week the man groped a woman around 2:30 p.m. on Phipps Lane NE.

"We encourage women not to be walking alone at night," Okada said. "If they have to be alone, be aware of their surroundings, don't be distracted, don’t be talking on your cellphone or reading or texting."

If you are groped, Okada recommends that you make a lot of noise to bring enough attention to you and the attacker.

"We're trying to get the word out to the public, making the community aware," Okada said. "Someone's going to see something, somebody's going to know something and that's what we're hoping for."

Anyone who might have more information about the suspect is asked to contact the Salem police tip line at (503) 588-8477.

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