from: Rape Investigation, 2nd Ed., by Co-authors Brent E. Turvey, PhD and Det. John Savino, NYPD (ret).
"Few individuals can walk forward knowing that they have truly made a profound difference. Be one of those individuals; strive to be a determined professional, relentless in the pursuit of justice for both victim and criminal alike; be an individual with integrity and passion in pursuit of justice"
-John O. Savino
Each and every one of us will travel a different path to becoming an investigator. Our journey down that path influences our investigative abilities and helps determine the type of investigator we will become. It is hoped that sharing my path, and my journey, will help others resolve issues in their own, and also shed some light on how this textbook came to be.
My particular journey as a Sex Crimes investigator with the New York City Police Department’s Manhattan Special Victims Squad, where I spent 18 1/2 years investigating sexual assaults and child abuse allegations, began innocently enough. In 1989, I was promoted to Detective and transferred from the Manhattan North Narcotics Division to the quiet and peaceful Central Park Precinct – or so I thought. Central Park is 840 acres located in the middle of Manhattan, visited by approximately 35 million people a year. It is also a home to squirrels, birds, fish and other animals.
The Central Park Jogger Case
One of my first assignments was a sexual assault that occurred on a jogging path in Central Park only a few weeks after: the now infamous "wolf pack" assault of a jogger which occurred in April of 1989. It was a case that shock and enraged all of New York City. The NYPD quickly arrested five teenagers in connection with the brutal beating and rape of the young investment banker, who had been attacked while jogging. The five teens quickly confessed to the assault, and rape, and admitted to leaving her dying in a ravine next to the jogging path.
Needless to say the pressure was on to solve this new sexual assault. The victim in the new assault had been jogging when she was approached by several youths, who grabbed her and attempted to knock her to the ground before they attempted to sexually assault her. Because of the heightened state of alert after the "wolf pack" assault, other joggers had chased the youths away, and prevented the assault. In 1989 when these assaults occurred, video surveillance equipment was not as prevalent as it is today, NYPD did not have databases available of known offenders or photo databases of everyone arrested in the city available for viewing by victims, DNA testing was still in its infancy and not available in New York City at the time. The NYPD complaint system was not yet computerized and there were no manuals or booklets available on how to investigate a sexual assault. There certainly were no instructions provided on how to conduct an investigation with New York City watching on the TV news and in the newspapers.
The search for the bad guys began with an interview of the victim, whom I was able to convince to visit a Hospital to document any possible injuries she may have suffered after the assault. I visited the location of the assault the very next day at the same exact time of the assault in an effort to locate any possible witnesses, because they may have used the same path the day before.
I then began visiting each of the nine police precincts that surrounded Central Park and located several youths who fit the general description of the assailants and who had been issued summonses for a minor infraction by a uniformed patrol officer on the day of the sexual assault. I also decided to visit several of the youths who confessed to the sexual assault of the female jogger. Several weeks after their arrest, I was transferred to the Manhattan Sex Crimes Squad and began my journey as a Sex Crimes Investigator.
Obviously, this was not the end of that story, but more about that shortly.
The Manhattan Special Victims Squad
After being assigned to the Sex Crime Squad, I quickly realized that sexual assault was a very unique crime and with an extremely high recidivism rate. On my own time, I began reading everything I could find about sex offenders, interviewing techniques, and books on homicide investigations. At the time, there were numerous books available on how to run a good homicide investigation, but none of these focused on the actual process of conducting sexual assault investigations.
I also began gathering intelligence on sex offenders and photographs of everyone arrested by the NYPD for any type of sex crime. The photographs were placed in photo albums to bring to victims to view after they were assaulted. When the unit received its first Personal Computer, I created a database that was used to assist with identifying similarities among assaults and offenders, which helped investigators to link those with similarities more quickly. I learned the difference between signature behavior and M.O. behavior, and incorporated that as well.
Complaint information was also entered into the database, and this helped identify victims who had filed multiple sexual assault complaints.
Beyond the database issues, I studied the different typologies of sex offenders in an effort to help with my interrogations when they were caught. I also began meeting with Rape advocates to explain what sex crime investigators do. I turn, learned what they do and how to enlist their cooperation to advancing my investigations.
Around the same time, I made the decision to visit the police crime laboratory. I eventually made friends with the laboratory personal, who taught me about the ABO/ secretor-non-secretor blood typing method, which was used prior to DNA. Since 1989, the technological advances in DNA and advances in policing have helped solve many investigations and exonerated the wrongly accused.
All of these things were done to educate myself, to utilize every tool and resource at my disposal (and make them when they didn’t exist), and to make the squad more effective at the task of sex crime investigations.
DNA Advances & Matias Reyes
In 2002, Matias Reyes confessed to being solely responsible for the "wolf pack" assault of the Central Park jogger back in 1989. The five teenagers originally arrested had their subsequent convictions vacated. As reported in Saulny (2002):
Thirteen years after an investment banker jogging in Central Park was savagely beaten, raped and left for dead, a Manhattan judge threw out the convictions yesterday of the five young men who had confessed to attacking the woman on a night of violence that stunned the city and the nation.
In one final, extraordinary ruling that took about five minutes, Justice Charles J. Tejada of State Supreme Court in Manhattan granted recent motions made by defense lawyers and Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, to vacate all convictions against the young men in connection with the jogger attack and a spree of robberies and assaults in the park that night.
The judge ruled based on new evidence pointing to another man, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer-rapist who stepped forward in January, as the probable sole attacker of the jogger. He was linked to the rape by DNA and other evidence, as the reliability of the earlier confessions and other trial evidence was cast in doubt.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly reacted yesterday to the judge's decision with a bluntly worded statement that underscored the breach that had opened in recent weeks between the Police Department and the district attorney's office over the case.
Mr. Kelly challenged the credibility of Mr. Reyes's claim that he had acted alone. He also complained that the district attorney's office had denied his detectives access to important evidence needed for the department's own investigation.
Technically, Justice Tejada's ruling made a new trial possible. But after the judge vacated the convictions, Peter Casolaro, an assistant district attorney, immediately responded with a motion dismissing the indictments and forgoing a new trial.
Justice Tejada replied, ''The motion is granted. Have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.''
Then the stuffy, crowded courtroom on the 15th floor of 100 Centre Street erupted in screams, cheers, applause, and weeping by family and supporters of the young men -- Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Kharey Wise and Raymond Santana.
They were all teenagers at the time of the attack on April 19, 1989. Now they are 28 to 30 years old and have all completed prison terms of 7 to 13 years for the park offenses.
Despite their initial confessions, which were later recanted as coerced, no physical evidence associating the original group of teens with the crime scene had been found. Reyes’ DNA was the only DNA recovered from the crime scene.
As advancements are made in DNA and other evidence technology, this will undoubtedly provide new tools available to the sex crimes investigator. But technology can sometimes make an investigator lazy. I am not sure where technology will take us in the future. Currently we have investigators running around with cotton swabs taking DNA samples from suspects, and we can test keyboards, cell phones, and even eyeglasses for the DNA of the individuals that used them.
We may even have portable DNA testing machines in the future. But technology alone cannot solve a case. The investigator cannot rely on technology or pre-written check lists to solve a case. For example, in the current era of policing, the word "COMPSTAT" is tossed around by supervisors.
"COMPSTAT" is short for "computer statistics", and is an accountability and management process for police departments. The "COMPSTAT" process has created lists of "Investigative Steps" to be followed during investigations, and too many bosses are more concerned with making sure these checklists are completed rather than with actually catching the right bad guy. This kind of political concern protects careers but keeps the real bad guys on the street.
My journey with the Manhattan Special Victims Squad ended in May of 2007, when I retired from the NYPD. My decision to leave the Special Victims Squad was difficult but necessary as my wife, Elaine, and children, Brittney, and Anthony had also become casualties of the investigations I conducted. My dedication to the victims, my desire and drive to solve the case and lock up the bad guys required more than a 40 hour work week, and included missing many of family birthdays and holidays. After 251/2 years, the decision was made to end my career with NYPD and dedicate more time to my family.
My Last Case
In April of 2007, I worked my last sexual assault investigation with a detective newly assigned to the Manhattan Special Victims Squad. I was assigned to help guide him on his first high profile rape investigation. He had the distinction of being assigned to investigate the most heinous crime reported to the unit during my eighteen-year career in the sex crime squad, and possibly the history of the Manhattan Special Victims Squad.
My journey was about to come full circle; I was now going to walk the path with a new detective as he began his journey, and help him avoid any pitfalls he might encounter. This would also be done under the microscope. The New York City press and the “brass” of the New York City Police Department would be watching every move we made. The brutality of this case had, once again, shocked New York City and brought all the political pressure a major investigation can bring.
An offender had forced the victim, a 23-year old Columbia University student, into her apartment. She was held captive there for 19 hours while he both sexually assaulted and tortured her, repeatedly. This offender was keenly aware of forensic technology, because he poured bleach on the victim's genitalia in an effort to destroy his semen. He also used scissors to slash the victim's eyes so that she could not identify him, and tried to kill her by forcing the ingestion of different medications. He then poured scalding water on her body in an effort to wash away any evidence he may have left. The offender even went so far as to glue the victim’s mouth shut before he bound her to a futon bed, leaving her for dead. As reported in Newman (2007):
The woman was returning to her apartment on Hamilton Terrace near West 141st Street on April 13 at 9:30 p.m. when a man who had gotten into the lobby entered the elevator with her and forced his way into her apartment, [Police Commissioner Raymond] Kelly said.
Over the next 19 hours, Mr. Kelly said, the man tied the woman to her bed with computer cables and taped her mouth closed, raped and sodomized her repeatedly, burned her with hot water and bleach, slit her eyelids with scissors, and force-fed her an overdose of ibuprofen or a similar pain reliever.
At one point last Saturday afternoon, Mr. Kelly said, the assailant took the woman’s A.T.M. card, withdrew $200 at a bodega on West 141st Street and returned to her apartment. A few hours later, he set fire to the woman’s futon and left her, unconscious, to die, Mr. Kelly said. She woke up to the smell of smoke, used the flames to melt the cable that bound her to the bed frame, and escaped, Mr. Kelly said.
The offender had set the apartment on fire in an all out effort to destroy any physical evidence, including the victim herself. He wanted nothing left to chance.
The victim regained consciousness before the apartment was completely engulfed. She was able to direct her bindings into a flame, releasing her from the futon. Partially blinded, she escaped the burning apartment and sought refuge with a neighbor.
Technology played an important role in this investigation. In 2007, the New York City Police Department had a specialty unit called the "Real Time Crime Center", which had access to a multitude of databases and police surveillance cameras positioned throughout the city. Also, investigators spread out in the neighborhood and located surveillance footage of the assailant using the victim’s ATM card. Using surveillance footage and the victim’s description as a guide, we were able to get a flyer with a sketch all over the New York television news reports.
Bosses were carrying the "COMPSTAT" checklist around, and making sure all of the boxes were checked off, but technology and checklists did not solve this case. We spent several sleepless days processing the crime scene; we wanted to make sure the criminalist assigned did not miss anything. We actually made the crime scene unit come back several times to gather more evidence we thought might help identify the offender.
We also gathered the victim's personal belongings after the scene was completely processed – the ones that had not been damaged or destroyed by the fire. We did this because she and her family told us they would never be able to return to the apartment again.
Eventually we were ordered to go home and get some sleep, but we did not leave. We were running on adrenaline, and did not want to go home until we caught this guy. We spent our time reviewing the hundreds of tips that came pouring into the NYPD's tip line from our flyers.
One tip stood out, and it eventually led us to Robert A. Williams, a homeless career criminal whose father lived only a short distance from the victim’s building. As reported in Newman (2007):
The attack set off a citywide manhunt, and the police released a sketch of the attacker based on the bodega security video and descriptions by the victim and by people who had seen the man in the lobby…
On Thursday around 5:40 p.m., the police were called to 190-25 Woodhull Avenue in Queens on a report of a burglary, Mr. Kelly said. A woman there told officers that she had seen a man leaving a vacant apartment next door to hers as she returned home, then noticed that her own apartment had been burglarized.
Officers saw Mr. Williams leaving the building, questioned him and found his story wanting, Mr. Kelly said, noting that the man was carrying a screwdriver and a hammer. He was arrested without incident, Mr. Kelly said.
At the 103rd Precinct station house, Mr. Kelly said, officers checked Mr. Williams to see if he had scars on his abdomen like those of the rapist. “The scars matched the description,” Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Williams, who is homeless, has a lengthy police record dating to his childhood, the authorities said. He was charged in a murder as a juvenile, though the outcome of that case is sealed, a law enforcement official said.
In 1996, Mr. Williams was convicted of attempted murder and served the maximum eight-year sentence, in part because he was found guilty of 28 disciplinary violations in prison, said Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Correctional Services. The infractions included assaulting prisoners and staff members, harassment, lewd conduct and throwing bodily secretions.
With a strong suspect identified, we brought a photo array to the victim while she was still recovering in the burn unit. We all had to wear hospital scrubs and surgical masks so we did not contaminate her. We also used larger sized photographs in the array so that she could see them, even with the injuries in her eyes.
When the victim positively identified Robert A. Williams in the array, we could see the relief on her face; we had identified the monster responsible for her suffering and he was not going to remain on the streets. Robert A. Williams was identified and apprehended only seven days after this brutal sexual assault, but not by technology, lists, or luck. This case was solved because of the dedication of the investigators assigned, and their need to bring closure to this victim, who at one point while being tortured during the attack had begged to be killed, to end her pain.
Eventually, DNA also linked Williams to the crime and confirmed what the victim had already told us. But as I explained, DNA, technology, and computers were not the reason he was identified and captured – they were the tools of dedicated and tireless investigators. Robert A. Williams was convicted on July 24, 2008 with 44 counts, including attempted murder, arson, rape and sodomy and is currently serving life in prison.
Since leaving the NYPD in 2007, I relocated to Florida with my family where I have been working as a detective with a large State Agency. I am currently conducting financial and fraud investigations, and have been able to successfully apply the techniques described in this text during in my new career. I’ve always said that if you can work sex crimes, you can work anything, and it proves truer every day.
Rape Investigation Handbook, 2nd Ed.
Investigators have tremendous influence over the outcome of sexual assault investigations, and even the healing process of the victims. The victim, it must be remembered, is the most important person in the investigation; without them we do not have a case. Once they have determined that a crime has occurred, the investigator must obtain the victim’s trust and confidence. They must also help them overcome any feelings of guilt, embarrassment or shame in order to have a successful prosecution. This takes time, sincerity, and continued follow-up.
The investigator's job and responsibilities do not end with an arrest; they require much more. These are among the main goals of the sex crimes detective: the determination of criminal activity, the exoneration of the innocent, the identification and arrest of legitimate suspects, and their successful prosecution. This is justice, and it helps to heal both victims and communities.
Det. John Savino (far left), Det. Fiol, and Sgt. Crespo,
Manhattan Special Victims Squad, with
Robert A. Williams (center; cuffed).
This book was created in an effort to provide the fledgling investigator, novice investigator, seasoned investigator and even students of criminal justice with the fundamentals of conducting an investigation in the service of justice. During my career as a sex crime investigator, I discovered there was a need for this type of text, which makes available techniques and procedures discovered during many years spent conducting thousands of sexual assault investigations.
These techniques can be used successfully during any investigation: from the initial report, to the collection and examination of physical evidence, and towards a successful prosecution. However, we also detail the dynamics of a sexual assault, from both the victim and offender perspectives. It is a comprehensive case approach to sexual assaults; it draws from the lessons we have learned in our casework, as well as from the experiences of our distinguished contributors.
I would like to acknowledge and thank Brent Turvey, whom I’ve known and worked with now over the course of the last 18 years. Without him this text would not be possible. His faith and patience is greatly appreciated along with our many philosophical cross-country telephone calls.
Brent and I are excited to present this updated text, and have enlisted the assistance of some of the top experts in their fields to contribute, and provided their knowledge and expertise. It also needs to be said that I have been personally inspired by the victims that I came to know during my career with the Manhattan Special Victims Squad. They have exhibited extraordinary strength, courage, determination and patience during the investigative process. The victims I have worked for have placed their utmost trust in me during their investigations and it is for them that I participate in writing this text.
It is my professional belief that a sex crimes investigator should always put
forth their best effort, because their actions, or lack thereof, have lasting effects on the lives of those they touch. The investigator, after all, has the ability to leave the trauma in the office, or the case folder in the desk drawer. And they must, in order to meet the new challenges that they face every day. The victim, however, does not have this luxury; each is uniquely burdened with their own injuries, every minute of every day for the rest of their life. Some learn to survive well and with dignity; some do not; and many others fall in-between. The best chance they have at justice, and survival with dignity, is to be treated professionally and with respect by the investigator. This is shown only by the efforts that are made to follow up on evidence, investigate all leads, and to ensure that any arrests made can result in a clean and certain prosecution.
It is my hope that the readers of this text are attempting to become better investigators. If so, I am certain that if they follow the information and guidelines we have provided they are on their way to becoming a better investigator. There is no doubt about this, and about the fact that it will
make a difference in someone's life.
"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Newman, A. (2007) “Man Is Arrested in Torture of Student at Columbia,” The New York Times, April 21.
Saulny, S. (2002) “Convictions and Charges Voided In '89 Central Park Jogger Attack,” The New York Times, December 20.