After nearly 20 years, police say they made an arrest in at least two sexual battery cases that were committed by the “Woodline Rapist.”
Police used DNA to arrest Dwight Harris, 50, on July 14.
The announcement came during a joint press conference between the Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
Both agencies have rape charges filed against Harris dating to 2002, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Dwight Arthur Harris has kept a violent secret for nearly 20 years,” Lt. Frank Chisari with the Orlando Police Department said.
“This man committed at least two sexual batteries in Orlando, and Orange County approximately 19 years ago and detectives with both OPD and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are already reviewing other similar cases to determine if there is a link,” Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon said.
Detectives believe Harris waited for women who were returning to their apartments alone in the early morning hours after a night out, according to police.
He would then drag them into nearby wooded areas to sexually batter them, police said. He dragged the victims just past the treeline, which is the reason detectives call him the “Woodline Rapist.”
In an incident report from 2002, the victim stated she was attacked just before 4 a.m. and the suspect grabbed her and covered her face with a towel, WESH 2 reported.
She said he told her to stop screaming or he would kill her. Another victim reported being told, "If you don't yell, I won't kill you," according to WESH 2.
“We know the memory of that night has haunted the victim for all of these years,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said. “Especially since he had not been brought to justice until now.”
During the press conference, authorities said until recently, Harris was still living and working as a night delivery driver in the Orlando area.
Orlando police detectives submitted unknown DNA to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which was linked to one of several similar unsolved sexual battery cases and attempted sexual batteries from 2002 to 2003.
In partnership with Parabon NanoLabs, they used that DNA to identify four persons of interest in the Woodline Rapist cases, police said during the press conference.
Investigators say the two victims are relieved Harris is in custody.
“They thought this day would never come. They thought this was cold cases forever and these would never be solved,” Orlando Police Detective Graham Cage said.
“We know there could be other victims out there, but we want to let people know that we hear victims, we start by believing and we never stop investigating these cases,” Mina said.
Rolon said that Orlando police plans to hold onto evidence in sexual battery cases for 50 years.
“As technology continues to evolve, we see the potential here for other cases to be solved,” Rolon said.
The Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office have filed one charge each of sexual battery with a deadly weapon or physical force against Harris, according to a news release. Harris remains in jail on no bond.
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