KANSAS CITY — With a serial rapist on the loose, women residing in or near this city's Waldo area are living in fear.
It's also a rough time for the relatively few black men living in Waldo.
Everyone knows the rapist is black.
“It’s like I have a scarlet letter on me,” said a 32-year-old black man, a Waldo resident who did not want his name used. “I feel like everyone is looking at me like I could be the guy.”
Right now police are looking at about 75 people who could be the guy.
That’s how many names that tipsters have provided since news broke of the serial rapist, who has struck five times in five months. Already on edge, Waldo area residents grew even more fearful when he attacked Monday — despite heavy publicity of his crimes, a widely distributed sketch of his face and an increased vigilance throughout area neighborhoods.
In all, tipsters have given police more than 400 leads. Women have flocked to self-defense classes. And at least four anti-rapist groups have sprouted on the social networking site Facebook. One, which claims more than 3,500 members, calls itself “Let’s find this (expletive).”
On Wednesday night a driver who thought he’d spotted the rapist followed a man into Kansas City, Kan., where someone shot at the driver, police said.
Even though the 32-year-old Waldo man doesn’t have the rapist’s pock-marked face, he began noticing extra glances after police released a composite sketch of the rapist.
Then last week, as he returned home from a store, he saw a professionally dressed man and woman standing on his front porch. He thought they were selling something.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“We need to talk to you,” the woman said, identifying herself as a police detective.
“OK,” he said as he opened his front door and let them inside. He had no idea what they wanted. “So what’s up?”
“We’re here to talk about the Waldo rapes,” one detective said. “Your name has come up.”
Actually, four tipsters had dropped his name. He couldn’t believe it. His mind raced. Who might think he could be a rapist? His neighbors? The mail carrier?
He said he’s well known in Waldo, where he has lived for six years. He owns his own business, has a second job on the side and no criminal record.
The detectives began asking questions about how long he’d had his current hairstyle and facial hair.
The rapist has been described as a heavy-set black man, 6 feet tall, weighing 250 pounds, with a bald or shaved head, pitted cheeks from acne scars and bad breath. He smells like smoke or exhaust fumes.
Other than being black, the Waldo man doesn’t think he matches the description. He’s 2 inches shorter and 65 pounds lighter with smooth skin and hair on his head.
Yet this week the stares have grown harder as he has gone about his daily business at a gas station or grocery store.
“It’s getting worse as this gains momentum,” he said. “It makes me want to avoid going out.”
After the Wednesday night incident in Kansas City, Kan., the Waldo man’s mother called him, worried that vigilantes might attack him.
“She told me to make sure I lock my doors,” he said. “I have to be aware of my surroundings.”
When the detectives visited his home, they wanted to know his whereabouts on the nights of the attacks in September, October and January. He couldn’t remember. Too much time had passed. But he provided his former girlfriend’s name and phone number, since they still spend time together. He also agreed to give police a DNA sample to clear his name.
As they left, the detectives told him, “If you don’t hear from us, you don’t have anything to worry about.”
He said he wasn’t worried “because I know the facts. I was more angry than anything.”
Tuesday, detectives showed up at the small office where he works. His co-workers and boss saw them. He felt embarrassed.
They asked where he was Monday night. He said he was home sleeping. He lives alone. He asked whether they had called his ex-girlfriend, and they said they had not. But they called her soon after leaving his office and asked a series of intimate questions, including details of their sex life and whether he had a good relationship with his mother.
The process violated his sense of privacy, he said.
“I understand they need to follow up leads, but I don’t even match the rapist’s description,” he said. “I asked them, ‘Are you guys just going to interview every black guy who lives around here?’ ”
Police Capt. Mark Folsom, who is overseeing the investigation, said police have to follow the leads they are given. He said some tipsters may have called in the Waldo man because he lives on the block with one of the victims.
“Unfortunately for this guy, he’s a black male, and our suspect is a black male,” Folsom said. “We’re just doing our job. We don’t have anything against this guy.”
Even if the Waldo man doesn’t think he looks like the suspect, police don’t know how accurate the composite sketch is, Folsom said.
“I have some empathy for him if he’s not the suspect … but I hope people aren’t discouraged from calling in tips, because that tip could be the one that makes the difference,” Folsom said.