Will Familial DNA Help Nab the "East Coast Rapist" Sought in 19 Attacks Since 1997?

Composite Sketch of the "East Coast Rapist" (Fairfax County Police Dept.)
Composite Sketch of the "East Coast Rapist" (Fairfax County Police Dept.)

MANASSAS, Va. (CBS/WTOP) It has been 13 years and police are still hunting for the man dubbed the "East Coast Rapist."

He has struck 19 times since 1997 along major highways in four states, including a recent attack in Virginia on three teenage girls who were trick-or-treating on Halloween night.

According to the Washington Post, the serial rapist forced the three trick-or-treaters into a wooded area at gunpoint.

But now, officials may have a new technique that could finally catch him.

According to CBS affiliate WTOP, investigators have DNA linking the same man to similar crimes in Maryland, Connecticut and Rhode Island. But the DNA is not recorded in any national database.

Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert wants to use a technique called "familial DNA," which allows police to check for relatives of the suspect in criminal databases that may lead them to the rapist.

"This would be an ideal case to use that technique in order to develop a suspect," Ebert told WTOP.

Ebert will ask the Commonwealth Attorney's Association in Virginia to endorse the use of the technique at its meeting on Thursday.

"What we need is for the forensic people to start using it," Ebert says.

The use of familial DNA does pose privacy concerns, says Kent Willis of the ACLU of Virginia.

"The major privacy concern that comes up with this is what I call technological guilt by association," Willis says.

"Familial DNA" has only been used in Colorado and California.

In California, it was successfully used to catch Lonnie Franklin Jr., who is accused of 10 murders over 25 years in the "Grim Sleeper" case in Los Angeles.

Police say the "East Coast Rapist" may be someone who frequents major interstates on the East Coast corridor, since all of the crimes have occurred near such highways.

Anyone with information about the identity of the suspect - regardless of jurisdiction - is urged to call Crime Solvers at 866-411-TIPS. Callers can remain anonymous and earn up to a $1,000 cash reward.

Story Contributed by CBS Affiliate WTOP