Investigators have identified a convicted sex offender as the suspect in a decades-old rape, almost 24 years after a woman reported she was attacked in Prospect Park, the NYPD said.
The woman, 27 years old at the time, first reported being raped in the park on April 26, 1994, at about 5 p.m., police said. But her story was questioned in the media and her DNA from the scene and the perpetrator’s became commingled.
“We could not subtract the two to get a profile,” said Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce on Tuesday. “This is like one of the perfect storms I have seen in a case.”
The suspect, James Edward Webb, 67, is currently serving a life sentence in Sing Sing for four other rapes. He is not eligible for parole until 2070.
“We spoke to the victim last night and you can imagine how emotional she was,” Boyce said, adding that Webb was a “professional criminal.”
Webb had already been arrested for six other rapes before allegedly committing the Prospect Park attack. He had been released from jail in 1993 and later committed four other rapes of strangers.
The park case was recently reopened, police said, and the victim consented to give a new DNA sample, allowing technicians to subtract her DNA from the original crime scene sample. The suspect’s DNA was then put into the CODIS system and investigators got a hit with Webb last year.
“Things have changed, DNA has changed. Back then there was no DNA database,” Boyce said.
Boyce added emotions were high when the victim was initially told about the break in the decades-old case.
“You can imagine how cathartic this was. I think everybody cried in the room, it was so dramatic,” he said.
When the victim first reported her attack, however, her story was doubted. The late Daily News columnist Mike McAlary wrote that her attack was a hoax.
Boyce on Tuesday said she was “treated badly” at the time. He added Webb had been questioned about the case, but said “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Ultimately, it’s not clear if her case was able to be tried since it happened so long ago, even with a change in the law in 2006 that eliminated a statute of limitations for several rape and sex abuse cases.
“The point is to get this woman some closure,” Boyce said.
Police have two different cold case squads: one for homicides and another for rapes of strangers.