Detectives in Missouri and California are diving into cold-case files as they investigate a career convict charged this week in a string of Kansas City rapes in the mid-1980s.
Bernard Jackson, a 52-year-old sex offender who has spent most of his adult life in prison, was charged Thursday with sexually assaulting four women in Kansas City between July 1983 and February 1984, after authorities say DNA evidence linked him to the attacks. Investigators also consider Jackson a “person of interest” in five recent rapes in the same area of Kansas City as the previous attacks, as well as a suspect in at least 17 sexual attacks in Sacramento, Calif., in the mid-1980s.
As in the 1980s cases in Kansas City, the attacker in the most-recent attacks is believed to have entered the victims’ homes through unlocked doors or windows. And they all happened in the middle-class neighborhood of Waldo, the same general area of the older attacks. Police tracked Jackson to a friend’s home in Kansas City on Wednesday and chased him down after he fled out the back door. He was arrested on a parole violation for failing to report back to a halfway house.
Investigators said they haven’t charged Jackson with the most recent attacks because they still need to gather more evidence, but that with him behind bars it gives them time to build a strong case. “It’s just a matter of when we’re able to get that done,” police spokesman Rich Lockhart told The Associated Press. “We believe he’s a very strong person of interest. Now that he’s charged with four rapes, he’s not going anywhere.”
It was unclear Friday whether Jackson had an attorney. The state’s electronic database of cases does not list an attorney for him, and police said they didn’t know if he had one. A phone message for Jackson left at the Jackson County jail was not immediately returned. Jackson has spent most of his adult life behind bars for sexual assault, first going to prison in 1977 at age 19 after pleading guilty to raping a Kansas City woman in her home. He served less than six years of a 15-year sentence and was paroled in April 1983.
Authorities say Jackson split his time over the next 21 months between Sacramento and Kansas City. A month after his release, detectives in the California city were called to investigate the first of 17 sexual attacks over an 18-month period that occurred within a 2-mile area and that they believed at the time were linked.
Meanwhile, Kansas City authorities say Jackson raped four women in or near the neighborhood of Waldo between July 1983 and February 1984. He was charged Thursday with six counts of rape, five counts of sodomy and four counts of first-degree robbery for those attacks after police say DNA testing linked him to those cases.
In each of those attacks, Jackson entered the victim’s home through an unlocked door or window, told the woman he was going to rob her, then tied her up and raped her, police said. They said in two cases, the women were sleeping when he crept up on them, and in the other two, he grabbed the women as they entered their homes. Each case carried a similar pattern: white women, 29 to 31 years old, who were home alone. Each victim was blindfolded and each had her hands tied behind her back, police said.
On March 25, 1984, Jackson broke into a woman’s home and tried to rape her but she got away. He was arrested a week later after his fingerprints matched those left on the woman’s windowsill. The following month Jackson pleaded not guilty to rape and other charges in that case, posted bond and fled to California.
Later that year, prosecutors in Sacramento filed five felony charges against Jackson after fingerprints linked him to a burglary and sexual assault that October, Sacramento police Sgt. Norm Leong said. Jackson was picked up on the warrant while driving through Colorado two months later. “Evidence was found in the car that led us to believe he could be linked to several other sex assaults,” Leong said. “The lead investigator, who’s retired now, says he was probably linked to three or four others, based on that evidence, but we never did prove it.”
Evidence from the car, the method used to commit the rapes, and victims’ descriptions of the suspect led police to believe Jackson was involved in four other Sacramento assaults, Leong said. Leong declined to describe exactly what evidence was collected, but he said it appeared to match that collected from the scenes of several sexual assaults. That was in the days before routine DNA testing, but Leong said authorities may try to run tests now.
“Once he was arrested and extradited to Missouri, the rash of sex assaults went away,” Leong said. Instead of being returned to California, Jackson was extradited to Missouri to face the rape charges that led to his spending more than 20 years in prison there before his parole in 2008. Leong said time may have run out to prosecute Jackson in California, though he remains a suspect in the attacks there. “What we’re being told is that there was a statute of limitations on sex crimes during the 1980s, so it’s unlikely we can go back and pursue cases,” Leong said.
Shelly Orio, spokeswoman for the Sacramento County district attorney, said time may have expired, but prosecutors still are reviewing case files. The California charges were dropped in 2006, though neither Leong nor Orio could immediately say why. The victim was contacted then, Leong said, but neither she nor others have come forward since Jackson’s arrest.
In Waldo on Friday, residents expressed relief over Jackson’s arrest. “I feel safer walking in at night,” said Anne Hudnall, a 26-year-old server at Kennedy’s Bar and Grill. “I can walk into my house alone now. For awhile it felt kind of creepy.” Hudnall said her two female roommates moved out of her house after one of the rapes happened just a block away, and two men moved in. “I was looking for roommates, and I just felt better with men,” she said.
Gail Poettgen, the owner of City Looks Salon, said she was tempering her relief until prosecutors charge someone in the recent attacks. She said she was pleased to hear reports that Jackson had been beaten up in jail by another inmate on Wednesday. “I’m glad that part of his punishment has already gotten started,” she said.