Crime and Argument

Did a private investigator lead police to Miami's serial rapist?

The arrest report filled out by Sgt. William Golding at 6:20 that evening states he was sitting at the address Carrillo gave detectives when he saw a faded black Mazda moving slowly west on SW Eleventh Street. Rapalo was driving it, and when he saw Golding he quickly looked away, then rolled through a stop sign. Golding pursued him and stopped him a few blocks later. Rapalo was shaking, nervous. He gave conflicting stories about why he was in the area. Then he consented to let police swab his mouth for a DNA sample. When Golding told Rapalo he and his car fit the profile of the Shenandoah rapist, Rapalo replied in Spanish: "Prove it." Police also brought Juan Rodriguez to the scene, where he identified Rapalo as the man he'd struggled with two weeks earlier. Golding arrested Rapalo for loitering and prowling, pending lab results. They came back positive.

At a press conference following Rapalo's capture, Miami Police brass, city officials, and the State Attorney stood grinning into the cameras. Chief John Timoney noted that although police had received hundreds of tips, none had panned out. "When I heard him say that, it really burned me," Carrillo says. His police friend filled him in, telling him that he'd heard Rapalo actually drove past the cops while they were questioning a different man. That's what the urgent call had been about.

Carrillo didn't believe it was sheer coincidence that Rapalo was pulled over a mere hour or so after he'd met with police. He called his own press conference, and while the English-language media didn't pick it up, Edmundo Garcia from Univision and Mercedes Soler from Telemundo both aired stories. Their interest prompted a tense meeting the next day between Carrillo (who brought an attorney) and Deputy Chief Frank Fernandez, along with other Miami police officials, including Lt. Carlos Alfaro, head of the sexual-battery unit.

Alfaro produced a lead sheet showing that police had received a tip on September 11, five days after the brawl between Rodriguez and Rapalo, from the same woman who'd passed information to Carrillo's source. Police checked it out and turned up nothing. "Alfaro was staring daggers at me," Carrillo says. "Funny how the second time they investigate the lead, [Rapalo] runs right into them."

"I proved to him that he's wrong," Alfaro declares. "He had information we already had. It had nothing to do with that individual. He's full of crap."

That's pretty much the department's official take on Carrillo's claim. Attorney Andre Rouviere, who was present at the meeting, says it was clear police weren't going to budge from their assertion that Carrillo's tip was no better than the hundreds of others they'd received. "I represent a police unit, about 600 Miami-Dade cops," Rouviere says. "After all these years you can tell when they're blowing smoke up your ass. Clearly they dropped the ball on that lead, and if they give the credit to Joe they'd have to admit they screwed up."

Miami Police Maj. George Cadavid disagrees. He admits that Carrillo's tip did put Sergeant Golding at the Little Havana intersection where he spotted Rapalo, but says Carrillo's information had them looking for a different man. "The detectives set up a surveillance looking for a specific person in a specific car," he maintains. "They were in the general area, but this in no way was the same offender. It was just luck that brought him into that neighborhood."

Carrillo sees something else. He sees a high-profile investigation that was going nowhere, and plagued by problems such as an inability to match fingerprints from the crime scenes to previously arrested men (police said they could not get clear fingerprints at any of the crime scenes). When Rapalo turned up as the rape suspect, further questions were raised because he'd been arrested in October 2002 on charges that he'd molested the ten-year-old daughter of his landlady (those charges were dropped when the victim and her mother declined to prosecute). "They had an investigation they bungled," Carrillo argues. "People got raped because the police didn't do their job. Then here comes a P.I. and in four days puts them right where the guy drives by. They can't afford to give me credit.

"I'm not taking anything away from the cops who caught Rapalo," he continues. "Golding is an experienced cop. He saw a guy who fit the description and he stopped him. But he was there because I put him there. I wanted this much of the credit," he says, pinching his thumb and forefinger together. Carrillo adds that if he'd received the reward money, he would have donated it to Rapalo's victims. (The reward was never distributed.)

Counters Cadavid: "This private investigator is barking up the wrong tree. If he would have been on the money, we would have given him the reward. He deserves credit for getting us out in that neighborhood at that time, but his information was not specific on Rapalo himself."

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