Crime

Armed attacker at large in Bellingham after 3 women assaulted near WWU

Bellingham Police sketch of the man suspected of assaulting three women in the area of North Garden Street and East Chestnut Street.
Bellingham Police sketch of the man suspected of assaulting three women in the area of North Garden Street and East Chestnut Street. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

An armed man remains at large after he held a knife to a woman’s throat and demanded oral sex early Wednesday, July 20, the third in a series of escalating, sexually motivated assaults near the north campus of Western Washington University, police said.

The first report came in at 1:22 a.m. Wednesday when a woman said a bearded man on a bike slapped her rear end as she walked with another woman at Chestnut and Ellis streets, said Bellingham police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht.

Vander Yacht said the suspect told the woman he had a knife and that he wanted oral sex.

Once the women, ages 21 and 22, said they were calling the police, the man rode off on a bike with wide tires toward Billy Frank Jr. Street, according to police radio traffic. They described the suspect as a bearded white man in his 20s, with long curly brown hair, in a dark brown button-down shirt.

A half-hour later, at 1:50 a.m., another woman told police she was walking in an alley between North Garden Street and North Garden Terrace when she saw a man with a long dark beard lurking in a shadowy spot, Vander Yacht said.

“Hey, man, you scared me,” she told him, according to police.

The man responded by running at the woman, 29. He wrapped one arm around her neck, and with his other hand he held a blade – a pocketknife, like a Swiss Army knife – to her throat, according to police. He told her he wanted oral sex. When she refused and screamed as loud as she could, he ran off. The suspect description was almost identical to the first case: a white man in his 20s, wearing what looked like a jacket tied around his waist, a snowboard hat, and a small backpack, police said.

Officers set up a perimeter and searched the neighborhood with a police dog, but couldn’t find the suspect. None of the women were injured.

After the assaults were reported in the media, a third woman, 18, came forward to tell police she’d been assaulted, too, by a bearded bicyclist wearing a beanie.

The woman reported a man grabbed her buttocks around 3 a.m. Friday, as she walked on East Holly Street at North Garden – just blocks from the other assaults. She reported he tried to grab her arms, but she resisted. He fled when she shouted. She came forward because the suspect description she’d read in the news were consistent with the man who attacked her, Vander Yacht said.

Police believe the three assaults are linked. And it’s disturbing, Vander Yacht added, that the attacker seems to be getting bolder: On Friday, the man said little to nothing as he grabbed the young woman, and didn’t mention a knife; in the second case, the man mentioned he had a knife and made sexual comments; and in the latest assault, he briefly held the woman captive at knifepoint as he demanded oral sex.

So far, no arrests have been made.

“We need to get this stopped,” Vander Yacht said. “You almost get the sense that he’s starting to build some confidence, which is concerning to us, and should be concerning to anyone.”

Composite sketches were released at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Anyone with tips should contact Bellingham police Detective Tawsha Dykstra at 360-778-8664. Or visit cob.org/tips.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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