The missing link

A stolen handgun leads police to a man they believe is the East End serial rapist

The East End rapist attacked his first-known victim in 1996, breaking into her Douglass Hills apartment at 4:15 a.m. The woman woke to find the man — who had stringy brown hair, wore wire-rimmed glasses and smelled of cigarettes — in her bed.

The same attacker would sexually assault at least four more women in the coming years, although police believe there are additional victims who have not yet come forward.

Then last week, a breakthrough: “I’m glad to report that the East End serial rapist has been caught after eluding the police for 13 years,” Louisville Metro Police Maj. Joe Richardson declared at a press conference following the arrest of Mark Layne Adams.

DNA evidence had ultimately linked Adams, 48, to the series of rapes, according to police. But it was his possession of a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun belonging to one of the victims that made him a suspect in the first place.

“It was that one item that got me heading down the path toward him,” Louisville Metro Police Detective Mona Sullivan told reporters, although she declined to identify what was stolen, describing it simply as “property that was traceable.”

A criminal complaint filed in Jefferson County District Court, however, reveals that the item was a handgun, which Adams allegedly stole from the second victim.

Eventually, a law enforcement agency in Indiana recovered the firearm from Adams, but it is unclear exactly when that occurred. The agency entered the weapon’s serial number into a database, where the information remained for years.

Meanwhile, Louisville Metro detectives embarked on a grant-funded initiative to thoroughly re-examine cold cases. The undertaking resulted in the state crime lab linking a string of sexual assaults in the areas of Douglass Hills and Chamberlain Lane between 1996 and 2008. But because the DNA did not match any names in the system, police still had no suspect.

Detective Sullivan continued rehashing the cases and began contacting past victims to gather additional information. It was during these interviews that one of the women mentioned the attacker had stolen a handgun from her closet.

The detective pieced together the puzzle, tying Adams to the stolen weapon and tracking down an old mugshot of him. “Once I saw the picture it started making sense,” she said. “From there I developed some intelligence on him and we were able to eventually obtain a [DNA] sample.”

On Easter Sunday, Sullivan brought the suspect to police headquarters for questioning and obtained a search warrant to collect DNA. “The only conversation I had with him was the day that I obtained my sample … He was quite upset,” she said. “Once we got a face-to-face look at each other I was like, ‘I really don’t have much doubt anymore.’”

 A few weeks later, DNA testing was complete, and Adams was arrested.

When the first rape occurred in Douglass Hills on June 23, 1996, Adams was living in an apartment on Bridgeview Lane, just a few miles away.

Although Adams eventually moved away, spending much of the next decade in southern Indiana, police say it is common for serial rapists to prey on victims in a specific, familiar area.

Before carrying out an assault, detectives believe Adams would spy on his intended target, learning her routine — when she would come and go, the layout of her house, whether she lived alone.

The criminal complaint filed by Detective Sullivan details how the attacker would then break in during the night, sometimes using a crowbar to gain access, other times entering through an unlocked window or door. On at least one occasion he was armed with a handgun, although most victims reported that he simply threatened to stab or shoot if they did not cooperate.

The known victims range in age from mid-40s to 70 years old.

The first two sexual assaults occurred in Douglass Hills, in 1996 and then 1997.

In September of 2002, the rapist struck again, this time in the 3700 block of Chamberlain Court. Four years later, he returned to the same block, breaking into a different house twice in the same night, raping the woman both times while armed with a crowbar.

Then in 2008, the attacker brazenly returned to the home of the woman he assaulted in 2006. The woman woke to find her past attacker with his hand on her thigh. This time, however, she screamed for help, causing him to flee.

The last reported attack linked to Adams took place in a house on Spring Gate Drive, where police say he cut the screen of an open window to get inside. As he was allegedly carrying out the assault, the victim apparently kneed him in the groin, at which point he fled.