Detectives believe the same man is responsible for three rapes and one attempted rape on women in their eighties in south London, and a string of indecent assaults over the last three years. Two of the women, an 82- year-old in the Croydon area and an 88-year-old of the Orpington area, have been raped in the last few weeks, Detective Chief Inspector Duncan Wilson told a news conference at New Scotland Yard.
The eldest rape victim, an 89-year-old of Croydon, was attacked in 1992. Six years later he attempted to rape an 81-year-old of Warlingham in Surrey. She died of natural causes months later.
In every case, the man broke into the victim's house through a ground- floor window in the middle of the night before attacking the woman and escaping with cash and small items. Det Ch Insp Wilson said: "These are attacks on vulnerable elderly women. I would like to catch this man before he can strike again."
Detectives believe the rapist could have been abroad or in prison after the first attack because of the gap of several years before he was linked with another burglary. They could not rule out that other women had been attacked but were too traumatised to report what had happened to them.
They were also looking at other burglaries and carrying out a nationwide search for similar offences. Officers said they were "confident" that the rapes, attempted rape and 16 burglaries with an "element of indecency" which have occurred in a 14-mile band from Warlingham to Bexley, south- east London, were all linked. All the women were living on their own and almost all were over 70.
Det Ch Insp Wilson said: "I am appealing to anyone who has any information - prison officers, police officers, and others who work in the community... have you had dealings with this man? The victims are elderly and some of the most vulnerable people in our society."
Criminal psychologists and a geographical profiler have been brought in to give detectives a better idea of what the man was like and where he lived. They were also investigating how the rapist was able to track down homes where elderly women were living on their own.
Police described the man as black, possibly of mixed race, and between 5ft 8in and 6ft 1in tall.