A cabbie went on trial today accused of being the so-called Night Stalker, a rapist who preyed on elderly victims during a 17-year campaign of attacks.
Delroy Grant, 53, burgled and sexually assaulted vulnerable women and men in their 80s for a gratification it was "impossible to understand", a jury was told.
Opening the prosecution case at the start of a three-week trial at Woolwich Crown Court, Jonathan Laidlaw QC said: "The defendant was targeting the elderly and vulnerable in their homes and during the night.
"That is why he was to become known as the Night Stalker."
Grant, who appeared in the dock with close-cropped hair, glasses and wearing a pinstriped blue suit, is charged with 29 offences committed between October 1992 and November 2009 on pensioners across south London.
Mr Laidlaw told the jury: "What it was that motivated him to carry out sexual offences on the very elderly and what sort of gratification he could possibly have achieved is obviously difficult, if not impossible, to understand.
"Neither was his sexual interest only confined to women, although it was single women living on their own which he was focused on."
Two of the offences involved elderly men, who were "both subjected to humiliating and degrading attacks", the prosecutor said
He added: "Those who were too frightened to resist or protest were attacked.
"Where he experienced resistance and where his elderly victims refused to be compliant, they tended to be left alone."
The 53-year-old denies the offences in Warlingham, Shirley, Beckenham, Bromley, Addiscombe, Orpington and West Dulwich, all in south London.
Grant, a former minicab driver of Brockley Mews, Honor Oak, south London, was arrested after his car was stopped by police in November 2009.
A jury of five women and seven men was formally sworn in by trial judge Peter Rook QC as the case began.
Grant went to great lengths to avoid identification, removing light bulbs in the bedrooms of his victims and cutting telephone lines to buy himself time to escape, the jury was told.
"This would become something of a hallmark to his offending," Mr Laidlaw said.
But despite precautions, he was never in a rush to leave.
"He was comfortable in the homes of those he burgled and he often engaged his elderly victims in conversation," Mr Laidlaw added.
"Whether it was just the additional sexual element that he enjoyed or it was the power and control he could assert whilst committing these offences, or it was the fear and anxiety, which he created and revelled in, will probably remain unclear."
The first of his attacks was on an 89-year-old woman living alone at her bungalow in Shirley.
"On October 11, 1992, she went to bed but later that night she was woken by the defendant who had appeared, standing over her, masked and gloved in her bedroom ... the defendant asked for money and then took time to search the room before turning his attention to the old women and to raping her."
After a six-year gap, Grant attacked an "immobile and housebound" 81-year-old woman, Mr Laidlaw said.
"Despite it being absolutely clear that his victim was too old to have penetrative sex, he still tried to rape her.
"His victim would die of unrelated causes the next year, so she was to suffer the attack in the last year of her life."
Grant raped another two old women and committed six further burglaries during the summer of 1999, the court heard.
Despite the violence of his attacks, Grant was said to be calm and careful, with some victims saying he was "respectful".
The rapes would stop in the last 10 years of his campaign of attacks, possibly because Grant thought advances in forensic science and the use of DNA evidence would make him vulnerable to capture, Mr Laidlaw said.
It was also in 1999 that the media stepped up its campaign to catch the Night Stalker, the barrister added.
Grant was growing increasingly cautious of capture, he said.
Gloves were always worn to prevent identification.
In the early days of his offending, Mr Laidlaw said: "If he was careful, the police would have to get lucky or he would have to be careless."
Mr Laidlaw added: "There was another burglary in 2003 during which the defendant was to wash the elderly victim's hand in an obvious attempt to remove any of his DNA and, during the latter stages of his offending, he was to display a greater regard to the importance from his perspective of being careful, of not leaving clues as to his identity."
The defendant's "good fortune to evade arrest for so long" ran out on the night of November 15 2009 during a robbery of an 86-year-old's home in Shirley.
Mr Laidlaw said: "Before he could gain entry, he was disturbed and made off running back to his car, which was parked nearby."
Police officers were on covert surveillance duties and, some distance away in Croydon, the defendant was arrested.
"The police had their breakthrough and the defendant's offending was finally to be brought to an end."
Grant's offending was characterised by "arrogance", the barrister said.
His "extraordinary defence" - that he blames his ex-wife for framing him - shows how he is "incapable of facing up to what he has done", Mr Laidlaw added.
Recalling the first of the rapes in 1992, the jury heard that the victim's face was pressed so hard that "her false teeth were dislodged".
"This defendant was well-prepared. He wore a mask and knew there was little chance that his elderly victims would be able to identify him," Mr Laidlaw said.
In another attack, he gained entry to a property by removing the beading on a window frame before lifting out the entire glass.