PLANO, Texas — A decade has passed since four older Black women — all Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters — were violently raped in their homes by a man who appeared to have stalked them beforehand.
Plano police officials on Friday announced that DNA evidence has led to charges in one of the cold cases.
Jeffery Lemor Wheat, 48, was arrested Jan. 11 by Arkansas State Police detectives, who found him in Crawford County. He has since been returned to the Collin County Jail, where he is being held on a sexual assault charge.
Wheat’s bond has been set at $500,000, jail records show.
Officer David Tilley, public information officer for the Plano Police Department, credited a detective and an administrative assistant with cracking the case.
“It was just their hard work and dedication to make sure they covered every single base,” Tilley told WFAA in Dallas.
‘Weird and unusual’ case
The attacks began in late 2010 and continued through October 2011. The victims were all in their mid-50s to mid-60s and were sexually assaulted in their homes between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., the Huffington Post reported at the time.
Dr. Naftali Berrill, director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science, told ABC News in 2011 that the age range of the victims was one not typically seen in rape cases. He described the case as “weird and unusual.”
“It’s typically not going to be middle-aged women who come from a certain subclass,” Berrill told the network.
The women were alumni of different universities, and they lived in three different cities, but they had one thing in common: They were all sorors of Delta Sigma Theta, the largest Greek-lettered Black sorority in the world.
The sorority link also puzzled experts.
“Rapists don’t usually target specific people for any particular reason,” criminal profiler Pat Brown said at the time. “They usually find victims who are just in their neighborhood who are convenient.”
“Someone with this obsession doesn’t cultivate these obsessional ideas overnight,” Berrill told ABC News. “This is coming from, I’m guessing, something much more historical and deeply rooted in this guy’s psychological history. It’s just too specific a group.”
After the Delta Sigma Theta link had been tentatively established, sorority leaders began warning their sisters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to take precautions. One sorority member told the Dallas Morning News that she had removed her Delta license plate frame and stopped using the key chain that showed she was a soror.
“For years, Delta has been a source of pride for me,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “It’s sad that an organization that does so much good, and is such a positive thing for men and women, it’s sad you would have to feel like that.”
A bloody pillow and a phone call
The women’s attacker appears to have known about their affiliation with the sorority. Each of the women said the man knew personal information about them.
In the April 2, 2011, assault for which Wheat has been charged, the victim said her assailant used her name during the attack.
According to an affidavit obtained by WFAA in Dallas, the woman said she went to bed in her Plano home earlier that morning, only to awaken to find a man in her bedroom.
“The suspect placed his hand over her mouth and she bit him,” the document states. “The suspect then grabbed for a pillow on the bed, and the victim was afraid for her life, so she tried to calm the situation.”
The woman told police she engaged in conversation with the man, who told her he was in his early 40s and went by the nickname “Jay” or “J.” He got into her home through an unlocked window, the man told her.
The man, who raped the woman and made her shower in the dark to wash away evidence from her body, left the woman’s home through a bedroom door into her back yard, the affidavit states.
Despite the shower, the man had left behind his genetic footprint: Blood from his bitten hand that stained the pillow he’d grabbed on the victim’s bed.
“The victim informed officers that she had just changed the sheets on the bed and knew them to be clean (before the assault),” according to the court document. “When the suspect picked up the pillow to cover her face, the blood then stained the pillowcase.”
Detectives were able to get a DNA profile from the stains.
Four days after the sexual assault, a man called the victim on her cellphone, the affidavit states. It was the assailant, apologizing for what he had done.
Investigators traced the call to a Chevron Food Mart, where surveillance cameras captured footage of a heavyset Black man walking toward the payphone and away again after the call.
The victim identified the man in the footage as her attacker.
The case saw little progress until September 2011, when Plano detectives received a bulletin about a similar sexual assault about 25 miles away in Coppell. In that case, detectives obtained semen from the victim’s body.
The DNA from the semen matched that of the blood left behind in the Plano case, authorities said.
Another similar sexual assault took place in October 2011 in the Corinth area.
A fourth case, an attempted rape on Nov. 11, 2010, in Plano, has been linked to the serial rapist, though no DNA evidence was obtained in that assault.
The case of the Delta Sigma Theta rapes went cold until Plano detectives made contact with Wheat’s ex-wife in November. She was shown the April 2011 footage from the Chevron and told investigators she believed the man in it was her ex-husband.
It was not immediately clear what steered police in Wheat’s direction, but DNA evidence has since linked him to three of the four cases.
The DNA in those rapes also matched DNA evidence from a 2003 case out of Arlington, the affidavit states.
“Our biggest fear is there are more (victims),” Tilley told WFAA. “That’s something that we want to know. There may have been some unreported cases.”
Cox Media Group