Victim in 1980 attack recounts journey back from horrific night

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The woman was pulled from sleep, in that still dark October hour more than three decades ago, by the voice of an intruder and a knife at her throat: "Don't scream, don't move, don't try anything or I'll kill you."

She quickly realized her attacker was atop her, made faceless by the fact that she was sleeping facedown. His hands stretched from above, one smothering her nose and mouth, the other keeping the blade's thin sharpness against the front of her neck.

It crossed her mind then, and not for the last time that night, that she was going to die there -- 19 years old and more than 100 miles from home.

"I was so scared," she recalled Monday, her voice shaken by the memory. "I was young and scared."

What happened next in that basement-level apartment the morning of Oct. 29, 1980, was horrific, agreed the woman, who asked not to be identified. Such is the nature of sexual assaults, a crime committed against more than 200,000 victims each year in the U.S., according to statistics. In her case, she lived with the fear for years after, a fear that was compounded each year that passed and no one was arrested.

"I was always looking over my shoulder," she said in a telephone interview from her St. Louis-area home. "You always wonder if he's out there. Is he looking for me? Does he know my name?"

But the woman now firmly believes, she said, that the horror that began for her that night is about to end after the news last week that Cape Girardeau County prosecutors filed rape charges against a man they say attacked her 32 years ago. The charges came after Det. Jim Smith, who investigates cold cases for the Cape Girardeau Police Department, resubmitted DNA from the crime scene and hit upon a new match in the decades-old case.

The hit came on a Missouri prisoner named Daryl Davis, a St. Louis man once described by prosecutors as a "serial rapist" at his 1993 trial in St. Louis County. Davis originally was charged with nearly 40 felony counts in the sexual assault of 14 St. Louis County women. Other charges included burglary, stealing and sodomy. The jury found DNA evidence, still in its infancy in the early 1990s, insufficient and found Davis not guilty in all but five of the sexual assaults. Still, a jury sentenced Davis to six life sentences, more than enough to keep him locked up for good.

Three more life sentences were added by a jury in 2010, after DNA implicated him in the sexual assaults of three other women, each taking place in 1988.

Some have argued Davis is likely responsible for the sexual assaults of several other women in Missouri. He was convicted of first-degree burglary in Cape Girardeau County years before his rape trials. Law enforcement officers familiar with his case say he has ties to Cape Girardeau and other Southeast Missouri communities. Smith has declined to comment, citing that the case is pending.

Online court records don't list a lawyer for Davis, who is currently in the state prison at Potosi, Mo.

The victim hopes that if Davis is convicted or confesses, it will bring closure to an event that has haunted her for years. She still can barely talk about the attack, asking to skip the "gory details." But court documents fill in the necessary blanks: How she felt a pillow pushed down on her head. How she protested that she couldn't breath.

And how -- after -- he stayed there beside her, knife still at her neck. Until, finally, he shuffled into his clothes and out the door. She also remembers how, before he left, he said something like: "ha, ha, in prison for rape, ha, ha, ha."

She had been in Cape Girardeau less than a year when the rape took place. After a spring semester living in the dorms, she and another student moved to a basement-level apartment on North Street. She remembers that she was happy, living on her own for the first time.

But that changed after the man removed a window screen and sneaked into her apartment while her roommate slept in the next room. She tried to stay at Southeast, but when she noticed at her new apartment -- of course she moved -- that a screen looked tampered with, she went back to St. Louis.

Now, she has a husband, two children and a life. She wasn't thinking about her attack much when she received a call from Smith. She agreed to move forward. The first submission of DNA found no matches. She said she almost wished then that Smith hadn't contacted her.

"But he told me not to give up," she said. "He said never give up."

They submitted again and hit on Davis. She devoured information on his trial and the other allegations against him.

That he's been charged, she said, is enough, and she hopes Davis will, as she puts it, do the right thing and plead guilty and save taxpayer expense.

Now, she feels relieved that the man who she believes attacked her all those years ago has been in prison. She doesn't feel like he has a hold over her any longer.

But she still wonders about those purses.

Her purse, which her attacker snatched on his way out the door, was found two months later in a wooded area of Poplar Bluff, Mo. Police at the time said they believed it was put there by a suspect in three Cape Girardeau rapes and two attempted rapes that summer and fall.

But there were more purses than three, she said, trying to remember.

"I just can't help but wonder if those purses belong to other victims of his we don't know about."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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