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Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Long Story, Good Ending

By janinsanfran of Happening Here

Last May someone I've been afraid of for 30 years put himself on the road to being locked up for the rest of this life. And a good thing too.

Confronted with overwhelming DNA evidence of his guilt, Altemio Sanchez pled guilty to three murders of women, two of whom were runners, in the Buffalo, New York area. Those crimes spanned sixteen years but in fact, Sanchez is implicated in a string of rapes, mostly of women runners, going back to the late 1970s. Because of the statute of limitations, none of the rapes will be prosecuted, but the crime of murder has no such expiration date.

Sanchez (whose name and face I never knew) haunted me because, though I have not lived there since 1965, Buffalo was the place I did some of my best running.

My parents lived in a neighborhood with easy access to the footpaths of Delaware Park. I took my first tentative jogs there in about 1977. Later, as my parents aged, I visited Buffalo more and more frequently. Since I never quite knew what to do with myself when living inside my parents' culturally- and politically-foreign world, I ran a lot when I was in Buffalo. In fact, I ran almost all my lifetime personal bests (none very fast) in road races there in the 1980s.

But when I trotted past the reproduction of the Michelangelo statue of David beside Delaware Park Lake or around the meadow and golf course, I was always slightly fearful and watchful. One heard of rapes and there was something slightly menacing in those woods. A guy was convicted in 1985 of raping women runners in just that area earlier in the decade. Other rapes continued in the metropolitan area.

Then, in 1990, a University of Buffalo student, Linda Yalem, disappeared while marathon training on the Amherst bike path. Her strangled and violated body was found in nearby bushes. The lurking serial rapist of women runners was now a murderer.

Yalem was killed on a September 29. As it happens, my mother's birthday was October 1, so year in and year out thereafter I was in town, running, when local media returned to discussing the unsolved crime. Mother was aware enough of the buzz to worry about me. I always said, truthfully, that I had learned to be exceptionally aware of my surroundings.

As I aged I got slower and slower - and also ran longer and longer, so I was more likely to be traipsing the whole 10-mile extent of the Amherst bike path. Keeping alert was a huge part of the exercise.

Buffalo visits stopped for me in 1999 after my mother's death. I ran lots of miles and lots of trails in California keeping alert certainly, but not carrying the special buzz of anxious caution that I always had in Buffalo.

Apparently Altemio Sanchez carried a special awareness about that September date too. His last rape and murder was of a suburban woman runner, Joan Diver, on September 29, 2006.

In January of 2007, Buffalo police announced that persistent detective work had finally paid off: they'd caught the "Bike Path Rapist." DNA evidence suggested Sanchez was Yalem's killer as well as having also murdered Diver and another woman. With his DNA in hand, police began to look into other past rapes - they soon found matches they hadn't previously connected with this criminal.

The fellow who'd been convicted of the Delaware Park rapes in the early 1980s had never admitted guilt, though he was still in prison twenty-two years later. Rather remarkably, lawyers and detectives were able to retrieve the rape kits from those crimes: they matched Sanchez' DNA as well. An innocent man was freed from prison.

Though women runners in the Buffalo area have had a special and justified fear of a lurking predator for the last 30 years, all women who choose to take to the trails have to carry some consciousness that there are men who might try to attack them. The burden of this knowledge is much greater for women than for male runners - the danger of attack is simply much greater. But there are many of us who simply won't let caution keep us from tromping the trails.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

It is hard to fathom that someone managed to be so sick, so violent, and so destructive for so long, and the police could not find him. Surely, this story actually shows the police's "persistent detective work" didn't pay off for all of his victims and women like yourself; who were never able to run free of danger. Are you planning on going back to Buffalo and running or walking the paths in celebration?

Actually -- I ran in Buffalo last summer and it was a happy occasion.

An aspect of the story I left out is that Sanchez had a wife and numerous neighbors who had no clue that he was anything but an ordinary fellow. No one doubts his guilt -- his wife is now divorcing him. I cannot imagine her state of mind.

Unfortunately, there is usually another Altemio Sanchez waiting in the wings..or should I say bushes... for young runners on isolated paths.

Please be careful......

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