ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida police officials are asking for the public’s help finding an alleged serial rapist tied through DNA to at least seven attacks over a 10-year span in the 1980s and 1990s.
Leslie Renald Lagrotta, 61, is wanted in connection with three cases in Orlando and four cases in Volusia County, authorities said Thursday at a news conference. The Orlando sexual assaults took place in 1988 and 1989.
The Volusia County cases took place between 1992 and 1998. The department is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Lagrotta, who was last seen in Dayton Beach in 2010.
“You’re looking at a predator,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said. “You’re looking at a guy who stole from these women. He stole their sense of self-being when he committed these horrible, horrible acts, and then, like the coward and the scumbag that he is, he’s disappeared.”
Watch Thursday’s news conference below.
Orlando police Detective Michael Fields said U.S. marshals have been looking for Lagrotta for more than a year.
“We do not have any leads into where he is,” Fields said.
Lagrotta is accused of attacking several victims as they slept in their Volusia County homes. Chitwood said the first incident in his agency’s jurisdiction took place Jan. 16, 1992, when a man grabbed the victim from behind as she walked into the bedroom of her apartment.
“(She was) forced on the bed and sexually assaulted as the male talked about threatening to kill her during the whole process,” the sheriff said.
On July 20, 1993, a woman awoke around 5 a.m. to find a naked man crawling out of her bedroom. She screamed and he ran.
“But when she went into the living room to investigate, he jumped out from behind a wall (and) forced her back into the bedroom, where he sexually assaulted her,” Chitwood said.
A third woman was sexually assaulted May 11, 1998, as she walked on a beach, the sheriff said Thursday.
Chitwood did not offer details of the fourth assault, which he said took place in Daytona Beach and was similar in nature to the other cases.
Lagrotta is also accused of raping an Orlando woman at knifepoint June 17, 1988, Fields said. The following month, on July 30, he is accused of holding a woman captive and sexually assaulting her multiple times.
A third woman was attacked in Orlando the following February.
“All of those victims are with us today, meaning they are still here on Earth, they’re still alive,” Orlando police Chief Orlando Rolón said. “And with the exception of one, who is living outside of this country, they’re all wanting to see justice done.”
Lagrotta vanished in 2010 following an arrest for resisting an officer by violence in Daytona Beach. According to authorities, Lagrotta fought off arresting officers after they found him lurking outside a woman’s window.
As part of the booking process, he was required to provide a DNA sample.
Fields said that after making bail, Lagrotta — who he described as a “feckless coward’ — withdrew $22,000 from his bank account and left town, severing all ties with his family.
“The last thing he told one of his relatives is ‘The police are going to get my DNA. I need to leave town. I’m going to go to prison,’” Fields said.
Along with DNA taken from the crime scenes, authorities lifted a latent palm print from a window the rapist used to access a 1988 victim’s apartment. At the time, however, the print was useless.
“If you can think about 1988, there was no use of the palm prints in the use of crime-solving,” Fields said. “It wasn’t until 2005 that the use of palm prints became a tool for us to use.”
Leslie Renald Lagrotta, 61 is the suspect in 7 Aggravated Sexual Battery Cases from 1988 – 1998 in Central Florida. Lead us to him.📞@CrimelineFL or our detectives at 321-235-5300. @VolusiaSheriff is offering $25,000 for anyone who tells us where he is. ▶ https://t.co/yXQGQ7YsZs pic.twitter.com/9l4zX1NXyA
— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) December 16, 2021
The detective said he sent the print to the FBI for analysis in 2018, when he began looking into the unsolved Orlando cases. In December of that same year, he began looking at the cases using the man’s DNA profile and the new crimefighting tool of genetic genealogy.
The FBI ran the palm print through its Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems, or AFIS. It was a match for Lagrotta.
“We were able to take that information and focus in on his family and use the genetic genealogy to eliminate everyone else in his immediate family by the use of certain search warrants, consent and other means to get DNA from family members to show that the only person that could have done this heinous crime was Leslie Lagrotta,” Fields said.
Rolón gave credit for the breakthrough to one crime scene investigator who he said had the “presence of mind” in 1988 to lift the palm print even though at the time, it could not help catch the rapist.
“Years later, (it) proved to be the key to identifying this person we’ve been looking for, for a very long time,” the chief said.
That search continues. Fields told reporters that it was possible that Lagrotta had left the country, but that authorities have no evidence of that. They believe he is no longer in Florida but is likely elsewhere in the U.S.
The sheriff appealed to the public for answers.
“Pick up the phone, let us know where he’s at, so we can work with OPD and bring this scumbag to justice,” Chitwood said. “We owe it to these women.”
Anyone with information about Lagrotta’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Central Florida Crimeline online or at 800-423-TIPS (8477), or to call Orlando detectives at 321-235-5300.
Tips can also be provided to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office at 386-248-1777 or ColdCaseUnitTips@vcso.us.
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