Skip to main content
https://www.gannett-cdn.com/indepth-static-assets/uploads/master/8769401002/c55f5f34-b77e-420e-96c5-6760c653574b-story1_topper_desktop.jpg
The Stocking Mask

A serial rapist roamed this small town, but residents had little clue: How a violent crime spree was kept quiet

When the Stocking Mask Rapist began to roam Staunton, Virginia, in 1979, multiple institutions – police, a school, a newspaper – didn't spread the word.

Published Updated

Illustration by Spencer Holladay, USA TODAY NETWORK; Getty Images

When the Stocking Mask Rapist began to roam Staunton, Virginia, in 1979, multiple institutions – police, a school, a newspaper – didn't spread the word.

Published Updated

Illustration by Spencer Holladay, USA TODAY NETWORK; Getty Images

STAUNTON, Va. – The intruder in the stocking mask didn’t need to cover his tracks because the police in a picturesque Virginia city did that job for him, refusing to warn the public about a series of attacks and crimes which grew more daring and violent over the course of 1979.

Decades later, as The Staunton News Leader and other USA TODAY Network newsrooms began revamping their public safety coverage in 2021 – this old, forgotten story about a pivotal crime spree in the town of Staunton is being retold, more fully this time and in all its historic context.

The Stocking Mask Rapist case was about more than catching a criminal.

It was about The News Leader's lack of coverage and the police and the women's college working to keep the sexual assault case quiet.

It was also about the pervasive racism of the time.

In a knee-jerk response to a Black man reportedly attacking white women, police arrested innocent Black men who stayed in jail despite the fact that the attacks continued unabated. Meanwhile, women were told to stay off the streets – though they were being assaulted in their own homes.

As the city’s institutions failed it, they came under fire from a traumatized public unwilling to give up its image of being a small, safe city where everyone knew one another and protected each other.

It took a special agent from just outside the city limits and a psychic from the other side of the mountains to set the hunt in the right direction. 

But the city would never be the same.  

For nearly a year in 1979, the face beneath the city’s genteel and protective smile looked like a stranger in a stocking mask. 

Read about how we discovered and reported this story here

PART 1 

PART 1 

Cop with tape on their mouth

A serial rapist stalked a vulnerable city. Police, media and a women’s college stayed silent.

A 1979 violent crime spree also serves as a racial inflection point in Staunton, Virginia. White women were the rapist’s victims. Black men were the police’s target.  Read about the case of the Stocking Mask Rapist here.

PART 2 

PART 2 

Louisiana

After a friend was attacked, a writer wondered what to do about the Stocking Mask Rapist 

An intruder in a stocking mask ramped up his activity as spring turned to summer in 1979, moving from stealing panties to raping women at knifepoint. Although the town's newspaper wasn’t reporting it, a freelance reporter knew a rapist was roaming the city because his friends were the victims. Read the story here.

PART 3 

PART 3 

Cop with tape on their mouth

Months after assaults, the town was publicly informed there was a predator at large 

Five women forced the newspaper to act. Police connected the dots, but did not tell the public of an ongoing threat. Meanwhile, the rapist broke into more houses. Read the story here.

PART 4  

PART 4  

Cop with tape on their mouth

Residents were 'scared to walk outside their houses – or stay in them’ 

Staunton, Virginia,  was on edge. Police arrested two Black men, but the assaults continued. Read the story here.

PART 5

PART 5

Cop with tape on their mouth

Police targeted Black men as Virginia town panicked about assaults

As the intruder continued his rampage, police called in a Virginia Special Agent – and a psychic who had never worked with law enforcement. Read the story here.

PART 6  

PART 6  

Cop with tape on their mouth

Special agent: 'You got two innocent people in jail, and a rapist still out there' 

Months into the case, officials say police were focused on the wrong suspects. "Forty angry women" stormed a city council meeting. And a special agent started to put the pieces together. Read the story here.

PART 7  

PART 7  

Cop with tape on their mouth

Women made demands. A psychic made predictions. A city held its breath. 

The psychic told police details she should not have known about the crimes. She also told them things even she couldn’t understand. Would it help or hurt the investigation? Read the story here.

PART 8 

PART 8 

Cop with tape on their mouth

Two unlikely sources helped police close in on a predator

In the final weeks of 1979, a psychic's advice and a child's watchful eye helped officials close in on the Stocking Mask Rapist. Read the story here.

PART 9 

PART 9 

Cop with tape on their mouth

After a year of dread and violence, a suspect confessed. Was the evidence strong enough?

The only evidence literally fit in the palm of your hand. Was the plea agreement the best choice prosecutors had? Read the story here.

PART 10 

PART 10 

Cop with tape on their mouth

Fear, racism, misogyny: Legacy of Staunton's tumultuous 1979 echoed long after crime spree 

Missing police reports, broken trial tapes, accusations of coercion. The troubled legacy of the city's most terrifying crime spree. Read the story here.

Published Updated