DALLAS — A crime-watch volunteer suspected of raping four women in Dallas this summer was implicated in a sexual assault two decades ago, but that case was dropped when his accuser died after being struck by lightning just before trial.
Van Draylan Dixson, 38, was arrested Tuesday in a Baton Rouge, La., motel. Police say DNA evidence so far has linked Dixson to four rapes in Dallas' Fair Park neighborhood, where as many as nine women were attacked by the same man this summer.
The assailant in each case was armed with a handgun, forced the victims to secluded areas, then robbed and sexually assaulted them, according to police. Police are awaiting DNA tests from two of the nine cases; in three other cases, such evidence wasn't available.
In the early 1990s, Dixson, a convicted robber, was accused of raping a woman at gunpoint, according to the former prosecutor in that case.
"The case made a deep impression on me," said Colleen Skinner, the prosecutor in that case who is now a private attorney in Dallas. "It was just so brazen."
But the woman's death in a freak accident made prosecution impossible, Skinner said.
"My hands were tied," Skinner said. "Even if the rape kit had shown he was the perpetrator, I would need a witness to tell the jury that it wasn't consensual. I would need a witness to tell me, 'He forced me.' I would need a witness to testify, 'It happened in Dallas County.'"
Police spoke to Dixson about this summer's rapes in south Dallas after a tipster identified him as a possible person of interest. But police have said they had to release him after their interview because they didn't have charges to hold him on. Dixson did voluntarily submit a saliva swab, which was then used to link him to DNA from four rapes.
Arrest warrants were then issued for Dixson. The warrants charge him with four counts of aggravated assault.
Dallas Police Maj. Jeff Cotner said "contacts" between Dixson and individuals in Dallas helped track him to the Louisiana motel, but he said no other details would be released until Wednesday.
One of the victims told police her assailant shooed away her two children before attacking her at gunpoint, according to a police affidavit obtained Tuesday by The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV.
The woman said a masked man approached her, brandished a handgun and demanded money while she was walking with her children in Fair Park on Aug. 30. When she fumbled with her shirt looking for money, the woman said, the man told her children to leave, and then raped her in a nearby alley.
Neighbors said that as a crime-watch volunteer, Dixson would patrol the streets several times a week.
Dixson has been part of the area's neighborhood crime-watch group, the Mill City Community Association, since January. The group's president, Alendra Lyons, called his arrest a "relief to the community."
"A lot of people have been fearful, of course," Lyons said. "They've been afraid."
State criminal records show Dixson was convicted of aggravated robbery in 1993. He served more than 10 years in prison, a state prisons spokeswoman said. He was also arrested as recently as last month on a deadly conduct charge, according to Dallas County records.
Lyons said she wasn't aware of Dixson's criminal past and that the incident had spurred her group to look into whether it could afford background checks on new volunteers, so that "at least we would be aware of what they have dealt with in the past."
As for police not going public with their investigation until after several attacks, Lyons said she didn't want to second-guess officers who dealt with a difficult case.
"We can't go back in time and make them redo it," Lyons said. "If that's the process, the procedure on how they do it, I guess we just have to be OK with that."