Utah County rape case gets fresh look as WVC police continue to seek suspect in attempted kidnap

May 25, 2023, 8:32 AM

UTAH COUNTY, Utah — A previously inactive rape investigation centered around American Fork Canyon was getting a fresh look Wednesday as officers with the West Valley City Police Department continued to seek a suspect they said pretended to be a driver in distress as he attempted to kidnap a woman from a remote area of town.

On Monday, WVCPD investigators said a woman was driving along 5400 South near 7600 West at approximately 1:30 a.m. when she encountered a man who appeared to have car trouble on the side of the road.

According to detectives, when the woman tried to help, the man brandished a gun and forced her into the backseat of his car, attempting to assault her before she was able to escape.

The unknown man was still at large Wednesday when investigators with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office confirmed a 2022 rape case that had been previously classified as inactive had shifted to an active investigation.

While a sheriff’s spokesman declined to comment on the case or any possible connections to the West Valley matter, he acknowledged the status of the American Fork Canyon case had shifted to active since news of the West Valley case came to light.

According to a police report obtained exclusively by the KSL Investigators in an unrelated public records request, a woman told deputies she was raped on July 2 in the Pine Hollow parking lot just off the Alpine Loop that overlooks the canyon.

The woman, according to the document, said she was approached after 7 p.m. by a man who asked for help with a potentially flat tire.

Once the man led the woman to the passenger side of his sedan, the woman told deputies he grabbed her and forced her into a rear door and onto the seat. There, the woman stated that the man sexually assaulted her before he shoved her out of the vehicle and drove away.

The man was described in the report as roughly 6 feet tall with a medium build, a thin nose and “thinner lips.”

Chris Bertram, a retired deputy police chief turned private investigator and associate professor of criminal justice at Salt Lake Community College, said because of the rarity of the type of approach used as well as other similarities, looking into a possible connection between the two cases makes sense.

“They’re unique,” Bertram told KSL TV. “When you talk about West Valley’s case — just by itself it’s a unique case. I think investigators need to determine if it was true and in this case, we have dash cam from the victim’s car that is very, very helpful and could be key to maybe breaking a bigger case or something bigger than just Utah.”

Bertram said both cases appeared to show a significant amount of planning.

“It looks like he’s concealing through paint, concealing some things on his car, maybe concealing his license plate,” Bertram said of the West Valley case. “That concerns me.”

He acknowledged the West Valley and American Fork cases could ultimately prove to be unrelated, but he said even in the event of two different suspects the patterns of behavior used in the crimes could suggest a person or persons capable of additional victims.

“I think it’s important that investigators look deeper than Utah,” Bertram said. “It’s not saying that this is somebody that’s a serial sex offender or a serial killer going around, but I do know that when we pay attention to case cases like this, they lead us to bigger cases.”

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Utah County rape case gets fresh look as WVC police continue to seek suspect in attempted kidnap