Fresh snow blanketed Delaware Park on a chilly, yet sunny February day in 2000 -- perfect for the "Winterfest" celebration that was under way in the park.
A Buffalo News reporter in search of a lively quote from a festival participant happened upon a man stripped down to a short-sleeved shirt, chipping away at golf balls for a contest.
"I love golf," the man told the reporter. "Once you start swinging, it's not that cold."
He identified himself as Al Sanchez of Cheektowaga.
He was the same Al Sanchez who authorities now charge, based on DNA evidence, is the Bike Path Killer and Rapist who has been preying on women across Erie County for 26 years.
Altemio C. Sanchez, 49, was the same man, police believe, who began his terrifying spree back in 1981, in that very park where on that February day seven years ago, he willingly gabbed to a reporter about hitting golf balls.
A look back at crimes linked to the Bike Path Killer and to events in the life of Sanchez -- who was indicted on two murder counts Friday -- exposes a juxtaposition of his Average Joe persona next to the evil acts that have been linked to him.
"He is a wolf in sheep's clothing," said a 38-year-old Hamburg woman who police said survived the infamous predator 21 years ago.
Late for summer school at Frontier High, she was on a shortcut -- a bike path -- when a man came running up behind her. He wrapped a clothesline around her neck, choked her almost to the point of passing out and then raped her.
"He's a monster," she told The Buffalo News last week.
Criminal profilers agree.
"That's part of the psychopathy," said Gregg McCrary, a former FBI profiler who once was assigned to Buffalo. "At least on the surface, they appear to be legitimately nice guys. . . . They wear a mask of sanity, of normalcy. It's a very exquisite mask. It looks so good; we can't see through it."
Friends and neighbors of Sanchez and his family were horrified to learn that he had been charged as the Bike Path Killer by police.
"He was just the friendliest, most likable guy," said David Hefferon, who worked alongside Sanchez at Luvata Buffalo, the former American Brass, and considers Sanchez one of his best friends.
"All I can tell you: He's the guy you'd least expect," he said.
While no two serial predators are alike, experts say, it's eerily common for them to lead double lives.
"They have very ordinary, sometimes very mundane lives," said University at Buffalo law professor and forensic psychologist Charles P. Ewing. ". . . But they have this pocket of reality in their lives that's secret."
>Just another kid
Al Sanchez's early years appear to have been unremarkable. He was born in Puerto Rico and came to the mainland United States as a toddler. His family settled on the West Side of Buffalo.
The neighborhood was home to a small, tight-knit community of Puerto Ricans, said Ralph Hernandez, a Buffalo Board of Education member who grew up on the West Side.
"I knew him," Hernandez acknowledged hesitantly. "We were much younger. He went to School 1."
Hernandez said he has vague memories of Sanchez hanging out with the other kids from the neighborhood at a mazelike set of buildings on Busti Avenue.
"Joel Giambra used to hang around there then, too," he added.
Hernandez said he didn't keep in touch with Sanchez past grammar school.
Sanchez graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in 1977. His attorney told authorities that he went to Buffalo State College but didn't graduate. College officials said they have no records indicating that he ever attended Buffalo State. But Sanchez is believed to have met his wife, Kathleen, there.
Sanchez's mundane life, if he is indeed the Bike Path Killer, ended in 1981 -- and his "Jekyll and Hyde" life, as District Attorney Frank J. Clark described it, began.
Police say that the first attack linked to Sanchez was on April 14, 1981 -- the same incident that investigators went back to just two weeks ago, leading to the crucial break in the case.
A 21-year-old Buffalo State College student told police that she was raped while jogging in Delaware Park.
Records show that Sanchez's wife would have been about four months' pregnant with their second son at the time of the attack. Records also indicate that the Sanchezes lived on Inwood Place in Buffalo, less than a block from Forest Lawn, which is adjacent to Delaware Park.
Five years later, in May 1986, the Sanchezes bought their two-story home on Allendale Road in Cheektowaga.
On June 12, 1986, the Bike Path Rapist returned to Delaware Park. This time, he raped a 44-year-old jogger near the statue of David. Wrapping a cord around the woman's neck, the rapist told his victim, "Shut up and walk," then later, "Don't resist and you won't get hurt." He forced her to remove her shorts and put them on her head before he molested, then raped her, records show. Before fleeing, he tightened the cord around her neck until she lost consciousness.
A DNA sample obtained from her body was later linked to Sanchez.
He also left a second calling card: a double-ligature mark -- with the cord wrapped around his victim's neck -- twice. Nearly all of his subsequent victims suffered an identical injury.
Sometime in the early to mid-1980s, he got a job with Outokumpu American Brass, the sprawling metal factory in Riverside. He remained with the company, now Luvata Buffalo, until his arrest Monday. He often worked the midnight-to-7:30 a.m. shift.
Investigators said last week that all along, they had suspected that the killer and rapist worked at the brass plant.
DNA linked three rapes of Riverside High School students that took place in desolate fields near junkyards and railroads within about a mile of the plant.
Then, there was the fact that the attacks happened in the morning. Police had long theorized that whoever was responsible for the rapes worked an overnight shift -- which freed him during the day.
In the 1988 Riverside rape, the victim told police that her assailant had laid out precut strips of duct tape on a junked car near where he attacked her. He forced her to place the tape over her eyes.
That was another clue: The rapist was methodical and meticulous.
Sanchez also was known by his friends and colleagues for his kindness and generosity, especially when it came to children. He participated in numerous charities, including the annual Kids Day fundraiser for Women and Children's Hospital.
He was the coach of his two sons' Little League teams in the late 1980s to the early 1990s. That same stretch of time marked the Bike Path Killer's most active period.
Many of the victims linked to the bike path killer were teenage girls.
"I was 17, but these girls were like 14," the Hamburg victim said of the others. "They'd never even been to a gynecologist. It was probably the first time they'd been in the hospital, the first time they'd dealt with police. Dealing with that, you just hate him even more."
>Once rapist, now killer
Sept. 29, 1990, would prove to be a new turning point. It was the day the Bike Path Rapist, turned into the Bike Path Killer.
At about 12:15 p.m., he nabbed 22-year-old Linda Yalem, a UB student, who was jogging on the Ellicott Creek Bike Path. He knew that path well already. Four months earlier, he had raped a 32-year-old runner on that path. The previous year, he had struck at the nearby Willow Ridge Bike Path.
Yalem's body was found about 24 hours after she was reported missing. Tape had been placed over her nose and mouth. Her shirt was pulled over her head. Her running tights and underwear were removed. A double ligature mark was on her neck.
The slaying led authorities to realize they were dealing with a serial predator. DNA, along with the method and circumstances of the rapes, quickly linked six previous cases to Yalem's killer.
Soon afterward, Sanchez was questioned as a possible suspect. A co-worker from American Brass told police he had seen him on the Ellicott Creek Bike Path about the time of the May rape.
It's unclear what would have brought Sanchez to the UB area.
His friend, Hefferon, said that he and Sanchez often worked out at the Bally's Total Fitness gym on East Robinson Road in northern Amherst.
The exit to the gym from the Youngmann Highway, which Sanchez likely would have taken if he was coming from work, is one exit away from the Lockport Expressway, which leads right to UB's North Campus.
Bally corporate officials confirmed that Sanchez was a member but would not say how long.
"We are cooperating with police," spokesman Matt Messinger said.
"We are looking at all of these places," Capt. Timothy M. Green said without elaborating.
Amherst police compared Sanchez's fingerprints with those found on a water bottle discovered near the May crime scene -- but they didn't match. So Sanchez walked.
It was the second time police were close to catching him. The 1981 victim had spotted her attacker at Boulevard Mall three days after the rape. A relative followed him, wrote down the license plate, and the victim called it in to police. But when police traced the plate, they encountered Sanchez's uncle, who lied and said that the car hadn't been used in a long time.
Serial predators often "believe they're not going to get caught no matter what," Ewing said. "They think they're smarter than the police. . . . He had to be figuring he's pretty much invincible."
>The Sept. 29 link
Sanchez, police say, was in fact arrested twice over the following decade: both times on charges of soliciting a prostitute on the West Side.
In both cases, his charges were reduced to loitering, and he was forced to pay fines. His arrests did not arouse any suspicions, even though profilers had been telling police that their killer likely sought out prostitutes.
In between the two arrests, police now know, the Bike Path Killer struck at least twice.
In November 1992, police say, Sanchez killed Majane Mazur, 32, a crack-addicted prostitute whose body was found near the railroad tracks by Exchange Street in Buffalo. Because she was unlike the previous victims, her death was not linked to the Bike Path Rapist/Killer until Dec. 2004, when investigators got a match to the DNA found on her body.
He also raped a 14-year-old on Oct. 19, 1994 -- behind a junkyard off of Military Road. It was just a block away from the Luvata plant.
In 1996, Sanchez -- if the DNA evidence does conclusively point to him as the Bike Path Killer -- made perhaps his most audacious move.
He ran in the Linda Yalem Safety Run. The event marked the first time since her killing that the memorial race was held on the exact anniversary date.
"Anniversary dates are significant to offenders," McCrary said. "Part of it is narcissism. . . . Here he is in plain view at an event honoring his victim. It's another way to savor his power."
Sept. 29 appears to have stayed on the killer's mind.
Sixteen years to the day after Yalem was killed, and 12 years since any attack police link him to, the Bike Path Killer reappeared.
This time, he struck in Clarence. That morning, Joan Diver, a Clarence mother of four, was reported missing after failing to pick her youngest son up from day care. A search party found her body two days later off a bike path that traverses through Clarence and into Newstead.
Police found a double ligature mark on her neck. She was partially unclothed. There was no evidence of rape, and no DNA was found on her body.
Investigators at first wondered whether the Sept. 29 date and the circumstances of Diver's death were nothing more than creepy coincidences. But that changed in November, when DNA experts found the bike path rapist's DNA in drops of sweat on the steering column of Diver's SUV.
"It was his way of saying to the community: I'm still here," Ewing said.
He got the attention. It was that renewed interest that sent investigators back to their files, back to the unsolved 1981 rape that gave them the clue they had been waiting for all of these years.
The Hamburg victim does not fault the police for failing to find their suspect sooner.
"You really can't help when people are lying," she said, referring to Sanchez's uncle.
"It's like a needle in the haystack," she said. Her attacker "was very clever. He made sure there was no witnesses."
The survivor, now a wife and mother of two children, said she credits the Hamburg police, particularly Capt. A. Daniel Shea and his then-partner, Bobby Williams, for their role in keeping her case alive -- and making sure she never lost hope over the last two decades.
"They were like two angels," she said. "I honestly believe if it wasn't for the police, I wouldn't be alive today."
After Monday's arrest, the woman said, she went to a convenience store and spotted a man with a round face and mustache and began to panic, as she had done so many times over so many sleepless, fear-filled years.
Then she stopped herself. "Hello," she thought. "He's in jail, silly."
She was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of relief. She said: "That felt really good."
News Staff Reporters Michael Beebe and Sandra Tan contributed to this report.