Several rape victims whose cases were never previously linked to the Bike Path Killer have come forward since the arrest of suspect Altemio C. Sanchez on Jan. 15.
The police task force leading the investigation has received a slew of calls from women who believe that Sanchez attacked, or tried to attack, them many years ago.
The majority of the calls have been from women saying they remember seeing a suspicious man who looked like Sanchez sometime in the past -- tips that haven't been terribly fruitful.
But a "handful" of rape survivors have called asking whether it is possible that the man who attacked them could have been Sanchez, said State Police Lt. Steve Nigrelli.
"These are women who were viciously and brutally raped," Nigrelli said as police piece together Sanchez's whereabouts over the last 26 years.
All of the old rape cases that have caught the attention of task force members had already been reported to police and investigated, Nigrelli said. None of the women were reporting their assaults for the first time.
Authorities have linked 11 cases to Sanchez, who so far has been charged with two murders tied to the Bike Path Killer. The first of the 11 was a rape that took place in 1981; the last, the murder of Joan Diver, a Clarence mother of four, on Sept. 29, 2006.
The first rape was not connected to the Bike Path Killer investigation until 10 days before Sanchez's arrest. Detectives then began to look through old case files from an unsolved 1981 rape in Delaware Park.
Police also are looking into the possibility that two rapes that occurred in the 1980s in Delaware Park, for which another man is serving prison time, might actually have been committed by the Bike Path Killer.
The incidents that police are reinvestigating occurred during the Bike Path Killer's "most active" period -- in the 1980s and early 1990s -- Nigrelli said. None of the cases police are looking at happened after 1994, he added.
Authorities have long wondered why there have been no cases linked to the Bike Path Killer between 1994, when a 14-year-old girl was raped in Riverside, and the 2006 slaying of Diver. Both those cases have been linked to Sanchez by DNA, police said.
Investigators have speculated that other rapes might have taken place during that 12-year period but that the victims might have been too fearful or ashamed to come forward.
Sanchez's arrest also has caused a spike in calls to Crisis Services, said Jessica C. Pirro, associate director of the county-funded suicide prevention and rape crisis center.
"They are reaching out," Pirro said. "We're seeing calls coming into the hotline, and we're linking people to the task force."
The arrests seem to have also triggered survivors of rapes with no connection to the Bike Path Killer to seek help from Crisis Services.
"It helps survivors that aren't linked to this case see that attention is provided to rape cases," Pirro said. "There is support out there, and these cases are taken seriously."
Victims of sex crimes are now treated much differently by both police and society in general, Pirro said, and women may now be more willing to talk with police, knowing that authorities are more understanding.
"The advocacy component is stronger; the rights of women are better," Pirro said. "And the reality is: Officers are trained differently."
She encouraged rape survivors who want to report what happened to them, or who even just need to talk with someone, to call Crisis Services' confidential hotline at 834-3131 to learn about their options and the services that are available to them. "We can be that first step," Pirro said.
Nigrelli also urged any other women who believe they might have fallen victim to the Bike Path Killer to call the task force tip line: (877) 277-1990.
Rape cases older than five years are past the statute of limitations and cannot be prosecuted. But, Nigrelli said, information from those victims could be vital in helping convict the suspect. "Just because it happened 20 years ago, it doesn't mean it's not important," he said. "It's still important to the prosecution. We still need that information."
In addition to the old rape cases in the Buffalo area, the task force has begun exploring the possibility of out-of-state rapes and slayings.
Sanchez, who has pleaded not guilty, was known to have traveled often with his wife.
A co-worker at American Brass, now Luvata Buffalo, told The Buffalo News that the couple often went on cruises.
Records show that Sanchez went to Florida at least once.
Most of the out-of-state calls, Nigrelli said, have been from "the Northeast and Southeast, some as far away as the Carolinas." But so far, he said, no cases appear to bear any striking similarities.
"We're filling in the gaps," he explained. "Now that we know who he [allegedly] is, and what he drives, we're doing a reverse investigation."