January 13, 2008 - 2:09AM
He packed his car, withdrew his cash and planned to slip quietly into Mexico. But the escape was cut short Friday morning as Chandler detectives closed in.
Police then arrested the man on suspicion of sexually assaulting five girls and attacking another in the Chandler Rapist crime spree that spanned 18 months, police announced Saturday.
Santana Batiz-Aceves, 39, a twice-deported illegal immigrant with a history of drug charges, was arrested about 11:49 a.m. Friday at his Chandler home near Arizona Avenue and Ray Road. He was booked into Maricopa County’s Fourth Avenue Jail on suspicion of 25 felonies, including kidnapping, child molestation, sexual abuse, sexual conduct with a minor, aggravated assault, burglary and trespassing.
He is being held without bond.
“From the beginning of this investigation, we have believed that help from our community and good, old-fashioned police work were the most likely avenues to solving this series of crimes,” Chandler police Chief Sherry Kiyler said at a news conference Saturday. “This has turned out to be the case.”
Police said DNA links Batiz-Aceves, a heavy equipment operator, to three of the sexual assaults. Items found in his car and house also link him to the attacks, police said.
Kiyler said the arrest unfolded Friday morning when detectives were working a saturation patrol in the area of the rapes.
A Chandler task force detective spotted a white two-door Toyota Tercel matching a car described in a Nov. 8 home intrusion linked to the Chandler Rapist.
Police followed the car and stopped it about 7 a.m. Friday near North California Street and Ray Road. During the stop, a detective noticed a jacket in the car matching descriptions provided by two victims.
Batiz-Aceves first told detectives his name was Ricardo Ramirez Lopez and that he lived in Casa Grande and was in Chandler for work and to find a friend, Kiyler said. When police asked to swab his cheek for DNA, he refused.
Officers kept a close watch on the man and obtained a court order for his DNA, but when they tried to contact him at his home, they said he was attempting to leave.
“When we went back to contact him, he was in the process of loading up his vehicle,” said Chandler police spokesman Sgt. Rick Griner.
Griner said Batiz-Aceves also had a large sum of cash , and detectives concluded he was planning to flee to Mexico.
He was taken into custody on suspicion of providing false information to a police officer and identity theft and was ordered to give a DNA sample.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime lab worked overnight examining the DNA strands, and its analysis indicated a match early Saturday to evidence in the case.
Capt. Paul Chagolla, Maricopa County sheriff’s spokesman, said deputies specially trained to enforce immigration laws were able to identify Batiz-Aceves as an illegal immigrant after he was booked.
A friend who answered the door Saturday at the suspect’s duplex at 1070 N. California St. declined to comment.
“I know the cops went inside last night,” said neighbor Joe Ortega. “The cops busted over here. They opened the door and went inside.”
Laura Mailloux, who lives across the street from the suspect , said she was so worried about the Chandler Rapist attacks that at one point she kept her children home from school.
“Everybody worries because we’ve got kids in high school,” she said.
All of the attacks in the case occurred within a two-mile radius of Batiz-Aceves’ home between Andersen and Willis junior high schools.
More than a dozen children played outside in the suspect’s neighborhood Saturday morning. Some said they have played in the suspect’s house and described the family as “nice.”
Batiz-Aceves has lived in the area of the rapes for the last 18 months.
“He’s the best renter I ever had,” said Elliot Hall, Batiz-Aceves’ landlord who knew the suspect as Ricardo Ramirez.
Hall said police contacted him Friday about Batiz-Aceves.
He said the tenant lived with his wife and two small children in the unit, a beige brick duplex with a dirt yard. Hall said Batiz-Aceves often paid his rent ahead of time and notified the landlord if he was going to pay late.
Kiyler said Batiz-Aceves was deported twice for drug charges in California in 1999 and 2003. Andersen Junior High principal Jim Anderson said the arrest was a “tremendous relief.”
“Everybody is going to feel a whole lot safer — if this is the guy — knowing that he’s not going to be around anymore,” Anderson said.
At least three of the attacks involved Andersen students, and the principal said the whole campus has been concerned.
The series of attacks started June 4, 2006, with the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl. That attack was not reported to police until six months later.
The latest sexual assault victim was a 14-year-old girl attacked at her mobile home on June 8 while her grandparents sat outside on the front porch.
All of the victims were girls between the ages of 12 and 15.
The serial predator typically struck early in the morning and targeted young girls living in single-parent homes. Police also believe the man watched his victims and cased their homes before the attacks.
Police believe they have 'Chandler Rapist'
Most people knew him as Ricardo and his friends called him "Chaparro," or "Shorty."
But the approximately 5-foot-4 construction worker who called himself Ricardo López, who was known among relatives and close friends as a loving husband and father who would give you "the shirt off his back," is actually Santana Batiz Aceves and is the "Chandler Rapist," police say.
"We are convinced that this suspect . . . is responsible for the multiple assaults that have been committed in our community," Chandler Police Chief Sherry Kiyler said during a press conference Saturday.
Police arrested Batiz Aceves on Friday morning and discovered in less than 24 hours from DNA test results that he is a match for a serial rapist who has been stalking and raping young girls in Chandler for nearly two years, police announced Saturday.
Batiz Aceves, 39, originally from a town in Sinaloa, Mexico, began living in the United States illegally in 1988 and lived in Sacramento for nearly 16 years, where he worked for a construction company, computer records show.
"He always took care of his kids, he's very respectful and he's a good person," said Maria Peñuelos, Batiz Aceves' ex-girlfriend and neighbor. "I just don't believe it."
Peñuelos, who knew him as "Ricardo," said in her year and a half relationship with Batiz Aceves that he took care of her children and drove her daughter to school even after they broke up. He has a 15-year-old daughter who still lives in California and took care of her, she said.
But police confirmed Saturday that Batiz Aceves is facing 25 felony counts, including aggravated assault, kidnapping, child molestation, burglary and sexual abuse of a minor.
Police believe he is an undocumented immigrant who was deported in 1999 and 2003 on drug offenses.
Detectives searched for the Chandler Rapist for more than 18 months after six separate attacks in the city, four of which were rapes, all on young girls.
Authorities said Batiz Aceves worked as a heavy-equipment operator and lived in the area of the sexual assaults for the past 18 months.
It was not immediately known if Batiz Aceves had legal representation yet, but he appeared in khaki pants and a denim-colored button-up shirt before a judge Saturday night and only recited his name as "Ricardo Ramirez López."
He sat in a jailhouse courtroom with his legs and arms crossed looking down at the floor and wiping away a few tears.
Kiyler said detectives working a saturation patrol Friday morning in the area of the most recent assault spotted a man who matched the description of the rapist and who was driving a white, two-door car that also matched a police description.
Police canvassing after the last reported attack on the same street received a tip about the car.
Police said Batiz Aceves initially provided officers an alias of Ricardo López.
Inside the vehicle they found a jacket similar to one they believed the rapist had worn, Kiyler said.
Aceves told officers he lived in Casa Grande and was just visiting Chandler. He refused to submit to a DNA test.
"I think (the tip) piqued our interest more so than all the other (tips)," said Sgt. Rick Griner, a Chandler police spokesman. "I didn't believe it but it was definitely good news."
Through a search warrant, detectives obtained a buccal swab for DNA from Aceves and, in less than 24 hours, they confirmed Aceves matched physical evidence obtained from Chandler Rapist crime scenes, police said.
It took almost five hours for officers to make the arrest once they made contact with Aceves.
Aceves was preparing to flee as officers arrived at his Chandler residence near Arizona Avenue and Ray Road to arrest him, officers said.
Nationally known forensic psychiatrist Steven Pitt, who is based out of Scottsdale, said it's usually shocking for the public and friends to find out the person they knew could be a violent serial offender.
"I think that the public is always surprised when a serial offender is taken off the streets because they expect a monsterlike character to be viewed in the perp walk, when you see someone who looks like you or me," Pitt said.
Neighbor Joe Ortega, 55, had barbeques with Aceves, chatted with his family on the patio of their adjacent homes in central Chandler at night.
"I've got kids and I've got grandkids and if someone did that to my kids, I'd want to kill them," Ortega said. "It just blows my mind."
The Chandler Rapist has struck six times, beginning in June 2006.
Three of the six confirmed attacks have been on Andersen Junior High School students, police said.
In all of the attacks, he entered the homes without forcing his way in.
In all but one of the previous cases, police believe the rapist stalked the victims for weeks, targeting single-parent homes where the parent leaves early in the morning for work.
The man studies the parent's routine, develops a quick escape route and then strikes, police said.
Police also are looking into unsolved rapes in northern California. In recent years, the "Nor-Cal Rapist" has terrorized Sacramento, but the MO of the offender doesn't necessarily match up with the Chandler Rapist.
Aceves' wife, Claudia, and their young son and daughter answered the couple's apartment door Saturday morning, distraught.
"We're doing OK but our kids are very scared because they don't have their father and they don't know when they are going to see him," she said in Spanish.
She declined to talk about the arrest.