Heartland Unsolved: Going the distance

Area off East Grand Ave where attack happened (courtesy: Carbondale Police)
Area off East Grand Ave where attack happened (courtesy: Carbondale Police)
"Jane" talks about her attack (courtesy: Heartland News)
"Jane" talks about her attack (courtesy: Heartland News)

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - A reward is being offered for information on an attempted rape in Carbondale, Illinois.

Chief Jeff Grubbs said the city authorized a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man who attacked a graduate student on East Grand Avenue in October 2016.

Grubbs is making sure the story is heard across the state. He's taking copies of it to a meeting on Thursday, February 16 with municipal police chiefs from Illinois university communities.

One year ago, we began taking you back in time on Heartland Unsolved to shine a new light on cold cases across our viewing area.

This time we did something different.

Carbondale police asked us to highlight an unsolved crime that happened just four months ago.

An avid runner, the woman we'll call "Jane" always finishes what she's started.

Working to find the man who violently attacked her is no different.

"I come from a family of runners," Jane said. "So, it's always meant a lot to our family."

Jane said she started running in junior high. Track and cross country morphed into half and full marathons.

Her parents warned her about staying safe.

"It makes me mad that, as women, we have to do that," she said. "And I never understood it until, until now."

Now, Jane's world is changed.

The 23-year-old master's student viewed her runs as stress relief. Now they remind her of the man who tried to sexually assault her.

"It's changed the way I interact with people. It changes the way that I perceive other people. And those are all things that I'm working through."

However, Jane said she feels strong and she wants others to know how she defended herself. She wants you to help find the man who challenged everything she holds sacred.

"Most of all every day I think about, um, just the fact that this man could still be out there. And I do think about if this were to happen to someone else."

We want to take you back to Sunday, October 2, 2016. For the very first time, we will lay out this crime from the victim's vivid, haunting recollection of what happened.

"That was a route that I was very familiar with and felt very safe running."

Jane started her run shortly after 6:30 am. Surveillance video showed her running down Lewis Lane. Her pace was not driven by a favorite song, but rather an important lecture playing in her ear.

"And I had just finished my first mile and was right by a stop sign. And I turned around to run back the other way. And I came face to face with him."

Earlier that same morning, Jane's attacker was also caught on video.

"There was absolutely no idea that he was anything but a runner."

"I don't think that we actually touched or anything but we came face to face. And I think that I startled him because I turned around when he wasn't expecting me to."

Jane decided to cross the street to give him more room.

She remembered running another 30 seconds.

"Before I knew it, I felt him physically grab onto me from behind."

"I thought, 'that's the guy that I turned around and almost ran into. He's right...he's here. And he's going to attack me.'"

"And I remember thinking he needs money. Or he needs my headphones because he needs to sell them. I remember thinking that he was a thief."

"He made it clear to me that this was going to be an attempted sexual assault."

"And I just couldn't believe that it was so bright outside. It was 7:00 in the morning. But, no one was driving by."

"He started to tell me be quiet. He started to say things that made me know what he was trying to do. And at that point, I just went into full defense mode."

"He was trying to put his hand over my mouth and I just remember trying to get him away from me so that I could scream. Doing anything I could to get him away from me so I could scream."

"I just remember putting my feet up. Kicking him. I remember trying to get him away from me. Doing anything I could to protect myself."

"Right when that was happening, I heard a voice from in the window of the apartment. And I heard a voice scream get off of her. Stop. Get off of her."

At that moment, Jane's nightmare ended. Her attacker ran off.

"I feel like I was watched over that day because somehow I made it closer to that apartment. Somehow I made it closer to the people who could hear me scream."

"We have our share of incidents like any other community in the region, but we certainly don't see random acts of violence like this," saod Carbondale Police Chief Jeff Grubbs.

Grubbs asked Jane if she would share her story with us. It's clearly a case he and his officers want to solve with the same determination she's showed them.

"There's a lot of us here who have children that are near and far at school," he said. "And we care about our SIU students that come here. And we feel a sense of responsibility in helping to keep them safe."

We asked Jane if it was tough to watch the surveillance video of the suspect.

"Um, it was, but I really wanted to see it. I think that I was not at peace with the situation because I didn't know who did this to me."

Just as Jane did not hesitate to fight her attacker four short months ago, she's not backing down when it comes to helping with the investigation.

"My attacker looked a lot bigger and, like, scarier to me on video than he did in real life at the time, I think. So, that was hard to watch."

Detective Stephanie Dillow sat through our interview with Jane. The chief said he assigns a female detective to work closely with the victim in a sensitive case like this.

"I had read the initial report," Dillow said. "And I knew that we had a survivor. And we had a fighter that was willing to come in and give her story and give details so that we could find the suspect."

Thanks to Jane, police have more evidence, her running shirt stained with his blood. She bit him during their struggle.

"This camera shot is from an apartment building in the 900 block of East Grand."

Sergeant Kevin Geissler gave a closer look at the man in black captured on surveillance cameras.

He's described as a white male in his early to mid-20s, about 180 pounds with shaggy dark hair.

"As you can see, he's coming down the sidewalk here and will pass right in front of the camera."

When asked how he knew this was the suspect, Sgt. Geissler said, "he matches the description of what was given to us by our victim and witnesses."

That includes a male jogger who saw the man just 10 minutes before the attack happened.

"Our suspect is now walking eastbound towards the incident location. As you can see, he now has his hood off."

On the video, it looked like the suspect had his sleeves pulled up.

"Exactly," Sgt. Geissler said. "It looks like he's pushed his sleeves up."

We asked if there was anything unusual about the suspect's walk.

"He kinda has a swagger where his arms are away from his body. Another noticeable thing about him is he is wearing some kind of heeled shoe."

Once officers found the video, they hit the streets searching for anyone who might fit the physical description.

Geissler said they even made a few pedestrian stops and collected DNA. Those swabs went to the crime lab along with Jane's hoodie.

"Once we get the evidence analyzed and those results back yes, it will be a big step forward."

"That time of day, early on a Sunday morning, it just doesn't happen here."

Chief Grubbs said his detectives are not ruling out any leads, but the unusual time-frame in this case means something.

"It tells me that this person likely isn't a resident of this community," he said. "They likely traveled into town."

Another reason Chief Grubbs thinks it could be an outsider, news of this jogger assault at Northern Illinois University.

"The fact that there was a similar incident at another college campus in Illinois just a little over a month later." he said. "We can't say they're connected at this point based on the evidence that we have, but we certainly can't rule that out either."

As officers diligently work her case, Jane stays positive and said she's learned it's ok to rely on others for support.

"I just can't imagine having to live through this alone," she said. "And, the only reason I did get through this is because of the support I felt not only from law enforcement but also from my friends and family."

Jane went home for Christmas break and admitted that getting back to Carbondale and to running here was scary at first.

"I was fortunate enough to have some friends, and the community around me who knew what happened, reach out to me. And I've actually become part of a running group now. So, I always have people to run with. And we're training for another race now."

Jane wants you to know she received medical and emotional help through SIU's counseling and health services......and all her visits were paid for by the University as part of the Title Nine Program.

She doesn't want any other young student, or any young woman for that matter, to go through something like this alone.

You can help us get the word about Jane's case by sharing her story from Kathy Sweeney's Facebook page.

We're hoping someone will listen to her story, see that suspect and realize they hold the key to cracking this case.

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