DNA helps Florida police arrest suspect in ‘Woodline Rapist’ cold cases after nearly 20 years

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Investigators in Florida have used DNA evidence to link a pair of rape cases nearly 20 years old to a suspect living in Orlando, authorities said Tuesday.

Dwight Harris, 50, was arrested at his home on July 2 in connection to two separate rape cases dating back to 2002 and 2003, Orlando police and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office announced at a joint press conference. 

“Dwight Arthur Harris has kept a violent secret for nearly 20 years,” said Orlando Police Lt. Frank Chisari.

Harris was charged with two counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon or physical force.
(City of Orlando Police Department)

Harris earned the moniker “Woodline Rapist” based on how he would attack his victims, Chisari said, explaining that Harris would wait for a woman to return home alone after a night out and attack her while she was opening her front door. He would then drag the victim to a nearby wooded area, just past the tree line, and sexually batter her. 

Detectives said Harris did not know his victims and was not known to law enforcement. At the time of his arrest, investigators said Harris “was living a normal life.”

“He had a family, he had a regular job. Just as if it never happened,” Chisari said.

In early 2020, investigators were assisted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Parabon NanoLabs to run a genetic genealogy test with a sample of the “Woodline Rapist’s” DNA. 

The resulting analysis built leads which investigators and analysts used to create a family tree through online DNA databases and narrow down their search.

After identifying Harris, detectives obtained his DNA to confirm that it matched the sample from the “Woodline Rapist.”

Harris was charged with two counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon or physical force. He could face up to life in prison.

Detectives believe Harris could be linked to more incidents, including a rape case from 2011, and are actively investigating.

Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon announced that the breakthrough in the “Woodline Rapist” cold cases has led Orlando police to begin keeping evidence in sexual assault cases for 50 years.

“For those who are out there who may think that they have gotten away with something, the potential is that in the future they may be identified also,” Rolon said.

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