Toronto police have formed a task force to hunt a predator who broke into and robbed at least six Etobicoke homes early Tuesday and sexually assaulted several women, including a 91-year-old.
Detectives suspect that 11 days ago the same attacker may also have invaded two other residences in the same area, and tried to break into a third one.
But beyond a vague description of the suspect – that he is about six feet tall with a slim build – police on Tuesday released almost no details about the string of break-ins, which have left many in the area unnerved.
None of the women who were attacked required hospital treatment, said Inspector Gerry Cashman, who heads the west end's 22 Division.
But in a short press conference that seemed to raise more questions than it answered, Insp. Cashman would not say how many women were assaulted, nor provide much other information.
The six known break-ins all occurred between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m. Tuesday, and targeted homes in the area bordered by Bloor Street West, Islington Avenue, the Queensway and the Humber River.
In several instances, the homes were robbed before the man fled, but police would not say what was stolen.
As police got word of the break-ins, they flooded the area, set up roadblocks and brought in a helicopter from York Regional Police, without result.
The similarities between this series of break-ins and the three incidents on Sept. 7 are striking.
At around 3:10 a.m. that day, a 62-year-old women was sleeping in her home near Bloor Street West and Islington Avenue when a man broke in and sexually assaulted her.
About 20 minutes later, in the area of Royal York Road and Norseman Street, a 49-year-old woman was awake in her home when a man tried to gain entry to her home.
He fled, but at around 3:40 a.m., a 70-year-old woman was sleeping in her home in the Royal York Road/Queensway Avenue area when an intruder broke in and sexually assaulted her.
The assailant was described as tanned or with a darker complexion, aged 20 to 25, 5'8" with a thin build, wearing dark clothing with a white cloth or T-shirt over his face.
Asked Tuesday how closely police are linking the two sets of assaults, Insp. Cashman said he could not say with certainty that they are connected.
"We're investigating every possibility, we'll be looking into that."
But he did not minimize the threat posed by the burglar.
"We want him off the streets as quickly as possible. We consider him to be a very, very serious offender and we want him off the streets."
Most other questions, however, he deflected, saying they pertained to evidence and the ongoing investigation, which is being handled by a task force drawn from the Sex Crimes Unit and other police personnel.
The victims in Tuesday's break-ins are "of all different ages," Insp. Cashman said.
"Young and old, male and female [though] I'm not saying male sex assaults."
As for the suspect or suspects, "I can't even say how many people were involved."
From the outset, the investigation was unusually secretive.
Until the 3 p.m. media conference, police would not even confirm that there had been any break-ins overnight, despite a blizzard of inquiries all through the morning from reporters who had caught wind of them.
"We're giving out as much information as we can," Insp. Cashman said, adding that he understood the public concern.
"We're not trying to create a panic here, all we're trying to do is make sure people are safe."
He urged area residents to check their windows and doors, report any suspicious activity and examine the contents of their security cameras, if they have them.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-2200 or 416-808-474; Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 416-222-TIPS (8477); or online at www.222tips.com.