National Newswatch

TORONTO — A series of increasingly violent sexual assaults taking place in two separate jurisdictions over four years have now conclusively been linked to the same suspect, police said Thursday as they issued a public safety warning about the man.

Toronto Police Supt. Pauline Gray said DNA evidence indicates the same unidentified man is responsible for two alleged attacks in Toronto and one in Collingwood, Ont., that took place between 2015 and this year.

Gray alleged the man targeted young women travelling alone, with each attack more menacing than the last.

"I believe he's escalating in violence," Gray said at a news conference at which she announced the Toronto force was teaming up with Ontario Provincial Police to investigate the attacks.

"We are also concerned that given the span of time between these three incidents that there are other sexual assaults committed by this man that have gone unreported."

Gray said the first alleged incident took place in Toronto in July 2015.

She said the man allegedly approached a 23-year-old woman from behind, dragged her into a laneway and sexually assaulted her. He allegedly implied he had a weapon with him, but none was seen.

Gray said the man allegedly struck again early on New Year's Day 2017 while driving in Collingwood.

Shortly before 2 a.m., Gray alleged the suspect pulled a 17-year-old girl into a vehicle and sexually assaulted her. She said the alleged attack, which also featured the threat of a weapon, displayed "markedly more violence."

The most recent occurrence took place in Toronto a month ago, late on the evening of July 15 after a woman booked a trip with a ride-hailing app, police said.

Gray said she believed the man seized an opportunity when the woman approached his vehicle and asked if he was her scheduled driver. Gray alleged he pretended to be the driver, then drove her from the downtown core to a parking lot in a residential area in the west end of the city.

Gray alleged the man sexually assaulted the woman, making death threats all the while.

During that incident, Gray said police believe the man sustained an injury to one of his eyes, adding he may have sought care at a hospital, urgent care clinic, specialist's office or pharmacy.

In all three cases, Gray said police were able to recover DNA samples that connected the alleged attacks.

She said victims also consistently described the suspect as a man between 25 and 35 with a small build. Gray said police also believe the man has access to a high-end, four-door vehicle in black, silver or grey.

Provincial police Det. Sgt. Shawn Glassford, part of the joint  team probing the cases, said the alleged attacks are troubling for investigators and the public.

"It's very frustrating," he said. "We want to get this person off the streets."

Gray urged anyone with information about the man, particularly with knowledge of his recent suspected eye injury, to come forward. She also encouraged any potential victims to report what happened.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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