Susanne Worsham calls it “the event.”
Late for cheerleading practice one fall evening 35 years ago, Worsham took a shortcut through a driveway behind a row of houses near West Spencer and Front Streets in Olney. She heard a noise behind her — a man jogging in a gray, hooded sweatshirt.
“Excuse me, do you have the time?” he asked.
When the sixth grader from St. Helena School checked her watch, the runner closed the distance between them and clapped his gloved right hand over her mouth.
“How old are you?” he growled.
“I’m 12,” the startled girl whispered into the man’s palm.
“If you scream, you’ll never live to be 13,” he said as he stuffed a blue-checked flannel cloth into her mouth.
It was 6:30 p.m., Nov. 26, 1979.
Worsham was one of 16 girls age 10 to 17 who were sexually assaulted in Olney and Northeast Philadelphia that year by a man known to an edgy, fearful city as “the Jogging Rapist.”
A welder and plumber from Northeast Philadelphia named William J. Gray later confessed to the 10-month crime spree — among the most heinous in city history, say retired police officers who have handcuffed Philadelphia’s worst.
Gray was sentenced to 20 to 50 years in prison. Now age 70, he has served 34.
But while the crimes were solved and the felon incarcerated, Worsham, now a 47-year-old registered nurse in Ocala, Fla., says justice has been only partly achieved.
That’s because Gray is up for parole next month, and Worsham just can’t let him walk.
Gray has come up for similar consideration nine times. Always he has been denied, in part because Worsham, a mother and a grandmother, has written to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole to say that Gray wrecked too many lives to be allowed to go home.
Once more, Worsham is forcing herself to relive the rape by writing yet another letter — a girl’s anguish still resonating in adulthood. Earlier this month, for the first time, she accessed Google Earth to view the exact spot where her attack occurred. This is so creepy, she told herself.
Worsham has stayed up late after shifts at her hospital to translate her ordeal into carefully crafted sentences. The trick, Worsham says, is to find the right words to keep the cage locked, and freeze in place the man who nearly cracked her apart decades ago.
It’s not just for the people Gray hurt; it is, Worsham says, for girls he could yet turn into victims — girls who might still face their own “event” from William J. Gray:
“It is mind-blowing to think about all of the lives this man touched in such a horrific way,” Worsham writes. “His body may not work the same, but those perverse thoughts remain … Young girls would not be safe … That man robbed me and so many other young girls of our childhoods.”
Looking for an ally, Worsham has recruited a schoolmate from St. Helena School through Facebook who was another of Gray’s victims.
Now 48, the woman did not know until last month that she had the right to be heard. She plans to write a letter of her own to the parole board.
The woman also hopes to confront Gray in prison, something Worsham did in 2002. On a cold day in January, Worsham sat across a table from her shackled attacker and screamed: “Do you have a clue what 20 minutes with you did to my life?”
Gray told her he was sorry. Worsham said she didn’t want to hear it.
The cops don’t want to hear anything more from Gray, either.
In 1979, the Jogging Rapist was pursued with unprecedented fury by the Northeast Detective Division, led by Capt. Kenny Schwartz.
A cagey but flawed tactician who would later stumble and serve seven years in prison himself for drug-related crimes, Schwartz discovered the rapist’s patterns, then maneuvered behind his bosses’ backs to create an unheard-of 50-man task force to pursue the attacker.
In the days before DNA evidence or computer analysis, Schwartz and his obsessed detectives adapted unorthodox methods — including using a psychic and a hypnotist — and pushed the limits of the law to capture the Jogging Rapist. Schwartz, now 76 and living in southern Delaware, explained the cops’ excesses this way: “A lot of us had daughters.”
He would not mind if Gray dies in the State Correctional Institution at Waymart, high on a hill near Scranton:
“I got no forgiveness for this guy. You talk to 16 young victims who were raped and assaulted, that’s what happens.
“Believe me, he’s a murderer waiting to happen. What he’s learned in prison is, next time, leave no witnesses.”
“We got a problem here”
Handsome and dynamic, Kenny Schwartz was an anomaly in the police force of the mid-20th century: a Jewish commander in a city institution as Irish as the Catholic Church.
He was born in Fishtown, his father a wholesale produce man. Both Schwartz and Gray lived their formative years in the Northeast, attended Olney High, and joined the Navy.
Schwartz rose through the police ranks and wound up running the Northeast Detectives. He would later be convicted for participating in a drug ring that distributed large quantities of methamphetamine between January 1985 and December 1986.
His later criminal activity aside, Schwartz says he performed at his best on "the Jogging Rapist" case because children were involved.
At first, Schwartz didn’t see the assault pattern. No one did.
Gray began his attacks Feb. 24 in East Oak Lane, grabbing a 13-year-old girl and forcing her into an alley. He pulled down her pants and lay on top of her — a case of indecent assault, not rape.
By early spring, six attacks had occurred, a mix of rapes and assaults. But the crimes were not seen as the handiwork of one man.
Three police sergeants monitoring felonies throughout the Northeast funneled the paperwork through normal channels without making a connection. In those days, there were no computer programs or mapping tools that would have recognized a pattern.
But on April
Gloves in April? Were there other rapes by a guy with gloves?
Yes, as it turns out. Schwartz called the inspector of the Northeast Police Division.
“We got a problem here,” Schwartz told him.
The captain now demanded to see all incident reports on assaults as well as rapes. Soon enough, as though speaking to him through the pile of papers on his desk, Gray announced himself to Schwartz: a thin jogger, hooded sweatshirt, gloves, attacking in the evening hours, only young girls.
Schwartz found a map of the Northeast, hung it on his wall, then stuck six pins into it. Spencer Street, Oakmont, Kerper, Glenloch, Fillmore, Elberon.
This is real, Schwartz said to himself. This is happening.
He dreaded the next step: presenting this to Joe Golden, the city’s chief of detectives.
Golden was difficult.
“Hell,” Schwartz said, “Golden was brutal. Old-timers hate new ideas. And he didn’t like any ideas that weren’t his own.”
Schwartz uttered the words “serial rapist,” and Golden had a fit.
“What are you, watching too much TV, Schwartz?” Golden, now dead, roared. “There’s no such thing as a serial rapist. Get lost.”
“Mommy, he hurt me”
When the man in the hood knocked her down, Worsham didn’t understand what was happening to her.
All she knew was that it must have been her fault, because she had been late and had taken that shortcut.
The man told her to pull her brown, corduroy coat over her head and not to peek. She forced herself to think of Disney songs, the sweet music transporting her somewhere off the cold ground and above the man’s weight and violence. “Whistle While You Work” played in her head in an endless loop.
The man stopped doing things to her, then ordered her to count to 100. Worsham got to 50, then ran screaming out of the alley. An elderly man walking his dog found her and brought her into his house, where his wife made hot chocolate and called police.
Five uniformed officers showed up and brought Worsham to her family’s home three blocks away.
Regina Dougherty, Worsham’s mother, was not startled when she saw a knot of police officers on her front steps. Two of her brothers were cops — it was an Irish family with 38 cousins, after all — and she thought these were buddies on a visit, maybe looking for some dinner.
“Mrs. Dougherty,” an officer said, “I’m awful sorry to tell you this, but …”
All five men parted and there was her daughter, standing behind them.
“Mommy, he hurt me.”
“What do you mean?” Dougherty asked.
“He made me take my clothes off.”
“Oh, my God.”
This was a safe and solid neighborhood, with cops in nearly everyone’s family, and Catholic churches everywhere.
There were crosses on steeples, crosses around the necks of little girls and boys who went to Catholic schools. Wasn’t God watching out for the babies here? Dougherty wondered. Her faith had offered an iron compact: You be good, your life will be, too.
“I was kind,” Dougherty, now 70, said. “I did ironing, made dinner, had Easter decorations for Susanne and her brother and sister.”
Every Valentine’s Day, Dougherty would make a heart-shaped meat loaf pierced by melted cheese arrows for the kids and her husband, Brian, a stockbroker.
“But,” Dougherty said, “God said, ‘Here, you’re thinking you’re a great Catholic family, and now you’re smacked in the face.’ Bam!”
At 5 a.m., after the family got home from the hospital, Dougherty wearily dialed her mother’s number to tell her what had happened.
“Don’t cry,” Dougherty began. “I’ve got something pretty bad to tell you.”
She already knew, having been told by one of her policeman sons.
“Listen,” Doughtery’s mother said, offering perspective: “I want you to go in your room and thank God you aren’t standing in the morgue tonight.”
Husband and wife mixed bloody Marys and drank quietly as their children slept.
“You go from insanity to silence and you ask, ‘OK, God, what’s the next step?’
She and Brian were still trying to process. And they just didn’t know what to make of what a detective had told them at the hospital:
“We’re sorry,” the guy said. “We were following the suspect before your daughter got attacked.
“But then we lost him.”
If the chief of detectives refused to create the task force Schwartz wanted, maybe Mayor Frank Rizzo could be reasoned with.
In 1979, Northeast Philadelphia had a population of more than 400,000 — roughly the size of Pittsburgh — and was a teeming enclave of white, working- and middle-class voters.
A mayor could lose his job for not shoveling the snow up there. What would happen to him if he didn’t stop a violent pedophile?
Schwartz dialed the phone, and someone powerful answered. To this day, he’s not saying who. Just an important go-between to circumvent the chief of d’s.
“I might have had someone call the mayor,” Schwartz said slyly, still smiling decades after his bold end-around.
Instantly, 50 cops were assigned to the task force. No sex-crimes unit existed in those days. It was the Northeast detectives who saw the victims’ faces.
“It became my and every other Northeast cop’s priority to catch this guy,” Schwartz said.
But now a clock was ticking.
“You wanted this?” said a smarting Joe Golden. “You got it.”
He added profane marching orders about not messing up.
Schwartz made Lt. Gerald Baker his point man. It wasn’t a hard decision. Baker, now dead, lived in the Northeast, was unmarried, without kids — a bright bulldog who got results on the street and respect from other cops.
There was only one problem: No one liked working with him because he was difficult and demanding.
Schwartz ordered John “Jack” Maxwell, a rising lieutenant and second-generation detective, to be Baker’s No.
Soon enough, Maxwell learned, “this case was it for Baker — the One. It’s all he ever thought about.”
Baker put Maxwell in charge of a phone-tip line. Police had been blanketing the Northeast with fliers, and were going to schools to preach safety. They needed extra officers to handle the calls that were starting to come in.
One day, a middle-aged-sounding woman who would not give her name phoned. She said she was a psychic from Alaska.
The cop who answered the call practically laughed her off the line. When the officer mentioned it to Maxwell, he stiffened, then issued an order: “If she ever calls back, make sure you get me.”
Maxwell, who was earning a degree in business administration at night from Temple University, had read about psychics helping the FBI and Scotland Yard. And he put stock in what he called “detective mystique” — showing up at a crime scene and getting a “feeling,” a sense that someone had touched an object, walked through a room.
Cops didn’t talk about it, but Maxwell was a believer. And he says he himself possessed a quality beyond the five basic senses that’s helped him in his work.
Years later, he would solve the slaying of a baby this way. He made a man he suspected of helping the killer sit in a specific chair in the Roundhouse — a chair that murderers had confessed in. It was as though emanations from the seat coaxed the truth, or at least enough fear to inspire confession. Whatever, it worked.
“You’re cool,” the man told Maxwell after he sat in the chair. “The baby’s mom killed him. I helped get rid of the body.”
Once a week in the early afternoon for three months, the Alaska medium would call and ask for Maxwell.
“I’ve seen him,” she’d tell the detective, unable to describe the rapist’s face, but sure of other characteristics: He was a white, working-class Catholic, over 25. He always fiddled with his car, was very mechanical, wore gloves for work that smelled like oil or diesel fuel. And there was one more thing: Wherever he went, there were kids around.
That tightened Maxwell’s gut. He told Baker what the medium had said.
Police routinely withhold certain crime details from the public so they could distinguish the true perpetrator from mere suspects. The hyperintense Baker went a paranoid step further, not even telling other detectives vital aspects of the attacks.
Almost no one knew that detail about the smell on the gloves.
“Jerry never tipped his hand,” Maxwell recalled. “But when I told him some of the things the medium had said, his body language changed.”
It’s possible the medium was really a well-plugged-in witness who feared discovery. But Maxwell’s detective mystique convinced him otherwise.
Later, Baker would confide in Maxwell that his reports from the medium helped Baker weed through known sex offenders in the Northeast, and look more closely at a man named William J. Gray after their first encounter.
“I’m glad you’re talking to her,” Baker told Maxwell. Then he issued an order to the other detectives: “No more sarcastic comments about the medium.”
Time went by as Maxwell and the team logged hundreds of hours on the case. One day, the tip line rang and the Alaska medium was out of breath. She had a message for the cop who answered the phone:
“Tell Maxwell I saw him again!”
William Gray sums himself up this way: “I was a bad and angry person my whole life.”
He was sexually abused by his mother, who tried to bathe and breast-feed him until he was 9, and encouraged him to touch her, he said. He grabbed a baby-sitter's breast in 1951, when he was 8 years old.
His father, Harry, a plumber and a welder just as he would become, beat him with a wide belt and, once in a while, the buckle. Harry, now dead, was an alcoholic who cheated on his wife. His son would become like that, too.
One night, Gray saw his father end an argument with his mother by leveling a shotgun at her and cursing. She packed and left with Gray’s little sister. It was the last time the family would be together.
“Something happened inside me when they left me that night — the two women I loved,” Gray said.
Marie Gray, now dead, was a cashier on the Broad Street Line. Gray, then 11, would ride the trains every night, looking for his mother. When he found her, he would stand outside her booth until he was too tired to hold himself up.
Under his father’s care, he became a budding criminal, swiping cigarettes, candy, tires, cars. He was arrested several times as a juvenile, and once as an adult for stealing auto parts from a gas station.
At Olney High, he was interested only in cars and girls, and dropped out in the 11th grade. In 1960, the 17-year-old got into a fight with his father’s new wife. Harry kicked him out, and Gray joined the Navy the next day.
Gray left the service three years later and after he got home, he felt the need to marry. He purposely impregnated his girlfriend, he said, because he was angry that her corporate-executive father thought so little of him. Gray married her in 1964, then divorced her in 1969. They had three children.
“I ruined the marriage by cheating and running around, drinking and riding motorcycles with guys who later became members of the Pagans and Warlocks,” Gray said.
“It was a thrill for me to be wild. I worked when I felt like it. I smacked my wife and told her to get out.”
When he was 26, Gray started having sex with 16-year-old girls. They gave him a sense of power and control, he said.
Born with the “curse and blessing” of looking much younger than his years, Gray attracted partners as young as 14 when he was in his late 20s.
“Mentally, young girls were the same age as me. I had arrested emotional development. I never matured.”
At 31, Gray met and married an 18-year-old McDonald’s counter girl. They had two children: “My son is probably 38, my daughter is probably 34. I don’t know them.”
There weren’t many poor plumbers in the 1970s, and soon Gray had enough money to buy a house on Sylvester Street. He and his wife agreed not to have children at first, but when she got pregnant, Gray felt betrayed.
One night he delivered a belligerent warning: “Leave this house so I don’t have to hurt you.”
She did. Gray soon was laid off from his job and started dating a 19-year-old who was still in high school.
He drank 35 cups of coffee a day, smoked three packs of cigarettes, was “plastered on alcohol morning, noon, and night,” and swallowed sleeping pills like breath mints. He also smoked marijuana and abused speed.
Gray managed to find a welding job at a refinery in Paulsboro, but he still felt crushing pressure to make his $250 mortgage, and pay back money he owed a relative for the down payment.
He was starting to lose control, to fall out of orbit.
“I was feeling a hatred for all women, from when my mother left me.”
In February 1979, a savage anger detonated within Gray.
“That’s when I broke, I snapped. And I went on a raping spree.”
It began with the 13-year-old girl on Feb. 24, after the sun set at 5:47 p.m.
“In the dark, I changed. I started stalking the streets. Raping just felt great.”
Gray saw the girl on Spencer in the headlights of his powder-blue, 1970 Eldorado with a dirty, white vinyl top. He parked, got out of the car, and ducked low in the shadows until he was on her.
“I grabbed her and told her to take down her pants. I laid on top of her.”
The rage inside him began to subside, so on he went.
On March 25, there was a 13-year-old walking to the Disston Rec Center in Oxford Circle. It was 8
He put his hand inside her bra, told her to take off her pants and underwear.
“Everything, everything, everything!” he ordered.
He was getting more efficient. It helped if you brought along lubricant, he said. He always packed Vaseline when going out hunting for girls.
At 9:30 p.m. on June 22, Gray oozed out of the darkness in front of a 17-year-old on Kindred Street.
“Pardon me, I don’t mean to frighten you,” he told her before punching her in the head. She scratched, struggled, and screamed.
“I pushed her to the ground, and I finally got up and ran away.”
No chance for a rape, but a lesson learned: Older girls are tougher. Gray made adjustments and never attacked anyone over 16 again.
“The girls got younger and smaller. And my mental capacity for judging size from a distance got better.”
On July 17, Gray spotted a 15-year-old at 10:50 p.m. on St. Vincent Street. He was peering at her from behind a tree. The sidewalk was empty, so Gray ran toward her. She heard his footsteps.
“Who’s there?” the frightened girl asked.
“It’s only me,” Gray said.
He grabbed her and her legs collapsed. He didn’t rape her, but it was still satisfying — exhilarating, really.
“The urge was a switch that went off in my head. Part of the motivation was the sex, but that wasn’t all of it.”
Gray felt at ease in Olney and the Northeast. The schools, churches, driveways; the tight streets and familiar houses; the deep darkness that streetlights couldn’t illuminate — all of it provided comfort and cover.
“I waited till a young girl broke off from a group and was walking by herself. I’d drive ahead, wait in the bushes, and jump out.”
Then came Susanne Worsham. He remembered the attack as fairly routine:
“I followed her, and parked by a church. I grabbed the girl. I told her to take her pants down, and I raped her.”
Gray didn’t know she had never kissed a boy, had once gotten a certificate from Mayor Rizzo for a fire-safety essay she had written. Gray didn’t know she was human.
He only knew he was getting away with it.
“On the way home I threw the gloves and a bottle of Vaseline away on Tookany Creek Parkway.”
There would be no evidence for police to recover.
“I felt smarter than the cops.”
Serial rapists are more likely to display criminally sophisticated behavior to avoid detection than rapists who attack women they know, experts say. And stranger rape is rare; a woman is 20 times more likely to be assaulted by someone she knows.
As the attacks mounted, these were not just faceless lawmen Gray was beating. He was even eluding his sister’s husband, a cop assigned to the Northeast who was pursuing the Jogging Rapist.
“It all was like being on a drug — an adrenaline trip,” Gray said.
Nine months after the Jogging Rapist had begun his rampage, Joe Golden was on the phone.
“He’s still doing it!” the chief of d’s screamed at Schwartz. “All these men, and you still can’t do anything about it?”
His calls were becoming more frequent.
One of the victims lived near Schwartz’s house. As if the cops needed even more incentive, she turned out to be a policeman’s daughter.
“I had pressure,” Schwartz said. “I’d take a drink, I’ll tell you that, ’cause you’re taking this personally. This isn’t just some bank robber. And you feel it a little bit with a kid of your own.”
Schwartz’s 13-year-old, Mimi, had heard about the Jogging Rapist in school, and begged her father to let her be a decoy.
That would never happen. But some nights after dinner, Schwartz took Mimi in his car as he cruised the Northeast looking for the rapist. “We drove an hour or two a couple nights a week. There was no risk for her.”
Along with Schwartz’s ad hoc efforts, 16 patrols scoured Northeast neighborhoods, while detectives ran down more than 800 leads from the tip line and elsewhere.
The cops were concentrating on the nights between the 16th and 25th of every month, when the assailant seemed to strike most often.
Police wanted to literally catch the rapist in the act because the victims’ descriptions of their attacker were awful. One girl said he was 17, another said 40. He was described as short — no wait, tall.
Because the descriptions were all over the map, police were circulating six different composite drawings of the Jogging Rapist. Nearly useless.
Gray was stoking confusion, changing his hairstyle and clothing to alter his appearance.
Baker and Maxwell began to realize that any defense attorney who had paid attention in law school could destroy a case with such weak eyewitness accounts.
For Schwartz, it was starting to feel desperate.
Then the Jogging Rapist struck on the 900 block of Hartel Street. And a witness under hypnosis saw a simple detail that changed everything.
At 9 p.m. on Oct. 18, a 16-year-old girl finished her part-time job at a telemarketing company on Unruh and Castor Avenues.
She and a friend got on a bus at Cottman Avenue. William Gray had noticed the girls board the bus at Cottman because they were wearing Catholic school uniforms.
He trailed the bus in his car and saw the 16-year-old step off near Hartel Street, while her friend remained on the bus and rode off.
Gray drove his car past the girl and parked, then jogged toward her.
“Do you know what time it is?” he asked, before grabbing her. When she screamed and fought, he threatened to kill her. She was able to break loose and run.
Spooked, Gray bolted, vaulting over some bushes, then diving into his car.
But a woman who had been walking her dog had heard the screams, then saw a man leap over a hedge and jump into a convertible.
She told police that she remembered the Pennsylvania license had a 7, a G, and a 4 in it.
Wired and pressed, task force cops threw up a Hail Mary. They had heard about a cop named Aaron Saylor who was trained to hypnotize people. It was worth a shot. Saylor dangled a shiny object in the witness’s face. In a trance, she was able to see an additional digit: 3.
Now detectives had a partial plate to look for. Twice in their November night patrols, they noticed a drop-top Cadillac with a license that included 7, G, 4 and 3. The car appeared to be slowly cruising the streets, like the driver was looking for someone.
Police ran the full plate and it came back to William Gray of the 5800 block of Sylvester Street. He had no previous sex offenses.
Cops began to keep a close eye on Gray, along with a few other suspects who had histories of sexual violence.
On the evening of Nov. 26, Gray raped Susanne Worsham five blocks outside the Northeast search area, in Olney, where the task force had not been looking. With his Northeast comfort zone saturated by police, Gray had switched to the neighborhood where he had grown up.
While doctors and nurses tended to Worsham, a detective dropped a bomb on her parents: He had been following Gray that night on a hunch. But he had lost the man in traffic.
Even today, Dougherty doesn’t know what to do with that knowledge. “What can you say?” she asked.
Meanwhile, Maxwell, who had caught some of Baker’s fervor, had been doing some off-the-books sleuthing of his own.
Not knowing Worsham had been attacked, Maxwell had simply decided to drive to Gray’s house after his shift ended on Nov. 26. Detective mystique?
He noticed the suspect’s car was gone. So he waited. Soon after, Gray rolled in, and Maxwell phoned Baker.
Incensed by Worsham’s rape, in a neighborhood outside the perimeter he had set up, Baker had Gray brought in for questioning. Gray, 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, was not under arrest.
Baker’s temper flared, especially when Gray refused to say where he had been before Maxwell saw him return home.
Baker yelled, Gray stayed mum, Maxwell fretted.
“We’re going to be sued, Jerry,” Maxwell told Baker out of Gray’s earshot. “We’re on shaky legal ground here. And we’re all going to wind up in Internal Affairs.”
Before Gray was allowed to leave that night, one of the cops took a Polaroid of him. Gray protested, saying it was illegal.
“He never filed a complaint,” Maxwell said. “He would have if he’d been innocent.”
Gray walked out of the office, Baker eyeing him the whole time.
Other detectives in the Northeast liked men who had previously been involved in sexual misconduct as the suspect.
But Gray very much reminded Maxwell of the description the psychic had provided.
In her last phone call, the psychic had said she’d had a vision of a man from behind. He was kneeling in front of a Catholic cross as the sun set. What was that about?
“I was getting a strong vibe off Gray,” Maxwell said. “I was getting a very strong vibe.”