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ST. LOUIS – For decades, Dennis Rabbitt tortured women and cast a pall over the St. Louis region as the South Side Rapist. He prowled neighborhoods on a mission to find unlocked doors and windows.

By his own admission, Rabbitt raped over 100 women and attempted hundreds more. In a 2001 interview with FOX 2, Rabbitt said he lived two different lives. He was a family man, bar owner, and worked construction; but it masked a darker side to his personality.

“I would bury it inside of me,” Rabbitt said. “I would keep burying it inside of me to the point where I was like a walking dead man; just going through the motions.”

Dennis Rabbitt
Dennis Rabbitt garnered the moniker “The South Side Rapist.” (File, KTVI)

His decades-long spree of terror began in the early 1970s. Rabbitt said he started off peeping through windows as a teenager.

Rabbitt’s father owned a tavern on Macklind Avenue in the Princeton Heights neighborhood of south St. Louis. The family lived above the tavern. In media interviews, Rabbitt described watching his next-door neighbor bathe from his upstairs back porch.

“She never closed her (bathroom) window,” he wrote in a letter to FOX 2. “I thought I was getting away with something.” Rabbitt claims that at one point, his neighbor “contorted” herself in such a way that he believed “she was putting on a show” for him.

When the neighbor moved, Rabbitt said he went around the neighborhood looking into windows. It escalated to entering homes, stealing items, and finally, all the way to raping women.

“I’d watch them sleep sometimes,” Rabbitt said. “I was there when they were with their husbands. …They’d just never know I was there.”

He said most houses had a door left unlocked.

Rabbitt said he’d listen to his victims’ phone messages and read their mail when he was in their homes.

Over the years, Rabbitt avoided police suspicion. In a 2001 episode of Cold Case Files, St. Louis police detectives said they had no discernable pattern behind the rapes. They knew where the South Side Rapist was operating and they had some details on his activity. Investigators said he’d wear a mask and gloves to conceal his identity and avoid leaving fingerprints; he’d perform oral sex on the victim before moving to forced intercourse. He eventually forced his victims to shower after each attack in order to remove potential evidence.

“I spent hours thinking and rethinking about it,” St. Louis Det. Mark Kennedy said on Cold Case Files. “Here’s a guy, you know he’s gonna hit and you know the same people are gonna be asking you questions as to what you’re doing to solve this. You know it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Investigators suspected the South Side Rapist ventured out of his comfort zone and traveled to Collinsville, Illinois in his search for victims.

“I was on a mission and I could not control that person and it would go on all night long,” Rabbitt said. “Sometimes I would go into three or four houses that night and sometimes I would grab three or four women that night. It wouldn’t be rapes, just attempts.”

Rabbitt was unaware the police were tracking his crimes and that the media had given him his infamous moniker until a neighbor handed him a newspaper.

“That lady that lived downstairs (from me) came up to me and said, ‘Have you heard about the South Side Rapist that’s raping women in the area?’ And I said, ‘No, haven’t heard.’ She gives me this paper…and I’m halfway through the article before I realize – it’s me.”

As police worked to solve the case, Rabbitt crossed the Missouri River and committed rapes in St. Charles County in 1995.

“The problem was that this guy was a ghost; he was a phantom. Nobody could tell you exactly what he looked like,” Det. Chambers said.

And any composite sketches police managed to make showed little consistency; the man in their drawings had short hair, long hair, facial hair, or none at all.

In his 2001 interview with FOX 2, Rabbitt said he would usually flee from a home if his intended target screamed or made noise. When some of his victims struggled or attempted to fight back, he threatened to kill them. But over the years, there was one victim—a teenager—who fought back with such ferocity that she forced Rabbitt to give up.

The Girl Who Fought Back

Fourteen-year-old Tammy Sorocko was home alone one evening in November 1991. She had come out of the bathroom when she turned into her hallway and found Rabbitt there waiting for her. He grabbed Tammy, pushed her into a bedroom, and turned off the light.

Tammy Sorocko
Tammy Sorocko was 14 years old when she was attacked by Dennis Rabbitt. She fought Rabbitt and drove him out of her home that night. (File, KTVI)

“I asked him what did he want. (I said) take anything he wants in the house,” Sorocko said. “And he said, ‘What I want, you have.'”

Tammy said he forced her onto the bed and tried taking her clothes off; that’s when she made up her mind to fight back. Tammy’s father, a St. Louis police detective, taught her to do anything and everything to fight a would-be attacker.

“We were scratching each other, pinching each other, biting each other, punching each other,” she said. “At one point we were both on the floor. We had furniture dumped over.”

Rabbitt left the bedroom but returned with a knife. Tammy said she promised not to fight him if he put the knife down. When he did, she went back to fighting. This continued again and again until Tammy finally got hold of the knife herself and broke the blade off.

Finally, Rabbitt relented and fled the home. Tammy had been battered.

“I was pretty swollen and bloody. My lips were busted. At one point, he had me on the ground stomping on my chest. I was pretty bruised up,” she said.

Years after his conviction, Rabbitt remembered Tammy had fought for so long and so hard that she couldn’t even lift her arms up.

“Very strong young lady. She should be very proud. I went through a lot of heartache over her,” he said.

Tammy was one of several victims in the courtroom on the day Rabbitt was sentenced. Rabbitt apologized in court to all his victims. Tammy said the apology and his sentence is enough for her.

“I found peace in it that he was finally caught, for my sake, and I wished peace on him that he recover in any way or found peace within himself,” she said.

As of this writing, Tammy Sorocko lives out of state.

On the Trail of the South Side Rapist

Detectives would have their crack in the investigation in September 1998; thanks to a license plate. Eugene Frigo, in an interview with Cold Case Files, said he was at home with his girlfriend when they heard a noise outside the residence.

Frigo checked the blinds and came face-to-face with a man standing on his porch. The stranger bolted from the porch and went running down the street. Frigo ran after him. A foot pursuit turned into a car chase, as the man got into a van and drove off with Frigo in hot pursuit.

Frigo called St. Louis Police and reported the van’s plate number. Rabbitt was actually pulled over that same evening for having incorrect plates and allowed to go on his way. Rabbitt went on to attempt a break-in and later committed another rape in Pacific, Missouri.

Investigators eventually determined the plates had been stolen.

Weeks later, St. Louis Police Detective Randy Sasenger tracked Rabbitt down to a residence in Cedar Hills. The local postal inspector’s office provided Sasenger with a lead regarding the stolen license plates.

Sasenger and law enforcement surveilled the home for days before the van finally appeared. Sasenger took Rabbitt into custody on Oct 29, 1998, and obtained a DNA sample and fingerprints. Due to scientific constraints at the time, obtaining DNA match results could take considerable time; police had to release Rabbitt.

On Oct. 31, Mary Beth Karr, a DNA analyst at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s crime lab, confirmed Rabbitt’s DNA matched samples taken from victims of the South Side Rapist. With an arrest warrant in hand, police went to apprehend Rabbitt. Unfortunately, Rabbitt had fled the area.

For four months, Rabbitt avoided capture.

Police determined he checked into a motel in Springfield on Nov. 3, 1998. He would stay there until the weekend.

Rabbitt attended the Mizzou-Colorado football game in Columbia on Saturday, Nov. 7. He was caught on surveillance cameras entering a convenience store in Osage Beach later that day. From there, he went to Joplin and checked into another motel. He checked out of that motel Sunday morning.

Police were not sure of Rabbitt’s whereabouts immediately afterward. There was a suspicion he crossed state lines and went to Oklahoma. Jefferson County authorities even contacted New Orleans police over concerns Rabbitt, a St. Louis Rams fan and season ticket holder, would travel there to watch the Rams play the Saints on Nov. 15.

At long last, Rabbitt turned up at a motel in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was arrested on Feb. 28, 1999, after police there found him with a 15-year-old girl. He’d used a false name to check into the motel. When Albuquerque police realized they had Dennis Rabbitt in custody, they contacted the FBI and St. Louis police. St. Louis detectives flew to Albuquerque to escort Rabbitt back to his former stalking grounds to face justice.

Less than a week later, Las Vegas police said Rabbitt was suspected of a series of rapes and sexual assaults in Henderson, Nevada, between Dec. 1991 and Sept. 1992. Rabbitt briefly lived in Las Vegas. However, due to statute of limitation laws at the time, Rabbitt could never be prosecuted for those crimes even if police could tie them to him.

In court

Dennis Rabbitt pleaded guilty in early 2000 and received six consecutive life sentences.
Dennis Rabbitt pleaded guilty in early 2000 and received six consecutive life sentences. (File, KTVI)

That summer, Rabbitt initially pleaded not guilty to the charges in St. Louis County. Eventually, he would plead guilty to 49 counts of sodomy, rape, and robbery. Renowned St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Bernhardt “Buzz” Drumm Jr. handed down three life sentences in Jan. 2000. Rabbitt received two additional life sentences in St. Charles County and another in Jefferson County.

In aftermath of the sentencing, Rabbitt was inundated with requests for interviews with local media outlets. The matter was closed as far as the criminal justice system was concerned, but the public wanted answers.

The letters

In February and March 2001, Rabbit wrote a pair of letters to FOX 2 reporter Mandy Murphey in response to an earlier request. Rabbitt expressed dissatisfaction with other interviews and claimed an interest in discussing his reasons and methodology behind his cruel crimes so people could, by his logic, protect themselves from predators like himself.

Letters 1 and 2 from Dennis Rabitt by KevinSeanHeld on Scribd

The interview

Murphey said there was a lot of discussion and debate at FOX 2 over whether to go ahead with the interview.

“There was a thinking at the time, and I still agree with it, that you talk to someone like (Rabbitt) to understand what motivated him,” she said. “And law enforcement used his crimes as a way to teach them how to find other criminals in the future.”

Mandy Murphey interviewed Dennis Rabbit in April 2001
Mandy Murphey interviewed Dennis Rabbit in April 2001 at Crossroads Correctional Center. (File, KTVI)

Rabbit said women can learn from his years of preying on the community. He advises them to always be aware of their surroundings and to routinely check their doors and windows to make sure they’re locked. He said they should carry pepper spray or another weapon as a deterrent and know how to use it. And finally, if they are attacked, he said they should fight like hell to escape.

Dennis Rabbitt remains in custody at a Missouri state prison. Rabbitt’s six life sentences are being served consecutively; meaning he won’t be eligible for parole until he’s 119 years old.