Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reporter's Notebook: Clarence Gibson recalls his glory days tracking the 'Westport rapist'

Posted By on Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge Charles Wheat
  • Charles Wheat
The title of "Westport Rapist" has been recycled several times throughout the last 30 years. There's been Robert Fellows, Samuel Johnson, Shy Bland and Gary Jackman, to name a few.

Clarence Gibson, who is 67 years old and a 27-year veteran of the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, worked as a detective in the sex crimes unit from 1976 to 1987, and again during his final year with the KCPD, from '93 to '94. In the early days with the department, Gibson says, detectives viewed working rapes as a demotion.

Later, they became "enlightened." But Gibson always loved it -- he felt he had a God-given talent for putting the victims at ease.

"I let them know from the get-go," he says, "'No matter what happened,

it ain't your fault. I don't give a damn what your mama says, what your

daddy says, your boyfriend or your husband.'"

He says, "I'm one of these old-school people that believes that rape is worse than murder. ... A victim of a rape suffers the rest of her life. It's like if someone chopped your arm off. You'd probably be able to ... cope with life like that. But every time you looked at that arm, you'd know."



He worked several cases involving pattern rapists in his day. "You know

you're going to catch 'em," he says. "It's just a matter of how many

victims are we going to have before we get what we need, or he screws

up, or a detail spots him.

"I remember Charles Wheat," Gibson says with nostalgia in his voice, as

though he were reminiscing about a classic baseball game. "He's the one

who told us, 'If you don't stop me, I'm gonna kill somebody.' He'd

expose himself and do stuff, and the cops would arrest him and make fun

of him and stuff like that. That just made him worse, is what he said."



click to enlarge Robert Fellows
  • Robert Fellows
Then

there was Robert Fellows. "He kept learning ways to

better his ability to commit a crime and get away with it, by wiping

prints, covering his face," Gibson says. "We started followin' this guy

everywhere he went. We saw

him entering this house through a sliding glass door. Soon as he left,

half the squad followed him, the other half knocked on [the woman's]

door. She said, 'A guy just broke into my house and raped me.' So

that's how

they caught him."

After he retired, the KCPD brought him back as a

civilian employee in the department's HR section, where he does background

checks on potential hires. "I miss workin' there, oh do I miss workin' there," Gibson says.

Does he wish he'd had the DNA technology that is available to

today's detectives? "Oh God, do I," he says. "I have these young

detectives go, 'Well you still gotta really know how to interview

somebody.' Well the bottom line is, if we'd had DNA then, I really

believe we could have shut down some pattern rapists, and we coulda

cleared some guys from the get-go."

Still, he says, "We did a hell of a good job, as you look back and see what we had to work with."

Gibson's favorite part of the job was making the call to a victim to tell her that he'd arrested her rapist. "I could call her up and say, 'Mary? Detective Gibson. I want you to know we got that S.O.B., and I got a signed statement from him, and it's on video.' You can't imagine that good feeling. It's like being a secret Santa Claus or something. You can't do that with a homicide. You can tell the family, but it's not the same as telling the victim, 'We got him.'"

One day, hopefully, the subject of this week's feature story will get that call.

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