The man accused of raping an elderly woman in New York's Central Park frightened people for years in his tiny West Virginia hometown, where a neighbor says residents were so terrified after his release from prison last year they bought guns to protect themselves.
Authorities say David Albert Mitchell has been in and out of prison since he was 18. He was arrested twice on charges of raping elderly women, suspected but not charged in the murder of one female neighbor and acquitted of killing another.
Court records and prosecutors describe a man who drank heavily, was quick to threaten violence, never earned a high school diploma and may have been mentally ill.
Mitchell, 42, served eight years in a Virginia prison for the 2003 abduction of an ex-girlfriend and got out last year. Records show he violated probation three times, then apparently fled to New York, where police say he attacked a 73-year-old bird-watcher in Central Park near a memorial to peace-loving John Lennon.
In Jenkinjones, a coalfields town of fewer than 300, a man well-acquainted with both Mitchell and some of his alleged victims said it's best if New York locks him up for good. He said when word spread of Mitchell's release last year, people started buying guns. "They ain't gonna trust him down here again. They're gonna end up killing him," said Wayne Mitchell, 45, no relation to the suspect.
David Mitchell's first felony arrest was in 1989, when he was accused of killing 86-year-old Annie Parks of Jenkinjones.
Mitchell was acquitted but he was arrested again a few months later, charged with raping another Jenkinjones resident in her 70s and stealing her gun. Prosecutors dropped the sexual assault charge under a plea deal.
In 2002, Barbara Flake, 54, went missing, and some suspected Mitchell. State Police Sgt. C.F. Kane said investigators considered Mitchell a person of interest, but they lacked evidence to charge him.