Helicopter assists in search for suspect in State Forest sexual assault

Edgartown police said they are continuing to investigate the alleged assault.

Police said the man appeared to have been living in the woods for several weeks.

Edgartown police are continuing to investigate a reported sexual assault on a 58-year-old woman at knifepoint about 2:30 pm Thursday afternoon in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. The woman told police she was attacked while she walked her dogs on a portion of Dr. Fisher Road.

The ongoing investigation included a helicopter search Sunday by a unit of the Massachusetts State Police air wing, based on reports that someone could be living or camping in the state forest.

“As of today, officers assigned to the case continue to investigate the alleged assault,” Edgartown Detective Sergeant Chris Dolby said in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon. “Edgartown Police department continues to receive responses to the initial community alert that was issued on April 2.”

In a press release issued at 9:30 pm, Thursday, April 2, Detective Dolby provided a detailed description of the suspect. He was described as a white male, in his late 20s to early 30s, with a muscular build, “light brown sandy colored hair, unkempt over ears and curly in back; scruffy facial hair; wearing an old faded light blue jeans with some holes in the thighs, dark colored pocket t-shirt, light blue or green button down chambray shirt over the t-shirt and tan work boots.”

“The suspect also had a gold stud piercing in his left ear, a silver bracelet on his left wrist, and a small tattoo on the thumb webbing of his right hand — round nickel size with letter in the middle.”

Detective Dolby added, “At this time this is an isolated incident. However, while we investigate this incident, we recommend that people use caution. We recommend that people who frequent the state forest do so in pairs or groups — the buddy system. We ask that you please take note of any suspicious persons or activity and report it.”

On Saturday, Edgartown Police used the department’s Facebook page to thank the community for the numerous responses to the search and provide an update.

Police said that contrary to rumors, there was no sketch of the suspect available, and police were using every resource at their disposal.

“Officers have been working on many leads that have been provided by the community in the last 48 hrs.,” police said in a message posted to the department’s Facebook page at 12:11 pm Saturday. “We continue to welcome any information that you think may be helpful.

“This alleged incident is very disturbing and unsettling to say the least. Our department is using every resource that is available to us, including reaching out to outside agencies, with more resources than we have here on MV.”

“There have been inquiries and even rumor that we released a composite sketch of a suspect,” police said in the Facebook post. “There is no such sketch, and for reasons we can’t divulge to protect the privacy of the victim, that investigative technique is not an option at this time.

“Please understand that these types of investigations can be very complicated and prolonged. Rest assured we will explore every lead and investigative technique available to us in order to solve this case. As always we will keep you informed along the way.”

Poor weather delayed an aerial search. On Sunday, State Police took to the air in coordination with officers on the ground. “After approximately one hour, police units on the ground were advised that nothing out of the ordinary was observed from overhead,” Detective Dolby said.

Later in the day, police received a report from a jogger about what appeared to be a campsite in the woods. “Officers investigated and found a hammock strung up between two trees with a tarp overhead,” Mr. Dolby said in a press release. “Officers then located and identified the individual who had set up the hammock. He did not resemble the description given by the victim at all, and was ruled out as a potential suspect for a number of other reasons as well.”

Detective Dolby said police will continue to investigate and keep the community informed of any developments.

Police first responded to a report of a sexual assault at 3:40 pm last Thursday. Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Police responded to the area of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for a report of a female who had been sexually assaulted. They later determined the incident had occurred in the state forest.

Dr. Fisher Road runs through the State Forest from Old County Road in West Tisbury to Edgartown–West Tisbury Road near Meeting House Road in Edgartown.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Edgartown Police Department: 508-627-4343, email crimetips@edgartown-ma.us, or text a tip to 774-310-1190.