Globe Pequot Press
BIKE PATH RAPIST
with Det. Dennis Delano
For twenty-five years, a series of rapes and murders by a faceless man dubbed “The Bike Path Rapist” terrorized the quiet suburbs of Buffalo, New York. His first known attacks were in the early 1980s, and his spree continued through 1994. After a twelve-year gap, in September 2006 he strangled and killed a forty-five-year-old mother on a rural bike path.
Bike Path Rapist examines the fascinating story inside the decades-long investigation — including the starling revelation that an innocent man, Anthony Capozzi, had spent more than twenty years in jail for two of the rapes. Homicide Detective Dennis Delano worked tirelessly on his behalf before Capozzi was finally exonerated — thanks to DNA evidence that, coupled with stellar detective work from four different police agencies, also led to the capture of the real killer.
This case garnered attention for decades throughout Western New York, and was featured on Dateline NBC and several investigative TV shows.
From the introduction:
In a 70-year-old precinct house at the intersection of Church and Franklin Streets in the guts of downtown Buffalo, a tiled room on the third floor is home to the Homicide/Cold Case Unit. Four detectives share its space, with one closet-sized office and another interview room large enough for two chairs and a computer. A dry erase board fills an entire wall, where cases are charted in different colors to convey their status. Mug shots tacked to bulletin boards reveal sketches of killers both wanted and apprehended. Alongside the bad guys, photos of cops in trenchcoats stare with hardened features.
Here, a daily battle is waged between death and long-forgotten truth.
Detective Dennis Delano’s desk is near the door. It is symbolic, perhaps, that his work zone is separate from his colleagues, because Delano is an independent thinker who is often frustrated by politics and the slow pace of bureaucracy.
At 56, Delano is a big man, with an ample stomach, wide neck and fingers thick as rolled nickels. A full head of dark hair, rounded nose and spreading jowls lend an intimidating appearance. Listen to his gravelly voice and imagine a suspect melting beneath his glare. He is a a man without pretensions, a quintessential “Buffalo guy.” Delano does not care for self-importance or inflated egos. He has only one goal: unearth the truths which time has blurred.
“A bit of an attitude,” was how Dateline NBC described him. Many of his colleagues agree, comparing his rough demeanor to Andy Sipowicz from NYPD Blue. Some go further, suggesting the sign above a nearby aquarium — “Does not play well with others” — describes the man as much as the temperamental and eponymous fighting fish “Little Dennis.”
There is one thing no one disputes. Delano is a first-rate cop.
“I deal with dead people and their families,” Delano explained in muted tones. “You can’t help but make it personal.”
He was behind this desk on November 15, 2006, when the Chief of Detectives requested he join a team to hunt a long-standing serial killer. For more than twenty years, a nameless man dubbed the “Bike Path Rapist” had attacked, raped and murdered women and girls in Western New York.
After twelve years of silence, forensics had matched DNA from a recent crime scene to the killer everyone thought had disappeared. It was a request that would change lives.
In the course of the next several months, a team of exceptional officers from different law enforcement agencies collaborated to capture a serial killer who had run amok since the early 1980s. Turns out he was an ordinary man with a wife and two kids. With his arrest, a community reclaimed its peace of mind.
But Delano and his colleagues discovered something else along the way: an innocent man had been convicted and was serving time for rapes he did not commit. Anthony Capozzi, suffering from mental illness, had spent twenty-two years in prison. Detectives were convinced of his innocence, but could find no hard evidence to prove it.
“I had never come across a situation like this before,” Delano explained. “We didn’t know what to do to get this guy out. He was coming up for parole but they had denied him five times already and they were going to deny him again. I was waking up in the middle of the night knowing this guy was sleeping in a little cell, and he didn’t belong there. It was unconscionable.”
Justice was long delayed, but Delano did not give up. Encouraged by fellow task force members, who left daily notes urging him to “Free Capozzi,” Delano’s moral strength kept him focused. Through tenacity, justice prevailed. Because of Delano and his fellow investigators, a long-forgotten file containing DNA slides was discovered which proved the Bike Path Rapist had attacked the women for which Capozzi was convicted. Capozzi was released just before Easter 2007.
There have been big cases for Delano, both before and since, but this story is unlike any other.
“It’s really the apex of my career,” Delano said reflectively. “There’s nothing else to compare it to.”
Reminders are kept close by. A photo on Delano’s bulletin board freezes one poignant moment that made all the setbacks worthwhile. Four women — the mother and three adult sisters of Anthony Capozzi — are locked in a jubilant hug only seconds after they learned Anthony had been exonerated.
Click the link to watch a 2017 documentary about the case, featuring Jeff and others.
Click the link to read the book review from Lee Coppola of The Buffalo News, April 19, 2009.