In the pre-dawn hours between June and October 1999, three women living within a 3-mile radius in southeast Cobb County woke to find an unknown man standing over them.
All three women were raped by the stranger, but his identity remained a mystery — until now.
The women learned of their rapist’s discovery by authorities, and his subsequent death, in December, after almost 21 years of unanswered questions.
“I always wondered when it would be my turn,” one of the women told investigators upon learning her cold case had been solved, disclosing she often watched television shows about just that.
The rapist was 48-year-old Arkansas resident Lorinzo Novoa Williams, according to the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office.
Williams was a family man from El Dorado, Arkansas, with a wife and four children, his obituary stated.
At the time of the Cobb County rapes, Williams lived in the metro Atlanta area and was arrested in Cobb and Gwinnett on charges including peeping tom, indecent exposure and burglary, the DA’s office said, adding some of those crimes were committed in the same vicinity as the rapes.
Williams became a Jehovah’s Witness in Macon in 2003, per his obituary, several years after the Cobb women were attacked.
Williams lived in Arkansas with his family, working at a construction company in Hampton, until December 2019, when two Georgia investigators came looking for him, with a warrant for his DNA.
On Dec. 11, 2019, Williams died. The Cobb DA’s office, in publicizing the cold case success story, said Williams’ death happened just days after the investigators took his DNA.
“I am incredibly proud, not only of my team in the DA’s office, but everyone who helped get us here,” DA Joyette Holmes said in a Tuesday press release. “Even if it takes 20 years, we refuse to give up.”
The rape cases were solved thanks to the foresight of members of the state’s cold case unit, a $10,000 grant, and the latest genetic genealogy testing technology available, the release stated.
Back in 1999, all three women reported the rapes to Cobb police and underwent medical exams that collected and preserved DNA left by the rapist.
Each rape kit was tested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab at the time of the assaults, and the DNA profile from each of the three kits was identical — indicating the same perpetrator raped each of the women.
But despite repeated checks, that profile never matched to any known offender whose DNA profile was in the system.
In late 2018, Senior Assistant District Attorney Theresa Schiefer, assigned to a state sexual assault task force, began looking at the case at the request of the state’s cold case unit, and determined advanced DNA testing was appropriate.
Schiefer approached the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for funding and received about $10,000 for advanced testing of the DNA in a laboratory.
This happened in early 2019. The laboratory ascertained the physical appearance of the rapist, and his DNA profile was uploaded to a public website for matching DNA. A potential ancestor of the rapist was found.
The Cobb DA’s office said investigators then “built the genetic tree forward, ultimately highlighting a possible suspect.”
Once they had Williams as a suspect, his background was investigated and a DNA warrant obtained, which Cobb investigators had help in executing from Arkansas State Police.
“In an interview after the sample was collected, the suspect denied committing any sexual assaults,” the DA’s release said. “As investigators returned to Cobb the following day, they learned from Arkansas investigators that the suspect had gone missing and was soon found deceased.”
The GBI expedited testing of the DNA collected from Williams, which matched all 1999 rape kits.
Senior prosecutor Schiefer spoke with the women after the match was confirmed and said each was overcome with emotion upon learning the news.
“I feel very fortunate that we could provide some answers to these women after all this time,” Schiefer said. “We want anyone who has experienced sexual assault to know that we will continue to work their cases in hopes that their turn will come, too.”