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Published: Thursday, 8/12/2010

Hunt for serial stabber widens

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo officials spent just more than an hour with Michigan State Police, Flint police detectives, and FBI agents from Michigan and Toledo in a closed-door meeting downtown.

Police have released this sketch of the man suspected in a series of stabbings. Police have released this sketch of the man suspected in a series of stabbings.
MICHIGAN STATE POLICE Enlarge

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said the group sat down with Toledo Public Safety Director Shirley Green and local detectives to share information about the tristate manhunt.

Representatives from the agencies plan a conference call Thursday with police in Leesburg, Va.

"We have to have a coordinated effort," Chief Navarre said. "We want to make sure we are all on the same page, and comparing notes, and sharing information and the leads that come in."

Anthony 'Tony' Leno is in critical condition after an attack Saturday. Anthony 'Tony' Leno is in critical condition after an attack Saturday.
HERRAL LONG / AP Enlarge

All of but three of the victims in the stabbings have been black.

The same man is believed responsible for fatally stabbing five men and attacking a dozen others in the same manner in Flint, Mich., between May 24 and Aug. 2.

After that time, the suspect is believed to have headed south. Similar attacks against three men occurred in Leesburg, Va. on Aug. 3, 5, and 6.

In Toledo, Anthony "Tony" Leno, 59, was stabbed multiple times by a man who asked him for directions Saturday night.

The police agencies involved have issued several nationwide bulletins to law enforcement to report similar stabbing attacks that may be linked to the suspect.

Authorities have released a composite sketch of the suspect, who is described as being white or Middle Eastern, in his late 20s or early 30s, between 5 feet, 8 inches and 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weighing about 160 to 210 pounds, and with black hair and brown eyes.

The suspect approaches his victims by asking for directions or help with his vehicle, identified as a green Chevy S-10 Blazer with a tan or gold trim and two grapefruit-sized dents on the hood, police said.

"We find the car, we find the suspect," Chief Navarre said.

Chief Navarre added that it doesn't seem likely the suspect would switch vehicles.

"He hasn't done the things that a person trying to avoid apprehension would do. Based on his actions, you try to establish a degree of intelligence. And he hasn't done a lot of smart things," Chief Navarre said. "We're not dealing with a rocket scientist here. If he's watching any television at all, he's got to know he's a national news item."

The crimes all seem to occur in public places, Chief Navarre said.

After Flint and Leesburg police held televised news conferences about the stabbings Monday, both agencies were flooded with tips about the whereabouts of the suspect vehicle, Leesburg Public Information Officer Chris Jones said Wednesday.

Leesburg police first made the connection that local attacks were similar to those in Michigan via the Internet and contacted Flint police, Officer Jones said.

"What's challenging now is you're flooded with information. We are getting 10 times as much and 10 times as fast. You're flooded with it, but with some things, it's a blessing," Officer Jones said of using the Internet in this investigation.

In Leesburg, the first stabbing was of a dark-skinned Latino teenager jogging down a busy street about 9:45 p.m. The suspect said nothing before the attack.

The stabbing there Thursday was of a 67-year-old man black man sitting on the front steps of his apartment about 6:15 a.m. Again, the suspect said nothing before the attack.

Friday, a 19-year-old man was struck in the head by a blunt object about 9:45 p.m. outside a busy shopping center. The suspect gestured the man toward his vehicle, saying nothing, Officer Jones said.

The suspect is believed to have returned north before attacking custodian Saturday outside his church in the Old West End, a location that Chief Navarre has noted is near the expressway.

Mr. Leno was taking a smoke break in an alley after cleaning the Collingwood Presbyterian Church, 2108 Collingwood Blvd., about 7:45 p.m. when he was approached by the suspect. The man got out of the vehicle to ask for directions and stabbed Mr. Leno as he pointed to describe the way, authorities said.

His spleen was punctured and his forearm was badly cut in the attack, his fiancee, Lanita Braswell, 45, of Cleveland, said Wednesday.

He was already weak from radiation treatments he was receiving for prostate cancer, she added.

Mr. Leno remained in critical condition and on a ventilator Wednesday, according to his fiancee. She declined to confirm where he was receiving medical care out of fear for his safety.

Mr. Leno was once homeless and struggling with drug addiction, his church pastor, the Rev. Robert Anderson, has said. After working through a faith-based program through FOCUS, which is affiliated with the church, Mr. Leno is now independent and employed at the church.

"It's sad, but true. We live in a world where you can't offer your assistance to anybody," Ms. Braswell said tearfully. "He's been through a lot and he's come a long way. He didn't deserve this."

She urged anyone with information about the suspect to come forward.

"I call him a creature, because he's not a human being," Ms. Braswell said. "Because a human being would not do another human being like this."

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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