A French grandfather has been charged after confessing to raping and sexually assaulting “around 40” women in a series of attacks dating back to the 1990s.
The married 57-year-old father was arrested on Monday after police used his number plates to connect him to the rape of a woman last week across the border in Belgium. DNA evidence then matched him to that found on several rape victims.
The man, who is from the northern French town of Pont-sur-Sambre near the Belgian border, confessed under police questioning to attacks on women going back decades. Prosecutor Jean-Philippe Vicentini said: “He estimates the number of victims at around 40.”
The man is believed to be one of the most prolific serial rapists France has seen in decades. In 2015, a 40-year-old man was charged with 33 counts of rape, attempted rape and sexual assault between 1995 and 2000, most of them in the Senart forest south of Paris.
The Pont-sur-Sambre suspect, who has been widely named in French media reports as Dino Scala, was arrested in connection with an investigation opened in 1996 into attacks on 19 women and underage girls, the prosecutor said, adding that he always used the same method to prey on his victims.
“The women were attacked from behind, very early in the morning,” he said. “He wore gloves and masked his face, either completely or partially – with a hat, for example,” Vicentini said, adding that the suspect claimed he “acted on compulsions he was unable to control”.
A police source added that one victim was just 13, while others included several 17-year-olds. “Several investigations must still be done,” Vicentini said.
The Voix du Nord regional newspaper reported that the attacker, who was arrested in his car in his home town, worked as a janitor.
Police said about 100 people had been questioned and asked for DNA samples during their search for the suspect, who they code-named “the rapist of the Sambre”, referring to a local river.
“He was not someone who had attracted anyone’s attention,” said Michel Detrait, the mayor of Pont-sur-Sambre, a town with a population of roughly 2,500. “It doesn’t fit with his personality,” Detrait said. “He was well liked, ready to help … We’re completely shocked.”
The suspect had also been head of the local football club. “He was a sociable person, there were always people around him,” the club’s current chief Willy Lebrun said.