Police in Tuscaloosa Link Decades-Old Cases to Now-Dead Serial Rapist
Police in Tuscaloosa believe they have identified the man responsible for two brutal, decades-old sexual assaults as a now-dead serial rapist.
Captain Jack Kennedy, the commander of the Tuscaloosa Violent Crimes Unit, said police believe Elliott L. Higgins traveled to the area once in 1991 and again in 2001 to judge the International Horn Competition, which was hosted by the University of Alabama both years.
Police think Higgins violently sexually assaulted women during both visits, but investigators were never able to develop a suspect in the either case.
"In 1991, a young woman was violently sexually assaulted in Tuscaloosa in the month of August," Kennedy said. "She was a University student at the time, this did not occur on campus, it occurred at an apartment complex away from campus. The investigation at that time was done very well and very thorough, but no suspects were ever developed, but the evidence in that case has been maintained by the sheriff's office and the Violent Crimes Unit this entire time."
"In 2001, another woman was violently sexually assaulted in Tuscaloosa County. This occurred at a home -- the victim in that case was a Realtor who had met to show a home to a subject that assaulted her. The modus operandi in that case was completely different."
The first break in the case came not out of Tuscaloosa County, but from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Higgins allegedly sexually assaulted another young woman in 2004.
That victim fought back and was able to punch her assailant in the face, which bled and left genetic evidence at the scene for police to compare -- it matched DNA collected at the 1991 crime scene here, and the subject description matched the 2001 case, which led police to believe the same man was responsible for all three assaults, but they still could not determine his identity.
Kennedy said the VCU revisited the case in October 2021, when they submitted DNA samples to the privately owned Parabon Labs to compare it against genetic databases collected for genealogy research.
The search bore fruit and identified Higgins as their suspect, but further investigation found he died in 2014 as a resident of Jemez Springs, New Mexico.
Kennedy said Higgins had a criminal record of sexual assaults in the Ohio area when he was a young man in the 1970's and learned from his arrests to hide his steps when he recommitted in the future.
Higgins was a musician, Kennedy said, who specialized in the French horn and at times held leadership roles at the Albuquerque Philharmonic, the Santa Barbara Symphony and the Fort Wayne Indiana Philharmonic.
Higgins also helped found the collegiate International Horn Competition in 1976, which has been hosted at Universities around the U.S. since then, including four times at the University of Alabama.
The dates of the assaults here in 1991 and 2001 directly correspond to periods when Higgins was in town for the competition, Kennedy said.
The allegations made public Thursday come from more than a hunch and circumstantial evidence. Kennedy said subsequent DNA testing determined Higgins was responsible for the assaults with a 99.999 degree certainty.
"Composite drawings, modus operandi, victim identification and other evidence showed Higgins was the perpetrator of these three assaults," Kennedy said.
The VCU believes if Higgins was commiting sexual assaults from the 70's until at least 2004, there are likely other victims across the country who have not yet been identified by law enforcement agencies.
Kennedy said relevant evidence has been sent to police in every area the horn competition was ever judged and to the FBI to check against unsolved sex assault cases in those areas.
Anyone who believes they know of a case that may be linked to Higgins are asked to contact the VCU at 205-464-8690.
"Although this subject is now deceased, by identifying him we hope to bring closure to his known victims, and encourage any other persons who may have ben a victim of Higgins to contact the appropriate police jurisdiction," Kennedy said.