LOS ANGELES (AP) — A security guard who was arrested after a prostitute fell out of his car is suspected of raping more than a dozen women or girls as young as 15 at gunpoint in Los Angeles County, police said Wednesday.
Ferdinand Ervin Flowers, 35, of Long Beach, pleaded not guilty Wednesday with kidnapping to commit rape, robbery and assault, prosecutors said.
He was being held on more than $1 million bail. It wasn't immediately clear whether he had an attorney.
Flowers, a security guard, is believed to be the man who in 2014 and 2017 "cajoled" sex workers into his car, then pulled a gun, drove them to an industrial area and robbed and sexually assaulted them before letting them go, said Capt. William Hays, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department Robbery-Homicide Division.
DNA evidence from three victims hasn't yet been linked to Flowers but a white Honda Civic and a black Dodge Ram truck registered to Flowers match the description of vehicles used in attacks, police said.
"We believe we have the right predator off the streets who committed these horrible crimes," Justin Eisenberg, LAPD chief of detectives, said at a news conference.
Flowers is suspected of attacking 14 girls and women, ranging in age from 15 to 35, in Los Angeles and surrounding communities. Thirteen of them were raped but the last victim fought off her attacker and escaped from his car, police said.
All were black women working in the sex trade and probably were chosen "because they were vulnerable," Hays said.
Four attacks took place in 2014 and the others from April of last year to Jan. 12, when Flowers was arrested.
No victims have come forward who were attacked in 2015 or 2016 but authorities urged anyone who may have been attacked to come forward.
"It would seem that the behavior wouldn't just cease like that," Hays said.
Detectives began to suspect there was a serial rapist on the loose in May after DNA from a sexual assault investigation matched DNA that was on file from a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department case in December 2014. As they began investigating, they soon found a unique pattern and began linking other cases.
Detectives found that many of the women were attacked and released in Rancho Dominguez, an unincorporated county area near Carson and Compton, just south of Los Angeles.
Detectives narrowed down the days and times when many assaults took place and began surveillance of the area, Hays said.
Around 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 12, detectives saw a woman fall out of a white Honda Civic who said she had been kidnapped, robbed and attacked, police said.
She had been picked up in neighboring Lynwood, robbed at gunpoint and driven to the area where her attacker tried to force her to commit a sex act but she fought him off and managed to escape from the car, according to a police statement.
Flowers was arrested in the car.
Police seized a .40-caliber handgun that was registered to Flowers, who is licensed as an armed guard and a security guard, Hays said.