Is anyone ever heard about this? I haven't!

Claim: College student who by dialing #77 on her cell phone evades a rapist pretending to be a police officer.

Multiple — see below.

* Co-ed named Lauren evades rapist who had been masquerading as a police officer:

* Rapists and murderers have been known to pass themselves off as police officers:

* Dialing #77 on your cell phone will connect you with the highway patrol:
True in some states, False in others.


* A March 2002 version changes the girl's name from Lauren to Lisa.

* An October 2003 version moves the action to Australia. Once again, 19-year-old Lauren barely escapes disaster, but does so this time by using the "No. 112 feature" on her cell phone to summon help.

* A July 2004 version shifted the story to Canada. Yet again, 19-year-old Lauren barely escapes disaster, but in this instance she does so by dialing *677. (The number *677, aka *OPP, is the non-emergency cell caller line of the Ontario Provincial Police.)

* A March 2006 version shifted the story to Dorset. As always, 19-year-old Lauren barely gets away from the horror that would otherwise have befallen her, but in this instance she does so by dialing 112. (112 and 999 are the emergency numbers in the United Kingdom.)

Origins: We have no way of telling if this is an "actual true story and not one of those Internet stories that are passed on and on": the details given in the account aren't sufficient to assist us in confirming the tale, and searches through online news databases based on what little is included (that the incident happened in Virginia in the last week of December 2001) don't fetch any articles about an arrest made or charges laid in such a case. And some of the details in the story give us pause: Why didn't the fleeing woman speed up, flash her lights, or honk her horn to attract the attention of the police car in front of her? And how did the real police car fail to notice the warning lights of the phony, unmarked police car?

Whether this particular tale is true or not, women driving alone have been sexually assaulted by rapists pretending to be patrolmen (and in certain rare cases by actual police officers), so the advice it gives about not pulling over in deserted areas when signaled to do so by unmarked police vehicles is well worth heeding. Throw on your flashers, slow down, and keep driving until you get to a well-lit area where there are others about. Though you might subsequently be charged for failing to heed a police officer's commands, you will avoid the potential for harm. Call 911 and tell them what's happening, asking them to relay to the officer in pursuit your intent to continue traveling until a populated area has been reached. (Although in some U.S. states, #77 on a cell phone will immediately connect you to that state's highway patrol, that code is not universal. Some states use #77, but others use *55, *47, or *HP, and some don't have any special code at all. Rather than frantically try to figure out which one will work in the area you're in, get around the problem by going straight to 911.)

Police advise motorists to immediately pull over when signaled to do so, suggesting those concerned about their safety keep their doors locked and crack their windows to speak with those presenting themselves as officers of the law. They suggest sidelined drivers who are suspicious of their detainers demand to examine the officers' photo IDs and ask where they work, then place calls to 911 to verify their identities. While this would certainly be the right way to handle genuine police officers making bona fide traffic stops, this method fails to protect motorists from the ill-intentioned. The real bad guys carry guns, so locked car doors and cracked windows would avail little by way of protection.

The instance of rapists and murderers pretending to be police officers is not of epidemic proportions, but enough incidents of this nature have occurred that precautions are warranted.

In 1948 in Los Angeles, Caryl Chessman successfully robbed couples and sexually assaulted a number of women in California after first fooling them into believing he was a police officer by flashing a red light at their vehicles. (Though often he approached parked cars this way, in at least one case he managed to pull over a car that was driving on Pacific Coast Highway.) His method of approach earned him the nickname of "The Red Light Bandit." Chessman was executed on a kidnapping charge in 1960, but only after gaining fame for writing three books while in prison (most notably Cell 2455 Death Row) and becoming the focus of the then nascent movement to abolish the death penalty.

Since then others have used similar ruses to isolate their victims. More recently, in 1997 Arkansas was plagued by its "blue light rapist" who assaulted three women after first luring them to the side of the road with the help of a police-style blue light mounted on his car. Robert Todd Burmingham was sentenced in 1998 to 80 years in prison for rape, kidnapping, and aggravated robbery.


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