Survivor longs to know the fate of Duluth’s ‘hill rapist’


It was when police suspected that a man known as the “Hillside Rapist” began a spate of 22 reported sexual assaults spanning the remainder of the decade, beginning in the bedroom of the third floor apartment. de Snow in the East Hillside neighborhood of Duluth.

“It was in the background, haunting me,” Snow said earlier this month. “Who was this person who was such a big part of my life?” It’s like there’s a puzzle with a big piece missing. Who was he?”

Snow never saw his face. And despite intensive efforts to bring a culprit to justice, the case has never been resolved.

Debra Snow is pictured living in Duluth in 1971. Contribution / Debra Snow

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Instead, Snow had to consider what she describes as the embers of a slow-burning mystery.

“It’s just a big black shadow,” Snow said.

Newspaper reports at the time described the man as a white man, measuring less than 5 feet, 10 inches. He was most active early on, committing 11 assaults between 1972 and 1973. All of his victims lived in apartments between Mesaba Avenue and 21st Avenue East.

Snow lived with a friend across Ninth Avenue East from St. Luke’s Hospital. They were both 19 and graduated from Duluth Central High School, determined to take on the world together.


Debra Snow in her portrait as a high school student in Duluth in 1971. Contribution / Debra Snow

Debra Snow in her portrait as a high school student in Duluth in 1971. Contribution / Debra Snow

Snow, now 69, worked as a secretary in the chemistry department at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The night of her attack, she had gone to bed early alone in the apartment. She was woken up by a 10 p.m. curfew alarm and then by the sound of a hissing sound in the bathroom on the other side of her bedroom wall.

“Twice in my life since then I heard the melody and panicked,” she said. “But I can’t tell you what tune he was hissing.”


Debra Snow, 69, of the Twin Cities, listens during a conversation in Duluth on Saturday, December 11, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Debra Snow, 69, of the Twin Cities, listens during a conversation in Duluth on Saturday, December 11, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

She froze in fear as the man lit matches in the dark to get her room arranged, before telling her to face the wall as he moved to sit on her bed.

“All these years, I thought I would never be one of those heroes, because I freeze,” Snow said.

He put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her, then forced her to give him a blowjob.

“It was dark in the room and I did everything he said,” Snow said.

Finally, she passed out. Her roommate, now a 69-year-old woman living in Hermantown who asked not to be identified for this story, spoke to the News Tribune to confirm the events of February 23, 1972.


Debra Snow, 69, of the Twin Cities, speaks on Saturday, December 11, 2021 about her experience of sexual assault.  Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Debra Snow, 69, of the Twin Cities, speaks on Saturday, December 11, 2021 about her experience of sexual assault. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

The roommate had returned to the apartment moments after the assault, and that’s when she and her boyfriend finally heard Snow cry out.

“I thought it was him still in the apartment,” Snow said.

Retired Duluth Police Chief Scott Lyons joined the force in 1976. Lyons recalled the extensive efforts by police to capture the Hillside rapist. He remembered it as a time of fear and even public indignation.

“We had a lot of suspects,” Lyons said. “We were working our buttocks, working straight nights. We stopped people left and right to try to identify who was out at 2 or 3 in the morning.

The cops created a task force to track down the rapist, launched a 24-hour helpline, and developed a database of suspects and people of interest.


Debra Snow in a wallet photo as a high school student in Duluth in 1971. Contribution / Debra Snow

Debra Snow in a wallet photo as a high school student in Duluth in 1971. Contribution / Debra Snow

“It’s not for lack of trying,” Lyons said of the cold case, describing numerous search warrants, overtime and the search for a criminal who was good at not leaving evidence. material at crime scenes.

“I remember being on watch, roaring from place to place,” Lyons added. “It was not an easy time.”

Police did not have the capacity to test for human DNA at the time, and Snow recalled receiving a letter from the police asking him to recover his belongings, including his sheets, first taken as evidence , otherwise they would be destroyed.

Snow’s assault appeared in the Duluth Herald the following evening – three paragraphs detailing how a 19-year-old woman pretended to be asleep for the first time as the knife-wielding assailant approached and assaulted her.

Other reports from the decade noted how the assailant used minimal force to enter the apartments of his victims. Snow and his roommate suspected that his rapist had used his knife to get through their thin lock. At the end of the decade, in 1979, Duluth City Council, responding to both the rapist and a wave of burglaries, passed an ordinance requiring deadbolts and window locks on rented properties.


Debra Snow, 69, of the Twin Cities, opens up about her sexual assault in 1972. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Debra Snow, 69, of the Twin Cities, opens up about her sexual assault in 1972. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

But even as Snow returned to work and her normal life in the days following the assault, her abuser stayed with her. He called the apartment and wondered aloud if she had enjoyed their time together.

At one point, Duluth Police installed a tracker on his phone. A threatening call was traced back to the UMD switchboard.

“Soon after, the police came and took me around a classroom to see if there was anyone inside that I recognized,” Snow said. “They asked me to look at photo albums too, but it was frustrating because I didn’t see the guy’s face.”

As his crimes developed, patterns emerged. He covered the faces of the victims, and the day’s stories note how he was described as using a strong, possibly fake, Southern accent.

Snow didn’t quite remember it that way. Instead, she recalled an altered voice and said that she felt he had an aura of intellectual disability.


Debra Snow was sexually assaulted in an apartment at 829 E. First St., Duluth, in 1972. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Debra Snow was sexually assaulted in an apartment at 829 E. First St., Duluth, in 1972. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

During the hunt for the man, the Federal Bureau of Investigation drew up a psychological profile of the “Hillside Rapist.” He confirmed a white male in his twenties and described him as likely passive and calm and someone who could consider himself inferior.

“He attacks women in an attempt to prove to himself that he is not a ‘loser’,” a newspaper article from May 16, 1979 said.

The FBI profile suggested that he lived within walking distance of his attacks and likely worked in an “unskilled or junior” profession.

While the attack did not deter Snow from living his life, the phone calls and harassment that followed did.

She developed paranoia and began to worry whether her attacker was on the same bus or sitting at the same counter in the pharmacy cafe where Snow liked to have breakfast downtown. To escape harassment, she retired to Minneapolis for a year.

Lonely, Snow returned to Duluth and worked at UMD medical school. As soon as she did, the man who assaulted her called her to her mother’s house. He called her later one morning in her new apartment. The calls eventually ceased after she moved to the countryside with a boyfriend, got married, and changed her name.


Debra Snow, 69, of Twin Cities, describes how her attacker continued to contact her after she moved away from Duluth following her sexual assault in 1972. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Debra Snow, 69, of Twin Cities, describes how her attacker continued to contact her after she moved away from Duluth following her sexual assault in 1972. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Snow hopes that the perpetrator, if he is still alive, or other survivors of the “Hillside Rapist”, will contact her via an email she established for this story using her maiden name: taylor20190 @ yahoo.com.

“I’m interested in completing this photo because it’s been so intense in my life for a year,” she said. “How did someone have such a twisted interest in me, was he so close to me and I was so oblivious?” “

Emphasizing more on why she would want to know more about the man who victimized her, she said she wanted to turn a two-dimensional picture into three.

“I would have the whole story,” she said. “That’s it. Plain and simple. It would be complete. I don’t want revenge. It’s not about me. I wonder who he is, who he was. Was he the ‘rapist of the hill ? “Did he get drunk (Alcoholics Anonymous) and go out looking for people to redeem himself from? How did it go?”

Snow left Duluth in 1976, spending most of her adult life on the East Coast before returning to where she now lives in the Twin Cities area. She is preparing to work her 12th tax season for H&R Block. She has lived a busy life with marriages and divorces, the tragic loss of a twin son, and even volunteer and part-time work with victims of sexual assault and abusers.

“I put it all behind me and it was only in the background, on the outskirts of my mind,” Snow said of his assault. “So I never treated him, and now is the time. ”


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