AZ Man Suspected in Coachella Valley Assaults Charged with S.D. County Rapes

AZ Man Suspected in Coachella Valley Assaults Charged with S.D. County Rapes

News Staff

An Arizona man allegedly linked by DNA to a half-dozen sexual assaults in Southern California over the last 25 years, including two in the Coachella Valley, was charged Tuesday with eight felonies in San Diego County.

Christopher VanBuskirk, 46, is suspected of two Coachella Valley sexual assaults that occurred in March 2002 and November 2004, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. He lived in the area from late 2001 to 2005. One of the alleged assaults occurred in Rancho Mirage, while the other took place in Palm Desert.

The Goodyear, Arizona, resident has not yet been charged in Riverside County, so he will be prosecuted first in San Diego County.

San Diego police contend that VanBuskirk, then in his early 20s, threatened his victims with a knife while sexually assaulting them on four occasions between August and November of 1995.

Vanbuskirk — who pleaded not guilty on Tuesday — faces 190 years to life if convicted for the San Diego cases, two of which occurred in the Tierrasanta neighborhood, one in Pacific Beach and one near San Diego Mesa College.

He is charged in San Diego County with four counts of forcible rape, two counts of forcible oral copulation and two counts of forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object, according to Deputy District Attorney Martin Doyle.

DNA evidence linked the San Diego and Riverside county cases, but the identity of the alleged perpetrator was not established until this year, according to police.

In February, the SDPD Sex Crimes Unit sought help with the case from the FBI Forensic Genetic Genealogy Team, and investigators from the two agencies were able to identify the alleged perpetrator two months later via public-access genealogical databases.

Last week, San Diego police detectives traveled to Arizona and coordinated with the Phoenix Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Office and FBI to arrest the suspect.

Vanbuskirk was booked into the San Diego Central Jail on Monday, and after pleading not guilty to all counts Tuesday afternoon, is due back in San Diego court May 16 for a readiness conference.

He remains held on $5 million bail.