4 Investigates: The serial rapist who got away

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Detectives at police departments across the country will probably never know for sure how many women Claude Dean Hull II raped. He’ll be in prison until he dies as his sentence for just a few of them, but the total might be in the hundreds.

What’s certain is that number could have been far smaller if Las Cruces police knew who they had when they arrested Hull for driving a stolen car in 1991.

But because a warrant out of California wasn’t immediately entered by police there into the National Crime Information Center, authorities in New Mexico treated Hull – who goes by his middle name, Dean – as a common criminal.

He was anything but.

Journalist Tamara Leitner lived across the hall from one of Hull’s victims.

It was Scottsdale, Arizona. 1999.

Leitner covered crime for the Tribune newspaper there. Walking out of her door to crime scene tape, she was forced into a story she’d end up pursuing for more than two decades, culminating in her book, “Don’t Say a Thing.”

She tracked Hull’s crimes from Washington to California, Arizona to Florida and in between.

In 1991, Hull attacked a woman in Clovis, California. Police knew he was their man and got a warrant, but Hull skipped town. His path took him through Arizona and into New Mexico.

A Las Cruces police officer making a routine check of license plates at low-end motels and truck stops noticed the plate on Hull’s car came back to a different vehicle. For weeks, Hull – who often used aliases but didn’t this time – made his way through New Mexico’s criminal justice system on the stolen car charge.

Sitting in jail in Las Cruces, Leitner said, Hull thought surely he’d been caught.

“And every day he would hear the heavy footsteps of the guards coming and they never came for him,” Leitner said.

Hull figured no one knew he was more than just a guy who stole a car. He changed his plea to guilty and a judge gave him a more-or-less standard sentence: time served and a year of probation, much of it to be served in an Oklahoma rehabilitation center.

The jail set Hull free, but he never showed up in Oklahoma.

Police wouldn’t catch up to him for 8 more years.

“He went on to assault countless other women,” Leitner said.

Two of them were Jennifer O’Neill and Karen Sullivan.

Each woman has taken a different path since the assaults in the late ‘90s, but neither has let the attack define her.

Karen Sullivan became an outspoken advocate for survivors.

“I found that the more I talked about it, the more I released it and let go of it and put it in a place where, yes, this happened to me, but it’s over here and now what are we going to do about victims’ rights?” she said.

Sullivan forged a connection with then-Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano and helped influence the way police there handle sexual violence cases.

O’Neill immediately reported her attack, too, and spoke to KOB about the need for consistent attention to rape cases. She pointed to the backlog across the country of untested rape kits (Albuquerque just recently cleared its own backlog of thousands of kits).

“That was the nineties, but I mean, how far have we come since then?” O’Neill asked.

Law enforcement sources told 4 Investigates that while there are federal guidelines for entering (and removing) arrest warrants in NCIC, there’s no standard practice among departments. At the Albuquerque Police Department, an NCIC unit enters some information like missing property into the database, but arrest warrants are entered by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office.

The Department of Public Safety, which oversees New Mexico State Police, said federal standards ask that the warrant be entered within 72 hours after an officer receives it. Usually that happens through NMSP’s dispatch center.

The Administrative Office of the Courts said it’s currently developing an automated system to deliver warrants from courts across New Mexico to State Police. The system would not only streamline the warrant process, but lay the foundation for ensuring no warrant for NMSP goes unentered and all of them are put into the federal database as soon as possible.

The system is expected to be up and running later this summer.