Michael Lee Jones: Serial rapist's capture shows magic and limits of DNA tracking

At six-foot-two-inches and 314 pounds, Michael Lee Jones is one of the larger felons in Colorado's prison system. And now, thanks to a gripping account in the December Vanity Fair of the unusual investigation that linked him to at least four rapes in three states, he's one of the state's most infamous inmates, too.

Mark Bowden's "The Case of the Vanishing Blonde" shows how DNA evidence ultimately nailed Jones -- but not until one determined private eye pursued a hunch for many, many months.

Jones was convicted last year of a 2005 sexual assault of a Colorado Springs woman and is now serving a sentence of 24 years to life. But the story of his capture, as recounted by Bowden (Black Hawk Down, Killing Pablo), begins with an earlier attack in Miami, in which a woman was somehow spirited from her hotel, badly beaten and raped -- and left for dead. The local cops soon ran out of leads, but a private investigator hired by the hotel focused on tracking down the identity of a large male caught briefly on surveillance video.

The subsequent gumshoeing eventually led to Jones, whose job with a food-service company allowed him to travel around the country and prey on women. Once Jones was ID'd and his DNA entered into national databanks, he was linked to other cases in New Orleans -- and then convicted of the Springs assault. But the process of getting the matches takes months, and Jones would never have been identified at all without the PI's impressive efforts.

Check out Bowden's story for the complete details. It's worth your while. Jones himself will have plenty of time to read it. His first parole hearing is scheduled for October 2031.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast