MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A drifter accused of brazenly raping an elderly woman in broad daylight in New York's Central Park was a person of interest in a 2002 slaying in McDowell County, but investigators never had enough evidence to charge him, police said Friday.
David Albert Mitchell, 42, has had run-ins with the law virtually all of his adult life, and was twice charged with crimes in which the alleged victim was an elderly woman, according to court records and a prosecutor. Also, an ex-girlfriend says he bragged about killing Barbara Flake in the McDowell County community of Jenkinjones.
West Virginia State Police determined that the woman died from a blow to the head when they found her skull two years after she disappeared from her home -- but there was never enough information or probable cause to arrest Mitchell, said Sgt. C.F. Kane.
Mitchell's sister-in-law and onetime girlfriend, Saretta Mitchell, told The Associated Press that the man once bragged about killing Flake -- a claim she reported to police when Flake's remains were found.
"In a social setting, when there's alcohol involved, he will tell you anything," she said Friday. "He bragged to me and some of our friends at different times that he had murdered two people."
The rape charge against David Mitchell is just his latest brush with the law. Police in New York City say he raped a 73-year-old birdwatcher who took a compromising photo of him. Days earlier, the woman took a photo of Mitchell allegedly fondling himself -- she told police he unsuccessfully tried to take away her camera and demanded she delete the image. That encounter happened more than a week ago.
The birdwatcher told police she was attacked late Wednesday morning in a wooded area near Strawberry Fields, a spot that serves as a memorial to former Beatle John Lennon and is one of Central Park's busiest sections. Police said the woman picked Mitchell out of a lineup.
In an interview with the New York Post published Thursday, the woman recounted the attack and said she felt enraged. She said she wanted him to be maimed and then sent to prison for life.
Mitchell was arraigned early Friday on charges of first-degree rape, robbery, assault and other charges and ordered held without bail, prosecutors said. A call to his attorney at arraignment was not returned.
Earlier, Mitchell said nothing as he was led from the Special Victims Unit to face charges in court, but he spat at reporters gathered there. He also was charged with threatening a man with a knife last month in the same area of the park.
He told the man, according to investigators: "I have no problem stabbing you as many times as I want and making this circle full of blood."
Court and prison records in Virginia and West Virginia show Mitchell has had regular stays behind bars.