That’s as close as authorities say they got to catching convicted sex offender Jason Dean Billingsley during a nearly weeklong hunt after identifying him as the suspect in a brutal rape in West Baltimore in which the victim’s neck was cut, and she and a man were set on fire.
When they later linked him to the killing of tech CEO Pava LaPere, they decided to finally warn the public, knowing Billingsley would “go underground.” And that’s exactly what happened, acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley said, until Billingsley was apprehended in at a train station in Bowie late Wednesday night.
Worley defended the department’s efforts at a press conference Thursday, saying detectives and fugitive task force officers worked tirelessly to bring Billingsley in. He said the first attack was “targeted” — without providing evidence — and police didn’t think there was a need to warn the public.
“If we made a mistake, I’d tell you we made a mistake, like I did with [the mass shooting in] Brooklyn,” Worley said. “I don’t think we made a mistake.”
Billingsley, a convicted sex offender released in October 2022, is facing a slew of charges now related to the two attacks. And Worley said police are reviewing other cases to see if Billingsley may be linked.
Worley revealed Thursday that authorities believe LaPere, who The Baltimore Banner reported was found on the roof of her apartment building in Mount Vernon, was killed on Friday night. She wasn’t found until Monday morning, not long after she was reported missing.
The crime spree has attracted national attention — LaPere was a rising star in tech circles who was named to the Forbes “30 Under 30″ list in the category of social impact. The crime has also raised questions about Billingsley’s sentence for a 2013 sex offense conviction and early release from prison under the system of good-time credits.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates said he would seek a sentence of life without parole, and questioned whether legislators should consider revoking good-time credits for people convicted of first-degree sex offense or rape.
Mayor Brandon Scott was more blunt, saying: “Rapists should not get out early. Period.”
The first attack occurred Sept. 19, in the 800 block of Edmondson Avenue. Police initially reported the incident as an “arson investigation” in which two victims were found suffering from “multiple injuries.” A 5-year-old child was also located unharmed, police said.
There was no mention of a rape or assault, and a spokesperson declined to confirm a reporter’s questions at the time about whether the victims had been bound.
But the incident was far more harrowing. A source with knowledge of that investigation told The Banner that Billingsley entered the apartment, pointed a gun at a man and woman and handcuffed and duct-taped them. Billingsley, the source said, raped the woman and cut her neck. He then doused them both in some kind of liquid and set them on fire, the source said.
Worley said police quickly identified Billingsley as the suspect and obtained a warrant. But he said there was a connection between Billingsley and the victims that caused police to believe the incident was “targeted” and that there was not a need to alert the public.
He said Billingsley was the maintenance man for the building, but one of the victims told the Banner that was the extent of the connection.
“At that time, we did not believe that he was committing random acts,” Worley said. “We believed he committed a targeted act with the victims that he victimized that day.”
Worley said he didn’t want to reveal more information because he didn’t “want to speak badly about the victims.”
But he said police began looking for Billingsley, circulating his information to officers and tracking his phone, financial transactions and social media accounts. He said there were “several instances” in which police had homed in on his location but he was able to elude capture.
“The warrant was a priority,” he said. “We were aggressively trying to capture the individual and locate his whereabouts and take him into custody.”
Then came the discovery of LaPere’s body on Monday. Police released her identity to the public on Tuesday.
Worley said a detective recognized Billingsley as the suspect in both cases, and police made the decision to alert the public that he was a danger.
“He will kill and he will rape,” Worley said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
But even after publicly identifying Billingsley as wanted in LaPere’s killing, officials declined for nearly 24 hours to acknowledge the Edmondson Avenue incident other than to say they believed he was linked to another previous crime. After media outlets reported on the incident citing sources, the Police Department issued a news release confirming that a warrant had been obtained a week earlier.
Worley said he did not mention the Edmondson Avenue assault at the time in order to protect the two victims.
“One was in the hospital, one doesn’t live in the city,” Worley said. “We needed to give them protection. ... We didn’t want to tip our hand.”
Hours after that news conference, a friend of Billingsley’s told police that he had stolen a gun from her home in Owings Mills, according to court documents.
Law enforcement is still trying to understand the circumstances of LaPere’s killing.
In an application for a statement of charges, Detective Antonio Saunders wrote that investigators reviewed surveillance video that shows LaPere entered her apartment building after 10:30 p.m. on Friday. She later got off the couch in the lobby, walked to the front door and spoke with a man who had waved to her, police reported.
Next, LaPere let the man inside, police reported, and they both got onto the elevator together. The footage shows him later leaving a stairwell into the lobby.
Police reported that they used departmental “databases and resources” to identify Billingsley as the man. Detectives stated that they found a witness who was also able to pick him out from the surveillance video.
The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that LaPere’s cause of death was strangulation and blunt force trauma. The manner of death was homicide.
Billingsley pleaded guilty in 2015 in Baltimore Circuit Court to first-degree sex offense and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with all but 14 years suspended, plus five years’ probation. He threatened to shoot a woman, strangled her, forced her to perform oral sex and stole $53 from her wallet.
Circuit Judge Emanuel Brown questioned why he should accept the plea agreement — the sentencing guidelines called for a punishment that ranged from 15 to 25 years in prison — but did so because prosecutors said the woman did not want to testify.
“Mr. Billingsley, this court accepted the guilty plea really based on the agreement of the victim in this case,” Brown said. “I say that so you understand that this court had something else in mind.”
Billingsley was denied parole and released in 2022 on good-time credits after more than nine years of incarceration.
“When you look at the facts of the original case, you’ll agree he shouldn’t have been out on the streets,” Scott said at the news conference.
Maryland’s Comprehensive Registered Sex Offender Website listed him as being “non-compliant” based on his failure to register his address as required on Sept. 25. Billingsley also has a 2009 conviction for first-degree assault and 2011 conviction for second-degree assault.
“What the residents of Baltimore should be doing is questioning why he was let out, and how that happened,” Scott said. “And that’s not on the Police Department. And they’re the ones who are out here arresting folks for murder, taking record numbers of guns off the street, having a double-digit deficit in homicides.”
Police, he said, “didn’t decide to let this sociopath back on the streets of Baltimore.”
In a statement, the LaPere family thanked the Baltimore Police Department and other law enforcement agencies for their “tireless efforts” and the apprehension of Billingsley.
“We’re relieved to know he can no longer hurt other innocent victims,” the statement said. “While this doesn’t change that Baltimore lost one of its most passionate, influential fans, our efforts remain focused on remembering and celebrating Pava Marie – her life, successes, and legacy.”
This story has been updated to clarify the timeline of when police now say Jason Dean Billingsley entered and left Pava LaPere’s apartment building, and correct the spelling of Mathew Silverman’s name in a photo caption.