A man accused in six separate sex assaults at knifepoint in Southern California beginning in 1995 appeared in a San Diego courtroom Tuesday for the first time since investigators were able to track him down using DNA technology.
Christopher VanBuskirk, 46, was arrested in Goodyear, Arizona, on April 29 in connection with the sex assaults, four of which date back nearly 24 years.
He was extradited to San Diego Monday to face charges for four of the cases, which allegedly happened in San Diego County over the course of three months in 1995. VanBuskirk was booked into San Diego Central Jail on several felony counts including rape by force.
At his arraignment, VanBuskirk was formally charged with eight felony counts related to the sex crimes. Represented by a public defender, he pleaded not guilty. His bail was set at $5 million.
According to investigators, the first knifepoint sex assault allegedly involving VanBuskirk happened on Aug. 18, 1995. Three more similar attacks followed between that date and Nov. 17, 1995.
SDPD Lt. Shawn Takeuchi told NBC 7 Tuesday that investigators have spoken to the four San Diego victims of the sex assaults. He said they were each "shocked and ecstatic" to hear of VanBuskirk's arrest.
Takeuchi was able to provide a few more details Tuesday of the 1995 sex assaults including when and where they took place.
The lieutenant said the first assault – on Aug. 18, 1995 – happened on the 11100 block of Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, near the Tierrasanta Recreation Center. In that case, the victim was attacked while jogging at night.
The second assault took place on Oct. 10, 1995, on the 7300 block of Mesa College Drive. Takeuchi said that victim was attacked while inside her daughter’s apartment. The third sex assault came on Nov. 14, 1995, when a victim was attacked inside her home on the 3800 block of Catamarca Drive.
Three days later – on Nov. 17, 1995 – the suspect struck again. That time, a victim was attacked inside her home on the 1900 block of Missouri Street.
Takeuchi told NBC 7 the investigation is ongoing. At this point, it is unclear if VanBuskirk had any existing relationships with his victims.
In all four cases, investigators collected DNA samples. All four samples belonged to the same suspect, but investigators, at that time, were not able to identify the suspect.
In 1999, when the San Diego Police Department began participating in the Combined DNA Index System, investigators were still unable to find a match for the mystery DNA samples collected at the sex crimes four years prior.
The cases remained unsolved.
Then, in March 2002 and November 2004, DNA samples were collected from two victims of sexual assaults in Riverside County. Both of those victims were attacked at knifepoint; the samples matched SDPD's mystery samples from the 1995 cases.
Nearly 15 years later, investigators finally got their big break in the case they had long been after.
In February 2019, the SDPD's Sex Crime Unit reached out to the FBI for help. The two agencies worked together and, with the help of public access genealogical databases, were able to identify a potential suspect in all six sex assault cases: VanBuskirk.
Through their investigation, officials identified direct family members of VanBuskirk whose DNA was then compared to the samples developed from evidence at the scenes of the crimes.
Investigators traced VanBuskirk's whereabouts to Arizona, where he was most recently living, and arrested him.
An extradition document filed with the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona after VanBuskirk's arrest stated the suspect is married and has a child. He had been living with his family in Goodyear, Arizona, for the past seven years, the document said.
Investigators said Tuesday VanBuskirk lived in San Diego and Riverside counties at the times of the attacks.
He is set to appear in court again in San Diego on May 16 for a readiness hearing; his preliminary hearing is set for May 20.
If convicted on all eight counts, VanBuskirk is facing a maximum sentence of 190 years to life in prison.
San Diego authorities are now working with investigators in Riverside County on how to proceed with charges against VanBuskirk in the March 2002 and November 2004 cases there.
Investigators said anyone who believes they may have been a victim of VanBuskirk can reach out to San Diego police.