Real Name: Unknown
Aliases: None known
Wanted For: Rape, Abduction
Missing Since: 1980
Details: On July 19, 1977, in Coral Gables, Florida, a seventeen-year-old girl named "Judy" was driving home along Bird Road when a car came up behind her and began flashing its lights. The car pulled up next to her and the driver pulled out a gun. He forced Judy out of her car and drove her to a construction site where he raped her. The rapist then drove five blocks away and dropped Judy off; he kept her driver's license and panties. Judy had become the first victim of a man called "The Bird Road Rapist" who kidnapped and raped twenty-four women between 1977 and 1979. Judy described her assailant as someone between 6'0" and 6'2" weighing about 220 pounds; he spoke English with a slight Spanish accent. She also said he had a mustache and drove a light green car.
Two days after her attack, Judy was at her job at a gas station when she thought she saw the same car in which she had been raped. Judy and a co-worker went out to the car and she wrote down the man's license plate number. After the man left, Judy called the police and told them about her sighting; investigators then went to speak with the car's owner, Luis Diaz, who worked as a cook at a Cuban restaurant. Diaz was working at the time when the investigators tried to speak to him; however, he did not speak English so they were unable to question him. Authorities doubted that he was the rapist since he did not speak English and did not fit the description that Judy had given them (he was only 5'3" and 120 pounds). He was soon dismissed as a suspect.
Meanwhile, the rapes continued at the rate of one attack per month. The M.O. was the same each time; the victims were always young women driving alone. The rapist always flashed his lights at them, and the women assumed that he was either a police officer, a motorist in distress, or someone trying to warn them about a car problem. However, each time that they got out of the car, they were abducted by the rapist.
At first, authorities assumed that the Bird Road Rapist was one man, but the descriptions given by the victims differed. Some described him as White, others as Hispanic. Some claimed that he was short, while others claimed that he was tall. Some said that he spoke English with a Spanish accent, while others claimed he had no accent at all. Also, he apparently drove several different cars.
Publicity about the case increased the pressure on the police. The first victim, Judy, eventually told police that they should try to question the man she identified as her attacker, Diaz, again. Diaz says that when he was brought in for questioning, the investigators continued to talk to him in English, even though he had no idea what they were saying. Diaz cooperated with the investigators once they were able to get an interpreter.
Then, authorities decided to show another victim a photo lineup which included a picture of Diaz. The victim, who had been attacked just two months earlier, identified Diaz as her assailant. At 2AM on August 29, 1979, Diaz was arrested in his home. On the night Diaz was arrested, police launched a massive effort to build a strong case against him. They impounded Diaz's car in an attempt to find some sort of physical evidence that would connect him to the rapes, but they found nothing. They tore apart Diaz's home searching for the gun used in the attacks, along with the panties and driver's licenses of the victims. Once again, nothing was found.
Sixteen victims were brought into look at Diaz in a police lineup, and eight identified him as the rapist. As a result, he was charged with those eight attacks. After Diaz was charged with those cases, the search for the Bird Road Rapist officially stopped.
A key point in proving the case against Diaz was showing that he was, in fact, bilingual. Investigators interviewed several of Diaz's former neighbors, and the investigators wrote in their report that he does speak English. They also learned that Diaz had a brother-in-law who was a used car salesman, which meant that he had access to several cars. Virginia Snyder, a private investigator, was hired by Diaz's attorneys to try and find evidence to clear Diaz. Based on the variety of descriptions, Snyder felt certain that there was more than one rapist involved in the case, and that it was not Diaz.
On April 29, 1980, Diaz's trial began; the strongest evidence against him was the testimony of the eight victims who identified him as the rapist. Roy Black, Diaz's defense attorney, pointed out that, despite an intensive investigation, the police never found any physical evidence that could connect him to the rapes. Many of the victims had stated that their attacker spoke English; this was something that was difficult for Black to discredit. However, he was able to find several witnesses who said that Diaz, while working for a lawn care business, was unable to speak English to them; he needed to get an interpreter to help. Black notes that if Diaz could have spoken English, he would have in this instance since he is trying to get business from the customers.
The prosecution, however, claimed that Diaz spoke enough English to be the rapist. Two detectives testified that after they arrested Diaz, he spoke to them in English for ninety minutes. However, none of this was tape recorded, and Black believes that the conversation never occurred. Throughout the trial, an interpreter spoke to Diaz, telling him everything that was happening. Black felt that if Diaz actually spoke English, he would have blurted out something in English accidentally at some point in the trial; however, this never occurred.
Diaz's defense also noted that he had almost no time to actually commit the rapes. He almost never drove alone; his wife always dropped him off at work and picked him up when he was done. Snyder also discovered that the detectives were incorrect about Diaz's brother-in-law. She found that the brother-in-law was not a used car salesman, but was actually an insurance salesman.
Another point made by the defense was that since Diaz worked as a cook in a restaurant, he was always covered in the smell of fat, grease, and especially garlic. However, none of the victims ever reported smelling anything on their attacker. Diaz would not have had enough time to go home and get a shower before committing the alleged rapes, so it would be expected that this smell would have remained on him. The defense called in one of Diaz's co-workers to testify about the garlic smell and how it never goes away. The prosecution, however, pointed out that the smell was not at all noticeable in the courtroom, which meant that it would make sense that the victims could not smell it either.
Despite the many arguments made by the defense, the eyewitness statements seem to have more of an effect on the jury. Black, however, notes that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. He says that one victim said that her attacker was 6'2" even though Diaz was only 5'3". The prosecutor claims that the other discrepancies are unimportant, but what was important was that all eight of them identified Diaz as the rapist. When the case went to the jury, they acquitted Diaz of one of the rapes. However, they convicted him of four other rapes, along with four kidnappings, three aggravated assaults, two robberies, one attempted kidnapping, one burglary, one assault, one battery, and one count of using a firearm while committing a felony. Diaz was sentenced to thirteen life terms plus fifty-five years.
After Diaz's conviction, everything seemed to return to normal, but doubts soon emerged. Virginia Snyder noted that the judge for the trial originally believed that Diaz was guilty, but became uncertain after he read her report on the case. At the judge's request, Snyder began re-investigating the case. She questioned the witnesses who were previously questioned by the detectives on the case. She found several discrepancies between what they told her and what was in the detectives' reports. One detective said that a neighbor had heard Diaz speaking in English. When the neighbor was questioned, she said that the detective was mistaken. This detective was later arrested for falsifying police reports, although the reports were not related to Diaz's case.
Snyder has now come to believe that there were multiple men responsible for the Bird Road rapes, and that Diaz was not one of them. She believes that a specific gang was actually responsible; she questioned one of the gang members in prison. This specific member claimed that he was not involved in the rapes, but knew of several men who did. The man gave Snyder an eight-page affidavit swearing that Diaz was innocent.
Then, another victim named "Debbie" came forward, claiming that she did not believe Diaz was the Bird Road Rapist. Debbie had been approached by the rapist on December 20, 1978; she claims that she was able to escape the man without being raped. Debbie described the assailant as 6'0" and clean-shaven, with dark blond hair. This description is the opposite of Diaz. Although Debbie identified Diaz at trial, she said that she was not sure of her identification. When she was shown Diaz in a police lineup, she recognized him from news reports. She assumed that the police had the right man, so she identified him.
Before the trial, Debbie and the other testifying victims were called into the prosecutor's office; each of them told their stories. She felt that it was actually a rehearsal to determine which victims should go on the stand at trial. Then, on the day Debbie was scheduled to testify, she was speaking to another victim about testifying. The other victim said that she could not remember Diaz's face, and actually needed the bailiff to point him out prior to the court proceedings. The victim then spoke to Debbie; she said that she was not certain that her attacker was Diaz, but she also said that she would just identify him as the attacker anyway. Debbie once again felt that she was making a mistake when identifying Diaz. Then, after Diaz was convicted, Debbie claims that she was approached by another man, who tried to attack her in the same way that the Bird Road Rapist tried to attack her years prior.
Another victim from the trial, "Mary", says that she believes Diaz is innocent. Mary claims that when she was shown a photo lineup that included Diaz, she initially chose no one. However, the detective told her to look at the photographs again. She felt that she was being steered into choosing Diaz. She eventually chose him, although she was uncertain if he was the assailant. One week later, she was equally uncertain when shown Diaz in a police lineup. Once again, she eventually chose Diaz, but now she is certain that Diaz was not the man who raped her.
Authorities continue to say that Diaz was the Bird Road Rapist and that the verdict was just. Virginia Snyder and Roy Black are convinced, however, that Diaz is innocent and will some day be released. Luis Diaz continues to maintain his innocence, but he remains in prison.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the December 16, 1992 episode.
Results: Unresolved. After the broadcast, two of the rape convictions were vacated after the two victims recanted their identifications. However, Diaz remained in prison for the other rape convictions. In 2003, however, DNA evidence from one victim's rape kit was sent to a lab to be compared to Diaz. The DNA was found to not match Diaz. DNA from another rape kit was found to match the DNA from the first rape kit, which also eliminated Diaz as being responsible. All other rape kits had since been destroyed.
As a result of this evidence, on August 3, 2005, Diaz was released after serving more than twenty-five years in prison. He was then reunited with his family, who threw a party to celebrate his release. In 2007, he sued the city of Miami for wrongful imprisonment. In July of 2012, he received $1.3 million.
Unfortunately, the real "Bird Road Rapist(s)" has never been brought to justice. However, Virginia Snyder noted that she later determined the true identity of the rapists. Her informant (mentioned above) was Luis Nunez, who told her that his three friends, fellow gang members, were the actual rapists. However, Nunez died in 1994 without ever being interviewed by police. The names of the other men were never disclosed publicly. Virginia herself passed away in 2017.
- Luis Diaz at The Innocence Project
- Luis Diaz at the National Registry of Exonerations
- Bird Road Rapist Getting Bolder, Police Fear - August 19, 1979
- Bird Road Rapist Sought For 8 Attempts, 8 Attacks - August 19, 1979
- Bird Road rapist still loose - August 20, 1979
- Bird Road rape suspect held - August 29, 1979
- Dade police think cook, 41, might be 'Bird Road Rapist' - August 30, 1979
- 'Bird Road rapist' suspect finally going on trial - April 28, 1980
- Bird Road Rapist Sentenced to Life 13 Times by Judge - July 3, 1980
- The Bird Road Rapist: Part 2 - February 17, 1993
- DNA Tests Come to Prisoner's Defense - August 3, 2005
- After 26 years, DNA frees Florida convict - August 3, 2005
- Free Bird? - August 4, 2005
- DNA tests set free 'Bird Road Rapist' - August 4, 2005
- In Florida Rape Case, 'There Is No Time Limit to Justice' - August 5, 2005
- Man Exonerated of Rape Sues Miami - March 21, 2007
- Exonerated man sues police - March 22, 2007
- 3 compensated under Fla. wrongful conviction law - September 18, 2012
- Virginia Snyder, crusader for justice, dies - March 20, 2017