The knock on the basement window couldn’t have come at a worse time.
It was past midnight and Lauren Tepe and her roommates had just finished watching “American Horror Story” in the basement of their off-campus house, Tepe recalled.
“We have a big window in our basement and we hear this knock,” said Tepe, a third-year in psychology. “We were like, ‘What was that?’”
At first, Tepe said it looked like someone was waving at the girls from behind a closed window. But when the girls got closer, Tepe said they realized it was a man masturbating while staring into their room.
“I was just scared and confused and creeped out,” Tepe said.
It’s not the first time a man has been caught masturbating in the north off-campus area lately, either. Over the course of just five days, Columbus Division of Police officers have taken three different public indecency reports — all of which occurred within several blocks of each other — and it’s possible that they’re all related, Columbus Police Commander Christopher Bowling said.
Bowling said the suspect descriptions in all three cases are similar, citing a white male of about the same weight and who falls between 5-feet-5-inches and 5-feet-10-inches tall.
Emily Bowman, a third-year in communication, said something similar happened to her just days after the incident at Tepe’s house. Bowman said she was on the basement-level of her house with her roommates on Oct. 12 when she heard something.
It was a knock on her window.
She turned around and — standing right outside her window — was a fully-exposed man touching himself.
“The fact that I didn’t ask to see it, that I didn’t want to see it — I just felt violated,” Bowman said.
Bowman said her roommates turned off the basement lights so the perpetrator could no longer see into the room. She said they figured he would just leave, but instead, he moved to another part of the window and began masturbating again.
“At that point, we were just trying to figure out what to do,” Bowman said.
Eventually, the perpetrator left the property and about an hour later, Bowman called the cops, she said. When police arrived at Bowman’s house on East Woodruff Avenue, she said officers told the women about the other incident that had happened at Tepe’s house on East Lane Avenue.
“I’m happy we got it reported and that the other girls on Lane called the police too,” Bowman said. “I’m not happy that it happened twice but I’m happy … (the police) know it’s happening.”
And that’s the best course of action anyone can take, Bowling said. Even if something or someone just looks suspicious, Bowling said it’s best to play it safe and call 911.
“Don’t think twice about calling the police,” Bowling said. “If you see something that looks out of place, call. Just do us a favor and call.”
Bowling said police received one other public indecency report Oct. 8. That time, unidentified witnesses called police saying a man was exposing himself on Waldeck Avenue at about 10 p.m.
The next day, officers received Tepe’s call about the man masturbating behind the window. On Oct. 12, they got Bowman’s call.
“Our folks are looking at it like it’s possibly the same guy,” Bowling said. “But they don’t know for certain.”
It’s just as likely one person is behind the crimes as it is multiple people, Bowling said. He said they’ve collected evidence at one scene that will hopefully help identify a suspect.
Bowling said the man who’s been seen on OSU’s campus is likely not Clint Wolf, the suspect who was arrested Monday for masturbating in Grandview Heights and who also matches the description of the Grandview Heights flasher, who has exposed himself to women at least 15 times, according to other local media outlets.
Regardless, Bowling said these types of incidents are hard to protect against because no one knows when or where the perpetrator will strike.
“You’re never sure why somebody is doing this. We could get into the social sciences of it but there are any number of reasons,” Bowling said. “It’s just some random stuff that’s hard to protect against.”
For Tepe, the whole situation makes her uneasy.
“The fact that it kind of happened twice is kind of scary,” Tepe said. “I just don’t understand why it’s happening.”
As Bowman put it, “it was a little hard to sleep that night for all of us.”