A Man Used Instagram To Target Women And Teens Whom He Then Raped And Tried To Extort, Los Angeles Police Said

  Los Angeles Police Department / Via Twitter: @LAPDHQ, Boonchai Wedmakawand / Getty Images
Los Angeles Police Department / Via Twitter: @LAPDHQ, Boonchai Wedmakawand / Getty Images

A 21-year-old Los Angeles man described by police as a “serial rapist” has been arrested for allegedly preying on women and teenage girls using their own social media accounts over a period of two years, officials said Wednesday.

Michael Neal Watson Jr. was arrested on Nov. 8 and is facing 16 felony charges that include rape, assault, robbery, and attempted extortion. He remains in custody in lieu of $1.7 million bail. In total, a task force identified 12 incidents between June 19, 2020, and July 20, 2022, in which Watson allegedly committed crimes against 13 women and four girls who were under the age of 18.

“The incidents shared a common methodology wherein the suspect initiated communication with the victims via Instagram then lured them to various locations where the victims were sexually assaulted,” Los Angeles police said in the statement.

The investigation into Watson began in February, when the sheriff’s department responded to a report of forcible rape and robbery in Walnut, a suburban community east of Los Angeles. The suspect, later identified as Watson, had been invited to an unnamed woman’s home after having met her on Instagram. When he arrived, he reportedly raped one of two women who were in the house and stole both of their cellphones.

According to police, Watson allegedly “re-contacted one of the victims via social media and sent threatening messages to her. The suspect also accessed her phone, impersonated the victim on social media, and extorted money from the victim by threatening to post nude images obtained from her phone.”

During the course of the subsequent investigation, the statement said, “DNA evidence was obtained linking the suspect to similar reported incidents within Los Angeles, Hollywood, East Los Angeles, and Inglewood.”

According to the criminal complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News, Watson faces five counts of second-degree robbery, four counts of attempted extortion, and two counts of forcible rape. Watson has also been charged with forcible rape of a child victim over the age of 14; assault with a firearm; aggravated sexual assault of a child; grand theft; and unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor more than three years younger (than the alleged attacker).

His arrest was the result of a multiagency investigation between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the LAPD, and Inglewood Police.

“Based on the nature of the offenses, detectives believe there may be additional unidentified victims,” LA police said.