My Rapist Got A 406-Year Prison Term. Here's What Happened When He Was Up For Parole.

·12 min read
The author in Santa Cruz, California, in 1986. (Photo: Courtesy of Paula Finn)
The author in Santa Cruz, California, in 1986. (Photo: Courtesy of Paula Finn)

Note: The following essay includes details of sexual assault and may be triggering to some readers.

Two years ago, George Sanchez, aka the notorious San Francisco Bay area “ski mask rapist,” came up for the first parole of his 406-year prison term. Why should I have cared?

Because I am one of his victims.

Between the years of 1984 and 1987, Sanchez brutally terrorized at least 25 women in nine communities. His victims included an 83-year-old woman volunteering at a church. The deputy DA called him “arguably the most vicious and horrific serial rapist” in the county’s history.

In 1987 I was living in Cupertino, California, and working nights at a medical clinic six miles away in the upscale town of Los Altos. I appreciated my job as medical transcriber since it allowed me the freedom to set my own hours, and being an introvert and a night owl, I usually went in after 5 p.m. when everyone else had left. I felt completely safe in the office and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the stress-free work.

On the evening of Nov. 13, my boyfriend Nick and I were driving home from celebrating his birthday. The mood turned serious when he mentioned that the ski mask rapist had most recently struck in Cupertino.

“And he’s got a gun,” Nick added. He knew my habit of walking alone at night and cautioned me to be careful. I promised I’d be more mindful of my surroundings, but I actually gave the rapist no more thought ... until he suddenly appeared at my workplace five nights later.

I looked up from my typewriter to see a ski-masked figure standing two feet away, pointing a gun at me. I hadn’t heard him come in; he was just suddenly there. My mind immediately whipped into high gear. At first I thought it was an employer or a friend playing a late Halloween joke on me. In the next second, I realized this was no joke.

An involuntary whimper escaped from me. His gloved hand covered my mouth before I could react. “Don’t scream or make any noise. I’ve shot before and I’ll shoot again,” he warned.

I expected the gun to go off at any second. An image flashed into my mind of my parents’ shocked grief when they learned how I died.

He pulled off my eyeglasses. “Do as I say,” he hissed as he pushed me out of my chair and onto the floor. I instinctively lay on my stomach and he ordered me to put my hands behind my back. He asked where the office money was and I told him about the safe in the Xerox room next to us. He demanded the combination. I told him I didn’t know it. “You’d better remember it or you’re dead,” he said. Then I felt the cold sting of metal nudging the back of my neck.

“I swear to God, I don’t know it!” I told him, begging him to believe me. I expected the gun to go off at any second. An image flashed into my mind of my parents’ shocked grief when they learned how I died. As I felt the gun press deeper into my neck, I prayed the bullet wouldn’t leave me paralyzed.

He grabbed my coat off the back of my chair and threw it over my head to cover my eyes. At one point I realized I was hyperventilating loudly. I forced myself to stop because I was terrified of angering him. He went into the Xerox room for maybe 40 seconds, then came back. “Get moving!” he ordered.

As I crawled out of the room on all fours, he followed behind, impatiently shouting directions since the coat blocked my vision. Several yards down the hall, he pushed me into the children’s small waiting room. “Take off all your clothes. I’m going to fuck you.”

He sodomized and raped me. It was over very quickly. Then he ordered me to lie on the floor face down. “I’m tying you up so you don’t do anything stupid like call the cops,” he told me. Using something that felt like rope, he bound my hands to a wooden chair and placed the chair on top of my back. He told me to shut my eyes and I kept them closed tightly.

He asked me again for the safe’s combination and again, I insisted I didn’t know it. He placed a threatening hand on my neck.

“Are you sure?” he demanded.

“I swear to God!” I breathed.

He must have believed me because his next words were, “I’ll let you live.” He told me he was going to look around the office for money, and he’d come back one more time. “Don’t move,” he cautioned. I fully believed he’d be back.

When I heard his footsteps leave the room, I felt guardedly euphoric. Did this mean I’d survive? Was this ordeal really almost over? Given his order not to move, I forced myself to lie perfectly still, almost afraid to breathe.

While I lay there, I thought again of my parents. I could very well be killed and I’d never get to say goodbye or to answer the questions that would probably haunt them forever.

The ski mask rapist had opened the sliding door in the office and the cold night air wafted in. He’d draped something soft over me, but I was naked except for my socks. I lay face down for the next six hours, shivering, expecting him to come back any minute.

I gradually worked up the courage to straighten one arm slightly to relieve the stiffness, while mentally preparing to plead for my life when he discovered I’d disobeyed his order not to move.

The water cooler in the next room cycled on and off all night, and each time it came on, I’d think I heard his footsteps behind me. I believed if he came back again it would be to kill me. I alternated between praying he wouldn’t come back — and whenever I thought I heard his footsteps — praying he wouldn’t do me more harm.

My body would periodically shake violently, partly from the cold and partly from terror. I’d lain perfectly still for a long time with my eyes still shut and my arms behind my back were starting to cramp. I gradually worked up the courage to straighten one arm slightly to relieve the stiffness, while mentally preparing to plead for my life when he discovered I’d disobeyed his order not to move.

Eventually I got brave enough to feel around to the cloth he’d draped over my head and was immensely relieved to identify the zipper of my own coat. It wasn’t something he’d be coming back for. For the first time, I allowed myself to believe he’d actually left for good. I tested the bindings on my wrists and realized I could wrestle out of them.

When it seemed like it must be almost dawn, I decided to get up, get dressed quickly, grab my keys and make a run for it. I’d report the crime from home.

My clothes were on the floor beside me. I didn’t see my shoes, but I didn’t care. Once dressed, I ran into my office to get my keys and glasses but couldn’t find them. Since I was stuck without them, my only recourse was to call 911.

I thought of the horror movies where the victim risks phoning for help, terrified her assailant will reappear and stop her from making the call. As soon as the dispatcher answered, I felt my confidence grow. She immediately told me it sounded like the ski mask rapist and that he’d been active lately. It wasn’t until that moment that I connected my faceless attacker with the criminal who had become so infamous.

I stayed on the phone until the police arrived. I burst into tears at the sight of them but quickly recovered. They searched the building and found my shoes placed neatly in a chair and my purse with its contents dumped out in another room off the hall. The police noted the red swelling and welts on my wrists from being bound. I’d later learn the rapist used the office’s drapery cords to tie me up.

After a hospital exam, a rape counselor drove me back to the office to show everyone I was OK. My boss had tears in his eyes. I’d been up all night and the prophylactic tetracycline the hospital gave me for STIs had made me nauseous. When I got home, I was shaking and shivering uncontrollably. I felt unhealthy ― like a stranger to myself. I was also worried about the possibility of contracting HIV from this man. I suddenly felt weak and frail.

Later that day, the San Jose police chief came over to interview me. What stood out most vividly in my memory was the ski mask’s red ribbing around the eye holes, which I’d seen for three seconds at most. Though I was later unable to recall much about the man who assaulted me, the image of those hideous rims stayed with me. It’s amazing how the brain works in the middle of a crisis.

When I told him the police found my shoes placed neatly in a chair, the detective got so excited he almost hugged me. The media had never reported the ski mask rapist’s signature of leaving his victims’ clothes meticulously arranged.

What stood out most vividly in my memory was the ski mask’s red ribbing around the eye holes, which I’d seen for three seconds at most. Though I was later unable to recall much about the man who assaulted me, the image of those hideous rims stayed with me. It’s amazing how the brain works in the middle of a crisis.

After committing one more assault after mine, George Sanchez was arrested a month later in what the supervising deputy district attorney referred to as “probably the most significant arrest in a sexual assault case in the last 15 years.”

My employer applied immediately for my workers compensation. I definitely needed it and I wasn’t sure I could ever face going back to that office (and I never did). Everyone told me I was “holding up really well,” and I was proud of being seen as outwardly strong. The turmoil was inside.

Almost immediately, the compulsive checking started: Anytime I came home, I needed to check the whole apartment for fear the rapist was hiding somewhere inside. I even checked under the kitchen sink. Then the nightmares began.

Before the assault, I’d had problems with insomnia, but now it was almost impossible to fall asleep until the sun came up. I started keeping a bedroom lamp on all night. I was startled by sounds I’d never paid attention to before.

In addition to HIV, I worried about other future implications: How would this trauma affect my love life? What if my once-relaxing nightly walks now only caused terror? What if severe emotional damage haunted me the rest of my life?

One month later, the physical symptoms began. I was having frequent attacks of disabling stomach pain. At times it hurt too much to even stand up straight. I’d spend hours in bed, whimpering, squeezing the sheets in agony.

The counselor I’d seen after I was raped referred me to a doctor to prescribe something to help me sleep. That psychiatrist was a godsend. She recognized that the typical sadness and anger rape victims often felt were completely absent in me ― fear was the only emotion I’d allowed myself to access. She believed I’d been repressing feelings in order to appear strong.

Since those emotions had to find some way to express themselves, they were manifesting physically in the form of pain and, behaviorally, in the form of compulsions. I had a lifelong history of stuffing feelings inside. My therapist told me the goal of our time together would be “to chisel through the emotional armor plate” I was carrying around.

As the shame, grief, and rage toward my attacker came to the surface, the compulsions and checks I did to my home faded away and the stomach pain stopped completely. It was a long, complicated road to recovery. But I made it.

To the shock and outrage of many, myself included, Sanchez came up for parole in 2019, but he was denied.

When I learned of the hearing, I had a choice to make. I could let the news lead me to a dark place of reliving the trauma that years of counseling had healed or ... I could turn it into something positive.

Although my assault took place more than 30 years ago, the horror of sexual violence continues to be one of the world’s major public health, criminal, and social justice issues.

When I learned of the hearing, I had a choice to make. I could let the news lead me to a dark place of reliving the trauma that years of counseling had healed or ... I could turn it into something positive.

I wrote this account to help destigmatize it and to assure other rape victims that even after an assault as terrifying as mine — healing and happiness are possible. In addition, for the women who’ve chosen to keep their own victimization a secret, I’m hoping my story can motivate them to come forward with theirs.

In the rape’s aftermath, I’d been filled with fears about my future, and none of those materialized. Today I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m proud of myself for refusing to give Sanchez the power he could have held over me, and I’m proud of creating a satisfying life as a teacher and prolific author. The news of the hearing prompted me to reflect on these blessings: it was a reminder to be grateful for what I’d been taking for granted.

I was unable to attend Sanchez’s first hearing, but he’ll get another chance in 2026 and I vow to be there to voice my fervent wish that justice continue to be served and that he stay in prison.

Paula Finn is the author of “Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy” (Rowman & Littlefield). Her articles have been published in blogs and by such magazines as Writer’s Digest, ScriptMag, and ScreenwritingU. She’s also authored ten gift books and licensed her inspirational prose worldwide on top-selling gift products. You can follow her on Twitter at @PaulaFinnquotes.

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Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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