Fugitive in Fake Firefighter Sex Attack Captured at Tenn. University
NEW YORK – A man wanted for questioning in the Halloween night sexual attack on a woman in her Manhattan apartment by a man posing as a city firefighter was captured Friday on a college campus in Tennessee, police said.
Police said fashion writer Peter Braunstein, 42, was spotted on the University of Memphis campus around 3 p.m. CST by a woman who recognized him from news reports about his fugitive status. She called campus police, who caught up with Braunstein, according to New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne.
"He said, 'I'm the person you're looking for,' and he stabbed himself three times in the neck," Browne said.
Memphis police Sgt. Vincent Higgins said Braunstein was in the hospital Friday in critical condition.
University of Memphis spokesman Curt Guenther said the school semester is near its end and not many students and teachers were on campus Friday.
"It was easy to spot someone who didn't belong there," Guenther said. "We're not aware of any connection he has to the university or Memphis. The assumption was he was passing through. We just happened to be the place where he ended up and was spotted."
Braunstein was apprehended on a street surrounded by parking lots in the northwestern corner of the campus.
New York police had been hunting since early November for the freelance journalist, once a writer for Women's Wear Daily. Police want to question Braunstein about the attack on a woman by a man who bluffed his way into her apartment after setting two small fires and pounding on her door while dressed in full fire gear.
The 34-year-old woman told detectives that when she opened her door, the fake firefighter pulled a gun on her, then covered her face with a rag soaked in some type of chemical.
As she faded in and out of consciousness, the man put on a ski mask, tied her up and gagged her with duct tape, and molested her, she said. She also recalled him videotaping the attack.
The man left the next morning, leaving the victim naked and bound to her bed. She managed to free herself and call police.
Braunstein has not been charged in the attack, but investigators said they believe Braunstein was obsessed with the victim.
A $12,000 reward had been offered for information leading to Braunstein's arrest and his father had made several public appeals begging his son to turn himself in.
"Just goes to show you how desperate he must have been," Braunstein's father, Alberto Braunstein, told MSNBC on Friday night. "As a father, I'm terribly saddened. And I hope that now the news will cover something else, because you would have thought that he murdered 20 people."
News reports in New York and Tennessee have reported that witnesses spotted Braunstein Nov. 29 selling his blood for $20 at a donation center in Memphis.
A front desk clerk at the blood bank said Braunstein used his real name and a passport for identification. He told the clerks he was a freelance journalist on his way to Kansas.
Higgins said Braunstein was found not far from the blood bank where he was reportedly spotted.
"At this time, we don't have any information that he's committed a crime (in Memphis)," Higgins said.
The University of Memphis, which enrolls close to 20,000 students, sits in a park-like setting in Tennessee's largest city. The campus is flanked by golf courses and a country club.