Friends and neighbors of Karl Vanderwoude don't believe he could possibly be the "well-dressed groper"-- the sexual predator implicated in four attacks on women in Manhattan. Vanderwoude was arrested and charged in connection with three of the attacks.
“This is totally a mistake,” Natasha Cerda, a friend and former coworker of Vanderwoude's told The New York Post. “We would hang out late at night, go to bars. He never crossed that line. He was super respectful.”
Cerda says she saw him just last week and that "the cops totally have the wrong person.”
“I’m almost 100 percent sure,” she said. “I know the type of person he is, and I know if he was this sick person . . . he would have done something to me because he had many chances to.”
26-year-old Vanderwoude, a staffer at an international financial firm, is charged with forcible touching and unlawful surveillance. Cops say Vanderwoude is the suspect seen in surveillance footage dressed in dark suit, overcoat and gloves. He was picked out of a police lineup by some of the victims.
In the "well-dressed groper"'s most recent attack, CBS reports, a 22-year-old woman was touched between her legs while inside the Chambers and Center Street subway station near city hall.
The first incident occurred Feb. 25 at East 62nd and Park in the Upper East Side when a 33-year-old woman was approached from behind by a man and grabbed on the inner-thigh. The man then ran off.
In all of the attacks, victims described the perp as a white, well-dressed man, with brown hair, 5 feet 11 inches tall, and about 180 pounds.
"There was nothing in my mind distinguishing about those photos at all," Vanderwoude's lawyer told The Daily News. "He looks no different than any well-dressed, dark-haired man in his 30s in New York."
Vandenwoude reportedly volunteered at a women’s crisis center counseling victims of domestic disputes and held Bible studies in his Park Slope apartment. "I hope he didn’t do it," Bible study buddy Javier Maldonado said.
And his landlady, Carmen Olmedo, told The Daily News, "I don’t believe it’s him. To me he doesn’t have to grope anybody. All he has to do is wink and they’d go chasing him."
If the NYPD does have the wrong man, it wouldn't be the first time they've accused an innocent of being a serial groper.
William Giraldo was the first suspect arrested in connection with the Brooklyn Groper case that terrorized Park Slope and surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn this summer and autumn, when nearly 20 women were victims of a serial sexual assaulter.
Giraldo was exonerated by DNA evidence five months later but not before spending a month in prison, missing his wedding day, being threatened with deportation, and basically just having his life ruined.