Man charged with aggravated rape, robbery of 81-year-old near Mid-South church

Neighbors on alert after 81-year-old woman attacked
Published: Jul. 1, 2015 at 2:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 2, 2015 at 9:35 AM CDT
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Source: WMC Action News 5
Source: WMC Action News 5

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - An 81-year-old woman was attacked while walking on a track beside a Mid-South church.

MPD arrested Palace Bells, 23, and charged him with aggravated rape, aggravated robbery, evading arrest, resisting official detention and theft of property.

Bells' previous history includes charges of assault, violation of probation, vandalism, resisting arrest, violation of bail, and domestic assault.

Memphis police said it happened around 8 a.m. Wednesday near the Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith at 3824 Austin Peay Highway.

Police said the man jumped the woman, sexually assaulted her, and then took off in her car.

About four hours later, police found the woman's car in the Stonegate Apartments off Coleman Road.

After several minutes of watching the parked car, officers spotted the suspect, who tried to run away but ran right into a police car.

MPD colonel Frank Garrett said the church is not to blame.

"Has nothing to do with the church," he said. "We have people who unfortunately do this sort of thing, you know. Hopefully, this is one less person who will be out here doing this sort of thing."

Church leaders said the victim has been taking walks there for 10 years and uses a walker. They explained her pattern is to walk early before the church opens and security arrives, or in the evening after the church closes.

The woman is not a member of Greater Imani.

"We have all known her and just deeply concerned about her," said Pastor Bill Adkins. "But she comes before there is anyone here and before there is any security here, and tragically, the wrong person was here waiting on her apparently."

Church leaders said she walks in a secluded area more than 100 yards from the church building.

"She loved to walk here but the problem is that she comes and-- not blaming her for anything, God knows that-- but she was just coming at times we didn't have any security here," Adkins said.

Adkins said his church has very good security and for a number of years, his staff has trained other church security teams in Memphis and around the country.

He added that he and others at the church have asked the woman to walk when security is present, but she always politely refused.

"It's just sad," said witness Melissa Frohning. "I don't know what this world is coming to. It just breaks my heart."

The victim was taken to the hospital in non-critical condition.

Copyright 2015 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.