Sex Thief

Over 25 years and six dropped rape cases, Hy Doan has perfected the art of stealing sex.

Hy Doan
Renee clutches a creased black-and-white mug shot in the dim light of a suburban diner. The 43-year-old strokes her strawberry-blond ponytail as she surveys the scrawny Vietnamese man in the photo.

She nods recognition at his deer-in-the-headlights eyes, flared nostrils, and pursed lips. "He looks just the same," she says. "But I look pretty much the same too. I guess not much has changed in 25 years."

Now a wife and mother, Renee still remembers the smallest details of the night they first met, though she hasn't spoken of it in two decades.

It was August 29, 1980. Renee -- who talked to Scene on the condition that her last name not be used -- was a petite but tomboyish 18-year-old working at a McDonald's in Akron. At 2 a.m., she was closing up the restaurant alone.

As she turned off the parking-lot floodlights and walked toward her '69 Pontiac, a man sneaked up behind her. He held a kitchen knife to her throat. "Get in and drive," he said in a thick Asian accent.

The man guided Renee into a sparsely furnished studio apartment in a house on a hidden alley. "I'm not going to hurt you; I just want to talk," he said.

Keeping the knife at her back, he politely introduced himself as Hy Doan. He told her he was from Vietnam and that he was a math student at the University of Akron. "He just kept talking off-the-wall, like we were friends or something," Renee says.

They spoke for several hours, before Doan asked Renee about her sexual history. She didn't have one. "I'm a virgin," she said.

Doan didn't believe her. His small talk became aggressive. At 5 foot 5 and 120 pounds, he was almost as tiny as his victim. Renee figured she could take him.

Suddenly, she jumped on his back and wrestled him to the floor. She got her hands around his slender neck and choked him until he appeared to pass out.

Renee jumped up and ran for the door. As she fiddled with the lock, Doan got up. Just before Renee could open the door, he grabbed her long ponytail and yanked her to his bedroom, ordering her to undress.

Afraid for her life, she sacrificed her virginity.

As Doan raped her, Renee stared through the doorway at the kitchen cupboards, which were filled with shiny packs of ramen noodles. "To this day, I can't eat the stuff," she says. "I can't even look at it."

When he was finished, Doan made her lie in bed and cuddle. He asked if she enjoyed herself. "He was talking to me like I was his girlfriend," she says. "I think he really believed it was consensual."

The sun was already peeking through the blinds when he allowed her to get dressed. He said he'd let her go home if she promised to keep seeing him. She gave him a fake phone number and left.

Renee went to a friend's house. The girl talked Renee into going to Akron City Hospital. Police were notified. Doan was charged with rape and kidnapping.

Two months later, the case went before a grand jury. But Doan, who maintained the sex was consensual, wasn't indicted. The jury didn't buy Renee's story. She knew too much about Doan's home to have been there only once, jurors believed. They assumed the two were friends. "I was there for seven hours, memorizing everything in that house, to make sure I could prove to police that I was there and that this happened to me," Renee says. "The legal system did nothing more for me, other than rub salt in my wound."

It wouldn't be the last time Doan wriggled his way out of a rape case because of a discredited victim. In the past 25 years, he has beaten at least six.

Detectives, prosecutors, and judges say Doan has developed the perfect MO for stealing sex. "It's not rape," says his lawyer, Jonathan Sinn. "It's theft."

Sinn describes his client as a "walking stereotype."

"In court, he bows, talks about honor and family, and comes off as a naive immigrant," Sinn says. " In reality, he's very intelligent and understands everything."

Doan's victims all describe him as a petite, polite man, with rotting teeth and foul breath. Though his accent is heavy, making him hard to understand, he has no problem with English.

He was born in Saigon in 1959. It's unclear when he immigrated to the U.S. Doan did not respond to Scene's numerous interview requests, though an anonymous man claiming to be a relative called on his behalf. "Hy does not want to talk to you, because he feels he paid for his mistake and has forgotten the past," the man said.

A 1998 incident report states that he has a sister, Nicole, living in Fairlawn. But when Scene contacted Nicole, she had trouble deciding whether she knew Doan or not. She also denied being related to him.

"Doan is like the last name Smith," she says. "Just because we have the same last name don't mean we are related. Maybe I helped him once. I help a lot of Vietnamese people. I've lived in Akron for a long time, and we are a small community."

Still, amid her denials, Nicole was able to confirm that Doan graduated from the University of Akron in the early 1980s. He then moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where he earned a Ph.D. in math at Northern Illinois University. "He's not a stupid guy," Nicole says. "He has tutored many Vietnamese in math. There's just a lot of stupid people who say stupid things about him."

Despite his academic achievements, Doan returned to Akron only to work a string of low-wage restaurant jobs while tutoring math on the side. Though he refers to himself as a full-time University of Akron tutor, the school has no record of his employment. But former employees of various Akron restaurants remember him.

In the late '90s, Greg Madonia worked at Papa Joe's, an Italian place popular with the elderly. Doan worked the salad-and-dessert line. He told Madonia he had a Ph.D. in math, but couldn't find work in the U.S., which was why he was dressing lettuce for six bucks an hour. His much younger co-workers referred to him as "Mr. Hy." Madonia never noticed anything unusual about him.

Tom Feltner, who washed dishes with Doan at the Mustard Seed, an upscale health-food market and restaurant in Montrose, recalls a slightly more offbeat Mr. Hy.

"He was a weird guy," Feltner says. "He didn't say much, but he'd fly off the handle a lot."

Feltner, 16 at the time, was under the impression that Doan didn't speak much English. He also remembers Doan boasting of his math credentials and marveled at Doan's dishwashing skills. "He could do the work of two people," Feltner says.

"He was like the kung fu master of dishwashing," says the restaurant's owner, Philip Neighbors.

Co-workers pegged Doan for a harmless oddball. Little did they know they were in the presence of Akron's best sex thief.

After the jury let Doan off the hook in 1980, Renee would see him around town.

He'd show up at McDonald's, stand in a corner, and watch her for hours. She told a security guard, who warned Doan to get lost.

But Akron isn't a big town. Once, while waiting at a red light, Doan crossed in front of her car. "If I knew what I know now, I would have run him over," Renee says.

After all, less than a year after her case, Doan was standing trial for attempted rape.

A nineteen-year-old student said that she went to a college house party with several friends, according to the police report. She claimed Doan dragged her into a bedroom, choked her, and told her he'd kill her if she didn't do what he wanted. He tried to take her pants off, but she broke away and ran to a nearby Holiday Inn.

Once again, however, the jury apparently didn't buy the victim's story, though records from that time are too sparse to explain why. Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove, then a notoriously tough prosecutor, handled both cases. She doesn't remember either.

Yet Cosgrove understands how a man could escape two seemingly straightforward rape cases in less than a year, especially in such he-said, she-said situations, in which victims can be easily discredited. "Sometimes people are good at picking their victims," she says.

Shortly after the trial, Doan disappeared. Renee thought he'd finally been deported, but he'd actually gone to DeKalb, Illinois. It would be 15 years before police encountered him again.

In 1996, Doan was back in Akron and up to his old tricks. This time, he'd added a new twist to his hunt for women.

Though records are scarce, Fairlawn Sergeant Richard Moneypenny has little trouble remembering July 31 of that year. He was called to the front desk to deal with a trio of oddballs -- Doan and two exotic dancers. "We'd already gotten a call earlier that morning from a hotel clerk who said an unusual Oriental man checked into a room with two girls," Moneypenny says.

But this time, Doan was the one demanding to file a report.

He said he met the two women at the downtown Akron Hilton. They asked him for a ride to a less expensive hotel. He took them to the Days Inn in Fairlawn, according to the police report.

Somehow, Doan ended up in their room, where the women tried to blackmail him: Hand over $4,000, or they'd claim they were raped. He said he'd take them to an ATM. Instead, he delivered them to police.

Yet Moneypenny soon uncovered the fiction in Doan's tale. Earlier that day, Doan phoned an escort service, requesting two dates. He met Taryn Chojnowski and Teresa Richard at the Days Inn bar.

He told the women he was a doctor and offered them $4,000 for a private dance. The women agreed. Doan got a room.

Afterward, Doan said he had to go to the ATM at Akron General Hospital -- where he claimed to work -- to get their money. He drove toward Market Street, passing numerous cash machines on the way. Chojnowski and Richard never seemed suspicious.

When they got to the hospital, the women waited in the car as Doan disappeared into the building.

When he returned, he claimed the ATM wasn't working; he'd pay them later. Then he drove the women back to the Days Inn.

At the front desk, the three argued over payment. Chojnowski and Richard threatened to say that Doan had raped them if they didn't get their money. The hotel clerk told them to settle it with Fairlawn police.

Doan's claims of extortion and the dancers' accusations of rape were dismissed as nothing more than a failure-to-pay case. "The girls he preys on aren't exactly in a legal line of work," Moneypenny says. "I'd say he's safe."

That was the end of it, as far as Fairlawn police were concerned. For Doan, however, it was the beginning of something big. He seemed to realize that his rich-doctor shtick worked on women -- and that his claims of extortion got him off with cops.

All Doan had to do was con women in shady occupations into having sex with him, then skip out on the bill. Even if they cried rape, their backgrounds would discredit their allegations. And he was right.

In 2000, Doan went for a late-night snack at the Eat 'n Park on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue. There he noticed 18-year-old Colleen Imes.

"By the state's standards, she was an adult, but really, she was still a kid," says Summit County Detective Patrick Hunt. "She was so petite, she couldn't have weighed more than 90 pounds wet."

Imes was just Doan's type -- tiny and troubled. He approached her with a polite bow and offered to buy her food. Imes agreed.

Doan claimed to be a Dr. Chang. He said he worked at Akron City Hospital.

She told him that she was a dancer at Lisa's Cabaret, a strip joint on Exchange Street. She'd had a troubled childhood, she revealed, and recently moved out of her mom's place.

Doan made her an offer she couldn't refuse, she later told police: He'd pay her $6,000 to be his date to various professional dinners and events. No sex, just companionship, he promised. Imes accepted.

Maybe it was his rotten teeth or his too-good-to-be-true offer, but something told Imes to be leery. She had three friends follow her on their first date.

Imes met Doan for drinks before he drove her to Steve's Motel, a by-the-hour roadhouse in Green.

As Imes sat on the bed watching TV, Doan excused himself to go to the restroom. When he returned, his pants were down to his ankles, his penis erect. Imes told him to pull his pants up.

At first, Doan complied, saying it was just a joke. But within minutes, he pushed her onto the bed and raped her, she said.

Imes would've done better to flee at first chance. Instead, she stayed by Doan's side, pressing him for payment.

He drove her to the Fifth Third Bank on Tallmadge Road. But when he couldn't get cash from the ATM, Imes' friends surrounded him. Doan called 9-11 and claimed he was being robbed.

When police arrived, Imes cried rape. Detective Hunt investigated, but prosecutors ultimately told him to drop the case. Imes died in a car crash less than a year later.

"It was the saddest sight," he said. "She was a cute girl with the lowest self-esteem. She was just desperate. He picked a perfect victim."

It's the same way Summit County Detective Mike Coghenour speaks of Amanda Stamps. She was 21, "ninety pounds soaking wet," he says, a troubled single mother into drugs and dangerous men.

In 2002, Stamps said, a friend set her up with Doan on a blind date. He was a doctor, she was told, willing to pay as much as $6,000 for a nonsexual escort.

Stamps met Doan for dinner. After a few drinks, Stamps claims she slipped into unconsciousness. She believed Doan slipped her a roofie.

She briefly awoke to find herself in a motel room with Doan on top of her. When she finally regained consciousness, Stamps was in Doan's car in the parking lot of Akron General, waiting for her money.

Once again, Doan said the ATM wasn't working. Stamps headed to St. Thomas Hospital for a rape exam.

By the time Coghenour got the case, the Summit County Sheriff's Department was becoming all too familiar with Doan -- "aka Dr. Chang, aka Dr. Kitano." But once again, there were problems. "Like the rest of the cases, she waited around for her money, which looked bad," Coghenour says. "It looked like she was trying to turn a trick. It threw a wrench right in her story."

No charges were filed. Shortly after the case was closed, Stamps died of a heroin overdose.

Angela Smith curls up on a loveseat in her Tallmadge condo. Surrounded by photos of her husband and children, Smith clutches the same black-and-white mug shot of Doan that Renee held weeks earlier. She's 30 years old, but her light brown ponytail and button nose make her appear barely legal.

She lets out an ironic chuckle. "He told me I was unique," Smith says.

She met Doan in March at Club 1245, a strip joint just blocks from her home. Smith sat at the bar with her ex-boyfriend, Maurice. They were waiting for their friend, a dancer, to get off work.

As she smoked and sipped beer, Doan approached Maurice and asked if he was with Smith. When he said no, Doan gave Maurice his phone number to pass along.

As Doan left the bar, he bowed in Smith's direction. Later that day, Smith called Doan to ask what he wanted. "He laid it on thick," she says.

He said he was a Japanese neurosurgeon at Akron General. He gave her a name, not Doan, but something Smith couldn't pronounce. She decided to call him "Wu."

Smith had had hip-replacement surgery a few years earlier at Akron General. She asked Doan if he knew her surgeon, Dr. Weiner. "Dr. Weiner! I just bought a house next door to Dr. Weiner!" he said.

Doan finally asked Smith if she'd accept $6,000 to be his date. "You've got the wrong idea," she said. "I'm not a stripper, and I don't have sex for money."

"No, no! I don't pay for sex," he said. "Only for companionship."

He explained that 18-hour days at the hospital made it hard for him to meet women. He was worried that his colleagues thought he was gay, because he always came to hospital functions alone. He'd pay her $6,000 to accompany him. "He knew I had two kids and I could use the money," she says. "He said I could use the $6,000 to buy a computer for my son."

Smith accepted. The next morning, Doan called. "Can you meet me?" he asked.

Smith met Doan at a gas station. He said he'd just been paged and had to go to work, and asked Smith to follow him to the hospital. He went into the building, while Smith waited in her car.

When he came out, he said he found someone to cover for him. "Would you like to go to dinner?" he asked. "We take my car."

Smith got into Doan's blue Honda. In the back seat were medical books and a lab coat. He began talking about medicine, using terminology Smith had never heard. "I totally believed he was a doctor. I had no reason not to," she says. "He like studies this shit, just so he can go out and do this."

They didn't go to a restaurant. Instead, Doan drove them to the Office Motel in Springfield Township. Smith had no idea where she was. "I don't make a habit out of going to hotels that charge by the hour," she says. "And I never leave my side of town."

Doan told her he wanted to take a look at the scars from her hip replacement and caesarean section, which she'd mentioned on the phone. He could fix them with advanced laser surgery, he said.

Inside the room, Doan covered the bed with crisp white sheets and asked Smith to take off her pants so he could see her scars. "He sensed I thought it was weird," Smith says. "He said he had to do it there, because if the hospital found out he was helping me for free, he'd get in trouble. He was so nice and soft-spoken. I wasn't worried. He looked like if you pushed him, you'd break him."

As he pretended to examine Smith, Doan asked her if she'd dance for him. Smith said no. "He started his smooth-talking shit again, claiming it was just a joke."

Then, Smith says, Doan went down on her. Smith said she tried to wriggle away, but she was afraid that if she didn't cooperate, he wouldn't pay her.

Doan slowly pulled a dildo from underneath his clothes and began inserting it into her. She kicked him away, but he slapped her in the face with the latex phallus, pinned her down, and raped her.

When it was over, he insisted that she shower. Then he drove her back to the hospital to get her car. On the way there, he suggested that they pick up her kids and get a bite to eat. Smith said no; she just wanted her money. He said he'd pay her later.

Smith never told her husband about the arrangement. In a panic, she called her ex-boyfriend, Maurice. Doan had promised him an extra $200 for setting them up. Maurice said he'd get her money.

Then Smith called a friend, who encouraged her to go to St. Thomas for a rape exam. She also contacted the police.

Doan was charged with rape. For the first time, he was placed in the Summit County Jail.

As the grand-jury hearing approached, Smith's story posed serious problems.

She admitted to sticking around after the rape, to allowing Doan to drive her back to her car. She confessed that Maurice had contacted Doan to seek payment. When the $6,000 never appeared, she went to police.

None of this would help prosecutors. But it left plenty of ammo for Doan's lawyer, Jonathan Sinn. "All along, I said this wasn't a rape case; it was a theft of services," he says.

Doan claimed that he offered Smith money for sex and that she consented; it was only when he didn't pay that she cried rape. He denied pretending to be a doctor. "But even if he does lie, if we locked up everyone who claimed to be a doctor to get laid, the jails would be overcrowded," Sinn says.

The grand jury reduced the indictment from rape to gross sexual imposition. "A grand jury will indict a ham sandwich," says Sinn. "They indict any case that shows probable cause. If they aren't buying that this is rape, you know the victim has serious credibility issues."

Throughout numerous hearings, Sinn attacked Smith's character, pointing out that she met Doan in a strip club rumored to house a prostitution ring. He even accused her of being a dancer, though she isn't.

"It was like, oh, look at this poor little Vietnamese guy, and then look at this slut who'll grind on anyone for a buck," Smith says.

Sinn also exposed problems with Smith's story. "A guy tricking women into having sex by promising them pie-in-the-sky money -- it's a theft case, not a rape case," he says.

Knowing that they couldn't get a conviction on Smith's story alone, the prosecution asked to submit additional evidence, hoping to unfold Doan's 25-year history.

As he sat in jail, prosecutors and detectives scoured Doan's favorite pickup joints and strip clubs. They called women from old cases. But each story turned out to be as wobbly as Smith's, and two victims were already dead. Strippers and drug addicts don't make good witnesses.

But detectives never contacted their sturdiest witness, Renee. "If they'd have called, I would have been more than happy to testify," she says.

Finally, in July, prosecutors agreed to a deal. Doan pleaded guilty to assault and soliciting, both misdemeanors. He earned credit for time served and was released in August.

Within a week, Doan was back in the clubs, approaching dancers with his doctor routine, say detectives. "I'd have thought he'd move -- or at least start pretending to be a lawyer or something," Smith says.

Though Doan doesn't frequent downtown joints anymore, he hasn't been forgotten. Jim West, operations manager for Flashdance, remembers once kicking Doan out. "I never liked the look of him," West says. "He looks like a squirrel, which is what I call the pervs that come in here and mess with the girls."

But West also says that men like Doan aren't uncommon. They hit the clubs, attempting to make dancers offers they can't refuse. West says that only the "stupid" dancers take the bait. "The dancers I've worked with in Akron are the most naive I've ever met," he says. "They don't want to acknowledge that this line of work can be dangerous."

Even Sinn doesn't believe that the women plan to have sex with Doan. "They probably really hope they're going to get thousands of dollars for talking," Sinn says. "But then they end up in the hotel room, clothes come off, and then they just hope they're still going to get paid."

The consensus among lawyers and cops is that Doan has a talent for profiling victims whom juries won't believe. Moreover, his appearance -- the meek mathematician with superb Asian etiquette -- seems to pose no threat.

Even Renee had credibility problems. She was a poor girl who left home before graduating from high school, so she could get away from her abusive stepfather. Though she worked two jobs to support herself, her background fit the profile of a girl primed for trouble. "I thought they were supposed to protect the victim," Renee says. "Instead, they protected him. If my parents had been rich, I would have won my case."

Police share her frustration.

"I think he's already proved that he's a predator," Detective Coghenour says. "And he'll keep doing as he's been doing until we can find a way to put him away."

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