A 21-YEAR-OLD Drexel University student told police that a stranger broke into her West Philadelphia apartment on Wednesday morning and raped her while threatening her with a meat cleaver from her kitchen.

The woman reported that she heard a noise at 4:15 a.m. and got up to investigate, according to a Special Victims Unit bulletin posted by police yesterday. She encountered the man in the living room of her home on Spring Garden Street near 34th, police said. The man sexually assaulted her and then fled. Because the apartment was dark, she couldn't describe her attacker, according to police. Police have no suspects.

Last night - hours after both Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania warned students about an unrelated string of robberies and indecent and sexual assaults on and around the schools' University City campuses - plainclothes officers caught a suspected serial attacker in the act.

The eagle-eyed cops were near 41st and Pine streets about 6:30 p.m. when they spotted a man dragging a woman down the street, said Lt. John Walker, of Southwest Detectives. The cops arrested the man, who was wearing the same clothing as a suspect wanted in two indecent assaults of women earlier yesterday adjacent to Drexel's campus, at 35th Street and Powelton Avenue, Walker said.

The 55-year-old suspect is also being eyed in a similar robbery on Saturday at 41st and Sansom streets, as well as in a robbery and sexual assault on Monday night at 47th and Chestnut streets, Walker said. Each attack, investigators said, had a similar modus operandi.

In last night's attack, Walker said, the man approached the woman from behind as she was walking alone, bashed her in the head with a bicycle lock and demanded her purse. The undercover officers, from the 18th District - headquartered at 55th and Pine streets - spotted him as he was dragging her and intervened, Walker said.

The man - identified as James Barrett in a notice posted on Drexel's website late last night by Drexel Vice President for Public Safety Domenic Ceccanecchio - will be charged in last night's attack while police gather evidence to file charges in the others, Walker said. He is not considered a suspect in Wednesday's alleged home invasion and rape, Walker said.

But he is no stranger to law enforcement: Court records show that he has several prior arrests.

Tipsters with information in the home-invasion/rape should call 215-685-3251. Anyone with information on a robbery near the campuses should call Southwest Detectives at 215-686-3183.

On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo
Blog: phillyconfidential.com