MIAMI (AP) — Advanced DNA technology helped detectives link the cases of six women to a man accused of being the “pillow rapist” in a string of rapes in the 1980s.
Robert Koehler is currently incarcerated in neighboring Miami-Dade County, where he also faces charges of assaulting a woman in the early 1980s, Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a news conference Tuesday morning.
Authorities believe Koehler, 62, may have committed 40 to 45 rapes and scared victims by breaking into their homes at night, the sheriff said. The attacker used a pillowcase or other fabric to cover his face – or the faces of his victims – before attacking them, tying them up and stealing items from their homes.
The pillowcase rapist’s attacks drew widespread media attention in South Florida and the creation of a task force to investigate the sex crimes, sheriff’s officials said.
But the trail eventually went cold and the cases ended up in the cold case unit. However, sheriff’s officials said the careful recording of the original cases gave detectives the opportunity to review the evidence decades later.
They combed through 500 boxes of evidence and thousands of sexual assault cases to connect the cases to Koehler, Sgt. Kami Floyd said.
Floyd began searching the files in 2019 and found the case of a woman who was assaulted in her Pompano Beach apartment in June 1984. This led her to several other similar crimes in Broward County.
“It was a hunch,” Floyd said, linking the first case she found to Koehler. “It was a guess based specifically on this case that he was using a pillowcase to cover his face and at no point was she able to identify him because she didn’t know what he looked like.”
Around the same time, in 2020, prosecutors in Miami-Dade County announced Koehler’s arrest, saying he was the “pillow rapist” whose knife attacks starting in 1981 had women across South Florida on edge.
Floyd obtained a search warrant for Koehler’s DNA, and tests conducted by the sheriff’s office crime lab found it matched the evidence in the cases she was investigating, she said.
Detectives worked with prosecutors to bring six sexual assault charges against Koehler.
“When I found my first case, it made me really sad to have to reach out to that victim and have her relive what happened so many years ago,” Floyd said.
In many cases, she added, it’s heartbreaking because some women haven’t even told their families what happened to them. She said some of the victims told her they needed to discuss it with their families before discussing it with her.
“But when they decided to come back and had the courage to talk to me about it, I was very proud of them,” she said.
Their stories were all similar. They lived alone. They were attacked at night and the assailant appeared to know their habits, including in some cases the layout of their dwellings.
Now those victims are greatly relieved to know that the man who assaulted them can be brought to justice, she said.
“Some of them have commented that they hope more women will come forward,” Floyd said.
Floyd explained that there are so many sexual assault cases on the cold case record, many from before the records were computerized, making them difficult to match.
“For those who haven’t come forward yet, this will bring you closure,” she said.
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