A DNA match has led to a Florida man prosecutors suspect is the “pillowcase rapist” responsible for numerous sexual assaults of women in the Miami area during the 1980s.
Robert Koehler, 60, was arrested over the weekend in Brevard County and was being held without bond Thursday after his transfer to a Miami jail. He faces charges in one assault though authorities say as many as 25 victims could be involved.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said it will take time to locate victims and determine if there is enough evidence to prosecute all of these cases. The rapes occurred between 1981 and 1986.
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She said the arrest of Koehler will “hopefully bring some justice and some measure of peace” to the victims. Rundle also said quick work by lab technicians coupled with improvements in DNA technology led to the arrest.
“They did a phenomenal job,” she said. "It’s going to take some time. But we feel confident that there are a number of sufficient cases that we can prosecute. We want to ensure that his man is never, ever free again.”
Authorities in Brevard County also found a pit of sorts had been dug under Koehler's house, according to a search warrant. They also found several safes containing women's jewelry and other items, including a nail file, that might be linked some some of his crimes.
The “pillowcase rapist” was so named because he used a pillowcase or other fabric to cover the faces of his victims, usually after he broke into an apartment or town home. The assaults were often committed at knifepoint, authorities said.
Alfredo Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, said the investigation was a massive one encompassing much of South Florida. The series of assaults terrorized South Florida for the early 1980s.
“A lot of sweat and tears was put into this case,” Ramirez said. “We're going to make sure he stays in jail.”
According to an arrest warrant, investigators obtained a DNA sample from Koehler's son following an unrelated arrest. That sample was linked to one of the assaults, leading detectives to Brevard County where they followed Koehler to obtain DNA samples from objects he touched.
They had a match.
When he appeared in Brevard County court before his transfer to Miami, Koehler blurted out that he was “not guilty” of the assaults. He was convicted in a 1990 rape in Palm Beach County and sentenced to probation, which he later violated and served 120 days in jail.
That case, however, was never linked to the series of assaults in Miami and elsewhere in South Florida. Rundle said that was mainly because DNA samples were not yet mandatory.
A task force launched in the 1980s to search for the attacker was disbanded in 1987, but was recently revived by the Miami-Dade Police Department's cold case squad.
“No matter how long ago it happened, we will never forget," Ramirez said.
Authorities say Koehler had worked as an electrician while living in Palm Bay, Florida.