The break that led investigators to Miami’s suspected “Pillowcase Rapist” came from the match of a DNA sample stored as evidence in the sexual assault of a woman 37 years ago, according to an arrest warrant obtained by the Miami Herald.
But the match wasn’t to rape suspect Robert Koehler. The positive hit came from a test of Koehler’s son, who had been arrested on a charge undisclosed in the filing, according to the warrant.
After that DNA hit on Jan. 13, investigators traced the family tree and began surveillance last week of Koehler, a 60-year-old who lives in Brevard County. They followed him to a public area where DNA samples were taken from objects he’d touched, and when those came back positive, they moved in.
On Tuesday during his initial court appearance, a Brevard County judge ordered that Koehler remain jailed with no bond until he is transferred to Miami-Dade to stand trial. During a very brief appearance in a detention-center courtroom, Koehler’s only words were, “I am not guilty.”
He is suspected of raping and terrorizing dozens of women in South Florida during the early 1980s. From Coconut Grove to Deerfield Beach, the attacker shielded his or his victim’s faces with a pillowcase or other fabric, broke into apartments and town homes and then raped women at knifepoint.
The attacks began in May 1981 at a Kendall apartment complex, and so alarmed Miami-Dade police that a task force was created to try to capture the rapist. Despite years of news coverage, hundreds of tips and detective work, the Pillowcase Rapist eluded capture and the task force was disbanded in 1987.
The case was revived in recent years by Miami-Dade police, along with prosecutors, state and federal agents. Koehler, a registered sex offender who was living in Palm Bay, was convicted of a rape in 1991, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Cops arrested Koehler on Saturday at his Palm Bay home, and he’s been in custody at Brevard County jail ever since.
While police did not identify his son or the arrest that led to the break in the case, records show Koehler does have a namesake son with an arrest history.
Most recently, Robert J. Koehler, 29, was arrested in September in Melbourne after his girlfriend called 911 to report he was trying to “force himself into the residence via the rear window,” according to a police report. The younger Koehler and the woman have a toddler son together. He destroyed some potted plants in front of her home and sent her threatening text messages, police said.
Ultimately, Brevard prosecutors did not file formal charges against Koehler, and the case was dropped.
Increasingly, do-it-yourself DNA tests, which are then submitted to companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, have led to breaks in decades-old cases.
Detectives in California identified the so-called Golden State Killer using DNA hits generated via GEDMatch, a free site that allows police and the public to scour genetic profiles uploaded to sites such as AncestryDNA.
In Florida, last month, investigators announced they used genetic information from distant relatives to link Robert Brian Thomas, 61, to two savage rapes in Pinellas County. He is awaiting trial.
Miami-Dade police and the State Attorney’s Office have declined to comment on Koehler’s arrest. It was unclear whether investigators used GEDMatch to hunt for relatives of the rape suspect.
The case that led to Koehler’s arrest happened three days after Christmas in 1983. It was just before 9 p.m., the warrant says, when the woman saw her attacker armed with a sharp object inside her apartment. When she screamed, the suspect covered her mouth and stabbed her in the stomach.
According to the warrant, her attacker threatened to kill her before walking into the bedroom and raping her. At first he covered her face with a blanket, then a pillowcase. She was examined at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where evidence was collected to be placed in a rape kit.
Lead cold case Detective William Nadramia, who has worked in the sex crimes unit for the past 24 years, met with the victim last Friday. After viewing a picture of Koehler, the woman told the detective she did not engage in consensual sex with Koehler and that he was a stranger to her.
Records show Koehler had an arrest for aggravated assault in 1980 in Miami-Dade. His listed address at the time was on the 8800 block of SW 72nd Street, right in the heart of where the initial attacks were happening.
Koehler also ran a handyman company, records show.