Edna Buchanan ‘elated’ DNA helped detectives find Pillowcase Rapist suspect

Robert Koehler appears in court, says he’s not guilty

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Robert Koehler, who is accused of being the infamous Pillowcase Rapist, walked into Brevard County court Tuesday and said, “I am not guilty.” But detectives believe DNA evidence shows otherwise, and they have forensic science and computer technology on their side to prove it.

The 60-year-old registered sex offender was being held without bond at a Brevard County jail after he was arrested Saturday at his home in Palm Bay. An arrest warrant later showed detectives believe he was the man who earned the moniker for using a pillowcase to cover the faces of dozens of his victims in South Florida.

Detectives knew the serial rapist had a rare O-blood type subgroup. Pulitzer Prize-winner Edna Buchanan, best known for her crime mystery novels, wrote about her coverage of the case for the Miami Herald in her famous memoir, “The Corpse Had A Familiar Face.”

“Scientists at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, produced a five-page psychological profile of the Pillowcase Rapist,” Buchanan wrote in her book. “You don’t have to be an FBI scientist to determine, as they did, that the man is a loner who fantasizes about sex ... that is the best the FBI could do. Most of us could have put together the same profile. It fits a lot of people.”

Edna Buchanan's memoir
Edna Buchanan's memoir (Local 10 News)

On Tuesday, Buchanan celebrated the arrest. An FBI database helped detectives to catch their suspect. According to the arrest warrant, the rape kit of a 25-year-old woman who officers believe was his victim in 1983 was included in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. With the help of the database, which began in 1990 and has continued to evolve, there was a hit earlier this month.

“I really thought that somehow it was not going to happen unless it was DNA,” Buchanan said about the suspect’s arrest, adding, “I am really elated.”

There have been two DNA samples linking Koehler to the case and detectives want a third, according to the warrant. The first sample was from Koehler’s son Jan. 13, and detectives collected the second sample after following Koehler to a public area Jan. 16.

“DNA swabs were obtained from objects he had touched,” Detective William Nadramia wrote in the warrant, adding that he met with the victim of the 1983 rape Jan. 17 to show her a photograph of Koehler that was taken in 1998.

Detectives sent the evidence to the Miami-Dade Police Department’s crime laboratory, where there was confirmation Jan. 17. They decided they wanted final confirmation with DNA collected directly from Koehler’s body.

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