MIAMI – The man who is accused of using pillowcases to cover the faces of his rape victims in the 1980s in South Florida was waiting on Tuesday afternoon for the outcome of a 1983 case in Miami-Dade.
Robert Koehler, who detectives identified as the “Pillowcase Rapist” with the help of DNA tech, appeared in court as a 63-year-old grandfather who uses a wheelchair. He testified under oath on Monday that he was the victim of a twisted criminal conspiracy that involved collecting his DNA to frame him.
“He has put into question why the police chose him,” Assistant State Attorney Laura Adams said about her need to disprove Koehler’s tale.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Daryl E. Trawick, who is presiding over the case, asked the jury to return to court Wednesday after the prosecution’s rebuttal.
Adams quickly included testimony from a police officer involved in the arrest of Koehler’s son in 2019, a criminologist who joined MDPD in 2008, and a former supervisor of MDPD’s cold case squad. Adams said they had all played a role in identifying Koehler as a suspect.
The victim in the Miami-Dade sexual battery case is a 65-year-old woman who prosecutors said Koehler raped in 1983 when she was 25 years old and had just taken a shower in her apartment.
The defense rested on Tuesday, so Trawick said the public defenders had opened the door for the prosecution to call more witnesses. Assistant Public Defender Damaris Del Valle asked Trawick for more time, but he allowed rebuttal to begin shortly after.
This was all after Adams and Del Valle questioned two defense witnesses about forensics. Before DNA tech, the first detectives in the cases collected shoe marks and knew the serial rapist had a rare O-blood type subgroup.
“We had to depend on a blood-typing system that our serology department in the crime lab used,” said retired Miami-Dade Sgt. David Simmons, who was a lead detective on some of the cases. “That was sophisticated but not nearly as exact or precise as DNA.”
Edna Buchanan, the Miami Herald’s legendary crime reporter, covered the search for the serial rapist in 1985. After winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1986, Buchanan wrote about it again in “The Corpse Had A Familiar Face,” which was published in 1987 when the task force to catch the rapist disbanded.
“Scientists at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, produced a five-page psychological profile,” Buchanan wrote in her book.
The case went cold until established DNA databases provided other detectives with solid clues decades later.
According to the arrest warrant, the rape kit of the 25-year-old victim in the Miami-Dade case was eventually included in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. Koehler had been convicted of sexual battery in Palm Beach in 1991, so he was a registered sex offender, but he was not included in the CODIS database, which began in 1990.
When Koehler’s son was arrested for a domestic violence felony in 2019, and he submitted a DNA sample for a criminal database, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement found a familial match and notified the police departments, according to prosecutors. Detectives pieced it all together and followed Koehler to collect his DNA.
“The defendant’s DNA matched,” Adams said in court.
The evidence has since tied Koehler to more than two dozen sexual assaults. Decades after his crimes and with a warrant in hand, detectives reported finding a “dungeon in progress” and safes with “keepsakes” from his victims at Koehler’s home during his arrest in 2020 in Palm Bay.
“I really thought that somehow it was not going to happen unless it was DNA,” Buchanan said after his arrest.
On Monday in court, Koehler denied all of the accusations against him and pointed to anonymous corrupt police officers who he said abducted him, threatened him with information about his loved ones, sexually tortured him, and forced him to commit crimes from 1981 to 1986.
“I received an electrical shock in my hand,” Koehler said later adding, “I was shocked over and over,” “I started screaming and throwing up,” “they had IVs in me,” and “the pain was excruciating.”
Trawick allowed the defense to have Koehler describe the alleged torture in meticulous detail. Koehler said the attackers showed him corpses. He said they “summoned” him to a van, and ordered him to take off his pants.
“I was there maybe 45 minutes to an hour,” Koehler said.
During cross-examination, Koehler admitted that his adoptive father had abandoned him and he had dropped out of high school when he was in ninth grade to work.
He also admitted to working at restaurants and as a tow truck driver before moving to Palm Beach where he met the mother of his only son and his first daughter. After his divorce, he said he met a California woman and had a second daughter.
Trawick asked the jury to return to the courtroom at 10:15 a.m., on Wednesday, to start deliberations.
Watch the 12 p.m. report
Watch Monday’s report