MIAMI – A jury found a man guilty Wednesday of a 1983 rape in Miami-Dade County after DNA tech advances helped detectives to find new evidence to identify a serial rapist.
Robert Koehler became known as the “Pillowcase Rapist” after detectives accused him of using pillowcases to cover the faces of dozens of his rape victims in the 1980s in South Florida.
Koehler appeared in court as a 63-year-old grandfather who uses a wheelchair. The victim in the case is a 65-year-old woman who prosecutors said Koehler raped on Dec. 28, 1983, when she was 25 years old.
“He terrorized an innocent woman in her home,” Assistant State Attorney Laura Adams said during her closing statement.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Daryl E. Trawick, who is presiding over the case, handed over the case to the jury at about 1:40 p.m., on Wednesday, and they had a verdict by about 4:30 p.m. The jury decided Koehler was guilty of sexual battery, kidnapping, and burglary. Koehler could face life in prison.
“With a DNA trail linking Koehler to at least 25 sexual batteries in Miami-Dade alone, the work of two generations of police officers and forensic scientists seems to have come to a just and final end,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement on Wednesday evening.
Trawick had moved forward with the attorneys’ closing statements Wednesday morning after the prosecution completed the rebuttal and the defense rested on Tuesday. The prosecution had rested on Friday.
“This community owes a debt of gratitude to the courage of our victim who had to look this man in the eye years after her own sexual assault and still had the strength to testify against him,” Fernandez Rundle said in a statement.
Adams said Koehler broke into his victim’s home, threatened her with a sharp object, and raped her in her bedroom. Assistant Public Defender Damaris Del Valle said the prosecution didn’t prove the case because even though the DNA was a match, not all of the evidence “added up.”
“The shoe was a size 10 to 11,” Del Valle said during her closing statement adding Koehler is a size 12.
Adams said the questions were related to other cases and the DNA evidence was irrefutable. Koehler testified under oath on Monday that he was the victim of a twisted criminal plot that involved collecting his DNA to frame him. Prosecutors described his account as a “crazy conspiracy theory” and a “bad LSD trip.”
“It defies imagination,” Adams said in court.
During her rebuttal, Adams 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.
Before DNA tech, the first detectives in the cases 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,” retired Miami-Dade Sgt. David Simmons, who was a lead detective on some of the cases, said during his testimony. “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 criminal 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.
“It’s him! His DNA is on those rape kits swabs,” 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.
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Watch Monday’s report