Authorities in Pennsylvania and Michigan have successfully resolved two decades-old rape cases utilising the power of genetic genealogy. Kurt Rillema, aged 51, was apprehended last week after being linked to two separate violent rape incidents that had remained unsolved for over 23 years, as reported by Click On Detroit.
The initial assault occurred on 6 September 1999 at Oakland Township’s Twin Lakes Golf Club in Michigan. The perpetrator infiltrated an employee-restricted zone and sexually assaulted a 22-year-old woman employed at the food parlour. Crucially, his DNA was left at the crime scene.
Nine months later, hundreds of miles away in Pennsylvania, a 19-year-old jogger was subjected to a heinous assault by a man who approached her near a golf course at Penn State University. While the assailant initially sought directions, he subsequently dragged her to a wooded area and subjected her to a violent assault, according to Law&Crime.
In both instances, DNA evidence was uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). However, it wasn’t until 2004 that the database matched the crimes. Subsequent progress in the investigations stalled for another 17 years until the Penn State Police Department and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office sent DNA samples from the cold cases to Parabon Nanolabs, based in Virginia.
Both law enforcement agencies revealed that the laboratory traced the suspect’s genealogy back to the 1700s. Initially, Mr. Rillema and his two brothers were considered potential suspects. Through meticulous questioning, Mr. Rillema emerged as the prime suspect. Authorities discovered that he had resided near the Twin Lakes Golf Course during the time of the first crime and was visiting his brother at Penn State during the occurrence of the second rape.
After surveilling Mr. Rillema, law enforcement obtained a styrofoam coffee cup he had used. This finally enabled them to match his DNA with the samples extracted from the crime scenes. Mr. Rillema, a businessman who had been living in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan before his arrest, now faces first and second-degree felony charges of criminal sexual conduct for the 1999 rape, according to the Oakland Press. These charges could lead to a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
In Pennsylvania, he is expected to face charges of rape, sexual assault, and aggravated indecent assault, which carry potential sentences of life imprisonment or up to 20 years behind bars. Presently, Mr. Rillema is held without bond at the Oakland County Jail. His court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday, 27 April.
Sheriff Michael Bouchard of Oakland County remarked, “Victims of violent crimes, such as rape, carry the weight of that dreadful moment forever. It is our duty to relentlessly pursue the perpetrators of such crimes and ensure they face justice. Advances in technology and investigative methods sometimes allow us to close cases that have lingered unresolved for years, if not decades. This case serves as a testament to that. We will persist unyieldingly.” Authorities have described the suspect as an enthusiastic golfer and have urged potential victims to come forward with any relevant information.