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Genetic genealogy leads to arrest for two golf course rapes more than 20 years ago

Authorities in Pennsylvania and Michigan have solved two decades-old rape cases thanks to genetic genealogy.

Fifty-one-year-old Kurt Rillema was arrested last week after he was linked to two separate violent rapes that had gone cold for more than 23 years, Click On Detroit reported.

The first rape took place on 6 September 1999 at the Twin Lakes Golf Club in Oakland Township, Michigan, when a suspect entered an employee-restricted area. The man sexually assaulted a 22-year-old woman who worked at the food parlour, leaving his DNA at the scene.

Nine months later and hundreds of miles away, a 19-year-old jogger was raped by a man who approached her near a Penn State University golf course. The suspect initially asked for directions but when the woman tried to continue jogging, he dragged her to a wooded area and violently assaulted her, according to Law&Crime.

In both cases, authorities uploaded DNA to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), but it was not until 2004 that the database matched the crimes. Progress in the investigations stalled for another 17 years before the Penn State Police Department and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office sent DNA from the cold cases to the Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs.

Both departments announced that the lab traced genealogy to the 1700s and initially considered Mr Rillema and his two brothers as the potential suspect. Through questioning, Mr Rillema became the main suspect after authorities learned that he lived near the Twin Lakes Golf Course at the time of the first crime, and was visiting his brother at Penn State when the second rape happened.

 (Oakland County Sheriff’s Office)
(Oakland County Sheriff’s Office)

Police surveilling Mr Rillema retrieved a styrofoam coffee cup he used and were finally able to match his DNA to the one extracted from the crime scenes.

Mr Rillema, a businessman who lived in West Bloomfield Township in Michigan before his arrest, is now facing first and second-degree felony criminal sexual conduct charges for the 1999 rape, according to the Oakland Press. He faces up to 15 years in prison for those crimes.

In Pennsylvania, he is expected to be charged with rape, sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault, which carry life and up to 20 years in prison.

Mr Rillema is being held at the Oakland County Jail without bond. He will appear in court for a hearing on Wednesday, 27 April.

“Victims of violent crimes, like rape, can never forget that terrible moment,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a statement, per WHIO7 News. “It is incumbent on us to never give up on finding perpetrators of these crimes and bring them to justice. With new technology and investigative capabilities, sometimes we can close cases that have been open for years if not decades. That is what happened in this case. We will never give up.”

Authorities have described the suspect as an avid golfer and asked potential victims to come forward with information.