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The suspected Pillowcase Rapist's DNA has been matched to at least 25 rape victims that date to the 1980s.

Nearly 40 years after a serial rapist terrorized South Florida by breaking into women’s apartments in the dark, veiling their face with linens and raping them, prosecutors believe they finally have caught their man.

He’s a 60-year-old jailed sex offender whose DNA has been matched to at least 25 rape victims and whose home contained safes full of trinkets from his numerous victims — including a metal nail file he may have used to silence them during his attacks, prosecutors said Thursday.

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At a news conference, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle named Robert Koehler as the Pillowcase Rapist who is believed to have sexually assaulted more than 40 women across South Florida.

Decades after the serial rapist evaded whole teams of law enforcement — including an arrest and light sentence in 1990 — Rundle said she is confident that a number of cases will be prosecuted against Koehler, bringing his reign to an end.

"This offender will never, ever be free again,” she said.

Family ties

Rundle said the break in the case came after Koehler’s son, Robert J. Koehler, 29, was arrested in September and charged with attempted burglary, domestic violence assault and criminal mischief in Melbourne, Florida.

Because the charge was a felony, the younger Koehler’s DNA was taken and entered into a national database.

It turned up a hit to a 1983 rape case in Miami.

Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle speaks during a press conference regarding the arrest and extradition of Robert Koehler, the alleged "Pillowcase Rapist," Thursday, January 23, 2020.
Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle speaks during a press conference regarding the arrest and extradition of Robert Koehler, the alleged "Pillowcase Rapist," Thursday, January 23, 2020. (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Koehler’s son had yet to even be thought of in 1983, let alone born.

This turned investigators to members of his family — and eventually, his father, who lived in Miami during the early 1980s.

Investigators decided to keep close watch of the elder Koehler in Brevard County, where he lived. Eventually, they tailed him to local a grocery store.

After Koehler finished his shopping, investigators collected evidence from a grocery cart he touched, as well as a door handle.

That initial DNA match was enough to establish probable cause to arrest Koehler on Saturday at his home in Palm Bay, but it was not enough to conclude 100 percent accuracy to the 1983 rape.

Once Koehler was moved from a Brevard County jail to Miami on Wednesday, a judge issued a search warrant to collect DNA from him through a mouth swab.

That DNA was analyzed and it produced the 100 percent match to the 1983 case, as well as 25 other women who said they were raped by the Pillowcase Rapist in the 1980s.

Although Koehler was a convicted sex offender as a result of a rape in Palm Beach in 1990 that was strikingly similar to the accounts of women in Miami and Broward, Rundle said his DNA was never collected because the practice was not mandatory then.

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Robert Koehler, a man who is suspected to be the Pillowcase Rapist who terrorized South Florida women during the 1980s, was booked into a Miami jail on Wednesday afternoon. Koehler is being charged with raping a woman in 1983.
Robert Koehler, a man who is suspected to be the Pillowcase Rapist who terrorized South Florida women during the 1980s, was booked into a Miami jail on Wednesday afternoon. Koehler is being charged with raping a woman in 1983. (Miami-Dade Corrections / Courtesy)

Without the arrest of Koehler’s son, Rundle said it is likely that he still would be a free man.

“That was the breaking point for us,” she said. "It was just what we needed to piece this all together.”

When the South Florida Sun Sentinel reached Koehler’s son for comment Tuesday, he said he “had no idea” about his father’s charge from the 1983 rape case.

When asked about his own recent arrest in 2019 and whether his DNA was used to link his father to past crimes, he said, “I have no comment on any of that.”

Although Koehler’s DNA has been matched to at least 25 rape victims, Rundle expects many more to come.

In the days and weeks to come, the challenges will be tracking down Koehler’s victims and resurrecting their old case files. “It’s going to take time,” Rundle said.

She said hopes to get the message out to other victims who may have never come forward in the past.

Miami-Dade senior prosecutor Laura Adams echoed that call. “We want to find out about every crime he has committed,” Adams said.

A ‘dungeon in process’

Adams provided details about many of the disturbing items investigators found while searching Koehler’s home in Palm Bay ― including a number of locked safes.

Inside the safes Adams said investigators found items like women’s jewelry, which they believe may have been souvenirs from his numerous crimes.

In one of the safes investigators also found the metal nail file that was wrapped in a protective covering.

Adams said investigators believe the item may have been the infamous sharp object many of the Pillowcase Rapist victims reported him pressing against their necks and sides.

But perhaps the most disturbing thing investigators found is what Adams called a “dungeon in progress.”

According to Adams, Koehler had excavated a small room under the floor of his house that he’d yet to fill. It is unclear what he intended to use the dungeon for.

Adams said that had authorities not gotten Koehler sooner, she fears he may have gotten away with worse crimes than he is accused of committing.

As for whether Koelher ever stopped victimizing women after a task force to hunt him down was disbanded over 30 years ago, Adams said, “It’s difficult to say.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Koehler made his first bond appearance in Miami. Koehler, cuffed at the wrists and clad in a red jumpsuit, blinked in disbelief when he was read the charges of sexual battery for a case in 1983.

Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo Ramirez speaks during a press conference regarding the arrest and extradition of Robert Koehler, the alleged "Pillowcase Rapist," Thursday, January 23, 2020.
Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo Ramirez speaks during a press conference regarding the arrest and extradition of Robert Koehler, the alleged "Pillowcase Rapist," Thursday, January 23, 2020. (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

After the judge decided Koehler would remain jailed without bond, he vehemently shook his head and began to angrily confer in private with a public defender for a minute or two, holding up the proceedings of other inmates behind him.

The judge grew frustrated and asked Koehler to move along, telling him he would have another day in court soon.

Eventually, Koehler sighed and walked back to jail.

Those who believe they may have been victims of the Pillowcase Rapist should call a hotline set up by the Miami-Dade State Attorney Office at 305-547-0441.

Staff writer Eileen Kelley contributed to this report.

Andrew Boryga can be reached at [email protected], 954-356-4533, or Twitter @borywrites

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