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Crime News

Michigan Man Charged For Two Rapes From Decades Ago After DNA Left On Coffee Cup Matches Evidence Left At Scenes

In 2004, police in Pennsylvania and Michigan realized two rape cases from years earlier were connected. Genealogical DNA testing and spittle left behind on a coffee cup led them to finally arrest Kurt Rillema for the two sexual assaults on Monday.

By Christina Coulter
One Sexual Assault Survivor's Quest To End The Shocking Backlog Of Untested Rape Kits

DNA evidence left on a discarded coffee cup led police to finally make an arrest in two unsolved rape cases opened 23 years ago. 

Kurt Alan Rillema of West Bloomfield, Michigan, is accused of raping a 22-year-old woman working at a golf course in Michigan's Oakland Township in September of 1999. The victim told police at the time that an unknown man snuck into a back employee door on the food stand where she worked, demanded she remove her clothes and sexually assaulted her, according to C & G Newspapers.  

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He was arrested on Monday morning by the Oakland County Sheriff's Department and charged in the 52nd District Court with first and second-degree sexual conduct, First Assistant District Attorney of Centre County Sean McGraw said at a Monday press conference. First-degree sexual conduct carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, while the lesser charge carries a 15-year maximum. 

Currently, Rillema is being held without bond at Oakland County Jail in Michigan with a detainer to be extradited to Pennsylvania. 

A mugshot of Kurt Rillema

Rillema is also charged with raping a 19-year-old jogger at knifepoint in July of 2000 at the 18th hole of Penn State University's Blue Course. In Pennsylvania, he faces felony charges for rape, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful restraint, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person, according to C & G. 

The now-51-year-old Michigan man left DNA behind after both alleged attacks, McGraw said. Though that evidence allowed investigators to link the two sexual assaults in 2004, according to an affidavit obtained by WTAJ, they were unable to identify a suspect until Jan. 17 of this year. 

Using advances in genealogical DNA — comparing samples submitted to genealogy websites like Ancestry.com against DNA left at a crime scene — investigators finally narrowed down their search to three potential suspects. 

Detectives interviewed Rillema and his two brothers. Although Rillema's younger brother was a Penn State student at the time, the victim described her attacker as a man "older than college age." Now, detectives believe Rillema was visiting his brother when he raped the second woman. 

Rillema, a golf enthusiast who would have been 28 at the time of the rapes and matched a physical description given by one of the women, became the prime suspect. 

In March, detectives surveilling Rillema retrieved a styrofoam coffee cup he tossed into the trash at a car dealership, according to WTAJ. Testing showed that his DNA was a match for the DNA left behind in both rape cases. 

In a statement following Rillema's arrest, Oakland County Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard said that it is "incumbent on [law enforcement] to never give up on finding the perpetrators of [sexual] crimes and bring[ing] them to justice. 

"With new technology and investigative capabilities, sometimes we can close cases that have been open for years if not decades," he said. "That is what happened in this case. We will never give up."

Deanna Kelley, Rillema's attorney, told C & G that "there are two sides to every story, and my client is looking forward to telling his in court."

A probable cause conference is scheduled for April 27, according to C & G.