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An Indiana man was sentenced to 650 years in prison after DNA collected from a utility bill identified him as the rapist behind a number of sexual assaults carried out more than 30 years ago.
Steven Ray Hessler was convicted on March 3 on 19 separate felony charges relating to a string of rapes and burglaries he carried out over three years in the 1980s, prosecutors said. The charges included two counts of rape, six counts of unlawful deviate conduct, seven counts of burglary resulting in bodily injury, three counts of criminal deviate conduct and one count of robbery.
"Steven Ray Hessler is one of the most evil, dangerous, sadistic predators that I’ve had the pleasure of prosecuting in my 30+ year career," Shelby County Prosecutor Brad Landwerlen said in a statement on April 1. "He derived great pleasure from his unnecessarily brutal methods of terrorizing and sexually torturing his victims."
"I promised the victims early-on that my goal would be that he go to prison the rest of his life," he added. "All involved are very happy that we have achieved that goal."
Between 1982 and 1985, a man now know to be Hessler terrorized Shelby County, Indiana residents. The criminal was known to break into his victims’ homes during the night, armed and wearing a mask. He’d typically threaten, bind and torture his victims, according to officials.
Many of the victims were tied up — though some were not — as he stole cash and other certain items before sexually brutalizing the female victims and often the male victims.
In his last known assault, he raped the woman and pistol-whipped the male victim a number of times, handcuffing and hog-tying him; it left the man in a coma for months. The male victim required speech therapy to learn how to talk again and required two canes to walk. In recent years, however, the man has been confined to a wheelchair.
Hessler, who evaded detection in those cases for decades, also went to great lengths to cover his tracks given the state of forensics at the time, prosecutors stated.
“Hessler was generally very cautious, wiping down the scene and taking items that he had touched with him,” Landwerlen explained.
The attacks reportedly stopped because Hessler was convicted on rape charges in nearby Decatur County in the late 1980s and sentenced to 20 years in prison, Indianapolis Fox affiliate WXIN reported.
Ultimately, DNA that Hessler left at the scene of his last attack implicated him decades later. That forensic evidence — which authorities sent to Virginia-based DNA technology company Parabon NanoLabs — is what linked him to the crimes, officials said.
“Parabon sent back results that caused us to focus on Hessler and one other person,” the Shelby County Prosecuting Attorney added. “Eventually, we were able to obtain Hessler’s DNA sample from an envelope he licked to send in a utility payment, and it matched the DNA from the scene.”
Prosecutors described the subsequent warrant search at Hessler’s home in August 2020 as a “gold mine.” Roughly 30 pairs of women’s panties, individually bagged, were seized from his home, as well as handcuffs and ski masks used in the sexual assaults. Numerous photos taken of two victims during one attack were also found, according to Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR.
Investigators located separate electronic evidence which showed he’d recently been “tracking” and cyberstalking his prior victims, as well.
During his trial, a number of Hessler’s former victims testified against him.
“The biggest credit goes out to the victims, who bravely testified despite having received death threats during the attacks,” Landwerlen said. “These attacks have had profound impacts on their lives — always fearful if someone looks at them, and living in a recurring state of fear. I truly hope these verdicts, and knowing that their attacker will be in prison until he dies, will bring them some sense of closure.”
“It’s difficult to comprehend how much this conviction must mean for the victims and their families," Steven Armentrout, President and CEO for Parabon NanoLabs, told Oxygen.com. "It’s a testament to the perseverance of the Shelby County detectives that they were able to solve this case after so much time and with so little evidence. We are proud that our technology and talented team could help justice be served against this terrible predator.”
Hessler’s involvement over the years had previously been overlooked due to a number of earlier suspects in the case. In 1983, Hessler’s cousin was arrested and charged with some of the early sexual assaults. Another man, Michael Kenyan, who had committed similar attacks in the 1970s, was also a former person of interest. They were both eventually eliminated as suspects.
The Shelby County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by Oxygen.com on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Indiana State Police also didn’t respond to media requests surrounding Hessler’s case this week.
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