Robert Koehler, 63, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison after a jury found him guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery and burglary. He has been linked by DNA to at least 25 other sexual assaults in Florida, prosecutors said.
A man suspected of being the “Pillowcase Rapist” who sexually assaulted dozens of women in South Florida in the 1980s was convicted on Wednesday in one of the attacks, prosecutors said.
The man, Robert Eugene Koehler, 63, of Palm Bay, Fla., was found guilty of one count each of sexual battery, kidnapping and burglary in connection with a 1983 cold case in which a 25-year-old woman was stabbed and raped in her home in Miami-Dade County.
Mr. Koehler, a registered sex offender, was arrested in 2020 after officials linked him through DNA evidence to at least 25 sexual assaults in the 1980s in Miami-Dade County alone, including the 1983 attack, according to a prosecutor.
He faces a maximum possible sentence of life in prison in that case, and faces charges in similar cases from the 1980s in neighboring Broward County.
After the jury deliberated for about three hours and found him guilty, Mr. Koehler appeared stoic as Judge Daryl Trawick, of the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, read the verdict in a courtroom at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, according to video from CBS Miami.
“Today’s jury verdict finding Robert Koehler guilty of sexual battery, kidnapping and burglary, finally closes the book on a terror that gripped the women of South Florida for far, far too long,” the state attorney for Miami-Dade County, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, said in a statement.
Damaris Del Valle, a public defender who represented Mr. Koehler, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Wednesday.
During the trial, Mr. Koehler defended himself by claiming that corrupt officers had threatened and framed him, and forced him to commit crimes, WPLG, a Miami television station, reported.
“I felt the cocking of the mechanism with the gun right here to my temple,” he said in court, referring to an officer who he claimed had placed a gun to his head and told him to not say a word about his actions.
The conviction came decades after a series of similar sexual assaults led the police to call the unknown attacker who was terrorizing South Florida the “Pillowcase Rapist.” He used a similar tactic during his crime spree: confronting women with a sharp object and raping them while he covered their faces or his own with a cloth.
At the time, 50 investigators chased more than 1,000 leads, but there were no suspects for decades.
A key break in their investigation came in 2019, when Mr. Koehler’s son was arrested on a felony domestic violence charge, requiring him to submit a DNA sample to a criminal database. That sample gave investigators a close familial match with samples collected from the “Pillowcase Rapist” cases in the 1980s. Investigators matched the results with DNA collected from a shopping cart and door handle when they followed Mr. Koehler into a grocery store.
When investigators searched Mr. Koehler’s home, they discovered a dungeon in progress that he had been digging, the authorities said. They also found women’s jewelry and a metal nail file wrapped in a protective covering — items that investigators believed Mr. Koehler kept as souvenirs from his crimes.
Those discoveries renewed hope for prosecutors and victims who had long sought to place the perpetrator in prison. For years, the news media in South Florida had tenaciously covered the crimes and investigations. The sexual assaults and attacks had long haunted communities in Miami-Dade and surrounding counties, where frustration had mounted over the lack of an arrest.
Mr. Koehler faces charges in six cases in Broward County, said Paula McMahon, a spokeswoman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office. She said prosecutors would request that he be transferred to their jurisdiction after proceedings in Miami-Dade County are complete.
One victim in Broward County reported that she was woken up while she was in her bed just after midnight on June 23, 1984, according to court documents. “She explained that he jumped on her back, put a knife to her neck and stated ‘If you see my face, it’s all over,’” court documents said.
In another Broward County case, court documents state that Mr. Koehler moved a victim from her bed, where she had been sleeping beside her 5-year-old daughter, and attacked and sexually assaulted her.