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DNA from coffee cup leads to arrest of alleged rapist, 20 years after crimes

 April 24, 2023

A 51-year-old Michigan businessman, Kurt Rillema, was arrested on April 18 for two violent rapes committed over 20 years ago on golf courses after DNA was collected from a coffee cup, reports Daily Mail.

The two cases went cold after the police failed to identify a suspect, despite confirming in 2004 that the DNA from both incidents matched.

Cold Cases Reopened

In 2021, detectives from Michigan and Pennsylvania collaborated to identify the suspect through genetic genealogy.

They narrowed down the results to Rillema and his two brothers. After obtaining a Styrofoam coffee cup Rillema had used, they confirmed he was the match.

Rillema was living in West Bloomfield when he allegedly attacked a 22-year-old woman at the Twin Lakes Golf Club in Oakland Township, Michigan, in 1999. Less than a year later, in July 2000, he allegedly assaulted a 19-year-old woman jogging at Penn State University's Blur Course.

Arrest and Charges

Rillema was arrested at his home and charged with first and second-degree sexual conduct. He is set to be charged with felony counts of rape, sexual assault, and aggravated indecent assault in Pennsylvania.

According to the Center Daily Times, the locations where he attacked his victims had no cameras or witnesses. Police believe there may be other victims, urging potential victims to file police reports.

Other Cases Solved Through DNA Techniques

Rillema's case is the latest in many long-ago crimes solved through new DNA techniques. Last month, a man from Loogootee, Indiana, was arrested in connection with the 1989 murder and sexual assault of 23-year-old Mary Luicile Willfong. The case went cold for 30 years until the arrest of Larry Padgett Jr., 59.

In early 2019, investigator Marc Mansfield submitted the original evidence to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab for testing with newer technology.

He also took the evidence to Miami for a genetic genealogy trace using DNA from Willfong. As a result, investigators were able to identify 59-year-old Larry Padgett Jr. as a suspect.

Further investigation revealed more evidence linking Padgett to Willfong's murder.

Similarly, the Golden State Killer, responsible for terrorizing Californians with numerous rapes and murders in the 1970s and 1980s, was finally apprehended in 2018.

Advances in DNA technology led to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, who pleaded guilty to 13 murders and 13 rape-related charges. DeAngelo was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in August 2020.

DNA Tracing and Its Impact on Cold Cases

The advancements in DNA testing technology have led to the apprehension of many criminals who committed murders several decades ago.

Some of the killers who were ultimately caught using these techniques include the 1987 killer of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg and the murderer of Jennifer Brinkman in 1998.

Genetic Genealogy?

Genetic Genealogy uses DNA testing combined with traditional genealogical methods to determine relationships between individuals, find genetic matches, and discover one's ancestry.

This technology is helping in crime-solving by identifying suspects or victims through DNA matches with their relatives in genetic databases, providing law enforcement with leads to investigate and potentially solve cold cases or other criminal cases where conventional methods have not yielded results.