A Michigan man described as an “avid golfer” has been arrested in connection with two decades-old sexual assault cases that occurred on golf courses in different states after he was identified using genetic genealogy technology.

Kurt Alan Rillema, 51, was arrested April 17, Oakland County, Michigan, Sheriff Michael Bouchard announced at a news conference Tuesday. 

Bouchard said DNA evidence from the sexual assault of a 22-year-old woman at a Michigan golf course in 1999 matched DNA evidence from a violent rape in Pennsylvania, also on a golf course, at the Penn State University campus in 2000. 

The culprit in both cases remained a mystery for years, and in 2021 investigators renewed efforts to find a suspect and sent a DNA sample to Paragon NanoLabs, based in Reston, Virginia, for genetic genealogy testing. 

The results pointed investigators to three brothers as possible persons of interest, and DNA from a coffee cup ultimately led to Rillema’s arrest.

Two sexual assaults on golf courses in two states

The first assault took place Sept. 6, 1999, at the Twin Lakes Golf Club in Oakland Township, Bouchard said.

A 22-year-old woman was working at a food stand when a person came through the employee-only door, demanded she take off her clothes and sexually assaulted her, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

DNA was taken in as evidence, but authorities couldn’t identify a suspect, and the DNA evidence was entered into CODIS, the FBI’s national DNA database.

Twin Lakes Golf Club in Oakland, Mich.
Twin Lakes Golf Club in Oakland Township, Mich.Google Maps

The second case occurred July 27, 2000, when a 19-year-old woman was jogging on a Penn State University golf course and was confronted by a man with a knife. He held the knife to her neck and sexually assaulted her, the news release said.

Just as in the 1999 case, authorities had DNA evidence but could not identify a suspect.

A DNA match years later

In 2004, the Oakland Township Sheriff’s Office learned that CODIS had matched the DNA profile of the 1999 assault to that of the 2000 assault. 

Officials said the DNA evidence in the Pennsylvania case was destroyed after a certain period of time “as permitted under state law,” but the Oakland County case evidence was preserved, and it proved to be a major key in breaking the case.

In July 2021, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and Penn State police began looking for new ways to identify the suspect, and the DNA evidence was sent to Paragon NanoLabs.

Bouchard described the process as creating a possible family tree around the DNA sample.

The “exhaustive” search included tracing the genealogy as far back as the 1700s, the sheriff’s office said, and the investigation narrowed the possible suspect to one of three brothers.

The genealogical research took seven months, and one of the three brothers appeared to be the most “viable suspect,” based on his age and physical features as described by the victims, Sean McGraw, the first assistant district attorney in Centre County, Pennsylvania, said at a news conference last week. 

A coffee cup could lead to life in prison

Authorities in Michigan began conducting surveillance on Rillema and obtained a “discarded coffee cup” that he used on Jan. 31 this year, which was sent for DNA testing and proved to be a match for the presumed perpetrator of the 1999 and 2000 cases, McGraw said. 

Rillema, the owner of a construction company, was arrested at his home in the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield, Bouchard said.

The investigation was in collaboration with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, police in State College, Pennsylvania, and Penn State University Police. 

Bouchard said Rillema is an “avid golfer” who “plays golf all over the country.”

He urged potential other victims to come forward, especially if their cases unfolded similarly to the 1999 and 2000 cases.

“If you are a victim of a similar circumstance of rape on a golf course or some kind of rape that matches what we just talked about … please let us know or your local police agency, if not us. We know it was at Penn State University so it could be anywhere in the country,” Bouchard said.

Rillema was arraigned in Rochester Hills on first-degree and second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges in connection with the Oakland County sexual assault, online booking records show.

He is being held without bond. His next court date is Thursday.

If he is convicted of first-degree sexual assault, he could face up to life in prison. 

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, he faces a charge of rape by forcible compulsion, which carries up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted, the sheriff’s office said.

It was not immediately clear when he would be extradited to face the charges. 

An attorney for Rillema did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Nbcnews.com

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