Suspected ‘Pillowcase rapist’ says he’s ‘not guilty’ during Brevard County court appearance

Registered sex offender arrested in Palm Bay

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The Palm Bay man suspected of being the notorious serial rapist who terrorized South Florida stood before a Brevard County judge Tuesday, uttering three words to sum up his response to his arrest, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

“I’m not guilty,” said Robert Eugene Koehler, 60, who was arrested at his home Saturday. Koehler, a court-registered sex offender, stood in the jailhouse courtroom and was directed to sign the paperwork presented to him during his appearance.

Koehler's claim that he is not guilty of the crimes was not an official plea entered into the court system.

He was ordered held without bond in accordance with the warrant issued by a South Florida judge.

Koehler shuffled into the courtroom at the Brevard County Jail with his ankles chained, wearing flip flops and a green, full-body smock called a suicide gown, often put on high-profile suspects and not necessarily indicating they’ve threatened to take their own life.

"Go ahead and sign the paperwork," Judge David Silverman told Koehler before he was led away by courtroom deputies.

Silverman said Miami-Dade authorities had until Thursday to pick him up or Koehler would have to come back before a Brevard County judge.

It was the first appearance for Koehler, a handyman who settled in Palm Bay in 2008. More than two dozen cars from multiple law-enforcement agencies were at his residence Saturday morning, holding a warrant issued out of Miami-Dade County.

"We had no involvement other than transporting him to the Police Department," said Lt. Mike Smith of the Palm Bay Police Department.

"We were assisting Miami-Dade police and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. They took him into custody," Smith said.

Miami-Dade authorities were not discussing the high-profile case or Koehler's suspected connections to the dozens of sexual assaults stretching back to the 1980s.

“We will be having a conference call with the State Attorney’s Office to determine the next step,” said Argemis Colome, a detective with the Miami-Dade Police Department.

He also said the agency was working to release more information about the warrant leading to Koehler's arrest.

“We’re getting calls as you can imagine from everywhere. He’s been arrested, but we have nothing else on the case at this time,” Colome said.

Koehler is a registered sexual offender

Koehler is a registered sexual offender following a conviction on Oct. 31, 1991, on a sexual battery charge out of Palm Beach, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Details on the attack involving the Palm Beach woman were not immediately available.

"We had very little contact with him here," said Smith, adding that Koehler moved to Palm Bay in 2008, where he was listed as a sex offender.

"We've done sex offender checks at his home. In another case, he reported his son missing, but other than that, not much contact," Smith said.

Fear in South Florida

According to media reports, the Pillowcase Rapist assaulted up to 44 known victims from Deerfield Beach to Miami.

Young women were the initial targets when the attacks began in south Florida in 1981 and continued through the mid-1980s. Up to 44 women were victimized, with the oldest being 82, according to media reports.

The rapist, who would cover his head with a pillowcase and carry a knife, evaded an intense law enforcement manhunt that involved up to 50 officers at one point, according to media accounts.

Posters dotted neighborhoods across Miami-Dade. Psychologists were consulted by authorities to develop leads.

Authorities also recovered semen samples, which contained DNA. And while the science of determining DNA was a relatively new field in the 1980s, it has grown into a reliable mainstay of forensic and police investigations in the 21st Century.

Miami-Dade police helped form a law-enforcement task force, which was assigned to track evidence, talk with witnesses and develop leads in the case. The task force was disbanded in 1987 without any arrests, according to the Miami Herald.

Neighbors say they feel safer with Koehler’s arrest

Koehler, who records show worked as a handyman in Lake Worth, moved to Brevard County in 2003, court records showed. Court records also show numerous traffic citations.

Koehler’s home in southwest Palm Bay has piles of debris littering the back yard, overgrown brambles and the windows remain shuttered even though hurricane season passed months ago.

Koehler was known on the street as being an uneasy figure, constantly soliciting work and incessantly knocking on doors hoping to come in, according to Alex and Erika Wentzel, who lived next door to Koehler until his arrest this weekend.

"I kept him as far away from us as I could," Wentzel said.

“The neighborhood just feels safer now that he’s gone,” Erika said.