Man jailed for 650 years after DNA on envelope led to arrest for 1980s sex attacks

Steven Ray Hessler was sentenced to 650 years behind bars for a series of brutal sexual assaults from 1982 to 1985 after DNA on a water bill envelope finally linked him to the decades-old crimes

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A man has been sentenced to 650 years behind bars after DNA on an envelope led police to catch him more than 30 years after he committed a series of brutal sexual assaults.

Steven Ray Hessler terrorized Shelby County, Tennessee in the 1980s.

The rapist broke into homes at night with a gun or knife, woke up his victims, then tied them up and sexually assaulted them.

During his sickening attacks, he often wore a bulky cloak and hid his face with a sky mask or leggings.

However, for 35 years after his attacks, Ray Hessler remained free and police were no closer to his identity until 2020, when DNA from a water bill envelope he had licked led to his arrest.

It matched DNA from the scene of his last known crime, August 17, 1985, the New York Times reported .

Steven Ray Hessler’s crimes went unpunished for 35 years


Shelby County District Attorney’s Office)

The 59-year-old was sentenced to 650 years behind bars yesterday.

He was convicted of two counts of rape, six counts of unlawful deviant conduct, seven counts of burglary causing bodily harm, three counts of felony deviant conduct and one count of robbery.

James B. Landwerlen, the Shelby County prosecutor, said Hessler committed a gruesome series of crimes from August 14, 1982, to August 17 three years later.

During this period, he brutally attacked 10 victims, including a 16-year-old girl, seven women and two men.

One was a former Marine whom he handcuffed, tied up and beat with a gun, leaving them in a coma for months.

In a statement, the prosecution said, “Steven Ray Hessler is one of the most wicked, dangerous and sadistic predators I have had the pleasure of pursuing.”

He then credited the victims of his crimes who came forward and testified against Hessler.

He added: “These attacks had profound impacts on their lives.”

Steven Ray Hessler, 59, an elusive rapist who terrorized victims in Shelby County, Ind., in the 1980s


Shelby County District Attorney’s Office)

Hessler plans to appeal the conviction, his attorney, Bryan L. Cook, said. He added: ‘Several potentially viable suspects were ruled out by DNA, although eight of the 10 victims were not DNA cases – which was a central issue in the case.

“Many physical descriptions of the perpetrator’s victims did not match Hessler’s age, build, weight, eye color or education.”

He added that there had been between 80 and 100 suspects for the crimes over the years, including a cousin of Hessler who was charged with four of the attacks.

Another potential suspect was a convict who had previously committed similar crimes and inspired Frank Zappa’s song “The Illinois Enema Bandit”.

The prosecution said Hessler was “very careful” and wiped down crime scenes and took items he touched with him.

But, in 1990, he was convicted of rape in neighboring Decatur County.

This led to 10 years in prison and he was released about two months before inmates were required to submit their DNA, Mr Landwerlen said.

However, Hessler was not linked to any of the assaults in Shelby County until DNA from the last local crime scene, in 1985, was sent to a specialist lab that uses DNA technology to solve cases. cold.

In 2020, they identified Hessler as one of two potential subjects, so investigators subpoenaed a utility company for his water bill to extract his DNA, the prosecution said.

Another DNA sample from Hessler’s cheek confirmed the link.

When investigators searched Hessler’s home on August 17, 2020, precisely 35 years after the last attack, they found more evidence linking him to the crimes.

This included photographs that had been stolen from a victim, handcuffs and coats with ski masks in the pockets.

A new search of his computers showed how he tracked two of his victims online and uploaded a photo of where one of them lived.

Investigators also found about 30 pairs of women’s underwear in individual bags at her home.

When he was finally found guilty, a number of his victims came to court to hear the verdict read aloud.

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