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How a utility bill helped solve sexual assault cold cases from 1980s that led to serial rapist being sentenced to 650 years in prison

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An Indiana man convicted in a series of home invasions and sexual assaults in the 1980s was finally sentenced to a total of 650 years in prison for his crimes. A utility bill helped law enforcement apprehend the man who terrorized women in Shelby County some 30 years ago.

Steven Ray Hessler sentenced to 650 years in prison

Steven Ray Hessler, 59, was found guilty on March 3 of 19 felony charges for crimes against 10 victims between 1982 and 1985.

Following an eight-day trial in Shelby Circuit Court, Hessler was convicted on two counts of rape, six counts of unlawful deviate conduct, seven counts of burglary resulting in bodily injury, three counts of criminal deviate conduct, and one count of robbery, according to WXIN.

Shelby Circuit Court Judge Trent Metzler described Hessler's crimes as "monstrous" and "horrific." The judge gave Hessler the maximum of 50 years on each count, all of which were Class A felonies, WRTV reported.

How a utility bill broke open the cold case

Hessler was arrested at his home in Greensburg in August 2020 after investigators linked him to the cold case crimes through DNA evidence.

In 2019, the Shelby County Sheriff's Department decided to renew interest in the cold case after learning of advances in forensic technology. "A detective asked prosecutors if they would pay for samples to be sent to a company that uses the same sort of DNA testing that resulted in the capture of "the Golden State Killer," according to the Associated Press.

The prosecutors agreed and sent a DNA sample left in the victim's garage from the last reported assault on Aug. 17, 1985. Investigators also sent a licked utility bill that they had intercepted in the mail to Parabon NanoLabs. The DNA on the sample and the utility bill matched.

"Police said there was a one trillion-to-one chance the DNA found at the scene belonged to anyone but Hessler," the Indianapolis Star reported. "A subsequent test by Indiana State Police of DNA from Hessler's arrest confirmed the match."

Police found other evidence linking Hessler to the crimes, including pictures stolen from one of the victims was found in his possession. Law enforcement also determined that he searched for some of the victims on his computer.

The 'monstrous' crimes committed by the 'Coward Sadist'

In the middle of the night, Hessler – wearing a ski mask or tights to conceal his face – would break into the houses of women who were often home alone and force them to perform sexual acts while threatening harm if they did not do as he said, according to police. Hessler would bind, rape, and sexually torture his victims at gunpoint and knifepoint, investigators said. He also stole money and valuables from his victims.

"In a few cases, men who were in the home were made to watch or participate," according to the Indianapolis Star. "The man would sometimes lecture his victims about the lack of security in their homes, according to police. Before he left, some victims reported he would unplug phones and take their money."

Hessler allegedly took photos of the victims to blackmail them not to inform the authorities and said if they told the police, he would come back and kill them.

Several of the victims testified during the sentencing hearing about the trauma they experienced from the heinous attacks. Some expressed fears that Hessler would return to kill them or their children.

Shelby County Prosecutor Brad Landwerlen issued a statement:

Steven Ray Hessler is one of the most evil, dangerous, sadistic predators that I’ve had the pleasure of prosecuting in my 30+ year career. He derived great pleasure from his unnecessarily brutal methods of terrorizing and sexually torturing his victims. I promised the victims early-on that my goal would be that he go to prison the rest of his life, and all involved are very happy that we have achieved that goal.

Landwerlen dubbed Hessler the "Coward Sadist."

"He's a sadist because he loves getting pleasure from hurting other people," Landwerlen said. "He's a coward because he would only do it when he was armed."

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Bryan Cook said, "It's a hot mess of a case the state has."

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