One of more than 40 women who was raped at knifepoint in her home by the notorious Pillowcast Rapist in 1984 says the attack left her emotionally crippled to the point where it ‘probably squelched intense happiness for decades’.
Catherine, a 68-year-old part-time librarian from New Jersey, lived in the Pompano Beach section of Florida in August 1984.
At the time, South Florida towns in the Miami and Broward County areas were reporting several instances of women being attacked by a mysterious assailant who hid out in his victims’ apartments, used a knife to threaten them, threw pillowcases over their heads, and proceeded to rape them.
On August 16, 1984, Catherine, who was 33 years old at the time, came home to her studio apartment in Pompano Beach after a day of work at a her job as a researcher.
When she opened the front door, she remembers scolding her two kittens who had torn up things inside the apartment.
Catherine then went into her bathroom, brushed her teeth, and changed into her bed clothes, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
She was looking forward to jumping into bed and turning on the television to watch People’s Court with Judge Wapner.
But when she stepped out of her bathroom, she suddenly felt something sharp placed against her throat.
A man then appeared and put his lightly tanned arm around her, holding her in place.
The man had apparently been hiding out in the woman’s apartment, waiting for her to emerge from the bathroom and head to bed.
He said she was ‘crazy’ for talking to her kittens.
The man then led Catherine toward the twin bed, put a pillowcase over her head, and tied her arms to the bottom of the bed before proceeding to rape her.
At least once, he was heard saying: ‘Shut up.’
After he was finished, he went into her kitchen and drank a soda from her refrigerator.
The rapist then took cash from her wallet as well as her driver’s license and left.
After he was gone, Catherine managed to untie herself and remove the pillowcase from her head.
She then went next door to a neighbor’s house, where a man she never saw opened the front door after she knocked.
‘As far as I knew it could’ve been him,’ she said.
Police arrived and collected evidence. Catherine was taken to a hospital, where she was administered a rape kit.
Investigators told her they did not have a suspect, but that they would reach out to her if they found any new leads.
Weeks went by and nothing happened, Catherine said.
She appeared resigned to the fact that there would be no arrest and that a rapist was on the loose to attack again.
‘I just kept going,’ she said. ‘I didn’t really have any choice.’
The Pompano Beach Police Department was later subsumed into the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
A few months later, she moved to Boynton Beach, about 25 miles north of Pompano Beach.
A year later, she read an article in the Miami Herald about a rapist who targeted numerous women in and around Miami and Broward.
The attacks fit the same pattern as that of her assailant – the use of a knife, a pillowcase to cover their face, hiding out in the victims’ apartments.
After she finished reading the article, Catherine said she was physically shaking, especially after learning that the rapist was known to return to his victims’ apartments.
‘I was absolutely terrified,’ she said.
Catherine then contacted the Miami Special Victims Unit, which was investigating the crimes.
Two detectives then interviewed her at her job in Delray Beach, but there was little in the way of information that she could provide since she could not recall any distinguishing features or characteristics of her assailant.
With no leads, life went on. A special task force formed to find the rapist was disbanded in 1987.
The next year, Catherine left South Florida for St. Petersburg. After a short stint at a job at a public library in Miami, she moved out of Florida and relocated to southern New Jersey, where she has lived since.
Despite finding a new home where she has lived for almost the last 30 years, Catherine says that fear and anxiety continue to haunt her.
‘My whole life since then has been a series of breaking down and picking myself back up,’ she said.
Catherine said that the trauma has at times been so debilitating that she has been forced to leave jobs and enter intensive therapy.
‘There’s a point where I can handle stress and then there is a point where it breaks me down completely,’ she said.
In 2000, she went on a date with a man she liked.
As he drove her to dinner, Catherine was overcome with the thought that he was capable of locking all the car doors.
Even though the man had treated her well up to that point, Catherine began to panic.
‘I almost threw myself out of the car,’ she said.
Catherine said she has been similarly triggered in other cases, including when watching movies, the 2016 presidential campaign, and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
She said she has had to suffer through nights of terrible dreams of being suffocated.
Catherine said that she also has trouble savoring moments of joy because the day of her attack had been such a happy one until she was raped.
‘I have probably squelched intense happiness for decades,’ she said.
Catherine told the Sun Sentinel that the trauma has reared its ugly head in recent weeks since it was learned that authorities apprehended a man they believe to be the Pillowcase Rapist, potentially solving a four-decade cold case.
Robert Eugene Koehler, a 60-year-old registered sex offender, was arrested in Palm Bay on January 18.
It is not known exactly what led to his arrest at his home in southwest Palm Bay, where more than two dozen cops cars from multiple agencies arrived.
But a number of cold cases have been solved in recent years thanks to a breakthrough in DNA testing and genealogical data stored on ancestry websites.
Catherine reacted angrily when authorities said that they failed to collect DNA samples from Koehler after one of his alleged rapes in 1990.
‘It’s horrible,’ Catherine said.
‘Who knows what he has been up to all these years?’
Since learning of the arrest, Catherine has had to relive the trauma.
‘It has put me right back to being in that apartment,’ she said, ‘remembering things.’
Catherine said she was told by detectives in Miami that they would try to track down her old evidence from 1984 as they try to link past rapes to Koehler.
The Miami State Attorney’s Office said it has DNA that ties Koehler to at least 25 unsolved rape cases from the 1980s.
Investigators anticipate there will be more incriminating evidence.
Catherine said it’s important for her and other victims to come forward if it means securing a conviction.
‘They may have 25 cases against him,’ Catherine said, ‘but I might be the 26th that puts a nail in his coffin.’