DNA Cold Case Task Force makes 100th indictment using rape kit

Victims relieved, dealing with flood of emotions

CLEVELAND - Hundreds of boxes are stacked from the floor to the ceiling in an evidence room inside the Cleveland Police Headquarters.

The boxes contain evidence from sexual assault kits.

Behind every box of evidence is a real person and an unsolved crime.

Now, 4,000 of those boxes or cold cases from Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, dating back to 1993, will be crossed checked against DNA from prison inmates.

Several years ago Cleveland police detectives linked one suspect to five rapes and an unsolved murder on Cleveland's east side between 1996 and 2010.

A sketch of the suspect was made, but the serial attacker's identity remained a mystery until police said new DNA testing linked long-time criminal Larry McGowan to the string of attacks.

Testing by the newly created DNA Cold Case Task Force means criminals like McGowan can be stopped before they attack more victims.

Many victims are relieved someone has been caught, but receiving news of a named suspect can come out of the blue.

"Sometimes it's a knock on the door while you're having dinner with your family, you're in the middle of eating dinner with your kids and giving your kids a bath and there's a knock or call from a police officer. Suddenly you're asked to think about something really awful that happened a long time ago," said Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

Miller said the sudden news that a suspect has been identified through DNA can be shocking to survivors.

"Some survivors aren't thrilled to be getting this call out of the blue. They've tried for years or decades to suppress memories of this trauma and when they're asked to recall some details it's almost like it's happening all over again," Miller said.

The statute of limitations on rape of an adult is 20 years. That means when the task force gets a match, they must work fast to contact victims if the crime is nearing the 20 year mark.

"Sometimes the police are knocking on someone's door, and they've had to take statements right there in their driveway," Miller said.

Cleveland Police Lieutenant James McPike said many criminals can no longer outrun technology.

"There's got to be some offenders out there sweating because of the crimes they committed in the past," McPike said.

McPike expects about 1,600 of the 4,000 cold cases to be solved through DNA testing which involves cross checking a mouth swab from a prison inmate to a rape kit.

The task force and Cleveland Rape Crisis Center are working on the best protocol for contacting victims as DNA testing ramps up in the next few months and more suspects are identified and more survivors are contacted.

Counseling is free at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

Their phone number is 216-619-6192.

Miller said, on average, survivors contact the center seeking counseling ten years after the crime.

The DNA Cold Case Task Force was pushed for by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and implemented locally by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty who recently announced the indicted against McGowan.

Police said McGowan is the 100th suspect to be identified through the task force.

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