Greensburg man sentenced to 650 years in Shelby County

News Release from Brad Landwerlen, Shelby County Prosecuting Attorney

Steven Ray Hessler was sentenced to 650 years in prison Friday for 2 counts of Rape, 6 counts of Unlawful Deviate Conduct, 7 counts of Burglary Resulting In Bodily Injury, 3 counts of Criminal Deviate Conduct, and one count of Robbery – each as a Class A Felony.  The charges stem from a series of home-invasion sexual assaults from 1982-1985.  He was convicted on March 3rd after an 8-day trial.

Hessler terrorized the Shelby County area between August 14, 1982 and August 17, 1985 – breaking into several homes in the middle of the night while armed and wearing a mask, and attacking, raping, binding, threatening, and sexually torturing several local women (and one 16 year-old child).  Many of the victims were tied up – others were not – as he stole cash and other certain items before sexually brutalizing the women.  In his final local assault, he struck a male victim several times with a gun (once the male victim was handcuffed and hog-tied), resulting in that victim being in a coma for months, and then a rehab facility for several more months, learning again to talk, and to walk with 2 cains (though he fell daily, and for years now has been confined to a wheelchair).  The local attacks stopped in the late 1980s.  We found that Hessler had been convicted of a rape in another county in the late 1980s (when our attacks stopped), and received a 20 year sentence.  (He was unfortunately released from the Department Of Corrections about 2 months before a requirement took effect that requires inmates to submit a DNA sample, or we would have had his DNA and a match years ago).

Hessler was generally very cautious, wiping down the scene and taking items that he had touched with him.  Fortunately, he left some DNA at one scene (though DNA was not then yet used for forensic investigations).  At the recommendation of retired Indiana State Trooper Mike Kolls (who worked with the original task force investigating the attacks), we sent some of the DNA to Parabon Nanolabs, who specializes in Geneological DNA Identification.  (Parabon also solved the Golden State Killer case with this technology).  Parabon sent back results that caused us to focus on Hessler and one other person.  Eventually, we were able to obtain Hessler’s DNA sample from an envelope he licked to send in a utility payment, and it matched the DNA from the scene.  

The prosecution was made more difficult because a previous task force had arrested and charged another local man with the first few of the attacks in 1983 (in an odd turn of events – that man turned out to be Hessler’s cousin).  Further investigation confirmed that person’s alibis for the evenings of certain attacks, as well as other information that led to dismissal of the case (but this still created an additional hurdle for us to address in this trial).  Another suspect came up in trial as well – Michael Kenyan (aka – the “Illinois Enema Bandit”), who had committed a series of attacks similar to ours in the late 1970s, and who had been released from prison before our attacks began (Frank Zappa even wrote a song about him, which was brought up during our trial).  Our office sent officers out to Arizona in 2004, where Kenyan lives now, to obtain DNA, interview Kenyan, and perform a forensic examination of his computer, which eliminated him as a suspect.

After receiving the DNA results matching Hessler to the DNA at one scene, we executed a search warrant at Hessler’s residence in the early morning hours on August 17, 2020, where we hit a bit of a gold mine.  We located photographs stolen from one local victim, and computers which showed that he had been researching and tracking down the 2 victims from that attack as well as 2 of our other victims (he had even downloaded a Google Earth streetview photo of one victim’s house in Georgia).  He had also been similarly cyberstalking the victim from his previous attempted rape conviction.  We also located certain coats that matched coats described by some of the victims, with ski masks in the pockets, and various specific items that matched items used in various of the attacks, such as handcuffs, enema bags, multiple containers of Vaseline, etc.  We located other items of interest – such as about 30 women’s panties, each individually baggied.  He stole panties in some of our local attacks, though after this passage of time, none could be identified by our victims as being theirs.

The most recent detectives to work (and solve) the investigation are Shelby County Sheriff’s Detective David Tilford and Indiana State Police Detective Paul Baker, but without several prior investigators doing things correctly, we would have still been unable to prove the case.  Huge credit also goes out to the Indiana State Police Crime Laboratory, who allowed exceptions to their evidence submission limits and conducted a mountain of DNA analysis and forensic computer/digital media examinations – both leading to some truly damning evidence.

The biggest credit goes out to the victims, who bravely testified despite having received death threats during the attacks.  These attacks have had profound impacts on their lives – always fearful if someone looks at them, and living in a recurring state of fear.  I truly hope these verdicts, and knowing that their attacker will be in prison until he dies, will bring them some sense of closure.  Several of the victims attended the sentencing hearing.  They are extremely happy with the convictions and the aggregate sentence – knowing that they finally no longer have to live in fear of this dangerous, dangerous man.

I was assisted in the prosecution of the case by Chief Deputy Prosecutor Scott Spears and Deputy Prosecutor Brandon Robinson (and I couldn’t be more proud of them both).  It took everything the 3 of us had, plus the detectives and the coordinated assistance of many others) to complete the investigation and prosecution of this huge case, which had been investigated by various officers, agencies, and task forces throughout the years.  Coordinating the trial also proved to be quite a task, as we called 27 witnesses – some repeatedly (up to 6 times), and whittled thousands of pieces of possible evidence down to just over 300 exhibits actually admitted.  We had to bring in witnesses from Florida, Georgia, and Ohio, as well as a Secret Service computer technician from the east coast.  Various other agencies played varying roles to solve and to bring this case to trial as well (including but not limited to Shelbyville Police Department, Rush County Sheriff’s Department, Rushville Police Department, Secret Service, various FBI agents, Greensburg PD, Decatur County Sheriff’s Dept., Decatur County Prosecutor’s Office, a detective with San Antonio Police Department, an officer with the Canton, Ohio Police Department, police officers in Arizona and Illinois, etc).  Huge credit also goes out to the Indiana State Police Crime Lab, who, in an extremely rare move, lifted the restrictions on the number of exhibits that they would accept for DNA analysis and forensic computer analysis.

News Release from Brad Landwerlen, Shelby County Prosecuting Attorney

Steven Ray Hessler

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