How DNA, genealogy evidence helped solve 20-year-old Oakland County cold case

51-year-old man faces felony charges in connection with 2 sexual assaults

Kurt Alan Rillema (WDIV)

OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – A Michigan man is facing felony charges in connection with two sexual assault cases that happened more than 20 years ago at golf courses in Oakland County and at Penn State University.

Police said DNA evidence has linked Kurt Alan Rillema, 51, to the sexual assault of a 22-year-old woman at an Oakland Township golf course in 1999. DNA has also linked Rillema to a similar assault at a golf course on the Penn State University campus in 2000.

Rillema was arrested on Monday, April 17, 2023, in Oakland County. He is facing a charge of rape by forcible compulsion in Pennsylvania and, if convicted, could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Rillema was arraigned in Rochester Hills on first-degree and second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges for the Oakland County sexual assault. He is being held without bond in the Oakland County Jail.

His next court date is scheduled for April 27, 2023. If convicted of the first-degree sexual assault charge, he could face up to life in prison. The second-degree charge carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office collaborated with police in State College, Pennsylvania, as well as Penn State University police.

1999 Oakland Township assault

The Oakland Township sexual assault happened on Sept. 6, 1999, at the Twin Lakes Golf Club.

The victim told deputies that she had been working at a food stand on the course when an unknown man came through the back employee door, demanded she take off her clothes, and then sexually assaulted her.

Deputies obtained DNA but did not identify a suspect. The evidence was entered into a national DNA database.

The victim no longer lives in Michigan.

2000 Penn State University assault

The Penn State University sexual assault happened on July 27, 2000.

A 19-year-old woman was jogging on a Penn State University golf course when she was confronted by a man with a knife. She said he held the knife to her neck and then sexually assaulted her.

Investigators in Pennsylvania obtained evidence but never identified a suspect.

DNA links assaults in 2004

In 2004, the DNA database linked the evidence from the Oakland Township and Pennsylvania assaults.

Investigators still had not identified a suspect in either case.

The evidence in the Pennsylvania case was destroyed after a certain period of time, as state law allows. The evidence at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office had been preserved.

Read: Advanced DNA analysis helped solve a Livingston County cold case and it doesn’t stop there

Investigators use DNA to ID suspect

In July 2021, investigators in Michigan and Pennsylvania started looking for new ways to identify a suspect in these cases.

Evidence from the Oakland County case was sent to Parabon Nanolabs, based in Reston, Virginia, for genetic genealogy testing.

The search included tracing the genealogy as far back as the 1700s. Investigators were able to narrow the possible suspect list to one of three brothers.

Investigators now believe that Rillema, the owner of a construction company, is the prime suspect. A test of a reference sample of DNA has confirmed a match to the DNA sample in both cases, officials said.

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.