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Greensburg man arrested in Shelby County home invasion sexual assaults during 1980s

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Police arrested a Greensburg man on Monday, exactly 35 years after the last of several home invasion sexual assaults he’s accused of committing across Shelby County in the 1980s.

The Shelby County Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday said Steven Ray Hessler, 57, faced 24 charges including rape, burglary and criminal confinement in connection to attacks that occurred between 1982 and 1985.

Investigators used a DNA sample from a 1985 attack, a 1986 prison interview with one of Hessler’s associates, and a March 2020 utility bill payment to narrow their focus on Hessler, according to court documents.

The attacks: Aug. 14, 1982 to Aug. 17, 1985

Starting around Aug. 14, 1982, authorities began receiving reports of home invasions in Shelby County that included rape, unlawful deviate conduct, burglary, robbery and battery. Because of the number of reports and the similarities of the crimes reported, a joint task force was formed, made up of the Shelbyville Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and Indiana State Police.

In many of the assaults described in court documents — involving eight women and two men during seven separate incidents — the attacker:

  • Wore a mask, pantyhose or other covering over his face.
  • Displayed a knife or gun.
  • Demanded money and drugs.
  • Claimed he was hired by someone to commit the attacks.
  • Tied up or handcuffed victims.
  • Forced victims to change clothes and took photos of victims.
  • Threatened to blackmail victims with the photos he took.
  • Forced victims to commit sexual acts, both with him and at times with each other.
  • Threatened violence against victims and their families, including children in the home at the time of the attack, if they told police about the attack.
  • Claimed he had served in the military and killed people while in Vietnam.
  • Lectured some victims about the lack of security of their homes.
  • Chastised some victims for living beyond their means.
  • Lit a candle.
  • Used the phrase “You understand what I’m saying to you.”
  • Forced victims to wash themselves and wiped off things he touched in the homes before he left.

In some instances, a mother was threatened and assaulted with her child in the room with her or nearby. In two cases, a husband and wife were assaulted. One of those attacks left a man with permanent brain damage and physical disability. In one case, a woman and her daughter were both assaulted, according to court documents.

The court documents released Tuesday accuse Hessler in these attacks:

  • Victim No. 1: Aug. 14, 1982.
  • Victim No. 2: Nov. 1, 1982.
  • Victim Nos. 3 and 4: Dec. 16, 1982.
  • Victim Nos. 5 and 6: Feb. 2, 1983.
  • Victim No. 7: Feb 18, 1984.
  • Victim No. 8: Nov. 25, 1984.
  • Victim Nos. 9 and 10: Aug. 17, 1985.

According to court documents, the original Shelby County Task Force was unable to solve the listed cases at the time and suspended the cases. Court documents did not clarify on when those cases were suspended.

Renewed investigation and possible suspect: 2002-2004

In 2002, a Shelby County detective was asked to review all evidence in the cases with new forensic technology, using DNA from six past suspects in the cases.

One piece of evidence was a DNA sample from the garage floor of Victim Nos. 9 and 10. All six of those former suspects were eliminated based on review of that sample, court documents say.

In 2004, a new task force composed of members of the Indiana State Police and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office was formed to look at the evidence.

Based on the methods of those past attacks, investigators identified Michael H. Kenyon, formerly known as the Illinois Enema Bandit, as a new potential suspect. He had been convicted of cases in Illinois and released from prison in 1980. He was later arrested again in 1986. When police interviewed Kenyon about the Shelby County cases, he said they were not committed by him but rather by a copycat. His DNA did not match the sample from the home of Victim Nos. 9 and 10, and he was excluded as a suspect, court documents say.

New DNA technology and an old interview transcript: July 2019 to January 2020

In July 2019, task force members contacted the ISP Laboratory about new technology to generate leads based on genetic research. That process started in November.

On Jan. 31, 2020, a lab report recommended ruling in Hessler or his brother as suspects before considering other possibilities. Hessler had been included in the original suspect list and lived in Greensburg during the time the crimes were committed, court documents say.

A file on Hessler was found with an interview transcript of a past associate of Hessler. That person had been in prison in Michigan City when he was interviewed on Oct. 30, 1986.

He told police he met Hessler when he was 14 and described Hessler’s hair, eyes and build, as well as what Hessler sometimes wore. He also described a number of knives and guns that Hessler had. 

According to court documents, the associate told an interviewer that he and Hessler had committed burglaries together. He said he would drive Hessler to homes in Shelby County, drop him off and come back for him. He said he believed the last one they had done was in “December or January, of last year, 1984.” He said the burglaries were committed at night, that he had seen Hessler pick locks and he thought Hessler was a locksmith.

The associate described other items that Hessler had, including a pry bar, a lock pick kit, a police scanner, a flashlight, handcuffs, mace and nylon cord. The associate said Hessler would use the cord to tie up women when taking pictures of them.

He also told police that Hessler had a lot of women’s underclothes and was not sure where Hessler had gotten them.

When asked about whether Hessler had raped anyone, the associate said, “He’s never come right out and said, where he’s committed them. But he has come out, like I said, to me, that he’s done them, I mean, you know, he’s never said, that, he’s been this place and done it, or that place and done it. But, there’s been places, where, like the lady I told you about, that he said was older, that he said he was goin to get even with, that was,” court documents say.

The associate said Hessler used derogatory words to refer to women and to Black people and recounted a time when Hessler had talked about pistol-whipping someone, and times that Hessler had beaten women.

When asked if Hessler had been in Vietnam, the associate said, “No. His brother was … it’s a trick … he’s nuts, yal … to hear him talk, you’d swear he was there … from the time it started, until they brought the last one out.”

The associate also told police that Hessler used the sayings, “For sure” and “You know what I’m talking about” often.

According to the associate, he and Hessler had been to Shelby County approximately 10 times, court documents say.

Getting Hessler’s DNA sample: March 17, 2020

Police conducted surveillance on Hessler to try to get a DNA sample from him “in a clandestine/secretive manner,” according to court documents.

On March 17, a utility company gave police a check and envelope used to mail in a utility payment for Hessler’s home address, with a signature bearing Hessler’s name on the check. The check and envelope were given to the ISP lab to compare with the sample obtained at the home of victims 9 and 10. 

On Aug. 3, a lab report gave very strong support for the inclusion of Hessler based on the samples, court documents say. 

The arrest: Aug. 17, 2020

Hessler was taken into custody Monday in Greensburg, and police executed a search warrant on the home, finding a number of items related to the sexual acts described by victims and clothing matching what was described by victims, as well as knives and firearms. They also found a pornographic film inspired by the acts of Kenyon, court documents say.

Hessler on Tuesday had been charged with: 

  • Burglary, seven counts.
  • Rape, two counts.
  • Unlawful deviate conduct, eight counts.
  • Robbery, one count.
  • Theft, one count.
  • Criminal confinement, two counts.
  • Corrupt business influence, one count.

According to the Shelby County Prosecutor’s Office, Hessler’s “victims have been advised of the arrest and are very happy with the news.” 

Hessler’s initial hearing was Tuesday afternoon. He’s being held in the Shelby County Jail on a $20 million bond. 

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