On a Saturday night in February 2000, a 16-year-old Ottawa girl was being set up on a blind date.
Once the girl ended her shift at 8 p.m. at the Ottawa Walmart, she’d meet her friends in the parking lot, where she’d be introduced to a boy.
She never made it.
Instead, the girl was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and beaten by an unknown white male. For more than a decade, the girl and authorities had no answers.
Ottawa Police Chief Dennis Butler said investigators checked all leads, but the case went cold.
On several occasions, the girl would spot someone at Walmart or hear a voice she recognized as her attacker. She’d report it to police, but none of the suspects panned out.
But the 2003 arrest of a trucker — caught smuggling 500 pounds of marijuana along with tomatoes in a semitrailer on the East Coast — would eventually lead police to a suspect 10 years after the assault.
Expert: Offender ‘has quite a history’
Stephen Thompson, director of Sexual Aggression Services at Central Michigan University and a sexual assault profiler, said the type of assault reported in this case is likely the work of an offender who’s committed a series of other such crimes.
“I’ve got to believe he has quite a history,” Thompson said. “I’d bet my mortgage on it.”
Thompson noted the predatory nature of the alleged assault — a stranger nabbed in public — isn’t often the first offense a sex offender commits.
And such offenders typically begin committing crimes in their 20s, Thompson said, though the suspect in this case, Ralph Corey, was 43 at the time of the alleged assault.
Thompson said law enforcement should be looking for other similar unsolved crimes that could be linked to one offender.
Examples of cold cases assisted by CODIS, the national DNA database
Daniel Brewer was tracked down in New York after a CODIS DNA profile hit connected him to the 1981 rapes of two Manhattan-area women. Another man, Eddie Lowery, had spent 10 years in prison for one of those rapes but was eventually exonerated by DNA. Brewer pleaded guilty to one of the rapes and no contest to the other, and received a 12- to 20-year sentence in December.
Cory Elkins, while imprisoned in California, was identified in 2006 as a suspect in two unsolved Lawrence rapes from the 1990s. The victims weren’t able to identify Elkins following the crimes, and the DNA cold hit helped Douglas County prosecutors obtained convictions and a 48-year prison sentence for Elkins.
Jeremy Hernandez’ DNA profile was added to CODIS following a Sedgwick County rape conviction in 2001. Hernandez’s profile ended up matching the profile from blood samples collected in a 1995 Independence, Kan., murder. Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder in that case in 2005.
An Ottawa teenager drove to the Walmart parking lot Feb. 19, 2000. She’d be meeting her boyfriend, who was bringing along another boy, and they’d be going on a double date that Saturday night with her friend who worked at Walmart, according to testimony at a November Franklin County preliminary hearing.
She pulled in the parking lot and waited for her friend, who was supposed to end her shift at 8 p.m. While she waited, a scruffy looking man in a black hooded sweatshirt approached the girl’s car and tried to get in on the driver’s side. The door was locked. The startled teenager started the car and punched it in reverse in a panic as the man ran off. The girl got a hurried look at the man and would later describe him to a sketch artist. A few moments later, the girl saw the man driving the car of the friend who worked at the store.
The car darted out of the parking lot.
As Ralph Edward Corey, then 43, and his father, Manuel Corey, 76, approached a weigh station on Interstate 81 in Botetourt County, Va., on March 15, 2003, their semitrailer made a hurried and illegal U-turn in the median, according to media reports.
The younger Corey, on federal probation for a 2002 counterfeiting conviction, had reason to be nervous of the coming weigh station.
For starters, the trailer they were hauling was 2,500 pounds overweight, the brakes and lights were defective, and the driver’s log was outdated.
Then there was the marijuana.
Along with 44,000 pounds of green tomatoes, the trailer was packed with 500 pounds of marijuana, which had a $2.3 million street value, and about $17,000 in cash.
A driver who witnessed the suspicious U-turn called police, who caught up with the truck a few miles down the road.
Despite attempts to conceal the marijuana odor, which included the use of mustard and cellophane wrap, drug-sniffing dogs ferreted out the drugs.
Corey would tell police the marijuana was picked up near Tucson, Ariz., and brought across the border from Mexico in backpacks. Corey also said his elderly father had no idea the truck was filled with drugs. Regardless, Manuel received a two-year prison sentence for drug trafficking as part of a plea bargain.
Ralph also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison on two drug trafficking charges.
He’d serve seven years in the Virginia prison system before being sent back to the federal prison system to finish his sentence on the 2002 counterfeiting charges.
In January 2011, Corey was visited at the Safford Federal Correctional Institute in southeastern in Arizona by Rick Geist, a 30-year veteran of the Ottawa Police Department, who had some questions for Corey about a decade-old crime.
The 16-year-old Ottawa girl ended her shift at Walmart. The plan was to meet up with some friends for a blind date. She got in her car but didn’t lock it.
An unknown man, who had just moments before tried to get into the girl’s friend’s car, opened the door, began punching her in the face and threw the girl in the backseat after placing a stocking cap over her face.
The man took the wheel, drove the car out of the parking lot and turned the wrong way on a one-way section of U.S. Highway 59 before pulling into the parking lot of the Orscheln Farm and Home store down the street.
“I was asking him who he was, where was he taking me, why he was taking me, where he was from, if he had kids, how old he was, what his name was; just anything to deter him from hurting me,” said the woman, now 28, at the November preliminary hearing. “He just told me to shut up and stop talking, and he kept repeating to shut up, or he was going to (expletive) kill me. It scared me to death.”
The girl never saw a gun, but she felt an object during the attack that could have been a firearm.
The man began telling the girl he had been watching her, and he knew her work schedule at Walmart.
“It made me feel like he had been watching me for who knows how long. A very long time,” the woman testified.
He climbed into the backseat and sexually assaulted the girl, who was able to get a glimpse of the man as the stocking cap on her head shifted during the attack.
Afterward, the man climbed into the driver’s seat, drove to the Country Mart parking lot down the street and sexually assaulted the girl again. The man then drove the car to the nearby McDonald’s.
He told the girl he was going to get a milkshake and instructed her to count to 100. Instead, the girl climbed into the driver’s seat, and, using the keys her attacker left behind, she drove herself to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, where she reported the attack. Inside the car, police found the stocking cap and a pair of gloves, both of which did not belong to the girl.
The items were sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab for DNA testing, and the information was entered into CODIS, the national DNA database, in 2002. At the time, the database didn’t have a DNA profile match for the attacker.
In December 2010, Ottawa police were notified by the KBI that DNA from the 2000 sexual assault had produced a match in CODIS, identifying Ralph Corey as a suspect in the crime.
Corey’s federal counterfeiting conviction is not an eligible offense for DNA testing in the federal system, but Corey’s 2004 drug trafficking convictions in Virginia are qualifying offenses under Virginia law. Corey’s DNA would’ve been taken and entered into CODIS sometime around 2004.
It’s not clear why it took six years to produce a match to the DNA collected in the 2000 Ottawa crime. KBI, FBI and the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences officials said they don’t comment on specific cases.
Armed with the DNA match information, Geist, the Ottawa police officer, traveled to Arizona and visited Corey in prison. Geist said Corey spoke barely above a whisper during the interview, according to court records. Corey told Geist that in 2000 he was working as an independent truck driver.
Corey said little else, but a DNA swab taken at the prison confirmed the results from the DNA cold hit. Corey was transferred to the Franklin County Jail once his federal sentence expired in June.
According to court records, Corey’s court-appointed attorney, John Boyd, has been attempting to obtain gas card records from the trucking company — RAKAB Transportation Inc., based in Waterloo, Iowa — that Corey worked for in 2000. Such records could possibly show Corey was not in the Ottawa area when the crime occurred, but the defense was not able to produce such records at the November preliminary hearing.
Boyd, Franklin County Attorney Heather Jones, and Ottawa police have declined further comment on the case, citing the pending trial.
Corey is set to stand trial in Franklin County on June 19 on charges of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual battery and criminal threat.