Arohn Kee (1 Viewer)


Arohn Kee

A.K.A.: "East Harlem Rapist"

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Serial rapist (7)
Number of victims: 3 +
Date of murders: 1991 / 1997 / 1998
Date of arrest: February 19, 1999
Date of birth: 1973
Victims profile: Paola Illera, 13 / Johalis Castro, 19 / Rasheeda Washington 18
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: East Harlem, New York, USA
Status: Three life sentences without possibility of parole for each of the three murders, plus an additional 400 years for the four rapes on January 2001

On February 19, 1999, Miami Police arrested a 25-year-old man who was looked in New York by at least a murder and two violations.

Surveillance teams tailing him decided to move in when he was located at the Sun Hotel in downtown Miami. Two SWAT teams cleared out the rest of the hotel and found him in a room on the top floor.

New York City police believe Kee is responsible for a string of slayings and rapes in East Harlem. Officers also found a 16-year-old girl in another part of the sixth floor. Crowley identified her as Angelique Stallings, who had been missing since she went out on a Valentine's Day date with Kee.

Police also are investigating whether Kee, nicknamed the "East Harlem Rapist" by the New York media, was involved in the killings of two other teen-age girls in 1991 and 1997. "Arohn Kee is every young lady's worst nightmare," New York Deputy Inspector Joseph Reznick said earlier this week.

On December 20, 2000, a New York jury convicted Kee the slayings of three girls and the rapes of four others during an eight-year crime spree. Kee, 27, faces life without parole in state prison when he is sentenced January 26. Kee was charged with murdering three Harlem girls between 1991 and 1998. Four other victims, ranging in age from 13 to 15, were raped.

One girl may have been burned alive on a rooftop. Another had her life's breath squeezed out of her, and a third, only 13, was strangled and stabbed three times in her bare left breast. No mother should have to suffer what the mothers of these three murdered teenage girls are suffering on the 12th floor of a lower Manhattan courthouse.

As just one example of his alleged cunning, Kee - a computer whiz, self-styled rap artist and convicted thief - repeatedly outwitted police attempts to get his DNA and link him to the attacks. Once, when he was held last year on a petit-larceny charge, he declined a cheek swab - cops lied that it was a "tuberculosis test" - claiming, at the brink of signing a consent form, that he was a Jehovah's Witness, opposed to invasive medical procedures. "He suddenly got religious," one investigator recalled.

The prosecution presented DNA evidence recovered from six of his seven victims that matched Kee's. Police obtained Kee's DNA from a coffee cup he used while in custody at the time of his February 19, 1999, arrest.

In a bizarre twist, Kee testified in his own defense, ignoring his lawyers' advice. He insisted in two days of rambling and disjointed testimony that he was innocent of the murders and rapes and accused the police of framing him.

He insisted police arrested him because of the Amadou Diallo shooting in Feb. 4, 1999, in which police fired 41 shots at an unarmed, innocent man. Kee's explanation as to how his DNA got on six of the seven victims was that police "planted the DNA on the girls (and) it had something to do with genetic shuffling."

Arohn Kee began his New York City spree of rape and murder, as far as anyone knows, on January 24, 1991 when he killed thirteen-year-old Palo Illera. On September 13, 1997 Kee did the same to Johalis Castro, 19, before burning her body beyond recognition. Not yet finished, he raped, sodomized, and murdered Rasheeda Washington 18, on June 2, 1998. During the time of these killings Kee also committed rape and forced sodomy against several teen girls.

A suspect almost from the time of the Illera slaying, Kee managed to evade serious suspicion until early 1999 when he was put under surveillance in the hope that police coud gather some from of DNA evidence against him. Their break came soom afterward when Kee was detained briefly on theft charges. Though Kee refused to voluntarily submit a sample, one was gathered from a cup he used before his release. Kee fled New York before the results could link him to his sex crimes but was apprehended in a Miami hotel a few days later along with his very lucky seventeen-year-old girlfriend.

Though the defense attacked the method used to collect the DNA sample, he was still found guilty of the three murders and four rapes. When led from the courtroom after the verdict Kee shouted toward the spectators, "Fuck all o' y'all!" He apologized for the remark at his sentencing on January 25, 2001, where he recieved a 400 year prison term.

9/15/2004 - Kee was sentenced to twenty more years in prison for the 1994 rape of a 17-year-old girl in a Harlem apartment building basement. Kee was recently linked to the case through DNA evidence.

Ahron Kee

February 16, 1999

A young man from East Harlem linked to several rapes and murders may now be responsible for a Brooklyn teenager's disappearance. Sixteen-year-old Angelique Stallings hasn't been seen by her family for several days, after Ahron Kee picked her up at her home at the Glenmore Houses in East New York. Police say they have DNA evidence linking Keith to the murders of three women.

Kee, 25 was nabbed in midtown early last week on a misdemeanor petty larceny charge when he allegedly tried to exchange a used computer part for a new one, police said. At the time, Kee's name was one of several police had gotten from tipsters in connection with a string of rapes and slayings in East Harlem. But without evidence, detectives had to let Kee go. Later detectives linked Kee to some of the crimes through DNA and launched a manhunt.

Arhon Kee

February 19, 1999

Miami Police arrested 25-year-old Arhon Kee who is wanted in New York for at least one murder and two rapes. Surveillance teams tailing him decided to move in when he was located at the Sun Hotel in downtown Miami. Two SWAT teams cleared out the rest of the hotel and found him in a room on the top floor.

New York City police believe Kee is responsible for a string of slayings and rapes in East Harlem. Officers also found a 16-year-old girl in another part of the sixth floor. Crowley identified her as Angelique Stallings, who had been missing since she went out on a Valentine's Day date with Kee. Police also are investigating whether Kee, nicknamed the "East Harlem Rapist" by the New York media, was involved in the killings of two other teen-age girls in 1991 and 1997. "Arohn Kee is every young lady's worst nightmare," New York Deputy Inspector Joseph Reznick said earlier this week.

DNA Trick Leads to Arrest in 3 Murders

March 3, 1999

A man arrested 10 days ago in Miami after he fled there with a teen-age girl was charged yesterday with three unsolved murders, in part through a DNA sample that was secretly taken from him while he was in custody, law enforcement officials said.

Officials would not say how they obtained the sample, but the charges against the man, Arohn Kee, illustrate how investigators are being more aggressive in collecting DNA evidence to crack unsolved cases.

The indictment ties Mr. Kee to a string of three unsolved murders and two rapes of teen-age girls in East Harlem since 1991. Officials said the break in the case occurred when Mr. Kee was arrested in an unrelated misdemeanor theft case on Feb. 8. While he was in police custody, detectives who suspected Mr. Kee played a role in one of the killings got him to give the police a sample of his DNA without realizing it.

While they refused to be specific, law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the detectives could have simply had Mr. Kee drink from a soda bottle or a glass and then collected a saliva sample from it after he left the room.

''It was not a DNA sample that was knowing or willingly given,'' said the Manhattan District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, who announced the indictment along with Police Commissioner Howard Safir.

Legal experts said that the detectives' ruse appeared to have been legal and, while unusual, was not unheard-of. They said that the case illustrated the growing debate over how much freedom law enforcement officials should have in obtaining DNA samples.

Mr. Safir has pushed in recent months to have DNA samples taken from all people arrested in New York City, and yesterday he cited the Kee case as an example to back up his plan. And Gov. George E. Pataki also used the case to bolster his push in the Legislature to require the collection of DNA samples from all convicted felons in the state.

Civil liberties groups have assailed such proposals as unconstitutional invasions of people's privacy.

Legal experts said yesterday that the use of such tactics for collecting DNA was becoming increasingly common.

Barry Scheck, a lawyer and DNA expert, said that for roughly the last five years, detectives and private investigators have followed suspects hoping that they would, for example, drink from a glass in a restaurant and depart. The detectives could then take a swab of saliva from the glass for the person's DNA, he said, and justify the search in legal terms by saying the person had abandoned his DNA. The same can be done, he said, with a cigarette butt that someone drops on the street.

''I'm not suggesting it is a widespread practice,'' Mr. Scheck said. ''But it does happen in the course of criminal investigations.''

George Goltzer, Mr. Kee's lawyer, said he would challenge the propriety of the seizure of his client's DNA. Mr. Kee, 25, who is still in Miami, is resisting prosecutors' efforts to have him extradited to New York.

The authorities said the DNA evidence linked Mr. Kee to several attacks in Harlem. In January 1991, Paola Illera, a 13-year-old girl who lived in Mr. Kee's building on East 111th Street, was sexually assaulted, stabbed and strangled. In September 1997, Johalis Castro, 19, was burned to death on a rooftop on East 104th Street. And last year, on June 2, Rasheeda Washington, 18, was robbed, sodomized and murdered near Fifth Avenue and 112th Street. The evidence also linked Mr. Kee to the rapes of two girls, ages 14 and 15, in September and November of last year, the authorities said.

Legal experts said they believed that the taking of DNA from objects left behind in restaurants or on the street was legal. They said the search in Mr. Kee's case was likely to be upheld.

Law enforcement officials said Mr. Kee was freed after the Feb. 8 arrest before lengthy DNA testing could be completed. Mr. Kee then fled the city with Angelique Stallings, a 17-year-old Brooklyn woman who was apparently unaware of Mr. Kee's past. After receiving tips, detectives found Mr. Kee in a Miami hotel room. Surrounded, he surrendered without incident. Ms. Stallings was unhurt.

In a statement, Mr. Pataki said his proposal might have halted the string of attacks earlier. In 1992, Mr. Kee was convicted of first-degree robbery, a felony. Under Mr. Pataki's proposal, a sample of Mr. Kee's DNA would have been taken at the time and placed in a state database.

The Governor said that the police likely would have been able to link Mr. Kee to the rape and murder of Ms. Washington. The rapes of the two teen-age girls also could have been prevented, Mr. Pataki contended.

Mr. Morgenthau, who supports the Governor's proposal, pointed out that the DNA testing also resulted in the release of a man, Daniel Simmons, who was mistakenly charged with carrying out the September rape.

Murder Suspect Found With Missing Girl

February 20, 1999

A convicted robber suspected of murdering a teen-age girl and raping two others in East Harlem was found in a Miami hotel room yesterday with a 15-year-old Brooklyn girl who had been feared dead, the police said.

The suspect, Arohn Kee, 25, was led handcuffed out of the Sun Hotel in downtown Miami by SWAT team officers after they stormed the suspect's sixth-floor room around 7 P.M. The Brooklyn girl, Angelique Stallings, was found unharmed in an adjoining room, officials with the New York City Police Department said.

''The suspect is now in custody and the girl seems to be fine,'' said Officer John Giamarino, a Police Department spokesman, adding that Mr. Kee would most likely face rape and murder charges upon his return to Manhattan.

The police said that Mr. Kee, an aspiring rap producer, was suspected of murder in the killing of Rasheeda Washington, a 17-year-old fashion student found dead in the stairwell of a Harlem housing project last June. He is also suspected of raping two other girls, 15 and 14, in nearby projects, they added.

The police said they were investigating whether Mr. Kee was linked to two other killings. One was the 1991 strangulation and rape of Paola Illera, a 13-year-old girl found dead in an East Harlem apartment building where Mr. Kee also lived. The other was the slaying of Johalis Castro, who was killed in East Harlem in September 1997, shortly after the police say she telephoned Mr. Kee.

Although Mr. Kee was a suspect for some time, the police said they did not gain enough evidence to arrest him until Feb. 12, when they received the results of a DNA test that linked him to the June murder and the rapes of the two teen-agers. By then he could not be found, having vanished on Feb. 9, after his arraignment on unrelated charges of attempted petty larceny for trying, the police said, to steal a hard drive.

The police originally believed that Mr. Key had gone into hiding somewhere in Manhattan after his arraignment on that charge. But he soon became the subject of an interstate manhunt when Ms. Stallings' parents in Brownsville saw Mr. Kee's photograph next to a newspaper article about the murder and rapes, and filed a missing person's report on their daughter. They told the police that they had not seen Ms. Stallings since last Sunday, when Mr. Kee picked her up for a Valentine's Day date. It was unclear how the two met, the police said.

The police would not disclose what led them to Miami, saying only that they had received confidential information yesterday that the suspect was hiding there.

Officers with the Miami Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Marshals Service cordoned off a three-block area around the hotel shortly after 4:30 P.M. and began evacuating residents there as they searched the building room by room. Mr. Kee was found two hours later, huddled in room 601 at the top of the hotel. Ms. Stallings was found in a nearby room a short time later.

''This guy had a history of being armed and dangerous, but he didn't give a fight or put up a struggle,'' said Detective Delrish Moss, a spokesman for the Miami Police Department.

Detective Moss added that although Ms. Stallings seemed nervous when the police found her, it was probably ''just because of all the commotion around her.'' More than two dozen officers were on hand for the siege, the police said.

The police said they did not know whether the girl had voluntarily gone to Miami with the suspect. They also said they did not know whether she had been assaulted by Mr. Kee, but were questioning her last night.

Mr. Kee, who was convicted of armed robbery in 1991, kept a low profile during his stay in Miami. Only one hotel resident seemed to recall him after his arrest and that was because Ms. Stallings had created a small scene by crying on the street. ''I asked the girl why she looked so sad,'' Anton Lawrence said.. ''She was so teary, but when I asked, she just said she was waiting for him, that he had the key."

Suspect in a Murder and in the Rapes of 2 Teen-Agers Vanishes With Girl, 15

February 16, 1999

A 25-year-old former convict who investigators said is the prime suspect in the murder of a teen-age girl and the rapes of two other teen-agers in East Harlem has disappeared with a 15-year-old Brooklyn girl, the police said yesterday, adding that they feared for the girl's safety.

The man, Arhon Kee, is suspected of killing a 17-year-old fashion student and raping two girls, 15 and 14, in three housing projects in Harlem last year, said Deputy Inspector Joseph J. Reznick, commander of the Manhattan North Detective Bureau.

Detectives are also investigating whether Mr. Kee was involved in the killings of two other teen-age girls in past years, he said.

Mr. Kee was in police custody as recently as last week, after his arrest on Feb. 8 on charges of attempted petty larceny. He was freed the next day after his arraignment, the police said. Inspector Reznick said that while Mr. Kee was ''among the suspects'' in the murder and rapes in Harlem at the time of his arrest, it was not until three days later, on Friday, that detectives had enough information to seek his arrest.

On Friday, the police received the results of a DNA test that linked Mr. Kee to the murder and two rapes, said a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. That gave detectives reason to seek his arrest, the official said.

But by then Mr. Kee had disappeared.

On Sunday afternoon, while an all-out manhunt was under way for Mr. Kee in Harlem, the police said, he went to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and picked up a 15-year-old girl for what investigators described as a Valentine's Day date.

The girl, Angelique Stalling, has not been seen since. Her family became alarmed when they saw a photograph of Mr. Kee in a newspaper in connection with the murder and rapes and called the police to file a missing persons report.

''Arhon Kee is every young lady's worst nightmare,'' Inspector Reznick said. ''We are very concerned about Angelique's safety.''

Mr. Kee is suspected of strangling Rasheeda Washington, 17, a fashion student who was found dead on June 2 in a stairwell of 1345 Fifth Avenue, in the Taft Houses, the police said. A double-breasted black and white plaid blouse that did not belong to Miss Washington was found draped over her bare torso, the police said.

In the next incident, on Sept. 5, a 15-year-old girl was sexually assaulted on the roof landing of a building in the Wagner Houses, which are also in East Harlem, the police said. In that case, the police said, a suspect was arrested after he was picked out of a lineup by the victim, but the man was set free last month after he was cleared by DNA evidence.

The most recent case was on Nov. 16, when a 14-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in the Jefferson Houses, the police said.

All three cases were linked to the same man by DNA evidence collected at the crime scenes, Inspector Reznick said. On Friday, he said, DNA tests linked all three cases to Mr. Kee.

Mr. Kee is a possible suspect in two other murders, Inspector Reznick said. He is being investigated in the murder of Paola Illera, a 13-year-old girl who was raped and strangled in 1991, Inspector Reznick said, because they lived in the same building in East Harlem, and in the murder of Johalis Castro, 19, who was found dead in East Harlem in September 1997 shortly after telephoning Mr. Kee, the police said.

Inspector Reznick said that the police have phone records establishing the link between Ms. Castro and Mr. Kee.

Detectives first got tips pointing to Mr. Kee as a possible suspect among the many leads they received after holding a news conference on Feb. 3 asking for the public's help in identifying a baseball cap and sweatshirt found at one of the crime scenes.

But Inspector Reznick said that there was not enough evidence to hold Mr. Kee when he was arrested last week on charges of attempted petty larceny, a misdemeanor.

Mr. Kee, a computer enthusiast and aspiring rap producer, was arrested Feb. 8 at 2 P.M. in a CompUsa store at 450 Fifth Avenue, the law enforcement official said. He was accused of buying a new hard drive at the store, taking it home and then switching its labels with an old hard drive that he owned in the hopes that he could return the old drive to the store and get his money back, the official said. He was caught at the store.

The next day, on Feb. 9, he was arraigned and set free. ''He was arrested for petit larceny, he was treated like everyone else and he was released the next day,'' Inspector Reznick said. ''It wasn't until Friday afternoon that we got the grounds to go looking for Arhon Kee to arrest him for these three offenses."

The Capture of Serial Killer Arohn Kee

Death in the Projects

Paola Illera, a dreamy 13-year-old, stood in the lobby of her East Harlem housing project on a chilly January afternoon in 1991 and pushed her family's apartment number on the intercom box. The girl, arriving home from school, nodded in close to the speaker and said, "Soy yo,"-it's me.

Upstairs, her mother, Olga, buzzed her in by pushing the button to unlock the lobby door. She glanced at the clock-4:45 p.m. Paola had stayed late at school, and it was dark outside. The routine interaction was the last that Olga Illera, a Colombian who with her family had immigrated to New York just seven months earlier, would have with her precious daughter.

The girl passed through the lobby door and got into an elevator, but she didn't make it up to the 30th-floor apartment. Her mother quickly sensed trouble, and she frantically searched the neighborhood for Paola, a slightly built, fair-skinned child with a mop of curly black hair.

Three hours later, a man walking his dog noticed a prone figure on a pedestrian promenade a few steps from the East River. It was Paola's lanky body. She had been raped, strangled and stabbed three times near the heart. Her lifeless body had been redressed and then dumped more than 10 blocks from her building along the busy FDR Drive beneath the Ward's Island Bridge.

When she was killed, the child was bearing the totems of her adolescence: a New Kids on the Block watch on her wrist and, in her pocket, a piece of chalk that she used to draw hopscotch grids. During the autopsy, the medical examiner noted curious elongated marks on her thighs. It seemed the girl had resisted the rape, and her attacker had pried her legs apart with such force that he left bruises on her thighs that mirrored the shape of his fingers. "She was beautiful and very delicate," her mother later said. "She wanted to be a lawyer. She was painting dreams."

"She was a young girl with many plans for the future," her uncle, Guillermo Ospina, told reporters. "She was very intelligent, very advanced for her age. She thought like an older person. She was very happy here because she loved English. She said, 'Uncle, every day I love it here more and more.' "

Low Priority Victim

The rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl should be big news in most any city at most any time. But New York of 1991 barely noticed the horrendous East Harlem crime because the city was awash in violence then, collateral damage of the crack cocaine scourge that had begun in 1984. From 1990 until 1992, more than 2,000 murders were reported in the city each year. Every day, an average of six bodies turned up in the five boroughs of New York City-most of them in poor, minority neighborhoods like East Harlem, the South Bronx and East New York, Brooklyn.

Few of those cases garnered much attention. Instead, the media stampeded to the more up-market crimes-white, affluent victims in more photogenic locations, such as a stockbroker attacked while jogging in Central Park or a tourist slain during a subway robbery.

Police investigated the murder of Paola Illera, of course, but it was not a marquee case. High-profile crimes often are assigned scores of detectives who are allowed to lavish countless hours on the investigation. For example, when the son of a media mogul was killed in New York a few years after Paola was murdered, the new mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, solemnly vowed that "hundreds and hundreds" of cops would be assigned to the case. But the young Colombian immigrant did not rate such star treatment.

A man's pubic hair was collected from the child's body and stored as evidence. But without pressure from the media or politicians, Paola Illera became a low-priority murder victim. Her case was destined to languish in limbo, unsolved, for most of the 1990s.

Carnage Continues

By the mid-1990s, the tide had turned on crime in New York overall, but in the housing projects of East Harlem, the carnage continued with a series of seemingly unrelated rapes and murders against attractive, light-skinned black or Hispanic teenagers.

In 1994, a 15-year-old girl was accosted at knifepoint. The case established a modus operandi for the attacker, who would repeat it many times over the next four years: He approached the teenager from behind and directed her to a remote spot, where she was blindfolded with a piece of her own clothing, forced to strip, then raped and sodomized. The 15-year-old victim survived to describe her attacker-a clean-cut young man with muscular build who had a grand opinion of himself. He told the victim she should be grateful to be raped by such a handsome fellow. "He told me I was lucky," the victim said.

A few years later, on Sept. 10, 1997, firefighters were called to a rooftop fire at the George Washington Houses, on East 104th Street. Veteran Firefighter Fred Zvinys later described what he found there. "I came upon what I thought at the time was a piece of rubbish, or furniture, burning," Zvinys said. Then he noticed a bare breast and realized "it was a person, what was left of her."

After calling a supervisor, Zvinys said, "I stepped back and looked at her. I was amazed that somebody could do something like this."

The victim, who had been raped, clubbed and choked, was identified by an ankle bracelet-a gift from her mother-as Johalis Castro, 19, whose family had emigrated to New York from the Dominican Republic. Castro, who had a young daughter, had been studying computer science at a community college in the Bronx. ''We came here looking for a better life for our children,'' her mother, Paula Castro, would later say. Like Paola Illera, the murder of Castro rated little ink-just another dead teen from an East Harlem immigrant family.

Seven months later, in April 1998, a 13-year-old girl was raped and sodomized in the same neighborhood. The young victim, just 4'9", escaped the fate of Illera and Castro. She told police she screamed in pain while being sodomized. "He told me to be quiet and take it like a woman," the child told police.

Two months later, on June 2, Rasheeda Washington was found robbed, raped, sodomized and strangled in a 15th-floor stairwell of an East 112th Street housing project. The body, its naked torso covered by a shirt, had been propped up against a wall in a seated position. Like the earlier victims, Washington, a fashion student who worked at a clothing boutique, was petite, weighing just 100 pounds. She had lived with her father, Gregory, in the same housing project as the first victim, Paola Illera. Washington was murdered three days after her 18th birthday.

That fall, two more adolescents were raped and sodomized in the vicinity-a 15-year-old on Sept. 25 and a 14-year-old on Nov. 16. The second victim said her attacker had an odd demand. "He told me to act like I loved him," she told police. Those two teens escaped alive-probably because they did not get a good look at the attacker before they were blindfolded.

Parents Angry

Even as these parallel cases piled up, police made no public announcement that a serial rapist and murderer might be preying on teenage girls in East Harlem. The parents of the victims would later accuse both the police and the media of giving short-shrift to the cases-decisions, they said, that were based upon the victims' lack of status: ethnic minorities from a poor neighborhood. "It's because they're black and Hispanic," said Gregory Washington, Rasheeda's father. "It's because it's all above 96th Street. Let there be a white girl, and it's solved within days.'' His daughter's murder had rated four paragraphs in the New York Post. The New York Times had ignored it altogether.

It is a subjective exercise to try to compare media attention given to one case to that given another. But when Brian Watkins, a tourist from Utah, had been stabbed to death in a Manhattan subway on Sept. 2, 1990, his murder had been covered with hundreds of stories in the New York newspapers. When Paola Illera met a similar fate four months later, the Times published two stories.

DNA Testing

DNA testing was first used in a criminal investigation in England in 1986, and it was in limited use in the United States by the following year. But it was still a nascent forensic science in 1991, when young Paola was murdered. That had changed in 1998. By then, DNA was widely regarded as the most important investigatory breakthrough since the fingerprint. And the East Harlem cases would bear that out. Tissue samples had been collected over the years from rape and murder suspects, and prosecutors ordered DNA tests on at least five men suspected in the attacks, including two who had been picked out of police lineups by rape victims.

In the 1990s, there was a limited archive of DNA samples on file because routine testing of felons had not yet begun on a large scale. But a key development in the East Harlem cases came in the fall of 1998 when New York police criminalists compared semen evidence from the Rasheeda Washington murder and two other rapes in that neighborhood. The tests determined that the same perpetrator was responsible for the three crimes. Detectives were finally certain that a serial criminal was preying upon Harlem teenagers, and the police brass formed a small task force of detectives to find the man.

Suspect Emerges

Police distributed a wanted poster that included a sketch of the serial attacker, based upon descriptions from the rape victims. A few days after the flier went up in East Harlem, a telephone tipster suggested detectives should take a close look at a young man known as "Ace" who lived on the 19th floor of Paola Illera's building. Cops soon established Ace's real name: Arohn Kee. And the name rang a bell.

Before she was killed in 1991, young Paola had been seen entering the elevator at a same time as a young man. Detectives had talked to the man back then, and he gave his name as Arohn Warford. He admitted that he had ridden up in the elevator with the girl on the afternoon she was murdered. But he said he got off at the 19th floor, and Paola had continued up. That was the last police saw of Arohn Warford.

But the unique first name surfaced again, in the investigation of Johalis Castro's murder six years later. Telephone records revealed that in the days before she was killed Johalis had exchanged dozens of phone calls with a man named Arohn Kee. Police spoke with Kee, who said Johalis Castro had been a friend of his girlfriend, Jacqueline. He explained the flurry of phone calls by saying the two women had been planning a shopping trip on the day she was killed. Police interviewed the girlfriend, who confirmed Kee's account.

Only later did police realize that Arohn Warford and Arohn Kee were the same man. Warford was his father's surname; Kee his mother's. Arohn Kee had links to two of the three victims of a suspected serial killer. He was the last person known to have seen the first victim alive, and he was linked to an extensive phone dialogue with second victim in the days before she died. The coincidence was extraordinary.

But if Arohn Kee was a serial rapist and murderer, he was one pressed from the Ted Bundy mold. Ace Kee was personable, intelligent, reasonably articulate and clean cut, like Bundy, the infamous American serial killer of the late 1970s. Kee was born Sept. 18, 1973. He spent most of his childhood in East Harlem and was living with relatives in same building as Paola Illera in 1991. Known as a big-talking charmer, Kee was adept at computers. He claimed to be a rap producer, although there is little evidence that he did any work in that field. He was not physically imposing, at just 5-foot-8, but like Bundy he was a fairly handsome man. He'd had just one arrest, for robbery in 1990. But he had spent little or no time locked up. Yet neighbors said Kee had a sick side. He habitually peered though the peepholes of women in his building, and he often traipsed around with a portable video camera, trying clumsily to get shots up skirts.

Seeking a Sample

The assailant in the September 1998 rape left behind a black Fubu cap and a grey sweatshirt. A laundry tag in the garment led police to a dry cleaner near Kee's building whose client list included Arohn Kee's mother, Cynthia. Detail after detail pointed to Arohn Kee as a leading suspect, and authorities believed a test of his DNA would prove that he was the rapist and killer. But Kee had no DNA on file, since mandatory DNA testing of accused felons would not begin in New York until 2000. And in the 1990s acquiring a sample was not as simple as hauling a suspect in and running a swab across an inner cheek. DNA tests were still regarded as invasive, and a sample had to be authorized by a judge based upon probable cause.

Despite the circumstantial evidence, detectives knew the elevator ride, phone calls and laundry tag would not convince a judge to compel Kee to surrender a bit of his spittle for a DNA sample. So police were forced to turn to Plan B. First, they tried tailing Kee, waiting for him to spit or discard chewing gum. This quickly proved impractical.

On Feb. 8, 1999, cops got a break when Kee was arrested in connection with the theft of a computer hard drive. With no mandatory DNA testing of arrestees yet on the law books in New York, police resorted to trickery to try to get a genetic sample. A female detective disguised as a doctor in a white hospital smock asked Kee to give a saliva sample for a "routine" tuberculosis tests. The cop pushed paperwork at the prisoner, hoping he would sign a release form. But Kee took the time to read the fine print on the document, and he balked when he saw a line referring to DNA analysis. He said he was a practicing Jehovah's Witness and that it was against his faith to participate in any form of medical treatment. "He suddenly got religious," as one cop later put it.

Kee now knew what police wanted from him, and he tried to make sure they wouldn't get it. After his meal that evening, he tore his paper cup into bits and flushed it down the toilet. He then placed his cellmate's cup on his meal tray, hoping to throw off investigators.

But cops were a step ahead. Shortly after Kee was arrested, he had spent time in a group holding cell with several other men. Attendants had served them cups of water, and detectives tracked down the cups in a wastepaper basket and delivered them for DNA testing. Within a couple of days, the results confirmed that a sample taken from the lip of a cup from the police holding cell contained the same DNA as that of the East Harlem rapist and murderer.

Flight to Florida

By the time the test results were complete, Arohn Kee had been released without bail on the misdemeanor computer theft charge. Cops learned that he had gone to Brownsville, Brooklyn, and picked up his 16-year-old girlfriend, Angelique Stallings, for what her parents thought was a Valentine's Day date. Instead, Kee and Stallings boarded a Florida-bound bus in Newark, N.J. Detectives feared Stallings faced the same fate as the other victims.

After arriving in South Florida, Kee twice phoned another girlfriend in New York. By then his fugitive status as a suspected serial killer had made the news, and the second girlfriend phoned police with a tip that Kee was staying at the Miami Sun Hotel, two blocks from the beach on Northeast 1st Avenue in downtown Miami. Two New York detectives hurried there and staked out the hotel. When they spotted Kee and Stallings strolling inside, a Miami-Dade SWAT team was called in. They found Kee and Stallings hiding under a bed on the sixth floor.

After Kee was safely in custody, Joseph Reznick, a ranking New York police officer, told reporters, "Arohn Kee is every young lady's worst nightmare."

"Apparently, his girlfriend didn't know how dangerous he was and what kind of danger she was in," said Delrish Moss of the Miami-Dade police. "She had no clue he was wanted for those crimes."

Kee clammed up when detectives tried to question him about the East Harlem crimes, but police gleefully watched and listened from behind a two-way mirror when they allowed Stallings into the interview room for what the couple thought was a private goodbye. When Stallings demanded to know why he had committed the crimes, Kee said he had "bugged out" and had a "sickness."

Courtroom Circus

After a four-month legal battle, Kee was extradited to New York and faced trial on 22 felony counts in four rapes and the murders of Paola Illera, Johalis Castro and Rasheeda Washington. DNA evidence linked Kee to six of the seven cases. In the seventh-the murder of Illera-he was implicated by a pubic hair that had been found on the victim and saved in an evidence room for nine years.

Prosecutors John Irwin and Richard Plansky presented a devastating barrage of testimony and DNA evidence against Kee at trial in the fall of 2000. They called 130 prosecution witnesses, including the two rape victims who recounted for an astonished courtroom audience Kee's "lucky" and "love me" comments during the violent acts.

But it was one defense witness who stole the show: Kee himself, who insisted to his attorney that he be the first defense witness stand. Over two days of testimony, Kee giggled like a schoolgirl, cried like a baby and expressed fury that authorities would dare prosecute him. His monologue-largely uninterrupted by the judge, the prosecutors or his attorneys-covered such themes as pop culture, narcotics, rap music, jail food and his deep thoughts on the criminal justice system.

As many of his victims' loved ones watched from the gallery with slack jaws, Kee spun a bizarre tale explaining how he had come to be charged with brutal serial violence against young women. He claimed police had framed him to cover up a medical examiner's scheme to harvest and sell human organs. He explained that his DNA was planted in what he called "genetic shuffling."

The jury didn't buy it, and when the foreman announced a guilty verdict, the courtroom erupted in cheers and cries of "Yes!" A few minutes later, as he was being led away to await sentencing, Kee scowled toward the gallery and spat a profane curse at the entire assembly.

Outside of court, some relatives of Kee's victims charged up to a gaggle of reporters and demanded to know why the press had largely ignored the attacks as they were happening. ''Where were they in the beginning?'' one man shouted at the reporters as friends restrained him.

Life in Prison

At sentencing a month later, in January 2001, relatives of his victims got a chance to address Arohn Kee.

''I hope you experience what it is like to not be able to sleep, to eat, to walk, to breathe, to not have a moment of peace, thinking of my daughter's suffering at the time of her death," said Olga Illera, mother of his first murder victim. "I will never learn to live without my daughter, who I brought to this country in search of the American dream."

Gregory Washington, father of Kee's third murder victim, tried to engage the killer with eye contact. "Look at me,'' Washington said. "Just once turn around.'' Others in the gallery began to shout, ''Turn around,'' but Kee refused to meet the father's gaze.

When his turn to speak came at the sentencing hearing, Kee had lost the bravado from his trial. He began to cry and muttered, "I'm sorry." With that, a male cousin of Johalis Castro let out an angry roar and tried to leap over the bar to attack Kee. The defendant was hustled out of the room for his own protection.

After a 15-minute interlude to calm the gallery, Justice Joan Sudolnick passed sentence, saying, "I don't know what to say to someone who has no soul, no conscience, no morality, no heart.'' She sent him away forever-three life sentences without possibility of parole for each of the three murders, plus an additional 400 years for the four rapes.

He won't be missed, cops said. "He was a demon," said Detective Mike Ulacco. "He just needed to be put away."

DNA Tide Turned

The prosecution of Arohn Kee was a turning point in New York for the use of DNA evidence. Kee's defense team sought to have the seizure of his DNA declared illegal. But Judge Sudolnick upheld the use of the evidence, even if it had been obtained through police skullduggery when Kee was still just a suspect.

George Goltzer, Kee's attorney, told the press after his conviction, "The public needs to be aware that this court found that police officers may follow you around and without any warning or a judge's approval take your bodily fluids.'' But the Kee case became an example of the urgent need for a DNA database. Had Kee's DNA profile been on file from his 1990 robbery arrest, some of his victims surely would have been spared by an earlier apprehension.

By the time Kee was sentenced, legislators in New York and many other states had mandated DNA testing for those arrested in connection with violent crimes. Since then, testing has been expanded to include most felony arrests, both violent and nonviolent, and some jurisdictions have begun to test those arrested for misdemeanors.

Most DNA headlines today concern exonerations, not successful prosecutions, and that was a subplot in the Kee story. Two men were falsely implicated in the Kee rapes when victims picked them out of police line-ups. One was a known sex offender who had been recently paroled. The other was seen near the scene of a rape just before and just after it happened. Curiously, he had changed clothing in between. The men likely would have faced prosecution had DNA evidence not implicated Arohn Kee for the crimes they were incorrectly suspected of committing.

Linda Fairstein, a longtime Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor who left that field to become a novelist, said the Kee case proved DNA's value from both a prosecution and defense point of view. "There's no question that any one of our experienced sex crimes prosecutors could have convicted (either) man," she told reporters. "That's very frightening."

Arohn Kee

Arohn Kee

Arohn Kee

An aerial view of buildings in the immediate area of some of the attacks.

Wanted poster

Reward poster issued after the September 1998 rape.

Black Fubu cap left behind by the assailant in the September 1998 rape.

Grey sweatshirt left behind by the assailant in the September 1998 rape.

Prosecutor Richard Plansky

Detective Michael Ulacco

The victims

Paola Illera, 13

Entrance to Illera's building

Reward poster circulated by Illera's family

Johalis Castro, 19

Johalis' anklet was used to identify her.

Rasheeda Washington, 18

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