Mario Brannon was fleeing rape charges in Georgia when he came to Pittsburgh in the early 1990s.
Aug. 25, 1991, was a hot night. An Oakland woman left the window of her apartment open while she slept. She awoke when a man jumped on her bed, held something to her neck and said he had a knife. He covered her face with a pillow and raped her, police said.
Investigators took her to UPMC Montefiore for an evaluation and collected as evidence her bedspread, which showed traces of semen.
For years, Pittsburgh police had no leads on the case. The man who attacked her was backlit. The victim's eyesight was poor. He seemed to be a stranger.
When Detective Aprill-Noelle Campbell isn't working on current sex assault cases, she digs into old cases like the one in Oakland.
Earlier this year, she asked the Allegheny County medical examiner's office to analyze the DNA from that case to see if it matched samples from a man convicted in other Oakland rapes that occurred around the same time.
Instead, they later learned it matched a sample from Brannon, according to a criminal complaint.
Brannon, 46, who is serving time in the Coffee Correctional Facility in Georgia, is awaiting extradition back to Pittsburgh in connection with the Oakland rape case. His case represents a couple of decades-old rape cases solved by Pittsburgh police each year.
"I don't think there is a motive," Detective Campbell said. "I don't know what makes these guys tick."
One case leads to another
Detective Campbell began investigating old rape cases a few years ago, when a supervisor called her and another detective into her office, shut the door, and told them they had a DNA hit on the "East End Rapist" and she wanted them to investigate.
A short while later, police arrested Keith Wood, now 56, on charges he raped four women on the East End between 2000 and 2001 and a fifth in 2007. A jury later convicted him in four of the cases and acquitted him in the fifth, in which there was not DNA evidence.
The story of Mr. Woods' arrest dominated the local news. Three years after his conviction, in 2011, a woman began searching the Internet for leads on her own rape case and stumbled across coverage of Mr. Woods' case.
The woman told the detective she walked into her Shadyside apartment building on Aug. 23, 1988, and a man she did not recognize struck her in the head, removed her underwear and raped her at knife-point. The attacker stopped when a neighbor who heard her scream spotted him.
"She said it's always bothered me that he was never caught," Detective Campbell recalled.
She agreed to look into the woman's case. In the Pittsburgh police bureau's basement, she searched through boxes containing paperwork from unsolved rape cases dating back to 1989.
Detective Campbell called the medical examiner's office and asked if they still had the evidence. They did, and they agreed to run it through their system.
The tests take months to return results. When six months passed, the woman called Detective Campbell to inquire about the case. She called every month until the DNA results came in. Mr. Woods was not a match.
About a week later, investigators learned the DNA from the woman's case matched DNA taken from Stevey Kiser, now 57, of San Diego, who was arrested in California in 2009 for driving a school bus with a loaded gun. (In California, people arrested for felonies have their DNA samples uploaded into the national Combined DNA Indexing System.)
Kiser pleaded guilty to raping the woman in Shadyside. He received a four-year prison sentence after his defense attorney filed a motion questioning the chain of custody tracking the rape kit from the hospital to the lab for testing.
Almost every time the detectives solved an old case, someone called them to inquire about another.
As a result of the Kiser case, "a bunch of the other ones are solved," Detective Campbell said.
A woman who read about that case contacted Detective Campbell and DNA in that case matched a sample from Michael Lipinski, 43, who was convicted last week in that case -- his fourth rape conviction.
And so one case prompted the detective to look into another. Sometimes, as happened with the Brannon case, Detective Campbell asked the medical examiner's office to run DNA for cases that are similar in nature to those that have already been prosecuted.
"I pick just the stranger ones," she said, noting that the statute of limitations expires after 12 years in rape cases if police identified a suspect early on.
If investigators did not identify a suspect and they later receive a DNA match in the system, they have one year from the date of the match to prosecute the case, she said.
'It starts with a phone call'
Running the DNA is fairly simple if investigators collected and properly stored evidence at the time of the crime, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office.
"Simply, it starts with a phone call and a commitment," said Janine Yelenovsky, head of serology in the ME's office. "I said, 'I don't care if you have a suspect. Maybe CODIS will have a lead,' " referring to the Combined DNA Indexing System.
When an officer calls her, Ms. Yelenovsky checks the computer system to see what evidence was collected from the case. If the sample is among the more than 200 kept by the ME's office, she pulls the file that holds the swab from the rape examination kit or the piece of fabric a stained by bodily fluid.
She or one of her colleagues will place samples in a bin for testing and, when the bin fills up, test up to a couple dozen cases at a time -- testing semen samples in the same batch as other semen samples and blood samples in the same batch as other blood samples.
When a match comes back, she said, "It's exciting."
She rarely gets to meet the victims, but Detective Campbell always does. Sometimes, the victims don't know their cases have been reopened until Detective Campbell appears on their doorstep telling them officials have identified a suspect.
Detective Campbell was checking to see if DNA in some of the old cases matched the sample taken from John Scott Drake, 47, who was convicted in a series of burglaries and rapes in the early 1990s, when the ME's office told her one of the samples came back as a match for Brannon.
"I think they're shocked at first," Detective Campbell said of the victims. "There are certain things that aren't the same after that day."
Liz Navratil: email@example.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.