Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Capture of Serial Killer Arohn Kee

Seeking a
Sample

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

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.

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

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.

Reward poster issued after the September 1998 rape.
Reward poster issued after the September 1998 rape.

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.

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