It was the middle of the night when the girl, 12, peeked her head around her bedroom door and saw the man coming up the stairs. He was a stranger, tall and with a gap between his teeth. He made her take off her shirt before he tied her up and raped her at knifepoint amongst her stuffed animals. Then, he took what he wanted from the house and stole the family car. The girl's parents, in bed in the next room, woke up to the sound of the car backfiring in the driveway.
That was 1983, years before DNA evidence became a ubiquitous part of law enforcement. The rapist got away.
Twenty-five years later the girl, by then a woman, got a call from detectives with the Dallas Police Department. They'd tested DNA saved from the crime and matched it with a man named Dewayne Douglas Willis, who'd been in and out of prison for a string of burglaries. She related all this to Good Morning America in 2009.
Desiree Wood has a similar story, as do nearly two dozen other women whose rapes have been solved by Dallas police decades after going cold. And they all have Dallas police Sergeant Patrick Welsh to thank.
Welsh, a 31-year veteran of the force, was investigating an unrelated crime in 2001 when he came across a catalog of rape kits dating to 1981 preserved in a storage room at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences. None had been tested for DNA evidence.
Welsh immediately set about working to correct that. He established DPD's pioneering Sexual Assault Cold Case Program, which seeks to match DNA evidence left by unknown rape suspects with information stored in law enforcement databases. He tested 289 rape kits from 1983 to 1986 and found matches on 23 cases.
That doesn't mean that there are 23 people now in prison who would otherwise be on the streets. Welsh's efforts are complicated by the fact that the five-year statute of limitations for rape in Texas was abolished only in 2001, meaning that any assaults that happened before that can't be prosecuted. But it can help bring closure to victims and, thanks to a 2009 law his efforts helped get through the state Legislature, the DNA match can be considered by prosecutors and parole boards.
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In one case cited last year when he was named DPD's supervisor of the year, her persuaded the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to strengthen the conditions placed on a paroled kidnapper after he found evidence linking him to a 25-year-old rape case.
All of this seems to be part of a personal mission for Welsh. He personally writes the letter informing victims when there's a match in their case and has been instrumental in helping establish support groups. He's even taken to helping organize Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, in which men don high heels to help raise awareness of rape.
His higher-ups at DPD aren't the only ones who have noticed his commitment. Welsh received an award today from U.S. Department of Justice for his dedication to solving cold cases. The victims whose cases he's solved would no doubt agree that he deserves it.
As he told Good Morning America in 2009, "No matter how old it is, they deserve everything that we got to give to solve their cases."