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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
David Rhode - The New York Times
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
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
Kit R. Roane - The New York
February 20, 1999
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
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
officials with the New
York City Police
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.
police said that Mr. Kee,
an aspiring rap producer,
was suspected of murder
in the killing of
Rasheeda Washington, a
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
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.
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.
police would not
disclose what led them
to Miami, saying only
that they had received
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
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
guy had a history of
being armed and
dangerous, but he didn't
give a fight or put up a
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 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
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."
a Murder and in the Rapes of 2 Teen-Agers
Vanishes With Girl, 15
Michael Cooper - The New York
February 16, 1999
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.
man, Arhon Kee, is
suspected of killing a
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
Detectives are also
investigating whether Mr.
Kee was involved in the
killings of two other
teen-age girls in past
years, he said.
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.
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
by then Mr. Kee had
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
described as a
Valentine's Day date.
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
Kee is every young
lady's worst nightmare,''
Inspector Reznick said.
''We are very concerned
about Angelique's safety.''
Kee is suspected of
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.
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
most recent case was on
Nov. 16, when a 14-year-old
girl was sexually
assaulted in the
Jefferson Houses, the
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.
Kee is a possible
suspect in two other
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
telephoning Mr. Kee, the
Inspector Reznick said
that the police have
establishing the link
between Ms. Castro and
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.
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
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
The Capture of Serial Killer Arohn Kee
By David Krajicek
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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
"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."
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
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
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."