Authorities in Pueblo and Albuquerque say DNA evidence in several unsolved rape cases are linked to a southern Colorado man, Robert Bruce.
Police say Bruce struck at least 12 times in the last 18 years. Last month, authorities were finally able to put the pieces together on the so-called "Ether Man" rape cases.
It all started in 1991 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Bruce allegedly broke into a woman's home and raped her. Over the next nine years, 10 more women were attacked. Many of the attacks were committed near the University of New Mexico, and each time he used a chemical soaked rag to knock his victims out. In 2000 DNA tests linked the rapes to a John Doe. After comparing their DNA, police say that man is 47-year-old Robert Bruce.
"We are the ones who speak for those victims and to literally coin a pun, the long arm of the law reached back 18 years and is holding this man accountable," said John Walsh, the public information officer with Albuquerque Police.
Bruce has lived in Pueblo for several years. He has a wife, kids, and a business there. Prior to being charged as a peeping-tom in July, Bruce never had a run-in with Pueblo law enforcement.
On October 6, Bruce was supposed to be in court facing those charges, but never showed up. The lead investigator in the case officer Nathan Pruce with the Pueblo Police Department never made it either; but he had a reason. Someone had created an improvised explosive device out of a propane tank and hooked it up to his home. The IED was discovered that morning when Pruce went to work. Police say, Bruce set up the device to try and kill Pruce and his wife.
After police arrested Bruce on a failure to appear warrant, detectives with the Pueblo Police Department and the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office went to Albuquerque to interview people who knew him. Bruce's ex-wife told them the FBI had once looked at Bruce as a possible suspect in a rape case that was eventually solved in California.
Then the Colorado investigators talked to an FBI agent who was reminded of the “Ether Man” case after hearing about Bruce's peeping-tom charges. From there, the detectives went to the Albuquerque police department where they found the trail had gone cold on the “Ether Man” several years ago, but there was a grand jury indictment for a John Doe based on DNA evidence.
In Pueblo, the authorities were able to get a court order for a DNA sample to compare against DNA evidence found on the propane tank used to try and blow up Officer Pruce's home. Meanwhile, Albuquerque police were able to secure their own court order and the DNA sample was driven down to them. Four days later, the DNA test came back as a match.
Pueblo Police Chief Jim Billings says had Bruce not been suspected of trying to blow up Officer Pruce's home, it's likely the connection would not have been made.
Now, law enforcement agencies in Pueblo are concerned Bruce may have committed rapes here.
"Many times they would receive a chemical burn upon their face," said Pueblo Police Chief Jim Billing. "Anyone that would have a similar situation would be one that we want to look at."
They are asking for any victims to come forward at this time. In the original rapes, most of the women involved were linked to the medical field, and nearly all of them belonged to a gym.
Authorities in Austin and Lubbock Texas are looking into several rape cases that may be tied to Bruce.
Bruce is being held on a $3 million bond at the Pueblo County Detenction Center. He will be extradited to New Mexico once his attempted murder case is finished in Pueblo.