Police: Rape suspect had Austin victim
Robert Howard Bruce, 47, charged with trying to kill Colorado officer with propane bomb as well as New Mexico rapes.
By Isadora Vail
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
A man suspected of trying to kill a police officer and his family in Colorado has been linked to more than a dozen rapes in the southwestern United States, including a 2006 sexual assault in Austin, local police said.
Nicknamed the "Ether Man," Robert Howard Bruce, 47, is being held on $325,000 bail in the Pueblo County, Colo., jail on charges that include three counts of attempted capital murder. Police say he hooked up a propane tank to the police officer's home in an attempt to blow up the house while the officer, his wife and child were inside.
In New Mexico, Bruce's DNA was linked to more than 15 rape cases that date back to 1991, Austin police said. Before learning his identity, Albuquerque officials had indicted him as a John Doe suspect and set his bail at $3 million.
DNA also links Bruce to the 2006 rape of a University of Texas student, Austin police said. Like many of the women police suspect Bruce attacked, the Austin victim lost consciousness after her assailant held a chemical-soaked rag against her face. She was then assaulted.
Austin police Detective Scott Stanfield said Monday that Bruce was arrested in Colorado in 2007 and accused of peeping into a woman's bedroom window. Under Colorado law, Bruce would have had to give a DNA sample if convicted and register as a sex offender. But he never appeared for court.
Instead, days before his court date last month, Colorado police say Bruce rigged a propane bomb outside the home of the officer who was supposed to testify against him in the peeping case. Another officer involved in the case died of a heart attack in October, police said.
"Police had to wonder why (Bruce) was trying to kill a cop over a misdemeanor charge," Stanfield said. "Then police began to see similarities in his window peeping charge and with composite sketches."
Pueblo officers eventually matched Bruce's mug shot to sketches produced in the Albuquerque cases, Stanfield said. Colorado police took his DNA to the FBI in Albuquerque, where Bruce's mother and wife live, and found a match to the ether rapist cases, Stanfield said.
Police said Bruce ran a food vending business that took him to college towns, where he found most of his targets — young and physically fit women, several of whom worked in the medical profession. The oldest evidence to match Bruce's DNA was taken from a 1991 Albuquerque rape, police said. Bruce continued to rape women near the University of New Mexico for at least nine years, officers said.
Bruce is wanted on 44 counts of violent felonies in Albuquerque, including rape, kidnapping, aggravated battery and aggravated burglary. He lived in the New Mexico cities of Rio Rancho and Raton from 1988 to 2003, police said. The Albuquerque Journal reported that two of the sexual assaults occurred while Bruce was on probation for battery of a household member and interference with communications.
Albuquerque police said Bruce probably moved to Pueblo shortly after 2000, about the time a New Mexico grand jury indicted the unidentified suspect based on a DNA profile, the Journal reported.
Police said they suspect Bruce's DNA may match 15 more cases once it is entered in a national database. Bruce traveled across the southwestern United State and parts of Europe and Asia, police said.
The Austin sexual assault happened in May 2006 on 55½ Street, police said. Detectives said Bruce broke into the woman's home late at night, rendered her unconscious with a chemical-soaked rag and then sexually assaulted her.
A search of public records found that Bruce did not have a criminal history here. Stanfield said Bruce has not been linked to other Austin rapes but said he is a suspect in an attempted rape in March 2006.
Bruce never lived in the Austin area and was probably just visiting, Stanfield said, adding that officers found records of him staying at a hotel near the home of the UT student he is accused of assaulting.
Stanfield said that he called the Austin victim on Friday and that her reaction was subdued and shocked.
Had Bruce not attempted to kill the Colorado officer, his DNA would have been sent only to the Colorado state system and not matched with the ether rapist, Stanfield said.
Bruce is expected to stand trial on the Colorado charges before he is extradited to face charges in New Mexico, authorities said. Stanfield said Austin officials will file a warrant and formal charges against Bruce in the 2006 rape.