Fresh look at evidence, discarded cigarette butt lead to arrest in 1993 cold case attack

Ralph Bortree (Logan County Sheriff's Office)

Twenty-five years after a series of vicious sexual assaults in two Ohio counties, investigators say they have their suspect: 55-year-old Ralph Bortree.

He is charged in the attempted murder of one woman and suspected in attacks on three others.

The attack leading to his arrest happened in July 1993 in rural Logan County. The victim — a 19-year-old woman.

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"She was at the stop sign, a vehicle pulled up beside her, forced her off the road, forced her into his truck. With a gun, kidnapped, abducted her, drove throughout the county, a sexual assault occurred," said Logan County Sheriff's Detective Phil Bailey. "He kicked her out of the vehicle, slit her throat, pushed her into a ditch to die."

The victim survived, but the case went cold.

In 2015, Bailey took a fresh look at the evidence.

"Just submitted to the crime lab. They used today's technology on the old evidence. The evidence was still good," he said. "It produced a DNA profile, but the profile couldn't be linked to a person because his DNA was not in CODIS,"

CODIS is the DNA database used by law enforcement.

"I reached the point at the crime lab that we had no more steps to go. We'd done all our testing, done everything we could. We had no other place to go, all the old evidence had been tested and resubmitted. We reached that point there was nothing else I could do."

As a last-ditch effort, Bailey reached out to AdvanceDNA, a private forensic genealogy company that utilizes family tree DNA databases to assist law enforcement.

AdvanceDNA told investigators their suspect was one of three local brothers — one of whom was in already in prison at the time of the attack.

Sheriff's detectives started tailing one of the other brothers and saw him discard a cigarette butt, which turned out to be the critical link they were missing.

"I get it to the crime lab, they matched the DNA on the cigarette butt to the semen on her shirt."

Bailey says both DNA samples matched Ralph Bortree.

They arrested him Monday and notified the victim Tuesday.

"It was a good moment," Bailey said. "You have answers for a victim of a violent crime. Extremely violent."

But investigators don't believe she's Bortree's only victim.

They say DNA ties him to a 1992 kidnapping and rape, and that other evidence links him to two similar attacks on women in 1993 and 1995.

All of them in neighboring Shelby County.

"These are very violent offenses in how he did them. We just find it odd that he did it real quick and stopped. I mean it's awful violent," Bailey said. "I would like to think he did stop, but he probably didn't. There's probably more victims out there. Hopefully, we'll find them."

Logan County Prosecutor Eric Stewart says because of the 20-year statute of limitations on sexual assault, he's not able to charge Bortree in any of the other cases.

That's why Bortree is charged with attempted aggravated murder in the 1993 case.

Investigators are actively investigating whether Bortree is linked to additional crimes.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Logan County Sheriff's Office at (937) 592-5731.

Both Ohio's Governor and Attorney General have called for Ohio to eliminate the statute of limitations for rape.

In June, Attorney General Dave Yost and five former Ohio Attorneys General sent a letter to state lawmakers, urging them to change the law.

They say rape, like murder, should be a crime that can be prosecuted without a statute of limitations.

House Bill 279 has been introduced at the statehouse to make that change.

Read their letter to lawmakers here.