Ohio Mom Was Raped, Beaten and Set on Fire in 1991 — Now a Man Is Charged with Her Murder

The 29-year-old cold case murder of an Ohio single mom has allegedly been solved because of DNA — and a suspect has been arrested.

Police in Akron said they identified Daniel Rees, 57, through a DNA match as the alleged killer of Rachael M. Johnson.
Rees was arrested on charges of aggravated murder Wednesday.

Johnson was a 23-year-old single mother of a 3-year-old daughter when a passerby found her fatally stabbed and set on fire on the street on March 30, 1991. She also suffered blunt force trauma and had been sexually assaulted, Akron police said.

The case remained cold for decades until a DNA lab working with the police uploaded DNA found during the autopsy to public geneology websites, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. The DNA matched a distant relative of Rees who uploaded their DNA to a website, according to the paper.

“To go from nothing for all those years,” Akron Police Department detective Jim Pasheilich tells PEOPLE. “Without the geneology DNA I don’t think we would have found out who this person was. He was hiding in plain sight.”

Pasheilich says Rees was known to Johnson through friends and the father of her daughter.
Johnson’s daughter, he says, grew up across the street from Rees. “She remembers him pulling her on a sled in the wintertime. The first time she rode a motorcycle was on the back of his motorcycle.”

At the time of the murder, Pasheilich says Rees lived near the crime scene and was never a suspect.
“He is a ghost in this investigation,” he says. “He is nowhere mentioned in this investigation.”

Rees allegedly knew Johnson’s family and was in the area around the time of the slaying but was never a suspect.

Once he became a suspect, police were able to collect trash he left behind to confirm a DNA match, the Beacon Journal reported.

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Johnson’s family has long sought justice for her.

“The family, the daughter, the grandkids, we all deserve to know what happened and have closure,” Johnson’s stepmom June told Fox 8 Cleveland in 2013. “When you lose your child, you have this empty hole in your heart, you know, and you think of her every day and when you look at her daughter and what would have been her grandkids, it’s so sad.”

Rees was booked into the Summit County Jail. His next court date is April 1.

It is unclear if he has entered a plea or retained an attorney.

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