NORMAN — Former police detective Jim Parks returned to a Cleveland County courtroom this week for one purpose: to see justice done for the women whose sexual assault cases dominated his investigative career for more than 25 years.
The women sat with him in the courtroom as serial rapist Robert Howard Bruce, 51, pleaded guilty and/or no contest to 19 felony counts that included first-degree rape, sexual battery, sodomy and first-degree burglary.
“Hopefully, they all can get on with their lives now,” police Capt. Tom Easley said. “It was a significant day not only for the victims but for the detectives who stayed with the case year after year in an effort to solve these crimes. Jim Parks, in particular, wanted to be there for the conclusion of it. He wanted to see it through even though he retired last September.”
For years, beginning in 1985 and continuing through 2006, women in Norman were terrorized by an assailant who followed them home or hid inside their houses to attack and sexually assault them.
The attacks were just far enough apart, Parks said, that at first police weren't sure they were dealing with a serial rapist.
Eventually, details of the attacks became so eerily similar, police knew they were looking for one man who was committing multiple assaults.
Word that a serial rapist was loose in the community was kept quiet, Parks said, “because we didn't want to alarm people until we were sure, and because we thought it might be a member of the community who, if we made it public, would either leave the area or stop. And, what we really wanted was to catch him.”
It turns out, Bruce had been a student at the University of the Oklahoma in the early 1980s but had moved away. But he would fly to Dallas on business and rent a car to return frequently to Norman to stalk OU coeds and continue the sexual assaults until 2006, when the attacks finally stopped.
Given up hope
By 2012, the victims had given up hope of their cases being solved, Easley said, but that's when police got a major break.
Bruce's DNA was entered into a national database that year after an arrest in Colorado on a window peeping charge.
A match with evidence taken from the Norman crime scenes propelled Parks into action. He traveled to Pueblo, Colo., where he spent hours interviewing Bruce, finally gaining confessions that resulted in 19 charges being filed against him.