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.
Altogether, Bruce confessed to raping eight women, also committing other sexual crimes against them, and breaking into six other residences with the intent to rape the women who lived there.
Bruce pleaded guilty to 18 charges Tuesday and no contest to a 19th sexual battery charge. District Judge Tracy Schumacher pronounced the sentences, which total enough years to keep him in prison for the remainder of his life.
In an interview in February 2012, Parks described how Bruce acted confident as he confessed to the series of sexual assaults in Norman.
“I wanted to keep him talking for days, because I wanted to know what went on inside his head. I wanted to know what made him tick. On the other hand, I just wanted to hit him up the side of the head,” Parks said.
Bruce confessed to using chloroform on one victim, a stun gun on another and nearly smothering one woman with a pillowcase. In most cases, he followed the women home after a night out.
Often their porch lights were broken or bulbs unscrewed.
One woman awoke to find herself in handcuffs.
After his arrest in Colorado, Bruce also was linked to sexual assaults on women in Albuquerque, N.M. He was sentenced to 156 years in that state last year stemming from similar break-ins and assaults on at least nine women.
He has been convicted of two assaults on women in Colorado and remains under investigation for possible sexual assaults against women in Austin and Lubbock, Texas.
After the window peeping charge, he was charged and sentenced to 64 years in prison for trying to kill a Pueblo police officer by blowing up his home.
Police say Bruce was attempting to keep the police officer from submitting his DNA to the national reporting system when he committed that crime.
“This guy was essentially a pro at burglary and committing rapes, not just in Oklahoma but in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado,” Easley said.
The women in Norman declined to talk about the assaults, and Bruce tried to shield his face from photographers as he was led from the courtroom following his sentencing.